Blogged down

I have been absent from the blog.  Every week I think about what I am going to write about and then another week passes into emptiness.  Summer is over, the grey is back and I have to look at what I am doing.  I have written steadily for about 8 years.  Mostly timed writings at Louisa’s café on Eastlake Blvd in Seattle.  We write for 45 minutes and then break into groups of three or four people and read.  We read without advice or commentary from the other writers.  We read that way so it is a safe place to write and that we have a chance to develop our own voice as a writer without criticism (inner or outer).

The other thing I need to do is change the blog post deadline day to Wednesday instead of Monday.  I have been an actor way too long and Monday is a day I don’t write.   Monday is the actor’s day off.  Working the weekends, Sunday is usually a double day with a matinee and an evening performance.  And though I am not currently in a show, my body clock still seems to work that way.

bobnjack

Jack Remick and Robert Ray are accomplished writers in Seattle.  They started the writer’s group at Louisa’s Restaurant 14 years ago.  They were inspired by the work of Natalie Goldberg who wrote “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind”.  Two great books on the art of writing practice.  Bob used to go to New Mexico and take Natalie’s workshops and he realized he had to create a writing space in Seattle.  It has morphed a number of times but the tables at Louisa’s continue on.  Tuesday and Fridays at 2:30 PM.  A safe place to come write and develop your voice.

See you next week.

Lost

Lost

By Zack Hoffman

 

I lost my faith.

Where did I put it?  I’ve been looking for it everywhere.

In drawers, in the kitchen cabinet, pulling pants out of the laundry hamper and looking inside the pockets.

Where is it?

Is it in a book?

Did some self help guru hide my faith between the lines?

Is it on page 8 or 114 or was it chapter 3?

Where is it?

Did it get sucked out of me by all those episodes of network murder porn, where each week, each episode, each hour, another murder, another body that gets probed and analyzed, cut open and covered with a white sheet, hour after hour after hour?

Has my faith left town?

Did the President take my faith and cash it in for stock options?

Is my faith with family?

Is it at my mother’s apartment at the bottom of a bottle of JB scotch?

It’s gone.

I keep looking.

I don’t want to leave the house without it.

Friends come over to take me to temple on Friday night …it’s the Sabbath, but I am faithless sitting in the back seat of a car, like some pilgrim being taken to the block for public humiliation.

My relationship is in chaos,

I came home and I found our friendship was smashed on the floor in a hundred pieces and I took broom and a dust pan, and swept it up and threw it in the trash.

My home, my work, all in chaos

But we kept driving to temple because it was the Sabbath and the sun was setting, but for me it was already dark and cold.
We got out of the car and I we walked to the edge of the door of the synagogue and I froze.  Like a force field that separated…

out from in.

me from them.

I was empty.

I had no faith with me.

What it looked like to me was that all around me there were people who had their faith with them.

They had name-tags and buttons and handshakes and hugs.

They were passing out prayer books and yammikahs.

I don’t know what happened or where they got it, but it seemed everyone around me had woken up this morning gone to the dresser drawer and said, “There it is! There’s my faith”
and slipped it on like a loose garment.  That loose garment everybody talks about.   But I looked in my closet and I didn’t have that loose fitting garment.  Or any garment or even a tee shirt that said “Got Faith?”

Who has my faith?

Was it stolen in the night by the faith bandits with masks and idols?

Here I am and I don’t have my faith.

I can’t step out and I can’t step in.

I am in the real Limbo. The Limbo Catholic Church talks about, where my soul is rattling around inside my chest like some angry prisoner banging on the bars, wanting out.

Who has my faith?

God?

That bastard.

Who sits in a golden chair and throws lightning bolts, using words like “smite” and “pestilence”.
I know that God…he would not have my faith.

It’s the other God who might have my faith.   One who is patient even when I have tirade and beat the floor like a child.  One who utters words like “love” and “compassion” that wash over me like a warm breeze?

I have had faith.

That’s why I know I’ve lost it, because I have had it once, been full and danced with Them.

The Big Them

Not the Jews

Or the Moslems

Or the Christians

Or the Buddhists

But them…the entire human race.

And we danced and dared and got lost in meditation.

Got quiet and listened.

Is that where my faith is?

Somewhere at the bottom of a long silence.

An endless ommm or ohhmm or yaway or adoinoi.

Deep down and silent like the stomach of Job’s whale.

Is it there I will find a black and tarry glob and put it in my hand and it will melt into a ball of spinning energy, a glowing ball of energy that will light the way out of here?

When the dark night comes you have to pick up your bed roll, put it on your back and walk out the door.  Here I am, stopped at the door.

