“. . . When our grand passion had not yet become familial. . .” (Thom Gunn)

Boston, 1991

Boston, 1991

Somewhere in a box or pile or a file or a stack is a musical creation of mine (or not―it most likely met the same fate as most of my compositions), a small song cycle, a setting of three poems by Thom Gunn from his 1966 collection, Positives. I wrote the cycle in about 1970.

I don’t remember the poems or the music. I wrote the music as part of the work for my MA degree in music composition at what was then California State University at Los Angeles. I chose Gunn’s poetry because I found his book at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and it was the first collection I owned by a poet I knew was gay.

Yesterday I wore an old lavender T-shirt, shapeless and faded―like me―from the Boston Gay Pride Parade in 1991. My first Gay Pride Parade was the 20th in Boston—1990. For it I had a T-shirt that proclaimed in black letters nearly covering the front, “Nobody knows I’m gay!” In 1992 I had a T-shirt with the logo of the Boston Aids Hospice as I marched with the other volunteers from the Hospice (it closed in 1997, after I had moved to Dallas).

A member of the AA group I most often attended in 1991 had been present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. I used to own a book about the riots which contained a picture of her (yes, women were involved in the riots). She was uncomfortable with what she saw as the flippant use by the gay community of Stonewall as a rallying point. She remembered that night only with horror and fear. She could not bring herself to march in Pride Parades.

I was married at the time of Stonewall, but I remember watching the coverage on the national TV news and thinking I should have been there. My wife knew I was gay. Those were the days when many of us―my wife and I included―thought that getting married would somehow end my being gay. (Or, more likely, I thought it would provide “cover” for being who I knew I was.)

I wore my “Together in Pride, June 8th, 1991, Lesbian and Gay Pride” T-shirt yesterday to attend the celebration at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a selfie wearing it at the event.

Trying to sort out for myself, much less for anyone else, the complexity of my feelings throughout the day yesterday, and especially at the celebration, is seeming to be impossible.

First observation. I was (as I have become accustomed to being) one of the oldest people in the group of 2,000. My guess is there were fewer than 50 of us 70 or older.

Second observation. I was alone.

Third observation. It all seemed too easy.

Fourth observation. My tears over and over again yesterday were of joy, relief, fulfillment, jealousy, longing, and grief simultaneously and progressively, impossible to sort out.

Of course I am elated, overjoyed, and ecstatic at the Supreme Court decision, relieved that that step on the journey to civil rights is taken (I wonder if the LGBTQ community ready now to tackle racism, poverty, and xenophobia in this country).

The only man I have ever wanted to marry died in 2003 after we had been together 12 years. I sometimes long to be with him, and I grieve that we were never able to have a legally recognized relationship.

I grieve—yes, that’s the correct word—for the relationships I have had, beginning with my marriage to Ann. I grieve also that I am alone, that meeting a man I would want to marry, now that I could, seems improbable, if not impossible.

Hugged by the man I would have married

Hugged by the man I would have married (taken 1993)

Most of the crowd of people younger than I that gathered at the Cathedral of Hope yesterday—this is not sour grapes but a statement of fact—cannot know how much I treasure that 24-year-old lavender T-shirt (many of those wonderful folks were not even born in 1991). Or the pictures of my second partner and me taken in about 1985.

Or the memory of my “coming out” in my university newspaper in 1965—4 years before Stonewall.

I have never done anything “important.” Other than be something of a role model for (sometimes frightened and depressed) gay college students for 30 years. And volunteer at the AIDS Hospice. And march in parades. And write some pieces that have been published over the years. And try to be a good partner. And maintain a career viable enough to take care of myself.

One of the men I love and admire most these days was part of the Lambda Legal team that brought Lawrence v. Texas to the Supreme Court. One of my closest friends was a leader in ACT-Up in Boston in the ‘80s. A friend was the founder of the Gay group that still exists in the American Baptist Convention.

I’ve never done anything publicly important for the cause of LGBTQ rights. I’m not one of those the speakers last night acknowledged they were “standing on the shoulders of.”

Except I’ve persevered. I’ve lived a life of quiet (sometimes) desperation, desperation that may or may not have had anything to do with being a gay man (that’s a topic so complicated seven psychiatrists and three neurologists have never been able to untangle).

