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A Tinker’s Cuss – Jim Wilson’s Blog, 20/11/15

Jim Wilson’s Blog, 20 November 2015


It could be I’m just peeved from restless dreams last night. I was dreaming about Levon Helm again. Levon was a truth teller and we all know that. You get them every so often in the music industry and then everyone grows a beard, gets glasses and boots like they were a graphic designer and follows in behind. The ones who follow make all the cash. The guy in the front gets cancer and a weight on his shoulders. Still, who’d want to be Phil Collins?

Yesterday afternoon a young couple checked into this old Victorian-style boarding house where I am staying in New Jersey. I have the very top garret on the third floor and there is a shoebox room next to me and the young couple got it.

The guy bore a close resemblance to Steve McQueen and he looked like he’d fight anything going and lots of things that weren’t going as well. He must have been 28 and he drove a ’78 Corvette Stingray with plenty of rust and deeply sensuous headlights. This young man had dirty blond hair and wore Peter Fonda sunglasses. His co-offender was a Guatemalan woman, about 19, and she was sultry, beautiful and obviously difficult to please. Like all of them she wore red, which is the colour of her temperament. Jet-black hair tumbled across her face and down her back. She also had black eyes. They all do. I’ve met a few.

The man was a New Jersey hillbilly and she was a free spirit. I’ve seen it before. In the end, no one is happy.

In the middle of the night, I was woken by sounds that were like a Panzer division moving into the forests around Stalingrad in 1942. I could hear the tanks screeching and thrusting and then reversing back for cover as the Red Army retaliated in the snow. Or seemingly so. There was a rhythm, a climb and a crescendo to all of this and it went up and down and it was demonic. I began to hear Shostakovich’s “The Leningrad Symphony”, but I also recognised that Levon Helm was driving one of them tanks. He wanted the ultimate fruition and victory as well. It’s not very often you get that in this make-believe and pretend world. The tank commanders were screaming over their radios to each other and laughing deliriously. Leningrad or Petersburg what does it matter, it’s always the same old story. It’s a wolf pack out there and it’s coming to get you if you stand still.

With all these noises coming from the shoebox, I slowly came to realise that there was also a film crew in the hallway. I had a spiritual awakening when I grasped that all this was all about a remaking of “Debbie Does Dallas”. Yes, all of this was synthetic and none of it was real at all. It seems everyone has a role to play and they more comfortable doing that.

But, I felt very disappointed.

Like everyone, when I am pushed too far I can retaliate and I have certain principles which I will fight for. I have a decent sort of fury, but I have learnt the hard way that it is pointless to fight with the ‘eggs’ of this life. My grandmother had red hair, my mother had flecks of it and I have the temperament as well.

Here are some of the things that slut me to the very bottom of my ball bag and some that I love as well:


  1. Critics who are merely wrecking balls. I despise them. There’s a lot of beauty in this life. These ‘critics’ often have a stab at people who have talent and have worked hard to get where they are. We should respect them for that. These free roaming critics are not Lester Bangs and they ain’t Kenneth Tynan. Mind you, the public does like to see people thrown to the lions. Some people just wake up in the morning looking for something to hate.”A neurosis is a secret that you don’t know you are keeping.” – K. Tynan.Still, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to Phil Collins and there are some New Zealand bands that deserve to be on a fishing boat off the Chatham Islands.


  1. Political Correctness. This is just one more way of stopping people from expressing themselves. Then the people who can’t have their say vote the way the noisy people don’t like. This silent majority don’t like being screamed at by Internet bullies and so they just make sure they vote. I have some good friends who work in a gas station here in New Jersey and they just say what they think. None of them are on Facebook and I’m sure they carry Glocks. To each man his own.


  1. I don’t like a lot about ‘social welfare’ because I believe it creates dependency and encourages the idea that someone else should pay for your pity party. Further to this I might add that I Love social welfare where it is truly needed. My mum and dad died in Dunedin, New Zealand with mere pennies to their name. If they lived in this day and age they could not afford ‘commercialised rest home care’ as we now have in New Zealand.


  1. I detest the fact that many of our elderly go without because some bike gang is selling amphetamine and is on the dole at the same time.


  1. Now jail and imprisonment: There are some Morts in this life who need to be locked up forever. Then there are some people who feel sorry for these people. They stir up others in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘mercy’. Norman Mailer campaigned to get Jack Henry Abbot out of jail in the 1970s (1980s?) and then he (Jack Henry Abbot) stabbed a waiter a month later. Criminals usually want to wreck everything in their lives because they are afraid of the sunlight. They are there to take and not to give. I’ve been to jail; I know what it’s like. I enjoyed it. We all laughed a lot. We were the kind of people who would take advantage of anything.


  1. If you are going to be a doctor, you should do it for Love and not a Maserati in the driveway. You don’t need the silk shirts and ties, you need to wear a sack and give your expertise away.


  1. If you are in a band or in the Arts, then appreciate that good management will get you to where you want to go whilst you are laying in your bed at 2pm having your toenails painted, taking drugs, and screwing the bass player’s girlfriend. Give thanks and appreciation because you most probably are not the centre of the universe. Your manager might have more talent than you. The guy who owns the venue deserves some respect as well.


