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Forcing a Light – Bruce Springsteen One and Two

Reid Dickie

“Sandy, the fireworks are hailin’ over Little Eden tonight, forcing a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this warm July.” – Bruce Springsteen

My high school English teacher, Mrs. Smith, along with my teacher Mom, instilled in me a deep appreciation of images conjured out of mere words and the power that ability holds. They made me realize that to stimulate the imagination of others using language carries a mysterious power, creates a direct bond between people and satisfies our need to share experiences. I have pursued the satisfactions of words ever since, in what I write, what I hear and what I read. I am always listening for an original turn of phrase, a dazzling metaphor, an unexpected linkage of images to include in my writing. I admire writers who do this with alacrity and clarity. Annie Proulx’s best work is a cascade of exciting and unexpected images. Almost every page of her fiction offers something that makes me think, ‘Yes, that’s a unique way of expressing it.’ Annie intimidates me and inspires me with her imagery.

Songwriters have garnered my admiration for their abilities to build pictures with words, especially Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen. Last summer, when I listened to music on my travels in the mighty Avenger, it was almost always Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, both released in 1973, the year Bruce turned 24. That year I started at CFRW-FM in Winnipeg doing a free-form evening radio show that often spun tracks from Greetings… When the second album came out in the fall, it became a huge hit on my show with listener requests every night. The Boss had arrived!

This revealing picture of Bruce was taken by Lynn Goldsmith and appears in her 1995 book Photodiary. Opposite the full page picture the copy reads: “Once during a studio shoot Bruce started taking off his clothes. I yelled at him to stop. He thought it was funny. I was angry. I told him that if he ever took his clothes off for any photographer he’d be putting himself in the position where one day the pictures could be published.”

 The work on Bruce’s first two albums reflected and, to a degree, created American mythology, some of it dredged from adolescent fantasies, some captured from flocks of fresh and fleeting visions in the form of stream of consciousness rants.

ONE

Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

released January 5, 1973

Greetings… consists of nine songs, all written and arranged by Bruce. Every song is infused with youthful vigour and keen enthusiasm, images tumble by as a peculiar cast of characters emerge, live their short urban lives then recede only to be followed by others. The album quickly, and somewhat justifably, earned Bruce the title of “the next Bob Dylan,” an endless quest of 1970s rock journalists. Bruce’s encyclopedic knowledge of 1950 and 60s rock and roll combined with the heavy influence of American movies meant the images from Bruce’s first album already felt familiar. Most songs on Greetings…, especially Lost in the Flood and The Angel, have great cinematic flare. Bruce writes what he knows. His milieu is the big city and seaside resort as experienced by a bright curious American boy. Right from the album title through the postcard cover design to the last track, Bruce invites you into his world. His vision has knowable, safe parameters and sources; he is confident that his world is worth visiting and he is ready to show the rest of the world why.

I always like to know the first words of an artist’s career, meaning the first lyrics they sing on the first track on their first album. In Bruce’s case, Blinded by the Light kicks off Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. with these words: “Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat in the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat.” That’s a helluva start to a career! And only the beginning as a rampage of characters follow. In 1977 Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a #1 hit with their dreadful version of this tune but you need to know the original. It is Bruce’s first song.

Growin’ Up is a wistful mid tempo rocker that demonstrates Bruce’s evolved perspective on vanishing youth. Bruce was 23 years old when this album was recorded.

Mary Queen of Arkansas appears to live on Dylan’s Desolation Row having just returned from My Last Trip to Tulsa on Neil Young’s first album. Harrowing, sparse and personal yet lyrically opaque, Mary has just enough ambiguity and heartbreak showing through to make us yearn along with the poor confused boy.

Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? One of rock’s great question songs, it’s a peon to entertaining yourself by people watching while riding the bus. A favourite line is, “Man, the dope’s that there’s still hope.” Bruce conjures another wild cast that build to a gorgeous cinematic finale.

“Everybody’s wrecked on Main Street from drinkin’ unholy blood,”  – an apt description of the misfits and cops who populate Lost in the Flood. Three things about this track: it has some of Bruce’s most dramatic poetic images that build in an enticing musical and lyrical swell, Steven Van Zandt makes his first appearance on a Bruce album providing “sound effects” (he’d next appear on Born to Run two years later) and I love this track. It takes me there every time! Back in the day, that was the end of Side One of Greetings…

The Angel is the outline for a movie, sung plaintive and plain with a denouement I wish I’d thought of. It demonstrates that right from the get-go Bruce wasn’t afraid to use quiet strings and solo piano to frame his stories.

