American Iambs for Springtime

I couldn’t stop movin’ when it first took hold
It was a warm spring night at the old town hall
There was a group called The Jokers, they were layin’ it down
Don’t cha know I’m never gonna lose that funky sound

Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Lawdy mama light my fuse
Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Truck on out and spread the news

The skeeters start buzzing ’bout this time o’ year
I’m goin’ round back, she said she’d meet me there
We were rollin’ in the grass that grows behind the barn
When my ears started ringin’ like a fire alarm

Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Lawdy mama light my fuse
Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Truck on out and spread the news

Hope ya’ll know what I’m talkin’ about
The way they wiggle that thing really knocks me out
I’m gettin’ high all the time, hope ya’ll are too
Come on a little closer, gonna do it to you

Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Lawdy mama light my fuse
Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Truck on out and spread the news

That I’m tired of payin’ dues / Done said goodbye to all my blues
Lawdy mama light my fuse


The MFA Modern Lit re-write:

spring: The Jokers
(in Hoochie-Koo, the lawdy Hoochie Koo—)

and so the laying-down
until fuse lit

the mama lawdyspread, a truck
trucking the news;

skeeters buzz the grass, rolling, rolling
alarmed: the barn fire

// she had said she would meet me//

in Hoochie-Koo (the lawdy Hoochie Koo)

wriggling, spring knocked
higher // closer than time had known

bitten, dues paid, bit-lit


mama lit that fuse
in Hoochie-Koo, the lawdy


Name of a City
So many people have come and gone… their faces fade as the years go by
Yet I still recall as I wander on — as clear as the sun in the summer sky

Your name remains: a magic word
to conjure nights of springs long-gone.
I muse upon your face, alone
and find my heaven’s hope deferred.
Since unpoetic life occurred,
Romance has gilded scenes long dead.
Nostalgic memory has fed
the embers of a fire you stirred.
You turned and walked out of my days.
I never heard your voice again.
Yet memories of you amaze
Engraved in my adoring brain.
In labyrinths we wonder free
to meet again eventually.

or decasyllables . . .  which is better ?

Your name remains with me. A magic word
To conjure nights and scents of springs long-gone.
I muse upon your tawny face, alone
And find my heaven’s hope now long–deferred.
Since unpoetic life and age occurred,
Romance has gilded scenes that lie long dead.
Nostalgic memory of you has fed
The smoldering embers of a fire you stirred.
One spring, you turned and walked out of my days.
I never heard your feline voice again.
Yet memories of you, intense, amaze
Engraved for good in my adoring brain…
On, through the labyrinths, we wander free
To meet in time again, celestially.


Something Japanese:
carp-pools, bamboo, some old monk . . .
yes—Oriental !

No Shelter from the Voice of Fury

I have raved to many about that essential 60’s documentary Gimme Shelter, and anyone who ever romanticized the Hippies needs to see it. The film is an antidote to the untruths that fueled the movement, in my opinion. But in this post I want to present another facet of the title song itself. Most of us know Gimme Shelter; some consider it profound, to others perhaps it is only Rock’n Roll. I have always been transfixed by the ominous and overpowering mood of the song. The guiro (that scratchy rhythm which comes in after the drums with the vocal)  and the siren-like harmonica enhance its dreadful quality…

Merry Clayton’s wailing vocal harmonies and her cracking voice are mesmerizing. Recently, I found a video of her recalling the recording session. I also learned that she suffered a miscarriage some hours after laying down her vocal track.

Despite giving what would become the most famous performance of her career, it turned out to be a tragic night for Clayton. Shortly after leaving the studio, she lost her baby in a miscarriage. It has generally been assumed that the stress from the emotional intensity of her performance and the lateness of the hour caused the miscarriage. For many years Clayton found the song too painful to hear, let alone sing. “That was a dark, dark period for me,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1986, “but God gave me the strength to overcome it. I turned it around. I took it as life, love and energy and directed it in another direction, so it doesn’t really bother me to sing ‘Gimme Shelter’ now. Life is short as it is and I can’t live on yesterday.”


Somehow, for me, knowing this intensifies the haunting violence of the song—and I realize that the unearthly anguish of the Furies themselves is heard in her transcendent solo. It is interesting to hear the different versions/degrees of this song as they laid down the tracks, and it makes me appreciate the final result even more. She sang with many other well-known artists, and hers is one of the back-up voices on Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Yes, it’s only Rock’n Roll… but incredibly profound and powerful Rock’n Roll. And Merry Clayton was the catalyst.

NPR interview with Clayton: