Here's the thing about music - you remember where you were when you heard it. And by remember, I mean there's an internal attempt at complete restoration of physical state. Sort of like when you wake up a computer from a sleep state instead of rebooting. So when you were having a great time with some friends, and a new song came on the radio, or the stereo, or the sound system at the bar, you go back to that internal state of being happy. The song bounces around inside you, restoring the past as best it can. Actually, it's no better than your actual memory, so the specifics of things die out after a while and all you're left with is the feeling.

It's why you can listen to songs you used to like years ago, and you remember liking them, but the internal jazz isn't there anymore.

I think music also has something to do with mental vibration. EEG. Brain waves. Low frequency EMF from the soul.

All of which is a long way of saying I saw Porcupine Tree at the Warfield a week ago. They were very good, and I liked them very much.

Their warm up band is called "3". They're a progressive rock group that sounds like a Rush tribute band. Very tight. Very well rehearsed. Very talented.

Unlike Porcupine Tree, their music sucked, in my opinion, which is probably fortunate because while I endured them I ached for the Tree so that when the opening strains of "Fear of a Blank Planet" started up, I was propelled into an ecstasy of moment. That moment. Sound waves giggled my innards to the beat of precision syncopated rhythms. Sunlight coming through the haze, I've tucked in the blinds to let it inside, the bed is all made so the music still plays.

"I like the way they have all that teenaged angst," she says to me.

"Steve Wilson is 40. He's been doing this for twenty years. Not giving up. Twenty years and he's playing to a couple hundred middle aged people reliving their progressive rock childhoods."

She: "There are plenty of young people here."

I said, "Thanks for coming with me. I know you don't like this stuff."

"Who said I don't like it?"

"You like jazz and folk. This is kind of loud."

"They're going to do another encore."

look in her eyes when open car starts: I like this makes him so happy

unheard beneath the guitars: "Damn, I love this song. It reminds me of you."

'Nothing like this felt in her kiss cannot resist her fell for her charm lost in her arms I keep a photograph give me a glimpse let me come in be there inside her here it begins here is the sin something to lie about.

I got wiring loose inside my head, I got books that I never ever read...

Though my favorite Porcupine Tree song is Trains and they didn't play it.

It contains the best song lyric ever written.

When the evening reaches here
You're tying me up
I'm dying of love
It's okay.

The first time I heard Trains, I remember exactly where I was. I remember wondering how to classify what I was feeling.

And then, there it was and I couldn't say anything about it.

So I played the song over and over.
And said the words to myself.

Remembering lying beneath curtains fluttering on a breeze.

See, I have been fortunate enough in my life to have been consumed. It's happened more than once. Maybe I'm prone to it.

It's one of the most awful conditions to adore.

Better than sex.

Passion for another.

If they diagnose me with cancer, and I find out I'm going to die and my brain is so preoccupied that I can't write anymore, I want to say, while I still can, that I realize all I could have ever wanted in my life is for someone to feel about me the way I felt writing the things I loved to write, thinking about you.

You make me want to write poetry.

You make me afraid.

You make me want to create something so beautiful it collapses the earth within mighty gravity, annihilating everything precious and historic, every sigh a baby ever made, every glistening smile - all into a dimensionless eternity from which a brilliant new universe explodes in thermonuclear delight that remembers nothing of us.

Thus, life itself would be born.

And if you didn't exist
I would create one exactly the same.
As you turned out
After all these years.

And if I'm okay and live for a while longer.



You make me want to die trying.

Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right. Proverbs 20:11

When I was a boy, we were the good guys. Americans drove those colonialist British off our shores, defeated slavery in the Civil War, avenged the Maine, fought on the side of the Allies in World War I and put an end to Hitler's genocidal reign. We were the Arsenal of Democracy and after the War we picked up our defeated enemies, dusted them off and said, "Okay, the bad guys are gone, now it's over." Remember the Marshall Plan? We were a generous nation who supported a whole lot of the world. American experts and aid ranged out across the globe trying to uplift those poor Third World countries and bring them into the 20th century. During the Cold War we were the bulwark that stood up against limitless Soviet expansion. Before that we stayed out of entangling alliances and most power politics, entering only when attacked. We wore the white hats.

