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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Matt Borczon writes

with Hank
lonely mind
and the
sword Brutus
used on
Cesar with
the guitar
Robert Johnson
sold his
soul for
to Bob
Dylan sing
psalms by
Dylan Thomas
as birds
fall out
of trees
like grace
notes on
a violin
about stars
and the
solar eclipse
and why
you need
sun glasses
to look
into darkness
about why
you need
suffering to
sing the
blues and
why you
need sadness
to write
a poem
anyone might
want to
-- Selin S.


  1. Hiram King "Hank" Williams recorded 35 singles (5 released posthumously) that reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, including 11 that ranked number 1 (3 posthumously) before he died at 29. When he was 8 he met bluesman Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne (who received his nickname, short for "teetotaler," because he usually carried with him a homemade mixture of alcohol and tea), who taught him how to improvise guitar chords in exchange for meals or money. At 14 he began playing on his own 15-minute program twice a week on WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama, and he dropped out of school to pursue a musical career. By then hew was already an alcoholic, and in 1942, while he was still a teenager, the radio station terminated his contract due to "habitual drunkenness," though he returned to a weekly job there in 1945 and began composing songs to perform. In 1947 he recorded his 1st hit, "Move It on Over," and, although unable to read or notate music to any significant degree, he wrote a number of songs that became popular standards, including "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Cold, Cold Heart," "Hey, Good Lookin'," "I Saw the Light," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and "You Win Again" (written the day after his divorce in 1952). In 1952 he began recording religious-themed talking songs as "Luke the Drifter." Despite his enormous success, in August 1952 the Grand Ole Opry fired him due to his unreliability and alcohol abuse, and his last recording session was in September. He died sleeping in his car on New Year's Day 1953, en route to a concert in Canton, Ohio. In 2010 he was awarded a special citation by the Pulitzer Prize jury "for his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life." Though Williams' compositions included many light-hearted tunes like "Jambalaya (on the Bayou)," Leonard Cohen mournfully recalled him in the lyrics to his song. "Tower of Song": I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? / Hank Williams hasn't answered yet / But I hear him coughing all night long / Oh, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song.

  2. Among the many entertainers who were influenced by him was Robert Zimmerman, who was 8 when Williams died. As a student at the University of Minnesota he began playing folk music in the Dinkytown district of Minneapolis. He performed for awhile as "Bob Dillon," taking his name from Matt Dillon the lead character on the popular "Gunsmoke" TV series, but changed its spelling after coming across some poems by Dylan Thomas. After dropping out of college he became an international success as a singer/songwriter and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2016 "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." Dylan Thomas was a Welsh poet became widely popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death at 39 in New York. By then he had acquired a reputation, which he had encouraged, as a "roistering, drunken and doomed poet." He left school at 16, and his work 1st attracted widespread attention when he was 20. Between 1945-1948 he made over 100 recordings for the British Broadcasting Corporation, and he began touring in the US in 1950. On his 2nd tour, in 1952, he recorded "A Child's Christmas in Wales," which was credited as launching the nation's audiobook industry. He returned to the US for a 4th tour in October 1953; on 3 November he spent most of the day drinking in bed and then went to the White Horse bar. When he returned to his hotel he declared "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record!" After feeling extremely ill on the 4th he was taken, comatose, to the hospital and died on the 9th without regaining consciousness.

    And death shall have no dominion.
    Dead men naked they shall be one
    With the man in the wind and the west moon;
    When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
    They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
    Though they go mad they shall be sane,
    Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again
    Though lovers be lost love shall not;
    And death shall have no dominion.

    --from "And death shall have no dominion," Twenty-five Poems

  3. Robert Johnson was an itinerant performer who played mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances. He
    recorded only 29 low-fidelity songs at 2 improvised recording studios, one in San Antonio, Texas, in 1936, and one in Dallas in 1937. Almost nothing is known about his life, though many legends were generated, especially the one that he met the devil at midnight at the intersection of Highways 1 and 8 in Rosedale, Missississippi (or perhaps on Highway 61); and the devil tuned his guitar in exchange for his soul. According to Sonny Boy Williamson, in 1937 Johnson, 27, was playing at a country dance near Greenwood, and a married woman he had been flirting with gave him a bottle of whiskey. Williamson knocked it out of his hand and told him not to drink from any bottle he had not seen being opened. Johnson told him, "Don't ever knock a bottle out of my hand," and he then accepted a 2nd bottle, which the woman's jealous husband had poisoned. Three days later he died in a convulsive state of severe pain. His death went unreported, and his death certificate, which listed only the date and location, with no official cause of death, was not discovered for another 3 decades. Likewise, his burial place is unknown; it was probably an unmarked pauper's grave, though in 1990 Columbia Records placed a 1-ton cenotaph in the shape of an obelisk, listing all of Johnson's song titles, in the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church graveyard near Morgan City, Mississippi. Columbia had released an anthology of 16 of Johnson's recordings ("King of the Delta Blues Singers") in 1961; although it did not sell well at the time, it strongly influenced the new British interest in the blues, causing young Eric Clapton to call Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived."