For You is another cascade of brief but urgent glimpses into the psychic field between devotion and rejection, disease and healing and all the angst contained therein. Bruce and the boys relay the emergency convincingly.

One of Bruce’s sexiest grooves, Spirit in the Night is my favorite track here. Today Martin Scorsese would direct the movie in which this is but one marvellous scene. The characters are high, happy and horny and the events at Greasy Lake are your basic orgy on the beach. Body and soul unite in a magical sex flight “where the gypsy angels go. They’re built like light,” one of my favourite Bruce characterisations. Clarence, who is under used on the album, establishes and maintains the bubbling groove and reenforces it with a fine break. Wild Billy has “a bottle of rose so let’s try it” which I take to mean Wild Irish Rose, a long-time harsh and cheap bum wine. The hint of sadness in Bruce’s voice in the last verse when they leave Greasy Lake makes me feel very nostalgic for youth, for the freedom the unknowable future encourages.

As if he foresaw or richly imagined the life and work ahead of him, such as  becoming a Planetary Treasure, It’s Hard To Be a Saint in the City is tongue-in-cheek bluster from one of the coolest guys Bruce ever described. Pumping along, high definition city core images arise then sink back into the steam in the street. The tune and album end with a burbling fadeout.

The E Street Band was in its formative stages on Greetings… The only players here who became permanent band members are saxman Clarence Clemmons and Garry Tallent on bass. The album suffers from muffled production by Mike Appel and Jim Creteros. The biggest drag on the band is the ham-fisted drumming of Vincent Lopez, one of rock’s worst over-drummers. Otherwise the playing is worthy of the songs, Bruce the lone guitar on the entire album.

In order to save some of the cash Columbia Records had advanced to Bruce, Greetings… was recorded quickly in an inexpensive studio in Blauvelt, N.Y. and it sounds like it. The tunes and the songs are there, the talent is evident and the whole album has the feeling of being just the tip of a very large iceberg but the production detracts more than it should. Nonetheless an auspicious beginning!

The album only sold about 25,000 copies in the first year of its release, but had significant critical impact. On its 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, Rolling Stone ranked it #379. It’s #57 on my list.

TWO

The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle

released September 11, 1973

This was the convincer for me. Like Axis: Bold As Love, Hendrix’s second album, The Wild… proved without doubt Bruce was a force that the future required, beckoned, quickened. Although again produced by Appel and Cretecos and recorded at 914 Sound Studios, the same studio as the first album, this outing is less muddy than the debut, in fact almost throughout it’s downright bright. Future permanent E Streeter, Danny Federici, turns up on keys, everything’s bigger, even Vini Lopez steps up a little – maybe it’s just how he was recorded this time. Again Bruce is the only guitarist on the album. The Wild… is attractive, convincing, eloquent, beautifully sequenced so every song complements and contrasts the ones around it and Clarence gets to wail!

The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle kicks off the escapade with clattery horns resolving into a smooth groove maintained by Clarence that bounces around under a story of sexy youthful diversions performed by a fleeting cast. The last minute and a half feature a sweet guitar break followed by a funky percussion workout to the fade. Sweet and a perfect introduction the next track.

One of my all-time favourite Bruce songs, 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), like all great rock and roll, is about fucking and the pursuit thereof. It’s Sandy’s big chance for sex with the needy poet boy from the beach. The fireworks of the first line promise orgasms later. Throughout he’s telling Sandy what he thinks she’ll buy, what will make her sexually sympathetic to him. He mentions getting stuck on the tilt-a-whirl, shares boardwalk gossip, explains his break-up with his waitress girfriend, tires of the factory girls who tease him, generally uses all his “lines.”  To create empathy, he tries to explain that he and Sandy are the same stuff, know the same lives.  I like how during the line “And the wizards play down on pinball way” Bruce’s acoustic guitar imitates Pete Townsend’s work on Pinball Wizard. Near the end of the song Bruce promises that if she loves him tonight he’ll love her forever. The delivery of the word forever is truly marvellous – a mixture of sexual urge, youthful promise and doubt with a huge scary question mark beside it which acknowledges the understanding between he and Sandy on this potentially special night! Beautiful! But he’s quitting the beach scene and encourages Sandy to do the same, to give up the “carnival life.” Although the song ends without a denouement, I like to think it all worked and they had mad, once-in-a-lifetime sex under the boardwalk that night creating more fireworks as promised.

Kitty’s Back is the perfect companion piece to Sandy, filled with seaside characters and their relationship to Kitty. Bruce’s sweet guitar playing sets the tone for the piece which has a free-for-all break that allowed most of the band members to improvise during concerts. This tune and Rosalita were the album’s most requested songs on CFRW-FM. 