  1. I abhor ‘commercial radio’ and commercial media because I believe it is helping to create an ever more unreal environment. I believe a country (and radio and media) that is run by businessmen will have a hefty price to pay in health care because people need a real and genuine culture to dress themselves in. In New Zealand, we have mostly dreadful radio, television and newspapers. New Zealand is just too small to have schlock.


  1. ‘News Shows’ – don’t get me started. And this goes double for Internet ‘posts’. I am sure that someone will tell us all soon that water is bad for us and that we should drink more orange juice.


  1. The business of taking sides is irksome but if I had to take a guess I would say that Russia is a criminal enterprise and that Israel might act the way it does because of the holocaust. I’d say that Isis needs a damn good killing.


  1. Paradoxically, I don’t much like people who stand on the sidelines either, but me? I prefer to build for Beauty.


  1. Methadone Clinics? I don’t like them (though I have met some very good souls within them) because it’s so easy to be having a bad day and to go in and complain and come out dependent on a brand new drug that will do more harm than good.


  1. I can’t say I like people who take three or four pieces of hand luggage on commercial airlines flights. By and large it is not the Americans who do this anymore, it is people from those countries that are going through explosive capitalist growth. These people are also becoming very loud. Rampant capitalism encourages people to not think about how others may feel.


  1. It annoys me that one has to pay to visit Karl Marx’s grave in London. But I’ve also read he was a spendthrift who put his missus through hell. It obviously ain’t what you dance, it’s the way you dance it. People will say what they want to believe.


  1. I despise ‘liberals’ who promise to help and then just never return your telephone calls. The best lessons I have heard in this life are from people who told me to go away and do it myself. I have always found liberals to promise all these things to everyone without any effort required because they like looking gushingly in the mirror at themselves. There is not enough money nor expertise in this world to meet everyone’s desires, wants and ‘needs’.


  1. I can’t say I like the idea of government funds being allocated to people who work off a system and then pay off their mates. That ain’t rock and roll, that’s genocide. It’s just not cool.


  1. I spell and punctuate as I see fit. On my arm is tattooed ” ‘Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry. – Jack Kerouac’ “. Jack was a rolling and tumbling kind of writer and I like that.


  1. I saw a politician complaining about car park charges in Christchurch recently. Is this a job? Liberate the people and give them free car parks? That don’t sound right to me.


  1. Punk Rock Music changed my life. The night I saw The Vauxhalls in the Mt Pleasant Community Centre Hall in Christchurch I was uplifted. That gig gave me strength and impetus.


  1. I don’t see how anyone could write a book after Don Quixote but I’m glad a few people did: Thomas Pynchon, Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, W. Faulkner, F. Dostoevsky, L. Tolstoy, Michel Houellebecq and Janet Frame. I can’t say I like any Irish guff, but then, in our consciousness we are all drunken Irish men and women. It’s worms in there baby. Keep coming back, we love you!


  1. However, I like a good Irish beef stew. Don’t tell me about tofu; use your time in a more valuable way.


  1. I wish my dad had stood up. He’s been dead for 35 years or more and I’m still waiting. I use his voice in the meantime.


  1. I admire people who have had to fight for everything they have got. Inherited wealth ruins people and whole countries.


  1. It’s hard to write from the heart. They kill people like that.


  1. I love poets. In New Zealand I can immediately think of four or five who deserve statues in the park. These people are the true heroes. It’s hard to write from the soul, but I’ve already said that. It’s much easier to just give the people what they want and then to climb the pop charts and to pretend it’s art at the same time. They’ll buy you champagne for that.


  1. Graham Brazier was a True Legend as was Daniel Keighley. Both men had huge hearts. They died for it.


  1. Some people make better music drunk than when they are sober. Just being ‘sober’ is not an excuse for having no life. In my books, you can be 35 years sober and in a worse state than a drunk down the street.


  1. If you work for someone else, try and bypass how difficult you find them to be and strive to be patient and grateful. There are times when this is just impossible because psychopaths and sociopaths sometimes rise to the top. But, I often find that people and employees would rather complain about the boss than go and do something for themselves.


Lastly, I saw someone using a squeegee on car windows in the mist here in New Jersey the other morning. This guy was cleaning other peoples’ windscreens up and down the street and no one else would have known. I saw this as an act of Love & Faith. Try it, it works.


And, as John Adams said: “The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he is born.”


That’s wisdom whereas I am just a fool.



Diary of a Billsticker – Mississippi Delta, USA

The Kid Was From Shake Rag

This was a nice, clean run lasting several days whilst driving through the Mississippi Delta in an old Plymouth Fury procured from a rent-a-junk in Nut Bush, Tennessee. As we got closer to the end, Clarksdale, Mississippi, things became very clear. They ended up being clear as a country creek (Truman Capote).

