Waffle House

This country is a thrill ride. No shit — the roar of Macks and Peterbilts down Route 81 south through Maryland, Virginia, red diodes bleeding into the night. My wife and I just returned from a road trip: New York to North Carolina.

Sailing on traffic thermals along Virginia 220 toward Rocky Mount, Martinsville — shear hillsides, split Blue Ridge mounts, ghost cabins, Jesus on the AM, breakfast in Waffle House, eggs, grits, hash browns scattered and smothered.

Brings to mind a poem I wrote in Florida:


In the shrill light
against the black pearl glass
across the shimmering counter
large globe hanging

bearded rail of a man
hung over country eggs

waitress in Christmas nails
flatchested, hardscrabble

“My momma and my sister
had nary any polish remover
so I scratched off the Santa
and the Christmas Tree”

man faces window
onyx oblivion
and Denny’s neon
in the West Florida night

Also calls to mind the paintings of Jeffrey L. Neumann – motels, bars, eateries. Take a wild ride through his Web site, where you’ll see roadside America at its best. Pictured here is “Lota Burger” (oil, 38” x 72”), a real gem.

"Lota Burger," an oil painting by Jeffrey L. Neumann

"Lota Burger," an oil painting by Jeffrey L. Neumann

Add to Technorati Favorites
Rock Music Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

The Car

His pipe smoke curled around the rearview
the plastic arc of the steering wheel
taking position on Kingsbridge Road
the carnival of souls and storefronts past Sedgwick
quited somehow in the womb of the Dodge
rolling through the world in a ship

University Avenue next
then Fordham Road, Webster
the paternal power, the V-8
the omniscient voyager
one day making California,
Oregon, Canada, Mexico, Tibet

I was a quite five year old
stacking the stool my grandfather made
into the turned-over dining room chair
driving it state by state
hour by hour
around the world

“He’s such a good boy”
visitors would say
“plays nicely by himself”
Add to Technorati Favorites
Rock Music Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Kansas City Star

Papa walked the great hall
of Union Station
learned to box the language
at the Star
on his way into the world’s war

on the cusp of Bird’s entry
into the warble of the world
from the flesh and iron
of Kansas City

yard town, hog center
breadbasket, whistlestop
9ths and 13ths and Vine
where the Western Auto sign
now blinks and punctuates
the Thomas Hart Benton landscape

Add to Technorati Favorites

Breadbasket me, baby

Kind of a dream night here in Kansas City last night.  My wife, Roxanne took me to dinner. Lucky man, KC strips at the Golden Ox on 16th and Genessee. A 40s joint in the stockyard section, wood paneling, pleated bar, live jazz wafting in from the lounge. Even a brief departure from our glowy repast when, in the men’s room, I came face to face with a panoramic photo of the yards, circa 1910. The rawness of woodframed housings and pens, tiny figures of men burning remains — The hard terrors of the cattle industry churning my gut. And, yes, I turned from it, back to the paradise of the evening, which only got better.

We summoned our adoptive Pakistani cab driver, Al no less, who sped us back to our hotel, the Westin. Now it was a bottle of Riesling in the rooftop Benton’s (named for painter Thomas Hart Benton), where another jazz ensemble was playing, the Stephanie Laws Jazz Combo, with Wayne Hawkins, piano; Bob Bowman, bass; and Tim Cambron, drums. Even sans sax, they would’ve made Bird proud, moving like a long river through standards and pop surprises like Moondance. Even closing with “Over the Rainbow,” the tune Harold Arlen wrote in a rush on his way to the”Wizard” set; the tune Harold Arlen didn’t think had a shot. Oh yes, we are in Kansas.

And all the while, behind our couch was broad a picture window opening out onto the KC skyline. The Western Auto sign conducting the proceedings like a conductor with a neon baton, avenues of light funneling downtown.

Western Auto sign, Kansas City

Western Auto sign, Kansas City

Yes, I love America, and it doesn’t get purer to a junkie like me than the heartland. R’s like me. We revel in discovering the soul of a town. I need to feel its history, its music, its people. I need to peel back its layers, hear its long tales . I need it in the raw.

That’s what I’ve done in my songs over the last decade. I write about place. I try to see a city through time. That’s what I did in my debut album, “King Kong Serenade.” After all, New York’s my hometown. I drove its taxicabs, I sang on its streetcorners, I cooked in its kitchens and I wrote for its newspapers. As a sampler, try “Crossroads of America.”