THOSE KENSINGTON BLUES STILL RATTLING THROUGH

THOSE KENSINGTON BLUES STILL RATTLING THROUGH

Something about the Kensington Blues. The way the L train yo-yo’s through everyone’s backyard. Toxic grit and refuse spattered across abandoned lot lawns. Contrast between condo and dilapidated dive bar. Brooklyn style gastro pub and abandoned warehouse. City of shells quickly being filled with new hermit crabs.

The setting for what once was a community of strong guitar savants. Those who stuck around seemingly rising to nostalgic fame. And yet, in their songs you can picture them sitting by themselves in their living rooms twiddling away on some chord progression that has the harmonics and melody of this desolation of peak capital.

Over and over again the same chord like a drone. Causing the body to whirl like in a dervish. An opiate nod between K & A. Soundtrack to post-apocalypse. Wild westerns just across the border in East Kensington.

It’s three or four songs in when the Solar Motel Band really starts creating some electric friction, and Chris Forsyth is shredding his guitar cable against the fret board amassing a wash of noise that shocks the inner core, when I realize all this while how the musicians of this corridor have developed not just their own style, but a pseudo-language in which they respond to one another. The former music scene that used to reside here now dispersed, replaced, growing up with new parts, but still these guitar heroes offering up their twin stacks full of feedback. I wonder if this song now being spun is a nod to Purling Hiss or Birds of Maya or going back even further in the lexicon to acknowledge the art warehouse foundations scoured by Bardo Pond.

The language in its current evolution a pop rock that speaks to a wider audience, and yet sets it on repeat in order to break it down, piece by piece, until the whole shit has gone up in flames, and then they rebuild it. Bass rumbling through a fine walk around town, while guitar flutters between verse and solo and static and wall of frequencies both angelic and alarming. The audience stuffed into a dark, low-lit room, with an open window to the L train and Front Street as the backdrop to the stage. A “Renaissance painting” of viewers looking in from the outside.

Almost five years gone by since I left this neighborhood to the vulture capitalists, only to come back and find the artists have dug into their trenches and become even more prolific.

There are dream tones in the Kenzo Haze that impregnate even the most obstinate transplant. Perhaps the language between these guitarists is not theirs, but the land’s. Open terrain that was consumed by a wave of development, and yet still there are still these white elephants of warehouses glowing brightly under the moonlight full of such brilliance waiting to be repossessed. The great art factories of the River Wards.

It’s almost midnight and the song, at least now an hour and half long continues to hum out into the open air. It seems to say, “This ain’t the Grateful Dead. This is the Grateful Living!”

I wonder what the passengers on the L train rattling through these Kensington Blues are dreaming of tonight.

THOSE KENSINGTON BLUES STILL RATTLING THROUGH

The Urban MYTHOS

THE URBAN MYTHOS

The Zen Lunatic sits at the center of the garden and pulls at the mugwort. His motions are deliberate and fluid demonstrating how he is one with his surroundings. This little patch of Earth amidst the concrete chaos surrounding it. Attentive to detail, over the years he has carved out this niche for the concrete to rewild.

As he pulls at the roots, he talks about the herbs and medicinals and wildflowers that surround him that most people would consider weeds. He talks about the dead nettle and the red clover and spring mint and of course the mugwort.

“Last year, I really whacked away at the red clover and I don’t think it was too happy with me. It just didn’t flower that much, even where I wanted it to.”

“But I thought we gathered the red clover last year.”

“No. That was two years ago.”

“Oh, I thought that was last year.”

“No. That was two years ago.”

“Oh.”

“This year I’m just going to let it do what it wants to do. And I think we’ll both be happier”.

He motions me over to where he’s standing and points at the pathway in front of us.

“I think the plants have finally figured out where they’re supposed to grow. They’re growing in these borders around pathways and then where people walk there’s more of this groundcover type stuff that lays low to the surface.”

He kicks at the ground to show how low lying the plants are where there is a pathway from people consistently walking on it over the years. Then he shows how the ground is sinking in some places.

“I want to build a multi-level terrace around here leading down to where this tree is growing. But I might need a team for that. I could probably do it myself, but it would take a while.

“That’s something that always impressed me about this land. It has so many interesting contours and subtle slopes for the plants to navigate.”

I snap a photo of a pair of red Air Jordans hanging from the telephone wire glowing orange in the golden hour of the setting sun. It’s interesting to me how the background of the photo is what makes the photo. The shoes alone describe the setting, but they need pieces of the setting like the one-liner tags sprayed on the concrete wall in the lot across the street and the water tower a few blocks away beside the back sides of several dilapidated rowhomes to describe perfectly what the shoes represent.

I snap another photo of the new Comcast tower downtown framed by two abandoned row homes and a whole bunch of wild space from where we stand. I talk about how I could post these photos on Instagram but I don’t think the audience there understands the language they work in.

“It’s like an old language that I was used to when I first moved to Philly that you could find all over the place in publications like Megawords, but I don’t know if anyone pays attention or knows how to read that language anymore.

