Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mysterious Package: Songs of Zak Jourek (Part 3)

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

Part one gives a more in-depth introduction to Zak and can be found  
Part two can be found  
The songs already posted can be found

Brief re-cap: 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.

I leave you with section three of his manuscript. And two more of his songs from an old demo tape: The Sky’s on Fire and Michelangelo.

3. If you’re ever in Panama City, definitely check out the blind fate

We made Panama City by sunset, checked into a motel downtown. Outside the window we looked down on the same scene as the one at the motel in Missouri: a man in blue shorts, white socks and loafers reading the paper while someone else’s kids frolicked in the tiny, kidney shaped pool. We went down to the pool, dangled our feet in the water that stank of chlorine, and drank warm beer from plastic cups. 

It’s amazing how twilight changes things, turns them inside out – purple and lush – making brilliant flowers where there was once crushed glass. The same scene that looked so bleak that morning in Jackson was transformed to beauty in Panama City. Liv looked happy. In that moment, I can honestly say that I felt something lift off me, something that I’d been carrying since EMI had stolen my music. I no longer cared. Revenge or acceptance – and every response in between – suddenly seemed irrelevant.
A middle aged couple in their underwear hurried towards the pool, jumped in. That immediately scared off the kids and the guy reading the paper. “We forgot our suits,” the man explained to us after a few minutes of splashing around. His speech was slurred. A freight rumbled somewhere beyond the palms lining the motel parking lot. The lights in the lot flicked on. Moths chased the light. We pretended not to watch the drunk couple splashing each other. The motel song came back again, and I found another verse: The train engine talk whispers secrets/into the widow’s ear/Telling her of the sea of forgetting/…it’s here…
“He’s at the end of some big money won in Atlantic City,” Liv whispered. It’s a game we played when we were bored, sitting around a café or bar before a set, watching the locals.
“But who’s the woman?” I whispered back.
“Her name’s Azalea,” Liv whispered back. “She stuck with him because she can’t quite shake that night in Atlantic City when he couldn’t lose. She’s waiting for it to happen again.”
“And every time he looks at her,” I whispered back, “he thinks of her back in Atlantic City, too, and knows he’s just an illusion to her, has been worried for the entire trip that she’ll see through the veil any minute.”
Liv smiled, nodded, then said: “One night, when he’s pretending to sleep he’ll hear her slip out of bed, gather up her things, humming to herself like there’s no one else in the room. The door opens, closes, then silence.”
I laughed, shook my head.  “That’s cold.”
The couple pulled themselves up out of the pool, underwear sticking to them like skin, making them more naked than if they’d had nothing on. They shook their hair out and quickly hurried offstage. When they were gone, Liv stood up, unbuttoned her shorts, slipped them off, then pulled her t-shirt off and dove in. I finished the rest of the beer in my cup, stripped, and followed her into the pool. 
The manager of the motel – a woman in her sixties, wearing a pink terrycloth bathrobe and black rubber thongs – came out and told us we were not being respectful of the other guests, of her, or of ourselves. My peaceful carefree illumination instantly dissolved and the old rage came back.
“Yes, yes, respect,” I hissed at her. “Are you aware that an actual human being wrote your favorite song, that it didn’t appear out of the mist all on its own one morning?”
The woman frowned, confused. “What are you talking about?”
It was later, lying in bed on the verge of sleep, that I wondered why the owner hadn’t come out to reprimand the other couple. I put it down to another case of blind fate. Why were my songs stolen and not the music of Chris Cornell or that blowhard Morissey? Blind fate. That’s when I found the final verse to the song: What I really want to know/is why some rise and why some fall/Why some thrash in the waterfall/and why some do nothing at all.

(End of part 3)

(click on title to hear song)

The sky's on fire from the heart of the blue city burning
Ashes fall from the stars that are never seen

Cars stalk the streetlights, who watch the windows
Shadows rigid, beneath the lamp-glow
A lone figure walks toward the edge of the city's dream

Broken stairwells, shadow pockets
Eyes of houses, torn out of sockets
The figure walks toward the dark of the blue city's dream

The sky's on fire from the heart of the blue city burning
Ashes fall from the stars that are never seen

The thirst of sidewalks, jaws of dumpsters
Invisible hands fall from bleeding gutters
The figure disappears into the last line of trees

Frightened boys lean into doorways
The god of nails dreams in his box-frame
The figure moves into a field dark as the sea

The sky's on fire from the heart of the blue city burning
Ashes fall from the stars that are never seen

Bare branches, they scrape together
The figure stoops, picks up a feather
He cannot speak but he knows what his gesture means

If I remember correctly, Zak was reading a lot of classic apocalyptic sci-fi around the time he wrote this song: A Canticle for Leibowitz, Alas Babylon, Childhood’s End...

(click on title to hear song)

They come from stone
Stone is where they're going
Eye to eye, I saw the stone reviving
Half-uncarved, half forming questions
"Are we free or is this pose endless?"

Out of stone flies curving bodies
Bodies waiting for the bus alone
Bodies sculpted from the hands of Michelangelo

She was standing  'neath a Rubens painting
Reaching out for a Rubens lady
From the ice of her still-life growing
She held out her hands to the picture knowing

Out of stone flies curving bodies
Bodies waiting for the bus alone
Bodies sculpted from the hands of Michelangelo

Cocked hands of a fisherman aching
Twined arms of a couple walking
Bent back of a pilgrim praying
Sprawled legs of a vagrant begging

Cocked hands of a couple walking
Bent back of a vagrant begging
Sprawled legs of a pilgrim praying

This is about seeing the sculpture “The Slaves” by Michelangelo in the Louvre. What’s interesting about the song is that Zak had never been to Paris. The song was lifted from a story I told him about a time when I’d visited the Louvre and was continually drawn back to The Slaves, those bodies trying to escape stone (since then they have been moved to Florence). At the end of the day, wandering around Paris, I saw all bodies I encountered in the same way– desperately trying to escape something. Or trying to find their true shape from the stone they came from? He took the story and made this song. What’s interesting about the song is that at the end he changes the original postures of the vagrant, the couple, the pilgrim, the fisherman, and interweaves them, as if they are interchangeable. Maybe saying that all suffering, or perceived loneliness, is shared? 

Next Time:

Part 4 of Zak's Manuscript

& two more songs

La La La 


Meanwhile, updates about the global climate march can be found at The Guardian here. Or at here.


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