A Love So Vast and Shattered

leo3A thousand years ago I was a kid in a trailer park hoping to hear a voice. I had thought it’d be Jesus. He was who all the other park kids were hearing. But no Jesus ever came knocking on my heart.

I watched the Christian Slater movie Pump Up the Volume, a film about having a voice. My young self ate it up. Slater as Happy Harry Hard On broadcasted a pirate radio signal out from his basement bedroom, and played all the music our parents were afraid to let us listen to, telling us we are all fine, we’re ok. Talk hard, he said. There I heard a voice. To open every broadcast HHH played “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen.

Back then, a thousand years ago, in my Podunk hometown I had to go searching desperately for Leonard Cohen. They didn’t carry his CDs at Walmart or Kmart. They had the soundtrack to the popular flick, but Cohen was not on it. Just a Cowboy Junkies cover of his song. However awesome the official movie soundtrack was, it wasn’t giving me the voice I was longing to hear. It wasn’t until I could drive and have access to Atlanta that I finally possessed Cohen’s album “Various Positions.” Probably the first thing I sought out and bought in Atlanta’s ultra-hip Little Five Points neighborhood from a record store that I’ll love forever, though I can’t remember its name. The CD doesn’t contain “Everybody Knows.” I bought it for “If It Be Your Will,” also on the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack, and the one to ensnare my baby bear heart.

I skipped school just to listen to the record over and over. That’s not an exaggeration. I did that.

I started writing then.

I met a girl, introduced her to his music. It helped more than I could to make her mine. We would lie down in bed and just listen to his records as we acquired them. We laid and listened through our young love, through our not as young love; through the parting where we remained friends, and through the rekindling where we finally learned who we are and what the words meant. We listened in her health, and in her sickness. I laid and listened while I mourned. “Suzanne” was our song, but “Take This Longing” was always my song to her.

I’m not much for pilgrimages, but on my way to meet a friend in Manhattan I passed in front of Chelsea Hotel.  I knew I’m where I’m meant to be. I wished she were here.

I have studied Leonard Cohen. I listened to his records so much that I don’t listen to them anymore. They’re all in my head. I poured over his poetry. I went hungrily to his ancient website The Leonard Cohen Files, which still exists to my surprise. I read both of his novels, and a few biographies on the man. I’ve heard a few things from his very first band, a Canadian country outfit called The Buckskin Boys. I read of his time as a monk on Mount Baldy, this Jewish man who loved Catholic imagery so.

I didn’t tear up for Bowie, or Prince. They’ve held my enormous respect and interest, but L. Cohen has my baby bear heart. His passing is the only “celebrity” death to garner real tears from me. Well, maybe Gene Wilder’s death, but only in tandem with Gilda.

Anyway, I loved the man, or the myth of the man we all delighted in. I’m glad he was at peace with death. It’s nice to think that death was kind enough to have made an introduction, to have sat and drank tea with L. Cohen before carrying him up to the tower of song.

Sincerely, J. Callahan

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The Real Thing

“Keep Me In Your Heart” Warren Zevon

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Internationally he was known as El Tigre. (this is not made up)

I met Mike Windham in the early 2000s, but had heard tales of him for years prior when I lived in Atlanta. His daughter is my best friend. She beamed when she spoke of him, and I must say I liked the man, too.  What struck me first about him was how little fat there was in anything he said. Every word from him was necessary toward his meaning. Yet, he wasn’t dry. He was not a serious man. He was too intelligent for that.

Last week he lost his fight with cancer. My heart goes out to my best friend and her family who are rocked and robbed by this disease. I know a good man’s gone.

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El Tigre held dominion over all cucurbitaea, which enabled him to rally and command pumpkins, gourds, and squash. (also, not made up)

We traded books. I still talk about the first thing he recommended for me to read, Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” I was surprised and thrilled when he read the first thing I recommended to him, Nick Tosches’ “The Devil and Sonny Liston.” He gifted me a subscription to The New Yorker when I moved here, so as to help me acclimate to the city. I returned the favor by signing him up to the Oxford American. He told me he was glad I was doing this blog. He was my first vocal supporter. Kindness and faith in his family and friends, those things he took seriously. He was smart like that.

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Amanda Neill of Barefoot & Bankside, asked me to impart: “While I don’t have the words to heal, I do know, somehow, strangely, music has the power of soothing. My prayers are for you, your family, and my friend Jody.” El Tigre has told me on more than one occasion how he enjoyed her songs.

When I learned he was to start chemotherapy, I knew he’d be spending many hours a day in a chemo chair. I asked the musicians I was just getting to know from doing this blog if they’d donate some music and merch to a care package I was putting together for him as he very much enjoyed their music, and they were gracious enough to do so. I sent it to him with two of my favorite books (“Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey, and “Shadow Country” by Peter Matthiessen), and some special mouthwash to counter the cotton mouth I knew to be a side effect of the chemo treatments. I hoped for him, and I hoped for my best friend.

It is unfair.

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El Tigre knew exactly how to set the scene.

He let me know how much he enjoyed the blog, and how much he enjoyed my writing regularly. It was an honor that made me bashful. He was the best kind of reader. It’s a rare thing to feel that kind of support when you know you’re nobody. I don’t say that cynically. I mean to convey what it’s like to be cared about by that man. He makes you feel like somebody.

Every time  I was able  to hangout with him and through our correspondence he made me laugh. In fact, when his daughter told me he had gone, the first thing that went through my head was a time when we were at her place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and her visiting father spat his chewing gum at her apropos of nothing, but to signify that he was very bored. It was the first time he’d made me laugh so hard from the gut that I couldn’t stop. I think it’d have pleased him that my first reaction to his death was to replay this moment in my mind all day.

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Should you see his daughter, spit your gum at her. She probably won’t get the homage, but it’d make me laugh.

Mike Windham was strange and brilliant. He was a good thing in this world. He saw a good thing in me, and this blog. In those moments that I would seriously reconsider whether or not I have the time and inclination to continue writing here, it was his encouragement, his enjoyment of how I write and what I write about that has helped keep this going. I always knew at least one person was reading my stuff, and that it was the best kind of reader doing so. And to know his daughter, equally strange and brilliant, is to know he was the best kind of father. He is missed.

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