“Like the language is saying this is blight and that is the ivory tower of corporate powers that profit off the poverty here. But there’s also beauty here. Like the land is rewilding out here. It’s free. It’s a jungle. It’s a type of landscape the people that live over there have no understanding for.”

He leads me over to the mugwort border wall near the entrance in front of the Aztec sculptures that greet all who enter.

“Look at this pathway here. The garden grew this one all on its own.”

It’s a natural zig zag in the clover and mugwort. It’s like a giant snake slithered and sidewinded through the garden recently. I look at the dragon sculpture next to me glowing red and orange with a beard made of flames.

“Hey, man! I think it’s that dragon. He came to life and slithered through the grass.”

“Yeah, man. It’s like the garden grew a tail.”

The Urban MYTHOS

A Return to Philadelphia

A return to Philadelphia is one of those bitter sweet type of things.

The sweetness comes from the people there and the community in which I thrived for so long in. Without them I would not have developed into who I am or had the confidence to reach for the stars. There are memories of the madness I played with in a house all on my lonesome that I could barely afford the rent for and all the various manifestations previous to that and all of those that have spiraled out from there within. And there’s still the same people there, I could leave for ten years and still come back to them, just chugging along and building new ideas and installations and always partying in a belligerent fashion, which is kind of endearing and even especially intoxicating when personally in the same sort of mental state, myself. They tell me of their successes and their continually growing creative careers and the new spaces they have occupied and the recycling of old failed institutions into more progressive active ones.

And now there seems to be even more of a populace, which keeps growing everywhere you look, beyond that old, small tight-knit community which held hands when they played out in the dark. And there are all these new faces (I guesstimate probably from Brooklyn) walking around, jogging around, gallivanting around, in places where only two years ago I wouldn’t have seen anyone. And they seem unaware of the history of the city streets they tread upon and the violence that one used to encounter there or how this city is still a tough place for a lot of long time residents. And yet they’re attracted to the even more seemingly endless supplies of beer gardens and gastropubs that who knows who can really afford to drink at, at least not on a typical Philly wage, and who knows who can really afford to pop up, but I suspect again Brooklyn, because well, Stephen Starr had to eventually max out in Fishtown, sometime, right? And the refuse is still building up with plastic bags blowing in the wind and catching in the potholes of an infrastructure that I’ve seen the city dig and fill and redig and fill in and repeat for at least half a decade in the exact same places because seemingly they can’t find a utility company that’ll get it right the first time.

But there right there is the bitterness and this comes back in a landslide, though I’m newly capable of letting it go, since I no longer live in it on a day to day. It’s the same story I’ve seen everywhere I’ve traveled to in the country, but here it’s so much more personal. A city begins to resurge with a creative population, and that attracts developers who only want to make money by shipping in the young business class who a majority of doesn’t have any interest in going out and seeing the culture offered by their new city residence, and this cycle spreads outward like a disease quickly eradicating first the people who grew up in these neighborhoods, then the artists that were good for some real estate company’s next press release. And all the time the rent keeps going up while the wages stay the same and it starts to seem almost impossible that anyone can afford the time or heart to keep on going.

I start to remember how for years I started to feel chased out of my own city, always being pushed a block at a time north until finally even that started filling up and the anarchy of the emptiness here that attracted me here in the first place was all completely being swallowed up. And the first thing to be said in a conversation by every one of my friends that I run into now is how quickly all the abandoned lots are filling up with new construction plots and even the mega lots, which no one thought would ever sell, are being sucked up by these unknown developers and their makeshift cookie-cutter town homes. The tears come out in all our eyes over the trees, the urban wilderness, the community gardens that have all been sacrificed to “progress”, and we count on our fingertips all the places where we played pop-up outdoor psych rock shows that are now a 4-5 story condo.

It’s not the actual development, I think, that burns people out so much. It’s the seeming mismanagement of the whole thing. There is no community involvement in the process. Yes, the neighborhood associations have the power to veto a new project, but the developers can use any number of loopholes to bypass that process, as long as they have some local council in their pocket. And the votes are always about approving some project, but not about telling the developer to keep some trees or front yards or some type of greenery when they’re building atop their mudpits and not to make them so tall or so ugly and skinny. And to make them blend in, not stick out. To make them use the same materials that makes Fishtown look like it has some history.

How many people have time to attend their neighborhood meetings anyway. And when are they allowed to voice a simple “Hey, maybe this is happening too quick for a typical human’s consciousness and maybe we should cut new construction down to maybe one home a month, as opposed to the hundred or so that keep popping up every other day”.

I think the main thing that effects people is the quickly shrinking amount of green space, which was always limited in Philly’s urban sprawl anyway, but in most places got squatted on and turned into a surreal artist’s wonderland to prevent illegal dumping and provide other good intentions. To add injury to insult all the jack hammers, drills, and mechanized sounds of things being built or demolished start at 7am and reverberate all through each city block so that one has to go all the way to Graffiti Pier to get away from hearing it.

