Sunday, November 22, 2015

Mysterious Package: The Songs of Zak Jourek (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a six-part series presenting the songs - and a lost manuscript - of a musician friend named Zak Jourek. 

The first section gives a more in-depth introduction to Zak and can be found

The first two of his songs posted can be found here:

 I met Zak while working in a dining hall at a small university in Iowa and then we both ended up in Boulder, Colorado at the end of the nineties. I got a package in the mail last January from one of his old girlfriends with an old manuscript of his and a demo cassette tape of his songs. As far as I can tell, he disappeared without a trace about thirteen years ago. Did he wander up into the Rockies? Is he homeless and mumbling, going through dumpsters in Portland? Did he become a juniper in the desert, charred by lightning? I have no clue.

His background: Zak was originally from Philadelphia. In the early nineties, he signed with EMI and was immediately dumped when everyone who’d been involved in signing him were fired. Unfortunately, the corporation owned the rights to all his songs up to that point and he was left with nothing. It was a hideous contract, but not out of the ordinary. Or so he said. The signing could be true. It’s possible that it’s not. It was sometimes hard to sort out the fact from fiction with Zak. He spent the nineties as an itinerant musician, working unskilled labor jobs, living sometimes as a vagrant, sleeping where he fell.

I leave you with section two of his manuscript. And two more of his songs: Hieronymous Bosch and Rain (for 19 days). Remember, these have been remastered from cassette demos, so the guitar sounds a bit sour.

2. Lost in the Land of Irony

After our gig in Memphis, we went to Graceland. It was Liv’s idea. There was a five year old boy on the bus that shuttled us up the drive from the ticket office who had his hair done up like 50’s Elvis. He kept mugging like a trained monkey for everyone – singing lines from ‘Love Me Tender’ and ‘Don’t Be Cruel’. Everyone on the bus thought he was the cutest little thing, couldn’t stop cooing over him. Those moments on that bus were probably the closest that kid would ever get to his fifteen minutes of fame.

Graceland is the sanctification of kitsch. No surprise there. There was a room where the walls were shag rug. It looked like someone had hired an interior decorator perpetually drunk on peanut butter banana daiquiris. Liv loved it. She thinks that you can raise kitsch to the level of art just by infusing it with irony. I didn’t want to spoil the joke. I’d once thought I was in on the joke myself.

I’d been to Graceland before, during the summer of ’90, right before the first Gulf War. Bush Number One was drawing a line in the sand and the media was jumping on the band wagon, furiously beating the war drums. Any fuckwit could see it was about oil, but apparently there’s not that many fuckwits in this country. I was on a tour of all the crap bars in the country with a band called “Raised by Cats” and, because we were in Memphis, we decided to make pilgrimage to the holy music industry shrine. Our inside joke was “You got to pay to play.” How little we understood the truth. 

We were standing in a line, waiting to enter some hall where Elvis’ memorabilia was enshrined behind glass (the famous black leather suit from the 1968 Hawaii concert, gold records, and, of course, the fat-boy Vegas jumpsuits), when a little old lady shuffled through the back door of the house, towards a patio table. She sat down to a waiting glass of juice. Everyone stared and stared, thinking “What the fuck?” One of the Graceland ushers suddenly appeared, walked the line, telling us all that the old woman was Elvis’ Aunt Delta, and that she took her breakfast out on that patio every morning, and we should respect her privacy. “Please don’t stare.” I laughed out loud. Seriously? Where did he think he was? 

Some things don’t change: The US is shit-deep in a war in the Mideast again (maybe it’s the same war) and, once again, I’m on a tour of crap bars across the country. One thing has changed – Aunt Delta is dead. She died back in ’93.

Forty thousand years ago, in what is now central France, a cave painter sat in the flickering glow of a smoldering torch, night after dark night, day after dark day, until the shape and shadows of the cave wall revealed something: a bison, a horse, a woolly rhino. I like to believe that lyrics are like the bison hiding in the contours of rock. The words are already there, you just have to keep humming the melody over and over, use nonsense vowels, consonants, garbled syllables, until eventually something coherent pops out. Soon, you’ve got a whole sentence, then entire verses. It can sometimes take years for two or three lines to come. They’re usually good lines.  

In the meditation garden, where Elvis and his parents are buried, Liv and I watched the people come and go, some kneeling to pray, some singing, some giggling, awkward, wondering how to act. In the meditation garden I came up with another verse for the tune that had been ringing through my head since Jackson, Missouri: The butterflies of heat fly skyward/turn to bats on the wing/Flapping in the caves of the lonely/making song where no one sings…

Driving away from Graceland, I told Liv she was right, it was time to fuck off the 'tour.' What was the point? Time to go get drunk on some Florida beach.