As I grew older and began to study, I saw things differently. We also overthrew a few democratic governments (Chile, Guatemala, Iran) because our business interests wanted it that way. The truth is that Americans are far more committed to free market capitalism than democracy. We stayed out of most European Wars but our Native American citizens would certainly not agree that America was a peaceful nation that always kept its word. Manifest Destiny was also a code word for internal imperialism, a parallel Russians clearly understand. We've done some bad things. Think of all the right-wing dictators we've supported in Africa, Asia and Central America. Truth is that if you weren't communist, you were allowed to be utterly brutal, so long as it didn't make the CBS Evening News. Anastasio Somoza fell short of that, and when he was overthrown by the Sandinistas (leftists). The Reagan Administration lied to Congress and sent arms to Iran to arm the Contras against them. If Venezuela's Hugo Chavez's anti-American rhetoric is way over the top, we should remember it comes after the Bush Administration backed a failed coup attempt against him.

One of the differences between left and right is where you put the emphasis. Conservatives seem to see only the good, pointing to Hitler and the Cold War while readily ignoring the excesses that went along with it. That's a message reinforced by our educational system and our beer commercials, where everyone is told we're great. It feels good too, and for years Americans have mostly lived up to it. We did help beat Hitler (even if the Russians fought longer while both taking and inflicting far more casualties, and liberated the majority of the death camps). The Marshall Plan helped rebuild a shattered world. America was both good and generous, and I'm proud of that heritage.

But if a nation claims to be both great and generous then it is not unreasonable to expect its actions to follow after its rhetoric. It's easy to claim you don't torture people when life is going well. But it doesn't really mean anything, because you pay no real price for it. Remember the Biblical story of the widow who dropped her last penny in the pot giving more than the rich who dropped in gold and silver. She actually sacrificed to keep her tithe. The rich gave up nothing they needed. They sacrificed nothing.

Today torture has returned under the leadership of George W. Bush. Of course he won't admit that, and what we won't officially do, we contract out to people who will. The reason, of course, is the War on Terror. The attacks on September 11, 2001 killed thousands and the government has a perfectly legitimate interest in trying to prevent a recurrence. People ask the question, If it would save lives, wouldn't it be okay to torture? How about to prevent a nuclear attack. The question is not an easy one, particularly in the face of an enemy like al Quaeda which lacks any degree of scruple. But it does matter. We're either a nation that condones and commits torture, or we're not. We don't get to finesse the question. If our standards mean something to us, they're a standard we hold to under duress. If we abandon our principles at the first challenge, then we have no right to claim them in the first place.

I think there's value in a country that forswears torture in the face of a threat. I think it's important to be generous even when money is tight. Because those are the moments when you really show what you're made of. We know people who keep going when the going gets rough. They're the people we admire, the ones we remember as great. If we want to call America a great country, that title deserves to stand on more than conspicuous consumption. We need to act like a great country, even when it's hard and when we're scared.

If we do that, then we can feel that we really are part of something great. If we can't, we're just another rich country.

Free at last

A week of uninterrupted sleep. Utter bliss. The landlord of the building across the street has been slowly bringing the abandoned stuff out of the apartment next door. The homeless and the poor have been sifting through the refuse. Each morning, a little bit more has disappeared. I know the scene. It's not the first nor will it be the last. The changing of the seasons also brings about the loss of protection against eviction. I try not to think anything about it. I try not to have too much emotion. For the grace of God...

Five years ago it was my things that were sifted through. Abandoned, I sat in my folding chair with a glass of wine, swallowing devastation. They swept down like vultures. The only difference being, I cleaned up the mess left in their wake before hitching up and rolling out.

Here, the people just abandon and leave it to someone else. Good, the midnight man got the quilt. Nights have been pretty cold this week. I leave him my empties. We never speak, but sometimes I see him looking up at my windows in the moonlight. It is good he got the quilt.

And I get peace and quiet and sleep, sweet sleep. I haven't felt this good in weeks.

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