Saturday, December 31, 2016

Cymbal #51:: Ghosts of the Twentieth Century

Lost somewhere in the back alleys of the twentieth century is a hotel. The carpet at the reception is worn down towards the counter. There's a bowl of hard candy resting on it. The wood paneling has started peeling at the corners. Keys hang from a board behind the receptionist, a kind ghost in a white jacket with watery eyes. 

In a room up the stairs, Papa Hemingway has just filled a glass with rum and ice, his hairy fist closing on the crystal cubes. He's sitting in his towel, like a fat bear, his back still wet. A chain hangs around his neck. 

On the fire escape, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith are eating an orange. They are thinner than thin and hipper than hip. She is holding him, and he growing ghostlier. He is more shirt than man now. Soon, only she will remain, holding his scent in her nose. 

Leonard Cohen - Chelsea Hotel No. 1 - 1972

Down the corridor, a woman is sitting on the edge of a bed, putting her pants back on. Her lover lies cheek down, watching her. He is already writing the poem. He will write it now, he has written it already, he will write it five years from now. He will rewrite it. Over time the last thing he writes and records will replace all the drafts in his head. It will replace his memories of that afternoon as well. 

Greg Dulli - Paper Thin Hotel - 2012
(Leonard Cohen Cover)

I was there too, running for the money and the flesh. Then, that year, the entire mountain fell on me, the unbearable entirety of human despair. I saw the light of the universe flicker, saw how little life there was in all. Up till then, I had believed in death by flame. For the first time, I saw that death could come from slow extinction, from suffocation, from a lack of desire. That I could die equally of patterns in traffic, the slow movement of clocks, that I could die equally of disinterest.

There's a man in the little room by the laundry chute whose face is flames. He never stops hammering away at his typewriter. He's been typing for weeks. One day the spell will break, and the flame will go out and he will eat and he will sleep, like a mortal. What the rest of us would not give to be him - to be imbued by purpose, to be burning like gas from a jet. 

Leonard Cohen - Who by Fire - 2010 (Live)

This is why, in the morning, everybody in the hotel, even the man who is on fire, comes to the courtyard to look at the fish.  They put on clothes, nudge their lovers and walk down the stairs. The fish swim in their nectar - they have no age, they cannot die. We can only touch the water and hope. And I who have no hope from this burnt year, I watch all the ghosts of the century anoint themselves. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cymbal #51:: Stories of the Street

I have been asked by hundreds of children - How do Cymbals come into existence? The answer is simple. They happen when the music hits the light.

Sweet Mother Night, now let your purple cloak enfold us.

Your fingers in mine, a bridge of tendons and bone. Your voice like the low wind in the grove. I can smell eucalyptus when your mouth opens. Our wine is abandoned – the gloaming is our cup.

The company has faded, you’re singing only for me. Your voice is the gift and I’m on my knees to receive it. There are tombs on either side of us, incised into the velvet of the sky. When this city falls, we will have again what we always did: dust and rock, bush and tomb.

There is a holiness which has no eternity in it, which will not survive the light of day. This is the unwritten present, the taste of possibility. You are not old, and I am not young. We are all ageless in the loose grasp of the purple night. Look at me now. I’m made of bronze. This is no less than you deserve, and it’s all we have on earth.

That Petrol Emotion - Stories of the Street - 1991
(a cover of a Leonard Cohen original)

In our transient city lies an eternal necropolis. All of these tombs are full of those, who were once like you and me. They let their flesh have penury, and the souls eternal night. The rest of the world is sleeping. We are those the night has bound till dawn. Your hair catches the light of the lanterns in the trees. Lean your lips into mine. There is not another world, and the one allowed us is dying.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cymbal #50:: David Bowie (1947 -2016)

I didn’t know you could feel this bad about something so distant; I was taken aback by the extent of my sadness. David Bowie’s death left a hole in the walls of my mind the size of the 20th century, the same place as JFK and Gandhi, Muhammad Ali and John Lennon’s glasses. When you’re don’t look straight at a thing, you don’t realise how much you took for granted. I guess I had always thought he was immortal, made of the same tough fabric as Keith Richards or Bob Dylan or Old Man Cohen, and it is with further shock that I realise they may not be immortal either. And if they are not, then maybe one day I will die, and everyone I have ever loved will die, and there’s less time than I thought there was.