Stepping to the edge, then pacing.

I have emptied drawers and closets, looking behind bookshelves and underneath desks. Fumbled through nightstands and medicine cabinets.

My faith is not on my mp3 player

or on my computer

or on the DVD of the Dali Lama speaking Tibennese to English subtitles.

It’s not on my phone

Or in a cryptic text message

So shall I pretend?

Smile like some poser while Jackson Brown starts singing “in the cool of the evening…”

Just show up and hope no one really notices that I have no faith at all.

Fear that someone will walk up to me and make me show them my faith.

What would I do then?

Stand there and be embarrassed in the spot light?

Or lie and say something like, “I had it just a minute ago!”

 

zlost

Billy Joel Comes to LA

Billy Joel Comes to LA

 

The story I am about to tell you is one of those legendary music business stories that got passed along.  I can’t confirm whether this is true or false so I will have to present it as a work of fiction.  A myth, a legend, a music industry fable.  But it is a great story and worth telling.  It’s about the time Billy Joel went to Los Angeles.

I love music and I love the stories about the music business.  They are colorful and filled with characters, music and money.   Most DJ’s talk about music or the musician for 30 or 40 seconds at a clip on the air.  They will mention who was doing the backup vocals, about when the song was released, and maybe a quick tidbit about the performer him or herself.   Of course they never have time to tell stories.   Stories told to them by radio station owners, agents, roadies and music industry executives.

First a little history.  On the prestigious corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Doheny Drive in Los Angeles California, Doug Weston built the first rock and roll club in Los Angeles.  It was called The Troubadour.  In truth it was called Doug Weston’s Troubadour, that should give you some indication that ego is going to play a big part in the story.  If you wanted to showcase a band in Los Angeles between 1960 in 1985 the place to do it was Doug Weston’s troubadour.  Record industry people, radio people, musicians, movie stars, producers, and all the rest of the movers and shakers lived moments away from Doug Weston’s troubadour, because it lived east of Beverly Hills and west of Laurel Canyon.  It was a very convenient place for industry people to get to a concert or see their bands perform or throw a client party.  Doug Weston was a hard noised business man.  For the record companies and many producers who liked getting their own way Doug Weston was a giant pain in the ass.  If you’re a disc jockey and you’re invited to introduce a band you are told in no uncertain terms that the name of the location was to be pronounced first and it was quote unquote Doug Weston’s Troubadour.  If you were a promoter and happened to piss Doug off, good luck trying to get your band on the stage, a band that you’ve probably invested tens of thousands of dollars to promote.

troubadour_02

By the early eighties, the record companies were so fed up with Doug Weston and his shenanigans that they decided to build themselves their own club.  MCA and some other investors spent over $1,000,000 on the sunset strip to create a new place.  They called it the Roxy.  A beautiful state of the art venue with killer lights and sound that sat over 700 people and best of all Doug Weston and had nothing to do with it.  The first show that was there was “The Rocky Horror Show”, a rocking smash success on the Sunset strip.   The Roxy even had a private bar called “On the Rox” that was host to many Hollywood Celebrities.   Most notable it was Jack Nicholson’s watering hole for many many years.

 

Our story starts at the end of 1971 Billy Joel went to Hollywood looking for fame, fortune and a lucrative record deal.  Billy Joel had just recorded his second album “Piano Man”.  He was known on the east coast but couldn’t get national exposure because no one in LA knew him.  He wound up on the door of Doug Weston’s Troubadour.  Doug gave him his first big gig on the West Coast.  He was the opening act for the group “Ballin Jack”, which was being touted as the next Chicago.  Ballin’ Jack had a big brass section and they had a minor top forty hit with a song called “Hold On”.  Doug Weston started introducing Joel to a number of record producers.  Billy Joel agreed to perform a number of open act gigs for Doug Weston at the troubadour he signed a performing contract.  He recorded the album “Streetlife Serenade” which does nothing commercially and Billy Joel became more and more frustrated with the music scene in LA.

After a couple of years Billy Joel of feeling stifled by Los Angeles, Billy decides to move back to New York.  He goes home to begin again and get his creative juices flowing again.  He records the album Turnstiles that album becomes a moderate hit for him nationally, with notably the songs “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “New York State of Mind”.  Then Joel goes on to write “The Stranger” and wins a Grammy for the song of the year “Just the Way You Are”.  He follows that album with “52nd Street” and the fame train has left the station never to return.   Now Billy Joel was one of the biggest stars in music industry.  He is performing in stadiums to tens of thousands of people.