  4. Marcus Iunius Brutus was descended from Lucius Iunius Brutus, who had deposed his uncle Lucius Tarquinius Superbus as king of Roma in 509 BCE, established a republic, forced the populace to swear an oath to never allow another king, allowed his own sons to be executing for conspiring to restore Tarquinius, and was later killed by his cousin Arruns Tarquins in a 2nd restoration attempt. The younger Brutus was also claimed descent from Gaius Servilius Structus Ahala, who had assassinated Spurius Maelius in 439 BCE to prevent him from restoring the monarchy. Young Brutus was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Gaius Iulius Caesar, and his mother was the 1/2 sister of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, one of Caesar's most persistent political opponents. In addition, Caesar may have prevented Brutus from marrying Iulia, his only child, so she could marry Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus to strengthen their political alliance. When Cato was sent to annex Cyprus, Brutus joined his service and enriched himself (though Cato ostentatiously refused to do so) and married one of Cato's allies after he returned to Roma. In 49 BCE, after the death of Pompeius' wife and the severing of his alliance with Caesar, Caesar provoked a civil war by refusing to relinquish his command in Gaul and instead Gaul's provincial border the Rubicon river. When the battle of Pharsalus began on 9 August, Caesar ordered his officers to take Brutus prisoner if he gave himself up voluntarily, but to leave him alone and do him no harm if he persisted in fighting. Brutus surrendered and wrote to Caesar with apologies, who then accepted him into his inner circle. Cato's forces fled to Egypt and continued to resist, and when Caesar crossed the Mediterranean sea in pursuit he made Brutus governor of Gaul. After the battle of Thapsus in north Africa in 46 BCE, Cato committed suicide, and Brutus divorced his 1st wife to marry Cato's daughter Porcia Catonis in 45 BCE. That year Caesar nominated Brutus to serve as urban praetor for the following year. But he also made himself dictator perpetuo (dictator for life). To prevent Caesar from having himself declared king Brutus joined Gaius Cassius Longinus (the son-in-law of Brutus' mother) in a conspiracy to assassinate him, after insisting that Cassius spare the life of Caesar's great-nephew and heir Octavian. On 15 March 44 BCE, the Ides of March, a day that traditionally marked the deadline for settling debts, 60 or more senators attacked him as he arrived at the Senatus. While one presented him with a petition to recall his exiled brother, the others crowded round to offer their support. When Caesar waved the petitioner away he grabbed his shoulders and pulled his toga down, while another stabbed him in the neck. Brutus and the others then began stabbing him, and Caesar, upon seeing Brutus, covered his face with his toga and resigned himself to his fate (saying, according to William Shakespere, "Et tu, Brute" -- "You too, Brutus?"), then tried to escape but, blinded by blood in his eyes, tripped and fell while his killers continued stabbing him and themselves. Brutus was wounded in the hand and in the legs, and Caesar received 23 wounds, though only one, the 2nd to his chest that pierced his aorta, was fatal. Marcus Antonius, Caesar's co-consul who had earlier tried to crown Caesar, arranged for an amnesty for the assassins (according to Shakepeare, Antonius described Brutus as "the noblest Roman of them all" since he was the only conspirator who acted for the good of Roma) but stirred up popular anger against them, forcing them to flee.

  5. The Senatus installed Cassius as governor of Syria, while Brutus settled in Crete. But in 42 BCE Octavian became consul and had the assassins declared murderers and enemies of the state. However, he quarreled with his co-ruler Antonius, and Cassius joined Brutus in Smyrna. Cassius sacked Rhodes, Brutus took Lycia, and they reunited in Sardis, where their armies proclaimed Brutus imperator. Then they marched through Thrace while Octavian and Antonius made peace. The opposing armies, which totaled 200,000 men, engaged west of Philippi in Macedonia. On 3 October Brutus defeated Octavian, who fled, but premature looting by Brutus' men allowed Octavian's to re-form their line, and Antonius defeated Cassius, who killed himself. On the same day Brutus' navy destroyed Octavian's reinforcements of two legions and supplies, while allowing Brutus to continued to be supplied from the sea. Antonius slowly advanced south of Brutus' army while Brutus maneuvered to avoid being outflanked. Brutus planned to defeat his enemies through attrition while avoiding open battle, but he feared desertion and his officers persuaded him to launch an attack on 23 October. Brutus' maneuvers had weakened one of his flanks, leading to his defeat and suicide. Antonius had him wrapped in the most expensive purple mantle that Antonius owned, cremated him, and sent his ashes to his mother. When his wife Porcia received news of his death she killed herself by swallowing hot coals. (Dante put Brutus and Cassius with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus, at the center of hell, where they are eternally chewed by Satan's 3 mouths.)