seafaring


“The seagull – now there’s a bird that loves a good joke!”

with squalls pealing in from the distance, bell-like,

carried in and blowed about on the wind

welcoming sailors home from the sea, everywhere

to land, sweet land

though sometimes you’d rather just keep going –

not stop and be bothered by

all that worldly busy-ness

– except perhaps, for that cacophonous welcome!

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all images and artwork © copyright the author 2011. may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without prior arrangement

“3 devil morning” – by amyeighttrack, pencil & watercolor, 1982.           This drawing came straight out of my subconscious. It is somewhat the product of being hung over and shamed.  It's a very scary combination - not a muse I would recommend. Still... this is one of my favorite drawings ever! So what's the lesson, in terms of 'the muse'? I would say: find a way to tap into the subconscious (sans alcohol/other 'substances') in an uninhibited, free-flowing way. Maybe it's about learning to trust yourself; your instincts, your point of view.  Find a way to draw because you have to draw. Let it be your 'diary' or journal.

“3 devil morning” – by amyeighttrack, pencil & watercolor, 1982. This drawing came straight out of my subconscious. It is somewhat the product of being hung over and shamed. It’s a very scary combination – not a muse I would recommend. Still… this is one of my favorite drawings ever! So what’s the lesson, in terms of ‘the muse’? I would say: find a way to tap into the subconscious (sans alcohol/other ‘substances’) in an uninhibited, free-flowing way. Maybe it’s about learning to trust yourself; your instincts, your point of view. Find a way to draw because you have to draw. Let it be your ‘diary’ or journal.

“design exercise – collage”, early ’80’s. Inspired by an art class design exercise. I think I tried to develop some design ideas; then chopped up and combined some of them with random stuff.

“Free” – collage – tempera & pencil, c. 2009. I had the materials available and wanted to try something different from a picture/word collage. You can’t see it in the photo, but I wrote FREE in pencil in the lower right corner

“nuclear” – pencil, felt pen, watercolor, 80’s. I think it was inspired by my art class design exercise and collage work.

“cassette player on ship cabin desk w/ checked tablecloth” – pencil and felt pen. Straight from the subconscious – I probably wanted to express how much music meant to me as a merchant mariner. It was like a splash of color on a grey, endless horizon; it made one feel a bit less isolated. It was a social thing, too; a broadening experience – sharing music.

“russian submarine bird” – ballpoint and felt tip pens, 80’s. Click on photo to see detail. Just doodles. I wish I still had that ability to just tap into/go into my subconscious. Or maybe I decided I didn’t like what I saw there.

“killer whale pod” – ballpoint and felt tip pens, 80’s. Doodles, as above.

“lonesome bird that looks like me” – xerox of original – collage, felt tip pen, c. 1984. Another doodle. Existentially lonely and kept company by a little bird outside my window that told me I’d be okay. Well, anyway – birds seems to resonate to something essential, within my life. This drawing may have been one of the first manifestations of that.

“scribbles” – pencil, crayon and watercolor. c. 1979. My mother and an artist friend were doing a whole bunch of these and invited me to try. I like the simplicity of the technique and its possibilities for spontaneous expression.

See watercolor and crayon art at Google Images here . There’s some schlocky ones, some nice ones, some by children… even some by masters like Camille Pissarro. This one was on page 16, lol  It’s nice to see how refined and beautiful some of them are; the skill; how far you can go with simple elements. Lots of great ideas and links!

“explosion” – collage with newspaper, pencil & pens, 80’s. Art class assignment to represent an explosion.

“Burroughs”  – collage w/ ballpoint and felt pen, 80’s. A doodle. I didn’t set out to draw Burroughs – it’s just what came out. I like the Folgers Instant Coffee label; it seemed to go well with it.

See a brilliant painting of Burroughs here by Roger Shimomura and an excellent article about Roger Shimomura here who did a series of paintings about the racial stereotyping of Asians.

“doll”     –     xerox of a watercolor by my mother. I wish I had more of her artwork, or even photos of it. Mom, you left us too soon… xoxox

One by my sister. My photo is blurred and doesn’t capture the richness & detail.