And now I am alone.

I’m not asking for anyone’s pity. Only some acknowledgement and understanding that my feelings yesterday were justifiably complex and contradictory. Which means they were (are) like my feelings my whole life long. My passions were my passions when they “had not yet become familial.” Could not become familial in the most basic sense.

“THE HUG,” BY THOM GUNN (1929-2004)
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
―(From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.)

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

In which I prove myself to be a spooky un-American kook

First, let me say—although you may not think this is true if you read to the end of this piece—I believe any killing of one person by another is immoral, despicable, and reprehensible. I include in “any” the killing of “any” other person by “any” law-abiding citizen with a permit to carry a lethal weapon in a “Stand-Your-Ground” shooting (or in any other situation). If one abhors murder and abortion and terrorist bombings, then it is only logically consistent that one abhors carrying any lethal weapon for the purpose of killing someone even in the noble act of “self-defense.” Do not, if you carry a gun, speak to me of your hatred or fear of “terrorism.” You are a terrorist—your purpose is to instill terror in the heart of another human being.

Military-Industrial-anti-Terrorism complex

Military-Industrial-anti-Terrorism complex

The Boston Marathon bombings were as despicable as any act can be. I spent day after day at the Boston Public Library when I was researching my dissertation in 1987. I stood virtually where the first bomb exploded day after day waiting for the bus. I love that place. I am horrified and distraught and weep for the victims. I cannot imagine the courage and selflessness of the people who ran toward the victims of the bombing.

That said, I offer the spooky kooky opinion that will make nearly everyone who might have stumbled onto my blog stop reading: The “lock-down” of Boston was totally unnecessary, an exercise in mind-control over the general public of Massachusetts and, by extension, the entire population of the United States.

Police chases (even police chases with “fire fights”) occur in this country every day. How could they not with the per capita ownership of guns in the US standing at .89. That is, for every 100 people, there are 89 guns. The only country that comes even close is Yemen (where the US is convinced the remnant of Al Qaeda is flourishing) with 55 guns per 100 people (1).

So we live in the most violence-prone society in the world. Murder and police chases after suspected murderers are popular in movies because they are absolutely believable. There is nothing fantastic about them. We thrive on the “news” of yet another police chase. (Oh, come on, don’t be holier-than-thou!)stand-your-ground-law1

If the two young men who are accused (probably correctly, but who knows at this point?) of detonating the bombs at the Boston Marathon did, in fact, perpetrate that unspeakable act of violence, injury, and death against totally innocent and unsuspecting persons, they (the remaining man) deserve the full force of the justice our society can bring to bear.

Professor John Mueller of Ohio State University, who holds the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, says in an article published by International Studies Perspectives it has been

. . . common, at least since 1945, for the United States to exaggerate foreign threats, and then to overreact to them, something that seems to be continuing with current concerns over international terrorism(2).

And overreact the FBI, the National Guard, the Massachusetts State Police, the Watertown Police, and the Boston Police did.

Now, this morning, the headline in the Dallas Morning News is, “FBI had talked to suspect: Kremlin asked U.S. about man in 2011 before his trip to Russia.” The entire story is innuendo. Congress members are frantically “express(ing) concern about the FBI’s handling of a request from Russia before [Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s] trip to examine the man’s possible links to extremist groups in the region.” There is not, in the DMN story, a single fact about the (alleged) Marathon Bomber except that the Russians—because he was an ethnic Chechnyan and a Muslim—were concerned that he went to Russia to renew his passport so he could stay in the United States. The Russians, one might point out, are concerned about Chechnyan Muslims in general. Because Russia maintains its control over Chechnya only by force.

. . . to exaggerate foreign threats. . .

. . . to exaggerate foreign threats. . .

Whatever the Tsarnaev brothers’ connection to Chechnya or its separatists, the US government will, if it finds any link at all, succeed in convincing Americans that we are about to be destroyed by Chechnyan separatists. Tsarnaev may well have been radicalized by going home to Russian (never, one might point out, to Chechnya). I have no way of knowing.

But if we are suddenly told, warned, bamboozled into believing that Chechnyan separatists are a threat to the United States and, for example, the minute relaxations by the NTSB of restrictions on what may be carried onto a plane are reversed, we will have made President Obama a liar. He said yesterday that, “Americans refuse to be terrorized.”