We (Reggie-John and I) always fly Delta Airlines. We caught a flight from Philadelphia in the morning and were in Memphis, Tennessee, by late afternoon. Americans don’t like to go too far from the house without adequate servings of pizza. I think the plane had extra supplies strapped to the roof. Luckily, a health care bill was going through Congress at the time. There was a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina and I saw many Americans checking that the pizza was still on that roof. Anxiety is a funny old thing. Americans are good people.

There has been quite a bit of debate on the news here lately about how the carry-on baggage situation on airlines has gotten out of hand. Then, a couple of prominent Americans have been offloaded from their flights because they were too fat for their seats. This doesn’t happen in Nigeria.

You can always tell when you cross over the Mason-Dixon Line and into the American South. The very air seems brighter and the energy is completely different. Things that are taken far too seriously in the North are ignored here. It is also as if the Southerners have already found something that people in the North are desperately looking for. We all hope they find it soon before they drive everyone nuts.

I guess the Ukraine is different from Chechnya as well. Then, I think in life, everyone wants to secede from something. Though it’ll sometimes bring a ton of misery on yourself if you try.

Reggie-John and I set up in Oxford, Mississippi as a base camp. This town is about seventy miles from Memphis. I’d dreamed for years of going to Oxford. The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) is there. I’d often read about Square Books and how it was reputed to be one of the best bookstores in America (it is). The owner (Richard Howorth) was Mayor of Oxford for a while (maybe still is) and that’s got to be a good thing. I mean a bookstore owner as Mayor – I can dig it. It’s kind of like when Vaclav Havel was President of the Czech Republic. A poet as President – I can dig that too. Literature is incredibly important to any community.

I also knew that William Faulkner lived in Oxford and is buried there; but what attracted me most to Oxford were two particular writers, two of my personal favourites, Larry Brown and Barry Hannah. They are both dead now, both unhorsed due to heart attacks. Barry Hannah died only three weeks ago. In their writing, which was always full of intense energy, they were both bull goose loonies. And that’s high praise. To paraphrase Truman Capote again, they ‘walked the plank.’ They took real risks. Someone once described Barry Hannah’s writing as ‘accelerating incoherence’ – it’s that good.

Barry Hannah taught creative writing at Ole Miss and he was famous for other things apart from his writing. One of them being that he once drove a troublesome student home and put a gun to his head. He then told the student to behave himself in class.

Me and Reggie-John stayed at Chester’s Hillbilly Haven and ate breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast. That old Plymouth started every morning and we were carrying poem posters by five or six poets. However, we concentrated mainly on the two new poems by Tusiata Avia “Nafanua, the Samoan War Goddess, talks about going to Washington, DC” and Stephen Oliver’s “The Great Repression.” I never go far without Janet Frame’s “The End” poetry poster being in my kit. That’s what I call company.

Tusiata’s and Stephen’s poems are worded particularly strongly and perhaps they should be. Both are striking works of art and come alive on a wall. There is a beauty there. These are words carved out.

Setting out from Oxford each day, we covered the area around Highway 61 (yes, that Highway 61!) and included Indianola, Yazoo City, Pontotoc, Tupelo, Parchman (where the Mississippi State Penitentiary is headquartered) and then deep into Clarksdale.

The American South is an extraordinary place for music and literature. Clarksdale is among the most extraordinary places of all. The city’s inhabitants have had an immense influence on American culture. In fact, they have affected the world. Among the citizens have been Sam Cooke, Tennessee Williams, Muddy Waters, Son House, John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin’s grandfather, Ike Turner, and Jimbo Mathus. Morgan Freeman owns a blues club in Clarksdale. The city is about the size of Timaru. It is probably smaller.

A few short miles away is Tupelo, Mississippi. There was a kid here who loved his mother and who recorded his first song for her. When he was young, his daddy, Vernon, went to jail and they lost the house. He picked up a guitar for the first time at about ten years of age. By this time, he was already hanging around a black area called ‘Shake Rag.’ He was a pretty cool kid (from all accounts) and he listened to the blues and gospel songs and soon he learned to move. He also walked the plank by wearing clothing that he saw black people wearing. They have always known what “cool” was. In high school he wore brothel creepers and lime green socks. Now that was a risk in the early 1950s, but people could relate. And he could turn out a song like no one else.

You cannot listen to the type of music that grows in this area (blues/gospel/spiritual) and not be swayed. Not now, not then. Myself, I’d gone to Mississippi listening to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and I came back listening to Blind Willie McTell. These things happen. You could call it spiritual.

When he was thirteen, Elvis Presley and his family lit out for Memphis and better luck. It changed the world.

We would be absolutely nowhere on this planet were it not for music’s (and poetry’s) ability to connect people. Music and literature transform us. The two make us better people.

So I always take it as the deepest privilege to be driving around America putting up poetry posters by some of NZ’s finest poets. I am always clearer headed for having done so.

Phantom has a new launch of poem posters in Auckland on April 28th. Included in this next round is a fine piece of work by Chris Knox. Also featured are Stephen Oliver, Tusiata Avia, Bill Manhire and others. The job has just begun.

We are always privileged and grateful.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

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