**Note from Jen: It’s a huge honor to have one of my favorite poets in the world guest post on my site today…
Being a Fan by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Maybe we could pay more attention to this subject. We’re so full of ourselves, but it’s much more fun to be full of others. Who do we deeply appreciate and how does this help us when the going gets rough? Or, if we’re feeling a little dim or faded, who’s someone new we could love?
At age 20 I stepped into a falafel joint in Austin, Texas and heard Tom Waits singing from a speaker behind the counter for the first time. Who is that? I asked the Arab guy who looked like my cousin. That’s Tom Waits, he said. And he handed me my hot wrapped sandwich.
I went straight to a record store and bought 2 Tom Waits albums. I basked in them, listening over and over, playing them
for all prospective new friends, watching their reactions. If they responded strongly to Tom’s songs, I was more interested in being friends with them.
Over the years, the songs of Tom Waits have circulated in my cars and rooms more than the work of any other artist and I continue to love his music in all of its phases. Every song, every album – even the clankier songs on “Frank’s Wild Years,” for example, have grown on me as I got clankier myself – he and later his wife Kathleen Brennan alongside him have written music to live by and I feel deeply companioned, comforted, whenever his voice is present, and especially at top volume, and even when a song has just been played 50 times in succession. His songs are homes to live inside.
Who would I have been without these homes? I have no idea. Someone lonelier, for sure. I urge you to watch the videos for Tom Waits’ songs, “Hold On” and “Hell Broke Luce” –- both made by the visionary Matt Mahurin, if you have a chance.
Attending only one Tom Waits concert in my life, in a weird overly warm “standing only venue” concert hall in Dallas, the Palladium Ballroom, I consulted with the guy next to me who had also arrived 2 hours early. Somehow I attempted to establish the fact that I was a bigger fan than this guy was. In fact, who were all these other people? They had no right to stand in front of us.
The guy casually said he had been to Houston the previous night to hear Tom’s concert there. “They had seats,” he said. “It was a nice hall.” I was thunderstruck. All the Deadheads of the world might be surprised to hear how shocking it was to me to realize I could have followed Tom around Texas and attended even the concert in El Paso, for goodness’ sake. I had made a big mistake. One concert only. But, it would certainly be the best musical night of my life and by the time Tom ended his encore, repeating, “And it’s time, time, time” as in – time to go home, maybe – I was mesmerized, rhapsodized, utterly confirmed in my fandom.
Out in the parking lot (a grassy field behind the ballroom), I stood a long time by my car to be the last person to leave. That seemed important. I phoned my son and husband back home in San Antonio to describe in detail how great the concert had been. Though it was past midnight, they were kind enough to listen to this.
The next day I was so disgusted with the Dallas Morning News reviewer’s word “demented” in the concert review headline – okay, so it appeared alongside another agreeable word like brilliant – that I wrote a letter to the editor, which was never published.
Tom, Tom, Tom. Time, Time, Time. To be a fan is a lucky thing.
(I know a 22 year old writer named Vincent who has been to 40 Dar Williams concerts since he was 12.)
Right before Thanksgiving, I went back to Dallas, and read a Dallas Observer review of someone who had played a concert in a giant arena the night I arrived – someone named “Macklemore” along with his pal “Ryan Lewis” – there was a picture of these two fellows, both wearing black, the main man staring off to the side. The reviewer said something like, “If anyone had ever told me I would be writing a wildly positive review of a rapper, I would have been shocked,” then went on to say what a captivating concert it had been. He mentioned a song called “Thrift Shop” and some others. Hello, YouTube.
Why did Macklemore in those blue footie pajamas even singing the M-F word which many people my age do not feel comfortable with send me to the moon?
Since that first viewing, I have watched all his other videos, repeatedly, his Tiny Desk Concert for NPR, his radio interviews, the interview in which he takes us on a tour of some of his thrift shop clothes and big coats on a rack in his living room, etc. When he turned up on the stage at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, I was stunned. Is this the most in touch with popular culture I’ve ever been? Probably.
Thanks, Ben Haggerty aka Macklemore, for reminding me how great it is to be a fan. It’s invigorating. I get in my car and there’s Tom Waits at full blast. But when the day sags (between 4 and 5 p.m. usually) I turn on Thrift Shop and do a little dance to it. The world is bright again. ~Naomi Shihab Nye
*Naomi Shihab Nye says “I am a fan of Jennifer Pastiloff and her blog!”
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Biography of Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi is a poet, songwriter, and novelist. She was born to a Palestinian father and American mother. Although she regards herself as a “wandering poet”, she refers to San Antonio as her home.
Her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, explored the theme of similarities and differences between cultures, which would become one of her lifelong areas of focus. Her other books include poetry collections 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me, Red Suitcase, Field Trip and Fuel; a collection of essays entitled Never in a Hurry; a young-adult novel called Habibi (the semi-autobiographical story of an Arab-American teenager who moves to Jerusalem in the 1990s) and picture book Lullaby Raft, which is also the title of one of her two albums of music. (The other is called Rutabaga-Roo; both were limited-edition.) Nye has edited many anthologies of poems, for audiences both young and old. One of the best-known is This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, which contains translated work by 129 poets from 69 different countries. Her most recent anthology is called Is This Forever, Or What?: Poems & Paintings from Texas.
She has won many awards and fellowships, among them four Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Children’s Book award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and many notable book and best book citations from the American Library Association, and a 2000 Witter Bynner Fellowship. In June 2009, Nye was named as one of PeaceByPeace.com’s first peace heroes.