In 1961 President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans not to be taken over by the Military-Industrial Complex. Those are not the rantings of a delusional old man (he was only three years older at the time than I am now—perhaps all old men are delusional). I’m pretty sure he’d add the “anti-Terrorism Industry” to that today.

Were Watertown and Boston terrorized by one 19-year-old college boy or by the entire police apparatus of the Federal and State and City governments and the insatiable sensation-seeking media? Think about it.
_________
(1) Please don’t tell my students that my source for this is “Number of guns per person by country.” Wikipedia. (2) Mueller, John. “Simplicity And Spook: Terrorism And The Dynamics Of Threat Exaggeration.” International Studies Perspectives 6.2 (2005): 208-234.

“. . . decay is the green life of change. . .”

nasatv2When I was working on my M.A. in music composition at California State College at Los Angeles—now University—in the early 70s—for most of that time I was working the graveyard (sic) shift at Los Angeles County Hospital as a technician in the blood gas laboratory (and trying to stay sober enough in the evenings to get to work at midnight), I became obsessed with the notion that I would not live beyond age 27. That would have been 1972.

I’ve obviously made it 41 years longer than that.

I like to watch the NASA channel. It has a more-or-less non-stop program called “Education Hour.” You can see the astronauts on the International Space Station puttering around doing experiments. I never know quite what’s going on (and I’m not sure if it’s live or old video). But that doesn’t matter. I like the fact that someone somewhere, without fanfare  or sufficient introduction is trying to teach me about the experiments being done in space.  I like it that the channel and the experiments are as mysterious as space exploration.

Sometime between 1987 and 1994 while I was teaching music at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, I became aware that the composer Gardner Read lived in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a stone’s throw from my condo in Salem, MA. I remember none of the particulars about how we became acquainted. However, I soon played an organ recital at my church in Salem including three or four of his settings of Southern hymn tunes. He and I had lunch together several times, and he came to my performance of his work. He was pleased at least by the recognition if not by my performance, and we kept in touch until I moved to Dallas.

I first learned of Gardner Read the way most wanna-be composers did/ do—through his magisterial book, Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice, which was (is) required as a resource for all composition students. The revised edition was published in 1972, the projected year of my death, but in fact, the year I wrote my Concerto for Organ and Orchestra as my M.A. thesis. When I look at it now, I wonder who on earth did all of that. It has never been performed, and I doubt that it could be or that anyone would want to listen if it were.

When I failed to die in 1972, I set about finding and studying poetry about death. I have dribs and drabs of notes here and there about that stuff, photoreadand much has ended up stored on my computer (I’ve never lost my interest in that kind of writing). Of course, as my Shakespeare professor in college said, quoting God-knows-who, all literature “is about either kissing or killing,” so I never want for poetry about my immanent death—or is it yours?

I recently came across one of my favorite such poems, “All nature has a feeling,” by John Clare (1793 – 1864).

All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal: and in silence they
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books;
There’s nothing mortal in them; their decay
Is the green life of change; to pass away
And come again in blooms revivified.
Its birth was heaven, eternal it its stay,
And with the sun and moon shall still abide
Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.

My fascination with the NASA channel (or is it my need for a sleeping potion?) is pretty much summed up in “All nature has a feeling.” I think about it a great deal of the time. Is it true there’s “nothing mortal in” nature? Does that mean I’m not mortal? (yes, it’s all about me).

When I think about the current state of my existence, I sense that my mind is still very much alive. My body seems to be catching up with the abuse I’ve given it over the years. I don’t think I have much control over that. But I do have some control over my mind. Decay is the green life of change.

Now we come to my usual leap over a giant logical chasm.

An experiment in aging

An experiment in aging

Gardner Read and NASA. I’m trying an experiment. At one point in my life I found the easiest way to learn a new piece of organ music was to memorize the melody (or some part) in my mind before I ever played it.

Now I’m conducting an experiment. Can I still do that? Is decay the green life of change or simply decay?

My first attempt is with a short piece Gardner Read gave me twenty-five years ago that I’ve never played.  I’m also working on a piece of Gerhard Krapf’s in my mind. Stay tuned.