He said, listen to Heroes. Listen to Bowie sing Heroes, and then listen to the Wallflowers cover. They didn’t get it. Listen to the Man who Sold the World, and then listen to Kurt Cobain in his cardigan. They all missed the trick.

David Bowie - Heroes - 2002

No one understood that he was joking. We can’t be heroes. We’ll just tell ourselves a beautiful lie. No one understood that he never meant a word he said, but he meant a lot of things he never said. He meant the spaces between the words. He meant his arch intonations and meant his dancing and his mismatched eyes were telling a truth. But he was lying through his teeth.

The best kids, the really smart ones, the ones who can be anything they want and do everything and get away with murder – they all have no great adherence to the truth. He didn’t know that when he said it, but he was one of those too. Just like David Bowie, too big to pour into truthful words. He told beautiful lies, the bastard. The poor sad bastard.   


You put your hands on top of mine, and mine were very large and yours were very small, almost boyish. You smiled shyly and I hadn’t realised till then that you were actually a shy person. We got the bill and left the bar, down the stairs, past the aquarium. We kissed in the car, at the red lights. At your place, your room mate waved distantly. I wasn’t the first, and I wasn’t going to be the last. You locked the door, standing on tiptoes to get to the latch.  You turned on your laptop and played Hunky Dory and we turned down the lights. The light from your screen washed across your chest. Your body was so spare, and I thought of David Bowie, and how appropriate everything was.

David Bowie - Oh! You Pretty Things! - 1972

Then there was a knock on the door, and your neighbour needed me to move my car. I jumped into my pants and cursed and ran downstairs with your sheet wrapped around my chest. My car wouldn’t start. I pushed it across the street and ran back upstairs. To hell with the car and your neighbours. All I wanted right then was to perfect myself against your thin back, your shoulderblades so sharp.

Afterwards, you told me I was beautiful in a strange and unusual way, that I was ugly in photographs but beautiful in the flesh. I was so gratified by that description – it fitted into whom I thought I was, and whom I thought I was that night. You lay on me, and I strummed on your back. You told me not to think of you as a new car, a thing you buy and show off, and I laughed. It amused me to be accused of the wrong crime.

David Bowie - China Girl - 2002

When I left, you wrapped yourself in the same sheet and came down to the car. It still wouldn’t start, but I gave it a push and jammed it into second gear and it coughed to life. That night, I felt like my life was sliced from a great story just being written.

The Future

This is the world I was dreaming of with her.

The flat where we could finally put out plants on the balcony. The yellow walls with the monochrome posters. The cramped little house where we were going to raise our kid, cramped because I never wanted to be too far from her. 

David Bowie - Kooks - 1971

The small table where our friends bring a bottle and we potluck. The guitar by the couch. The posters on the wall. The unmade bed. This is the kitchen where I was going to make eggs and brew coffee for her. This was what could have been, if she had only listened. But she would have had to listen to the things I had never said.  

David Bowie - Lazarus -2016

I’m glad that she quit smoking, but sometimes I think I’d like to come out onto the balcony and see her leaning into the street, smoke curling above her shoulder, into the weekend sun, my love.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cymbal #49:: Last Call

-Last call, you bastards. Drink them down and get out.
-Another. And, I’m not leaving, Minister. I’m going to stay here.
-The hell you are.
-Such language, Father! From a man of the cloth!
-Bugger off, son. Settle your tab and bugger off.

Father John Misty - Trouble (Cover) - 2014

-I’m not leaving, Doctor. You wouldn’t turn away a patient. You wouldn’t deny me medicine. You can’t. It’s your hypocritical oath.
-You’re taking too much medicine, and you’ve been sick longer than you’ve been well.
-My sickness is grave.
-Your sickness is women. The grave is where you’re headed.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Hallelujah -2001
(not a cover)

-You’d bury me? Then you must be a gardener. And I am your crop. I’ll feed you. But first you must water me.
-You feed me enough, my little carrot.
-Water me more, and I’ll grow to be a massive marrow, a winter wonder you can take home to your family and feed them for days.
-You’re already feeding me enough. But any more watering and you’ll drown.
-I wish I could drown. But I am not an animal. I am a machine, and you my mechanic. Will you not fix me?
- Where you are broken I can’t go. And I refuse to keep greasing a broken thing.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - There is a Kingdom - 1997 

-Then, as a friend?
-As a friend I ought to shoot you and put you out of your misery. Now go home you miserable sod. I hope you're not driving.
-I’ll see you tomorrow. 
-I know you will.