And we all have our memories of what is now dead. The Frankford Ave. Arts Corridor is now about twenty boutiques and a few vape shops that who knows how they manage to stay open or who’s their target audience. Girard Ave. is an attempt at the next Old City with all demographics South Jersey filling it’s streets with their entitlement. Northern Liberties at this point is unrecognizable. And in all these place there’s a cloud of despair and hopelessness that hangs heavy over the social climate there. It’s the threat of too much change in a weekday, and the threat that next week it’ll be too expensive to still even live there.

But then the sweetness comes back. It’s Saturday night and a new warehouse gallery celebrates its second exhibition. Familiar faces come and take glimpses of the post-modern ceramics placed around the white rectangle. Some friends are stronger than myself and more willing to adapt to the constant flux of a city in its post-Renaissance days. They have played musical chairs long enough to resettle in places better than their last. Some are even buying property and digging in, making sure they can continue to have some sort of autonomy.

The room is full to the brim and everyone’s a little worried that something will break, and though no one in attendance has any money to throw any which way other than to refill their Natty Bo can, the artist and the curators receive the attention and good vibed support that an underground art community always should be able to offer. There’s the typical Philly modesty or lack of imagination, but with 100 people stuffed into a tiny salon, and maybe another 100 more passing through, it’s very easy to make comparisons between the scene of this community and any historical community of any favorite art celebrity, whether from NYC or Los Angeles or even Paris. It takes you back to times when things were less dictated by money and more inspired by passion and artistic eccentricity.

And that’s where Philly is at today. The Renaissance there that started several years ago is digging in deep, and even with all of the unsettling of the constant developments reseting the neighborhoods and their urban landscapes, the artists don’t seem to be getting wiped out any time soon, only regrouping and popping up in new places or old places with new agendas. It’s only a matter of time before they become conscious of their own capabilities, and begin to mobilize and redirect the flow of all that residential developing back to a more creative anarchy.

And who knows, maybe all that new money in the hood will soon learn to do more than Netflix And Chill and start to look around them too, and begin to buy in to something like a city’s cultural history.

A Return to Philadelphia

Live Video of “Howling at the Moon!”

It’s been almost a year since Antonio and I biked up Nob Hill and howled at the full moon with all those 200 or so San Franciscans and here is a spoken word recording of the grand borderline fiction it inspired. Marshall Deerfield, front and center with Antonio Bandalini making an appearance, facing the stagnant contrasts of Skid Row in midst of the Tech Boomed-out streets of San Francisco. Here in its entirety is “Howling At The Moon!”, a fraction of a novel about all those wayward zig zags across the west coast last year, but definitely one of my favorite tales to tell.

This was filmed back in April by Andrew Galati at the Random Tea Room in Philadelphia at the book release party for my collection of psychedelic erotica, Fire. Sun. Salutation. It took me a few more weeks to talk out all the tongue ties and stutters of the narrative, but this night in particular still has my heart hanging heavy. Thanks to Becky Goldschmidt for hosting, the other performers for setting the stage, and to everyone who attended. That night we became a bunch of wild wolves hooting and hollering at the muse above. Also thanks to my parents for giving me a quiet place to write these beginnings to a novel that’ll hopefully soon be finished. Without that brief pause from the 9-5 all this material would still be stuck up in my head or randomly notated throughout several journals on some dusty bookshelf.

Anyway, enjoy the lofty imagery and dream-inspired beauty above!

Live Video of “Howling at the Moon!”

Where The Water Meets The Wind

20140812-114426-42266925.jpg

This one goes out to my main man, Walt Whitman! But also Ben Frank and Betsy Ross who keep equal watch over this resourceful river front in Philadelphia. And to Marian McLaughlin and Ethan Foote for sharing this awe-inspiring adventure with me today. And my buddy Matt Bennett for first putting the terminology of how a forest first finds it’s roots onto my periphery. Peace and love. Peace and love. Peace and love, my friends!

Where The Water Meets The Wind

Hold fast, my dear
Hang on for dear life.
The breeze that pushes against the sails of your soul
And gives you flight
Is also what stirs the butterflies
Fluttering their little hopeful hearts
Careening down the stream
A warm vibration
Across the river top
Making eddies and waves against this abandoned pier

Hold fast, my dear. Hang on for dear life.
In the abandoned land of industry
Lies a quiet revolution
Slowly growing
Making waves of its own
As well as peaceful eddies
For us to find our balance in.

There one can spread out fully
In a meadow
Surrounded by sunflowers
Slowly growing
In the cracks of urban decay
Replacing destructive habits
With a new reality.

It was the muse who first brought me here
When I was still finding my way
Now that I am back again
I see what I have been missing all along
Even in a city,
There are places where things still lie still
Where flocks of gold finches
Fly neon yellow wings in the summer sun
And crickets sing their tribal chorus
In tall grass made to lie upon
Where local herbal remedies
Slowly grow naturally
Repopulating what was once arid
With a truly holistic scene.

See, let it be still.
Let the earth take root.
Let it gain some energy.
And soon enough,
Along the side of the long eroded jetty
You can find the magnificent color
Of purple thistle
Hanging on to the wind
Where it meets with the water.

Where The Water Meets The Wind