(end of part 2)

(click on title to hear song)

A bouquet of flowers in an opened ass
People riding fish-balloons
Temptation in the form of gaping mouths
Giant fanged jaws leaning into
Groins and penitent faces
While pig-knights in attendance leer, laughing

Hieronymus Bosch
Hell looked more fun than Heaven
ever did

Goats, pigs and sheep on patrol
Where naked couples never touch
Smiling and writhing and groping air
They mime and ape a sacred lust
Fire and smoke light up the dead
Waiting in line just to jump into the arms
Of satisfaction  (meat-grinder satisfaction)

Hieronymus Bosch
Hell looked more fun than Heaven
ever did

White reptile pied piper
He plays the nose-flute while he jigs
While townsfolk of mice and cats
Run alongside with forks and picks
And the town elder, that fat authority
Sits on the sidelines
Calmly drinking tea

Hieronymus Bosch
Hell looked more fun than Heaven
ever did

Monkey-men climbing turrets of stone
Well fortified with grim reapers
Who wait hungry to torture souls
Who writhe with anticipation
And in the distance a gallows is nailed
Secure wood waiting to strangle sinners
But doomed to fail

Hieronymus Bosch
Hell looked more fun than Heaven
ever did

(End fade with poem "Song for Ishtar"
by Denise Levertov*)

I remember when Zak wrote this song. I had introduced him to the work of Hieronymus Bosch. I loaned him a couple of books with Bosch prints and he took them home and returned with this song. At the time, I was finishing my first book, On the Side of the Crow, and there's a long section at the end that compares people on the bus heading home from work with the faces found in some Bosch paintings. I don't remember if my work influenced Zak or if Zak's song influenced my writing. Probably a little of both. I was the one who introduced him to the poetry of Denise Levertov. For the most part, he didn't like her work (he was very into James Wright), but there were a few poems that really sang to him. "Song for Ishtar" was among them. He thought it a bit Boschean, so he threw it in at the end.  

(click on title to hear the song)

Rain, for nineteen days
Rain, for nineteen days
And the refugee down the hall
Stares at his razor blades
Says nothing at all

Rain for the drunk mouths of sailors
Riding the gutter stream

Pain, for nineteen days
Pain, for nineteen days
And the refugee down the hall
He stares into the rain
Says nothing at all

Rain to flush worms
From the roots of trees

Gone, she's gone away
Gone, she's gone away
And the refugee down the hall
He disappears into the rain
Says nothing at all

Rain to grease the killer's smile
Rain to wash the victim's surprised face

Rain to blind the eyes of the desert fathers
Rain to filter down into broken veins
Rain for the parched green coils of whispering snakes

Rain to bloat the soil
Rain to weep the grass
Rain to choke the rivers
Rain to crush against the soaked ears
Of the floating city

This song was written by Zak at the height of the great flood of '93 in Des Moines, Iowa. It rained for almost nine months straight and then, in June of that year, The Raccoon River flooded and destroyed the city waterworks. It kept raining, but there was no water in the city pipes for almost two months. There were thousands of volunteers sandbagging around the water works day and night, helicopters always in the air. Drinking water was shipped in by National Guard. The Guard set up bivouacs in the parking lots of grocery stores and people lined up with jugs. Here's an image from that time: a man and his daughter out in the yard of the apartment house across the street shampooing their hair in a downpour. Zak wrote this song during those two months where no water was running through the pipes, but all of heaven was coming down from the sky. He was living in a neighborhood with quite a few Bosnian refugees at the time. I wrote the introduction prose poem to On the Side of the Crow at around the same time, called “Mandala depicting the Secret Life of Worms,” where I imagined worms being sucked up into the sky and riding the rain cycle – all heavily influenced by the constant deluge.

Many thanks to Richard Thomas
(aka Rikki Lixx, former lead guitarist of Rev Theory and Operator)
who kindly re-mastered Zak's cassette tapes.

 Next Week:

Part 3 
of Zak's manuscript
2 More Songs

*Denise Levertov's 
Song for Ishtar

The moon is a sow
and grunts in my throat
Her great shining shines through me
so the mud of my hollow gleams
and breaks in silver bubbles

She is a sow
and I a pig and a poet

When she opens her white
lips to devour me I bite back
and laughter rocks the moon

In the black of desire 
we rock and grunt, grunt and

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