I attended Mt. Carmel H.S. on Chicago’s South Side. I was a top student, editor of the yearbook, member of the National Honor Society, and the debate and track team. James T. Farrell, author of Studs Lonigan, went to my school in the 40’s and later attended the University of Chicago, located a few blocks away. I followed his example and applied as well. Surprisingly I was accepted.
Attending the U of C was difficult. While I might have been smart, I was no match for the sophisticated students from the top schools in New Jersey and New York. I ended up the year with a D+ average. My sophomore year, I decided that if I was going to fail, I wanted to take classes I was interested in. So I enrolled in an art class, an American history class and a modern drama class.
The first day of Modern Drama was an eye opener. The teacher walked in wearing a short black leather mini-skirt and a red Che Guevera tee- shirt. She started the class by telling us that drama was a living art, one enacted on the stage. Books were not a substitute for a live performance. She then announced that each student in the first half of the semester would write a play. Then later, we would each act in one of the student plays.
Needless to say everyone was stunned. Professor Farinda West turned out to be a great teacher. We discussed contemporary drama. She had just come from England and knew so much of what was happening in the field. As the time came to write my play I was stuck. I did not know what to do but I knew it had to somehow involve me personally.
I loved the plays of Beckett, Pinter and Ionesco. In a moment of inspiration I decided to tape-record a “conversation” with 6 different friends about 6 different topics. After the conversations were transcribed I would remove myself from the transcription just leaving the 6 half conversations strung together without editing. I was thrilled with the results. At times the conversations appeared lucid, connected and linear. Other times there was a skewed sense of dialogue, an unfamiliar displacement in which the reader or listener tried to make sense of the words. I received an A for the class and stayed in school.
Later, I learned about John Cage using elements of “chance” in musical composition. Musicians like AMM from England would suspend a microphone and short wave transmitter over an electric guitar as they improvised a form of “abstract” jazz. Painters like Jackson Pollack, Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler used chance although with great facility and control to create their canvases. And working in ceramics no matter your control, the kiln always surprised you.
Listening to and acquiring music was also based on chance. Someone you heard in a club, someone you read about in a review, someone the record store owner recommended, always resulted in another artist to search out. Now with the Internet discovering new music has both become easier and more difficult as the volume of new music overwhelms any dedicated collector listening to or understanding it all.
I enjoyed reading. I read from a very young age and read voraciously all sorts of fiction, looking for clues about human existence that I could use in my search for identity and meaning. I liked instrumental music for the mood it created but I also enjoyed songs with lyrics. Song lyrics were something else because the music and emotion of the voice enhanced the meaning of the lyrics. Listening to songs left an unconscious impression in your mind. Lyrics sometimes provided clarity or understanding of your own emotional state but many times they taught you what to say or think as you lived your life,
Digitizing my collection of music was a lot of work. Studying the database in iTunes I became fascinating by searching for song titles. After alphabetizing the titles it was interesting to “read” the titles as the meanings within the titles turned and twisted. In 2010, I decided to consciously create “poems” from the list of songs generated from a keyword search such as “I Need” or “Told You So.” For the most part, the poems are an alphabetical selection of part of the list. Occasionally I will move a line out of sequence and often I will delete a line if I felt did not fit. The poems are created from a library of 28335 albums comprising of 387,866 songs.