Then in 1980 Billy Joel played Los Angeles at the Forum.  Approximately 22,000 tickets were sold.  Doug Weston’s attorneys contact the concert promoters and tell them that he has a contract which Billy Joel signed, in 1972, and somewhere in the fine print it promises Doug Weston 10% of all concert revenue in the city of Los Angeles and surrounding area for the next 15 years.  Weston’s agents then gives the concert promoters copies of the contract.  They write Doug Weston a check for hefty sum of money.  When Billy Joel hears about this, and sees the contract, he freaks out.  He yells and screams and swears to the All Mighty that he will never, never, never, never, play the city of Los Angeles ever again.  And that’s exactly what happened.  Billy Joel’s next four albums all reach number one.  Five, if you include the album that followed which was Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits.  Billy Joel was married to a supermodel, brought a rock and roll band to Russia for the first time, without a doubt he was one of the biggest musical stars on the planet.  Billy Joel tour the country, so if you lived in Oshkosh Wisconsin you would have probably seen Billy Joel play.  But if you lived in Beverly Hills you couldn’t see a concert of Billy Joel’s because he was never never never going to play LA.

 

Someone looked into the contract and by the end of 1989 it had expired.  A concert promoters in Los Angeles talked Billy Joel into coming and playing at the Sports Arena.  Since Billy Joel hadn’t been there in close to 10 years he sold out 14 shows.  The problem with the Sports Arena was that it was also home to the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.  So Billy Joel agreed to play from the end of March through the end of April, and he would do shows when the Clippers weren’t playing.  Billy Joel would play three shows, the Clippers would have a four game home stand.  Billy Joel would play three more shows, the Clippers would play another for game home stand.  By the end of the concert dates Joel, his crew, his band, were all having the time of their lives.  All the old history was forgotten and Billy Joel had fallen back in love with the city of the angels.  It was a historic event, the most sold out dates by a performer at the Sports Arena.  I got to see him near the end of the run at the Sports Arena, Billy Joel took the stage to cheering fans and after the opening number said, “Good evening.  Welcome to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, my name is Billy Joel and we’re the house band!”

Another couple of decades have passed and now Billy Joel has made an arrangement with Madison Square Gardens in New York to be their franchise musician.  He has been breaking records playing one concert a month since early in 2014.  The next concert at the Gardens is November 19th 2015.   I wonder if he still says, “We’re the house band.”

billy-joel-1986

 

2 Poems

I am reconstructing my website from scratch.  I am posting a few old pieces and then putting up the new.  I am going to start with two poems I recently read at “Writing Practice” readout in January.

 

Edgar Allen Poe teaches Yoga in Ballard

 

lighting a candle

he walked ploddingly

across the naked hardwood floor.

with great coldness

he turned and murmured

“Namaste,

we will begin in the corpse pose

and work our way out.”

guiding our breathing

as if we were buried alive

each breath

precious

like the taste of fine wine.

I gasped,

could I endure

the tell-tale downward dog

Amontillado’s bridge pose

the pit and trikonasana

quote the sun salutation

“do five more”

darkyoga

 

Lawrence Avenue

 

Granny’s hands crumbled the dried bread

it was feeding time

for the crows, robins, wrens and sparrows.

Around five o clock the bread would be thrown,

she would take her place on the front porch

in a white wicker chair

watching the birds feed

and the neighborhood return from work.

She offers only a wave

unless you spoke Ukrainian, Russian or Polish,

then in the voice of her childhood

Granny’s hands would animate the conversation

while the birds fed

then flew back home

to the trees

across from Lawrence Avenue.

 

One day at the end of summer

birds amassed on the trees

hundreds and hundreds

singing so powerfully

the people came out of their houses.

Praise for Granny’s hands

for years of service

faithfully crumbling bread

waiting for her cherished friends

to swoop and dine.

Granny’s hands were clasped in an impish yet humble way

she accepted the accolades

listening to the trees

across from Lawrence Avenue.

 

Granny’s hands pull her across the linoleum

her cheek would rest in the coldness of the floor

to distract from the pain in her hip

in and out of consciousness

she watched as her precious kitchen faded

then disappeared

a blur of lights

ambulance

doctors

her daughter’s soothing voice.

she awoke frightened and confused

in a stranger’s bed.

while the birds were sleeping

in the trees

across from Lawrence Avenue

 

 

In the time before night and morning

on the Northside of town

Granny’s hands open her purse

while a large Jamaican nurse in a white starched uniform

is dreaming in her romance novel.

Quietly the window is opened

a missing slice of dining room bread is crumbled up

and gently scattered outside

then staring into darkness

she waits

for someone

to tell the birds

who live in the trees

across from Lawrence Avenue.

granny