Continuing the fast-slow-fast-slow flow of the album, Wild Billy’s Circus Story ends side one with a delightful visit to the circus and some brief glimpses of its odd denizens. Garry Tallent pumps the tuba, Federici provides accordian and Bruce strums guitar and mandolin to create a midway atmosphere so pure and convincing you can smell the hot dogs, taste the cotton candy and hear the screams of the roller coaster riders. Bruce writes what he knows yet the tune only hints at the drama that awaits us.

Side two consists of three epics starting with Incident on 57th Street which features Spanish Johnny and his adventures in bed and out on the street. Here’s Bruce’s opening description of our hero: “Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night with bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick but dressed just like dynamite.” The whole song could be the outline for a great movie script. The track is dominated by gorgeous piano and organ work from Federici and David Sancious and a bunch of tedious over-drumming from Lopez.

Fuelled by Clarence’s sax and Sancious’ organ, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) rocks! A long-time concert closer, it’s the story of our poor boy pursuing beautiful Rosie, his “stone desire,” against the strong will of her parents. He’s sure things will work out because “The record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance!” – one of Bruce’s happiest deliveries.

New York City Serenade offers romantic mythology couched in dramatic piano work from Sancious. The entire epic floats, buoyed by Sancious’ piano and string arrangement and Clarence’s sexy sax wail. A new cast arises, starting with Billy and Diamond Jackie getting it on in the backseat of Billy’s Cadillac at “midnight in Manhattan” with hookers, jazz musicians, small time crooks in “a mad dog’s promenade.” Clarence’s contributes glorious sax throughout. On a personal note, there are two lines from this song that I have said aloud to myself every night for the past 20 years just before I fall asleep. These words have become my day-ending mnemonic device to induce sleep: “Shake away street life, shake away city life.” Works every night.  Thanks Bruce!  

In 2003, The Wild… was ranked #132 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. On my personal list, it’s #17.

FM radio caught on to Bruce right away. He was hopeful, humorous, intense and great fun! For me, from the beginning, he was a breath of fresh and honest air in a growing sea of mediocrity dominated by phony bands like Kiss.

Bruce Springsteen changed my life. Find out how in this post https://readreidread.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/linda-and-the-boss/

Next my Bruce post is Born to Run. Coming soon to blog near you.   

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Filed under BEAUTY, Family, Hope, Linda, Love, Music, Old Souls, Spirit

Acorn Days

Reid Dickie

These are the acorn days of summer! The spring was wet and unpredictable, the summer hot and dry, which is the recipe for great acorns as the red squirrel that chastised me this morning at Marsh Lake for tossing a few acorns into the lake emphasized. Sitting under some old oaks, every breeze sent a few more acorns plopping into the grass. At the Cartwright Buffalo Jump on Thursday I sat under another old oak that did the same thing, occasionally dropping one on my head to keep me in the present moment. It’s been hot all week, around 30 degrees Celcius (about 85 degree F) every day, the heat’s last blast for this summer. It was a great time to travel so I covered about 800 kms of south-western Manitoba prairie in three days, visiting some new sites, shooting more video, working on several projects at once and hopefully getting some of them right! I’ll have several reports about the past few days in words and images on this blog soon.

As I sat at Marsh Lake this morning with smoke from my little fire drifting into shafts of morning sunlight filtered through oak branches, I said to myself: ‘I am doing exactly what I want to be doing at this moment. What an incredibly lucky man I am!’ I thanked Spirit for the moment and the awareness of the moment. This is a familiar occurrence as I can always find ways to be grateful, a search that becomes easier with practise.

The cool flush of change ranges in the summer prairie air tonight. The wings of geese, the chilly wind that makes my nipples stand up and my skin feel like cold paper, grandmother Nokomis rises waxing from her secret nest and Spirit waits, tapping its foot impatiently at Spirit Sands for us to return. We have returned! Time and again, alone and with friends, each visit has rejuvenated me, spurred me to dwell peacefully within myself.

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Happy Deathday Carlos Castaneda

Since Carlos was such a large influence on my early shamanic thinking, today I honour his day of ascension in 1998 after 72 years. He knew about it for years in advance. Don Juan showed him his death. Instead of quoting Carlos – he wrote a dozen books to do that – here is a short story I wrote called Carlos, Neil and Me. On a high hill in southern Saskatchewan next to a stone buffalo effigy, I met Carlos Castaneda. He was alone and naked except for a guitar. He sat cross-legged on the dry dun grass and strummed, trying to remember the words to some old Neil Diamond song.   The sun was in his eyes. He clenched them shut against the heat, the fury, the bullshit!   He asked if he could have my car. I told him it was rented.   “Rented!” he exclaimed. “Everything is rented!” with a wave of his hand to express inclusion. “We’re all rented!”   I gave him the car.    When he started it, that old Neil Diamond song was playing on the radio. 

