Icarus’ First Song

22 04 2015

The novel “Songs of Icarus” begins with this song.

Chuck Berry’s original lyrics

The People passing by, they would stop and say
Oh my that little colored boy could play

were changed to

The People passing by, they would stop and say
Oh my that little country boy could play

Chess Records wanted the song to play on white radio and in the 50’s there were no songs about “colored” rock stars being played on white radio. So Chuck changed the lyric and sang it like this in 1958…

In that video the audience is all-white. Typical of the times in the South.

Chuck’s longtime friend and piano player was Johnnie Johnson. It is said that he inspired Chuck’s guitar riffs with his piano. The song itself is autobiographical and about Chuck’s musical journey from St. Louis, not New Orleans.

Johnnie Johnson died 10 years ago last week. Here’s his obit from the NYT…


Jim Collins goes on his own journey in “Songs of Icarus.” It’s much different from Johnny B. Goode’s but without Chuck’s music there would have been no journey at all for Jim.

Here’s Chuck singing his song with some other rock ‘n’ rollers over the years…

BTW an A/R man turned Yoko’s mic off when they played this tune. He has been thanked profusely over the years. Mostly by musicians.




The Song That Got Away

12 04 2015

As soon as the 40-somethings or younger see a black-and-white TV image you’ll be off to another blog. I don’t blame you. But here’a a tidbit to chew. Before Domenico Modugno sang this song Italian singers stood motionless when singing. He broke the tradition…

Thanks to a friend for sending me the story behind the song inspired by Marc Chagall…


For me “Volare” is the song that got away because it was one of the songs of Jim Collins in my novel “Songs of Icarus” in an early draft. I was using lyrics of songs as part of the story but when I found out that was going to be legally troublesome I went through the book and removed more than 100 partial song lyrics. Not an easy thing for me but it had to be done to stay away from copyright infringement in the litigious US. If there’s a second edition of “Songs of Icarus” direct mention will be made of the song. Right now Page 212 contains an indirect reference. The book can be found here…


This week I made a new friend. As usual during the getting-to-know-you I asked, “What do you do?” His answer was, “I am a pilot.” I took a deep breath – “Did you always want to fly?” “Oh yes, from when I was a little boy.” I didn’t tell him about my dreams of writing “Songs of Icarus.”

Repression of the sub-conscious works in strange ways. I think it’s part of being human to want to fly. Why else would there be an Icarus myth. I never consciously knew how big a thing it was with me to fly and I never knowingly wanted to be a pilot, but I did have a recurring dream about flying. One day long ago I was talking to a psychiatrist friend of my ex-wife about my novel. I told him I wanted to be a writer for a long time. His eyes got that look of ohh-I-get-it then he said, “Of course it’s a deferred dream.”

Langston Hughes wrote about them in “Harlem”…

langston hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

In my life “Songs of Icarus” is part of a continuing explosion that will only end when John Donne’s Meditation XVII bell tolls.

Viviendo en tiempo yucatecos a la balneario (Read – Living on Yucatecan time at the beach resort)

4 04 2015


Welcome! One of Yukalpeten’s best words. I was there yesterday. It’s Semana Santa (Read – Holy Week) in Mexico. For a country as poor as this one I find it comforting to share with the people their love of sea and sand if not their God or gods. As a Taoist I believe in the flow of life – light changing to darkness and darkness changing to light. It’s part of my DNA double helix and most of the time I follow the teachings found in the I Ching – modesty, tolerance, forgiveness, control of the ego and its demands.

Nearby Progreso is more well known on the Gulf of Mexico. Yukalpeten is a place for middle class families to sit in the sun or the shade and enjoy tiempo cualidad (Read – quality time). The state-operated balneario charges 30 pesos (Read – 2 bucks) to get in. Unfortunately only 30 pesos keeps out most of the poor – so many can not afford 30 pesos here.

Hammocks can be really dangerous. Mi novia y su familia (Read -my girlfriend and her family) follow the family tradition of BYOH – Bring Your Own Hamaca – and tie it to the roof.


What is not pictured is a Philadelphia-Whitemarsh Rugby Club gringo with creaky knees getting into and out of his hammack. It was a sitcom for the Mexicanos to watch. In my younger days my face would redden from the sun and anger but now it’s laugh and the world laughs with you. Why not with a view like this…


The mid-afternoon ritual is to sit under the BIENVENIDOS sign eating. Whole fish caught in the morning are cooked in vats of olive oil and served with ceviche and ensalada. A kilo (Read – 2.2 lbs.) of pescado frito (Read – fried fish) costs 160 pesos (Read – a little over $10). Ask any fisherman or anyone else for that matter. Fresh caught fish are as good as it gets with a cerveza fria (Read – cold beer).

The downside – you have to stand in line and wait for the fish to be cooked. It can take a while with so many people to feed. It brought to mind Christ multiplying those baskets of fish. No need for loaves of bread there were enough tortillas for everybody.

The upside – everybody is friendly and chatting while they wait.


For some reason or other I don’t miss Philly or LA.

The Cruelest Month

2 04 2015


April started yesterday. Why did T. S. Eliot deem it so? Most of us know the opening words of “The Waste Land.” What comes after gives us a clue.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

And so begins the first part (The Burial of the Dead) of a poetic masterpiece. Have we buried poetry? A friend asked me that question yesterday. Some still write it, but few read it. This is a new age. The hip-hop world has no time for elaborate mysticism. If it’s dirty put it down, bro. Down and dirty.

What was goin’ on with ole Tom when he wrote the 20th century’s most well-known lines? Well for one thing he had been working at the bank and had to get away. The guy had a mental breakdown. Who wouldn’t working with Lloyd’s of London? I know because I worked with some of them back in the day when I was a computer techie. Eliot went to the Albermarle Hotel in the English seaside resort Margate. Tom and I have something in common. I used to watch Russell vs Chamberlain at The White House owned by Red Klotz of the Washington Generals and party at The Gables dance club. My Margate is in New Jersey though.


Everyday in Margate TS took a tram, watched the sea and wrote. It was after his time in Margate he changed the poem’s title. Ezra Pound suggested that he do so. It was originally called “He Do the Police in Different Voices” based on a Charles Dickens’ quote. I doubt with that title it ever would have become the most important poem of its time, however Jay Z would have recorded it.

Why “The Waste Land”? Could it have been in reaction to Margate’s Dreamland? Dreamland was the newly given name of the amusement park in Margate. It had been re-modeled after Coney Island in New York in 1920 by John Henry Iles who set up parks all over the world.


In 2008 Dreamland caught on fire and became its own wasteland.



It’s scheduled to re-open this year.

Maybe you’d like to mix memory with desire and stir a dull root with spring rain…


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