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Why do I call my blog amyeighttrack? It was a joke that came to me when I was starting my blog and I needed a name for it. I’m showing my age, I guess – I actually used to listen to music on 8 track. And I do write a bit about some of the music I like.

I attended the Seafarers’ International Union’s School of Seamanship in 1974. This school in rural Maryland has long been a model of union education. It’s approach to the training of personnel was innovative. It was founded, during the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, to meet the needs of a growing industry and provide a ready labor force. I don’t know whether working on ships back then as a merchant mariner got people an exemption from the draft – I’d be  interested in knowing.

I have some now-pleasant memories of sitting or working in the cafeteria, with “Free Bird” echoing out on the eight track, ad nauseum. It made a nice – if somewhat bluesy – soundtrack for all the young angst and passion – up, up and away!! Just pop it in the player and you’re good to go!

The sound was actually good, it reverberated nicely – especially when the cafeteria was empty; and was nice background music when the cafeteria was full and buzzing with conversation. Someone also had ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres ” – nice; “I Can Help” by Billy Swan (mmmmm, yeah, right!) – nice; and BTO, “Blue Collar” – nice.

Later, on a ship, I went in with a friend on an 8-track stereo and some tapes. As you can imagine, 8 track tapes were a better system than a phonograph to have on a ship; though our stereo had a phonograph, too. We bought some tapes – “War Live” (which I recommend highly. The versions of the same material on “The Very Best of War” are highly truncated);  “Sally Can’t Dance” by Lou Reed; and “Bad Company”. Someone had a record of “Texas Gold” by Asleep At The Wheel, a very fine album (go to review here) with some really great Western Swing music; and some very serious drinking songs, indeed. The songs “Miss Molly”, “I’ve Been Everywhere”, “Miles and Miles of Texas”, “Choo Choo Ch’boogie” and many others by that band are also favorites of mine.

I met many interesting people at the school. There were a lot of guys from the East Coast and some from the South.  Shipping out of a few different US ports – Houston, San Francisco and Seattle, I met lots more people. There were new crews on every ship; and people who’d join the ship from whatever port that someone else got off in. I developed an abiding love for the many different peoples and regions of the US, each with their own unique character. It broadened my musical tastes and brings back some nice memories.

I worked on ships from 1975 through 1986. It wasn’t an easy lifestyle. It was pretty tough, at times. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

The industry in the U.S. has changed a lot since then. The little tankers I was on and most of the ships had a crew of about 42. Since then the ships have gotten bigger and the crews smaller, to maybe 23 or less.

Instead of there being what I would call a “merchant marine”, a lot of the jobs now are in support of the huge-and-growing military-industrial complex – one of the growth industries of the past decade or so. How regrettable that our society and values have come down to this – militarism. Then again, how many options are there for – especially poor – youth today? The merchant marine might still make an attractive alternative to the military.

I mostly worked in the steward department. They assigned me that, because of my glasses. I worked on freighters – mostly container ships, by then – and tankers – hauling fuel or grain. I worked on a ship that laid telephone cable on the ocean floor between Guam and Okinawa. I also worked on a Navy ship.

I sailed to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Indonesia, The Philippines; Leningrad in the then-USSR; Italy, Spain; down the Pacific coast of Central America and through the Panama Canal; Jamaica and other Caribbean ports; Brazil and The Ivory Coast. I feel fortunate and believe that travel or living abroad is a valuable, enriching human experience.

It’s been interesting seeing some of the people I met through the Union’s educational program and political work rise through the ranks of Labor and the industry. It puts a human face on Labor, for me. I have a lot to be grateful for.

My god, how the school has changed. The way it’s grown, I hardly recognize it. The school curriculum and program has grown, too. We never had ‘Small Arms Training’, ‘Anti-Terrorism’ or ‘Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense’; courses now required for employment on some government vessels, where so many of the jobs are. I hate guns. Marching in formation was bad enough.

Back then, there wasn’t a mandatory 3 month apprenticeship period ship-board after the 3 months of school training. Today this apprenticeship period includes 4 weeks in each of the shipboard departments (engine, deck & steward), followed by more courses and upgrading. We didn’t have as good a firefighting course, either. It sounds fairly challenging – but it’s a good skill to have, on a ship!