   “I am…I said, to no one there,” sang Neil. 

   Carlos left me two bags of groceries and drove away. 

   “Everything is a circle,” said the buffalo effigy.

What’s with deathday?

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Happy Birthday Michelangelo

This portrait of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was painted by Marcello Vanusti. Born today in 1475, Michelangel0’s sculptures and paintings survive as masterpieces of any age. Stepping into Michelangelo’s head for a minute, he said, “A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.” and “The promises of this world are, for the most part, vain phantoms; and to confide in one’s self, and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course.” and “I live in sin, to kill myself I live; no longer my life my own, but sin’s; my good is given to me by heaven, my evil by myself, by my free will, of which I am deprived.” Not Dead/Dead since February 18, 1564
                            

“What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?” – Michelangelo

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Today is Yurt Day

           You may remember from my year-end review that I stayed in a yurt for the first time last fall at Spruce Woods Provincial Park. Though rainy and cool, it was a fine experience giving me the idea for this summer’s yurting.

             Kiche Manitou Campground, where the yurts are located, is near the Spirit Sands. Back in the 1990s, I used to hike the Sands at night during the full moon, spending the whole night atop the dunes, dancing naked and free then hiking back at dawn. No flashlight necessary. Fireflies flashed everywhere, the silver wolf willow glowed in the moonlight and a beautiful moon rose so close you could reach out and touch it. I was always exhausted by morning and wanted to rest but had the 2-hour drive home ahead. My yurt plan solves that dilemma.

Yurt #4 round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel.

             I wanted to book a yurt for the full moons in May, June, July and August then I could crash there after the all-nighters on the dunes. This morning at 7:30, Manitoba Provincial Parks opened up their reservation system to book yurts for the season. They have a call centre and an online booking system. I had my username and password all ready, opened the system and five minutes later I had booked all eight nights exactly as I wanted online! Paid with MasterCard and had my reservation confirmations by email five minutes later. It worked like a charm!

             Last year I stayed in Yurt #4, which had several features. It was above the Assiniboine River so you can see the river below. Plus it has a broad view of the night sky from the deck, great for star gazing. I got #4 for every one of my nights. You have to book two nights in a row with yurts but it’s a bargain at $54 a night, all in. The parks reservation system is easy to navigate. The yurts are very roomy so I will bring a friend this year.

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Filed under Day Tripping, Parks, Sacred Places, spirit sands

12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY ELEVEN

BIG BEAVER BUFFALO EFFIGY

July 19, 2010

 “Twinges of sweetness emerge in me”

            The highest hill around offers 360-degree exposure to the blue dome, a dancing ground overlooking vast rolling prairie dotted with farms nestled in coulees, scant bluffs, patches of hardpan and the crawling shadows of clouds. Half a mile further down the road I came in on, Saskatchewan ends and Montana begins. To the southeast, I can see the Big Beaver border crossing into the U.S. The vista includes a buffalo jump about four miles west. To the northwest is Buffalo Gap where the bison herds passed through to drink at Cow Creek. To the east is the large campsite where nations met for countless generations.

             This place protects the only known buffalo effigy in Canada. Forty-five feet across and twelve feet high, Buffalo is clearly laid out in stones, now half buried in the hard prairie dirt. A spirit pole has coloured cloths blowing from it and there are tobacco offerings on the stones, both signs of recent medicine making. The hilltop is strewn with tipi rings and a larger ceremonial circle to the southeast. Here I can sit on one of my favourite sitting stones and stare off down the distance. Sitting Bull visited this site many times for ceremonies to pray for the return of the buffalo to feed his people.

Spirit pole with cloth offering cloths next to Buffalo Effigy,  facing north and the road I came in on.

          On my way from Turtle effigy (see Day Nine), down a dusty good gravel road south of Big Beaver, SK, through a barbed wire gate, up an incline, over a Texas gate and at the top of the highest hill around waits Buffalo Effigy, peaceful, desolate, quiet. Approaching holiness, I feel tingling in my back and hips and the tight grin. The day remains hot and perfect. I smudge and do sacrament in the car. I will visit this place three times this summer, making about a dozen visits since the mid-1990s.

