Lawrence Ferlinghetti was 101 years old when he died last Monday. He was born in Yonkers but is considered a San Franciscan since he made that city his home for the last 7 decades of his life.
His father died of a heart attack before he was born and his mother was committed to a mental hospital shortly after. He founded a bookstore called City Lights in his chosen hometown in 1953 and it soon became a magnet, and publishing company, for the Beats. He was arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl when the mirror it held up to an obscene society was considered the obscenity.
In addition to his work at City Lights, Ferlinghetti made the most of his century of life by pursuing his muse across a host of creative outlets. He was a poet, playwright, novelist, and painter. I would not be surprised to find out he picked up a musical instrument or two at some point in his journey.
In 2007, Ferlinghetti wrote this poem: Pity the Nation (after Khalil Gibrand)
Pity the nation whose people are sheep And whose shepherds mislead them Pity the nation whose leaders are liars Whose sages are silenced And whose bigots haunt the airwaves Pity the nation that raises not its voice Except to praise conquerers And acclaim the bully as hero And aims to rule the world By force and by torture Pity the nation that knows No other language but its own And no other culture but its own Pity the nation whose breath is money And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed Pity the nation oh pity the people who allow their rights to erode and their freedoms to be washed away My country, tears of thee Sweet land of liberty!
We start with nothing, in a pool of blood, gasping for air. We need. We need to breathe, to drink, to eat, to move, to learn, and to retain that knowledge. We need things like shelter and clothing, and makes life more enjoyable if those things are comfortable, and stylish, and if they enhance our ability to entice satisfaction of our last great need: for companionship and love.
After all our needs are met, we turn our attention to the next phase. We want. We want the world and we want it now. What we want is different for each of us but in one way or another our life’s work is consumed by satisfaction of our desires.
We do what we need to do to satisfy our needs and wants. We acquire. We fill our pockets, our homes, our bank accounts, and our hearts with anything we can stuff into them. We hoard and cling and defend our possessions with everything from violence to dishonesty, until what we own eventually turns on us, and possesses us.
Whether or not we acquire everything we want, there comes a time when our life’s work ends and we enter our final phase. We let go. We let go of our life’s work and desires satisfied, unsatisfied, and dissatisfied. We let go of strenuous sociability and giving a fuck about what other people think. We let go of everything we ever wanted or need until we learn life’s hardest lessons: how to let go of people we love and, finally, how to let go of life.
“This is a sign – NASA works. We put our arms together, and our hands together, and our brains together, we can succeed. This what NASA does. This is what we can do as a country, on all of the problems we have, we need to work together to do these kinds of things and make success happen.”
Rob Manning, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Chief Engineer
There is no place now that is safe for my gaze
No soft landing for my eyes
Once things turn hard it’s hard to make them soft again
It’s cold enough to crack my lips
and fill my lungs with frozen molecules of
whatever it takes to
build these palaces to winter
I remember building palaces to other things
The palace that we built in memory of
ancestors too important to forget
and too far gone to remember
The palace that we built to celebrate
our victory over enemies and diseases
and ideas that had become both
The palace we built just because we were strong
and had to do something constructive
with all that energy
And the palace we built for love
that wasn’t a palace at all
but was a safe place and warm for us to rest together
It is an understatement to say that we are living through strange and stressful times. I know that I am not the only one who finds solace in music. I have been burrowing through old Brazilian music and appreciating the subtler beauties in melodies from Joni Mitchell to Taylor Swift.
It always bothers me to hear someone say that music used to be better. Great music is always being made, you just might need to work harder to find it among the inundation of current streams. Luckily for all of us, there are people like Darryl Sterdan, who run blogs like Tinnitist and wade into those streams, panning for gold. I am honored that he included my latest album, Observations, in his roundup of “great finds.”
Follow the link to listen to some new music from me and 8 other artists who are shining their light into these dark days.