I see that they no longer have an academic course for art. That’s a real shame! Some of the favorite art that I’ve ever done was a result of assignments for the little 3-credit course I took. However, it looks like they have some other very good courses.

The Seafarers International Union has an excellent and interesting website. View website here They have many beautiful pictures of ships and the seafaring life. You can check out their monthly publication ‘The Seafarers Log’; read more about the school; and even download the school’s 90 page catalog under the subheading, ‘Paul Hall Center’.

Dharma Lion: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg by Michael Schumacher

I wrote this poem in 1994 to remember how I felt and what I thought – some impressions – after finishing the “Dharma Lion” biography. I was depressed from chemotherapy. Finishing the book seemed like a victory; recording and writing the poem was cathartic. It was a sort of  journal entry, so I wouldn’t forget all of the good stuff I’d just read.

I resisted the urge to try to send it to Ginsberg, which I had done with an earlier poem in 1976. He kindly replied to that… [See “poem sent to Allen Ginsberg, 1976” on this blog.] 

I saw Ginsberg up close once, standing in the aisle with Anne Waldman, after one of the nights of the Nova Convention honoring William Burroughs, in NYC. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday – Nov 30th , Dec 1st  & 2nd , 1978)

There’s an awesome link!! to the Giorno Poetry Systems recordings from the Nova Convention here.

I wish that I had taken the opportunity to go up to him to shake hands and say hi, but I was shy and didn’t really understand his greatness. Whatever… I met his gaze with admiration and seriousness.

It was quite an event, the Nova Convention. I attended Friday and Saturday nights. I was staying in a drafty dorm room in Brooklyn with a bunch of other guys as we upgraded our Seafarers’ Union status. I got a cold and a nasty cough, partly despatched with some penicillin. My new friend Glen and some of the others showed me how to use the subways in New York.

Anne Waldman read her poem “Skin Meat Bones” [also the title of a collection of her poetry, Coffee House Press, 1985.] It’s a very powerful piece.

From Publishers Weekly:  “The verse in this collection is meant to be read aloud. Alongside the title poem are pitch instructions: ‘skin,’ high soprano register; ‘Meat,’ tenor; ‘bones,’ basso profundo. As if they were notes, Waldman plays with words, with their sounds and rhythms, placing them in various configurations within the poetry…”

There’s a nice trancelike recitation by Waldman with accompaniment by Ambrose Bye here

Ginsberg performed one of his Blake poems set to music – “The Nurse’s Song” from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” – accompanying himself on the harmonium and with a young man on guitar [Steve Taylor?] as well.  That incredibly rich, deep mellifluous voice of his, rollling out, “All  of  the hillllssss   ech-ooo-edddd!”. What a wonderful memory, probably my favorite from the event.

Frank Zappa was there as a stand-in for Keith Richards, apparently; who was supposed to have been there discussing songwriting. I have a vague recollection of Frank reading Burroughs’ “Talking Asshole” bit, pretty straightforward if not deadpan– truly the perfect guy to do it. Perhaps the occasion was a source of inspiration for some of his later anti-censorship activism…

Certainly Ginsberg and Burroughs used language not for the squeamish, but it didn’t leave that much of an impression on me at the time. Listening back to some of the recordings at the link above, Ginsberg’s performance surprised me – I had only remembered the gentleness and serenity of his soul…

Laurie Anderson’s performance piece was playful, weird – changing her voice into a little girl’s voice, with electronics… I can’t remember if she played her electronic violin… it seems like she did… It was all pretty cool, definitely left an impression.

Patti Smith good-naturedly announced that Keith Richards hadn’t been able to make it, after all. (Did anyone really think he was going to be there? I think most of the crowd was pretty jazzed at the line-up of luminaries, anyway.) She recited a couple of poems with some singing thrown in for good measure, playing clarinet and accompanied by Lenny Kaye on guitar. My most vivid memory is of her screeching abandonedly on her clarinet as a frantic-blonde haired female groupie in a leopard skin top beseeched her from rightinfront of the stage.