            I begin singing my power song as I approach Buffalo, circling the stones in a halting dance. I am recognized and welcomed. Penetrated only by the buzz of flies, zizz of wind through grass and, occasionally, the shriek of a red-tail hawk, the cone of silence descends over Buffalo. I am enclosed.

            A common experience every time I have visited Buffalo is a great sense of loss and sadness, the haunted echoes of a specie brought to the edge of extinction and the unbidden change that wrought upon the indigenous people. My personal loss makes this encounter more intimate for me now.

  Stone by stone representation of Big Beaver Buffalo Effigy. Liver stone just above left front leg.

         I dance freely sunwise around the effigy, singing my song, being present. My prayerful circles result in an invitation to sit on Buffalo’s liver stone, naked and only in the sunshine. Buffalo’s liver stone is about two feet long and a foot wide, black and mottled with orange lichen.  I pray til the cloud passes, strip and sit on the hot stone, which burns for a couple of minutes. More heat. I sit with my legs pulled up and my arms around my knees, eyes shut.

           I feel the stone rise several feet off the ground and we float there wavering in the breeze for several minutes. Heat pours down on me, the wind blows through me, I am loved, not alone. Filled with peace and purpose I recognize what is happening to me. I am purging more grief, twinges of sweetness emerge in me, be happy.

            After a few more blissful minutes curled on Buffalo’s liver stone, I give gratitude to Spirit for bringing me here today and moving through me once more.

            Standing  a little wobbly, I pull on my shorts and slowly walk once around Buffalo. Buffalo’s generosity reinforces the healing from Turtle. I am a lucky lucky man. I am living a dream.

            I retrieve my offering box from my medicine bag and leave some homemade tobacco mixture as an offering on the large stones next to the spirit pole, which stands a few feet away from Buffalo. The cloths wrapping the pole signify past medicine making by others at the site.

       Stock picture of Buffalo clearly shows the outline and the large liver stone in a dry short grass year. Spirit pole is to the right of the effigy.

             I am still amazed at how willing sacred places are to contribute to my spiritual development, to sense what I need and point me there. Today was an excellent example with love and healing from both Turtle and Buffalo coming in full measure. The ability of sites to abide healing on such a personal, intimate level bespeaks their long use by shamans and, in my case, continued use by neo-shamans. Spirit is always eager to pass through us, to heal us when we are in need, ready and open.

            Few sites have demanded physical nakedness from me but both Turtle and Buffalo required it today for their healing and I obliged. Only two other places have told me to be naked: the Spirit Sands on all three night hikes I have done there and the Two Feathers Medicine Wheel on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border west of Leader despite its huge red ant guardians. Unencumbered access to the whole being and the intensity of the healing required dictate the amount of skin needed.

         

Flat and patterned with orange lichen, one of my favourite sitting stones on the prairies is on a bench just below the Buffalo Effigy. The view of the rolling landscape atop the Missouri Coteau is spectacular. In the draw below the stone is the last Canadian farm. Half a mile further, Montana begins. The bench still has tipi rings.

             As I drive down the gravel road away from Buffalo, I pass a van full of people, a tour of local sights offered by the Coronach Tourism Department. Buffalo effigy is a stop on their tour. My timing was perfect but it would have been great to hear the guide say, “And here’s a naked white man floating on a rock.”

DAY TRIPPING

CRIDDLE VANE HOMESTEAD

October 3, 2010

         When well-educated Percy Criddle brought his wife Alice and his friend Elise Vane and the women’s nine children (all of them fathered by Percy) from England in 1882 he chose a quarter section of virgin prairie just south of what became CFB Shilo. He named it St. Albans and, though farming provided some income, Percy’s diverse interests included astronomy, music, medicine and sports, especially golf and tennis. Percy’s women had four more children in Canada. It was these thirteen adept, creative and hard-working children that made the place and the family a success.

            The eldest Criddle son, Norman, a noted entomologist and artist, built a laboratory on the farm to study local insects. When I visited St Albans, or what remains of it, with my childhood friend Susan this year, Norman’s lab was still standing. We opened the door and the only thing in the bare room was thousands of flies swarming and buzzing loud and crazy at the far sun-lit window. Susan joked they were looking for Norman for revenge. Another visitor told us not to go into one room of the old house as it was filled with wasps. Nature bats last.

Norman Criddle in front of his first entomology labat St. Albans. The current lab was built later.

            Besides the house, lab and a few sheds, little remains of the Criddle/Vane homestead. Walking trails take you to the ruins of the tennis court and golf course with signage filling in the details. A pleasant way to wile away an afternoon tasting Manitoba history.

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Filed under grief, Pioneers, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, shaman, shamanism