Yeah, I think Keith was having problems of his own then. Weird days, my memories of my time in NY… alone yet joyously independent… hazy drugsandsomethingevil in the air, like acrid smoke – stark,  slanted sunlight of winter though not too cold…  Sid Vicious  all over the news everywhere after the murder of Nancy…

Listening to a friend’s copy of the then radical, bonecrushing assault of the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind The Bollocks” – it seemingly made inroads into the musical / cultural lexicon – what did it mean?… Well it was pretty gritty and tight rock and roll, for the times. A real revival.  [Recommended reading: “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain]

Burroughs concluded the event  on Saturday evening. It was just 2 weeks after Jonestown – it was InTheNews. My memories of Burroughs speaking are of his inimitable gross-out droll humor; my own struggle to control a nasty cough as he spoke about “virus infected shits”; and his solemn parting words, “Onward, to Jonestown!”

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Ted Joans, the Beat era poet, organized two vigils in Seattle when Ginsberg passed. I read my Ginsberg poem at both. I got to meet Ted. He gave me a photo of myself reading, when I saw him at the second one. So thoughtful…!

Ted Joans, along with LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka , was an important African-American voice in the Beat era. They of course got little of the limelight that their caucasian peers did.  Amiri Baraka went on to help initiate the Black Arts movement.  And the jazz that Kerouac and many others loved was largely played by people of color. His enthusiasm for the music –  very much a muse of and influence on Kerouac, who also wrote about jazz as a critic – I believe helped to serve as an example of greater tolerance within the larger confines of society.

When he spoke at the second vigil he urged us to ”Be kind” and said that our poems etc. were going to be compiled and put in some kind of book. I never heard any more about that, though I think I gave him a copy of my poem.

Ted was in the Seattle phone book at the time; he was living here. I wish that I would’ve taken the opportunity to invite him and his missus to dinner at my home – taken his “kindness ethic” to heart. But I was too uptight. Afraid he would try to mooch some money from me or something. How pathetic of me.

At the second vigil I wore a red chiffon scarf around my neck. I got up to read this poem. I tore off my shirt with a mad gleam in my eye, and asked no one in particular if I should continue to disrobe. I wanted to do something memorable in honor of Ginsberg; which incidentally, was something he was famous for. I’d invited along my sister and a friend. Joans kindly urged me not to, lol.

Some woman spoke about what a lecher Ginsberg was, he’d tried to seduce her or something. We all gasped inwardly; that musta been Ginsberg come back to smile on us…

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That  Long  Allen  Ginsberg  Biography  I  Read
( Dharma  Lion)

************************************************
Allen Ginsberg!
– lover of teeming humanity, your fellow fellow man
man’s actual human being!    …so warm
You’ve  given the world your very humanity
relaxed honest sexuality
Ahhhh, gift of brotherhood –
not weepy, shrinking –
forthright and direct –
Angry World – go love yourself!

Ginsberg –
in love with your persona –  a human fame
Perfect accomplishment!  Remarkable  life!
Energy, and driven –
Remarkable toiler, master of your art and intellect.
Ohhh, very wise one
your typical All-American Jewish success story
Real..  People’s..  Advocate!

In a disposable world,
they were unable to put your can out on the curb
shut you up or shut you down.
a hero to generations
in the void of America, you discovered…
the rest of the world!
Your amazing presence on earth
my poetic muse
Your gift – a gift to us all

Your human love – between all people a bond
warm humanity, in awe as I read.
Did you invent yourself ?
– The millennium of the moments of your life,
colorful, they appear before my eyes
you’ve showed me something
– gave birth to yourself!

O, very wise one
awesome vision, visionary
protector of the earth
observing, commenting on
American  society and its
bareballed naked hairy lies
defrocker of falsehood
and legislated morality

beat generation…

this legacy!…
borne  on  your  poetic  voice, as the wind

raised by it
was the only thing that caught my ear, anyhow
– made good sense
not that rhymey stuff!
Ahh, now I understand – unrhymey stuff!

Read your biography
– it was good!
you know lots about
what’s good about life

I’ve admired you for many years
now I read this  bio
Now I wrote this down so clean
Thanks and Thanks…

…to  the  Author  of  your  life

(1994)

see also:  The Beat Writers