Recent Work By Jim Simpson

#9 Dream

By Jim Simpson

Humor

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” – Robert F. Kennedy

“Oh it’s too sad to be true
Your blue murder’s killing you.” – Elvis Costello, “Shot With His Own Gun

 

Basically, I am equal parts realist and dreamer. In most cases I know I am powerless to effect change beyond my little corner of the world, if even that. Still, I often concoct schemes to make the wider world a better place, at least in my mind. But what I am about to propose is much bigger than any “Occupy” movement. This could be the beginning of a utopian paradise. Join me in my excitement.

Back in August, with Hurricane Irene bearing down on NYC and New England, Brooklyn singer/songwriter The Reverend John DeLore tweaked the lyrics to the old Leadbelly classic, “Goodnight Irene,” to give it a timely Gotham City theme, a musical plea to spare the island metropolis. DeLore recorded a solo acoustic version around 3pm on August 28, emailed it to a number of his musician friends across the city’s five boroughs, who in turn recorded additional parts and emailed them back to him. DeLore (a part-time sound engineer with WNYC’s Studio 360) then mixed the 19 tracks (there’s even a Glockenspiel!) for the final version, all of it conceived, recorded and produced within a ten-hour span.

Hurricane Irene (NYC 2011) by The Reverend John DeLore & Friends

DeLore’s inspired 2009 debut recalls, among other things, the loneliness of the road and the oddly absurd give-and-take inherent in relationships. His latest release, Little John The Conqueror, is an extremely well-crafted take on the hero’s journey. DeLore represents the new breed of DIY artists doing all they can to put their work out there. DeLore is most definitely not the singer/songwriter Art Edwards was talking about at the Portland TNBLE. So far, DeLore’s work, in my opinion, surpasses most of, say, a band like Wilco’s efforts.

I recently spoke with John about the craft of songwriting, poetry, the resurgence of vinyl music releases, what he’d do if he ever met Leonard Cohen, the magic of train travel, and the history of Voodoo Viagra.

If Kate Jacobs has learned one thing, it’s patience. Her latest release, Home Game (Small Pond Records), is her fifth full-length and comes seven years after her previous effort, 2004’s You Call That Dark. In that span she’s taken time off from recording and touring to raise a family while continuing to write the same vividly drawn narratives within perfect pop melodies that she’s been writing for years. On Home Game Jacobs reflects on “life among backpacks and lunches (who ever thought about LUNCH so much),” marriage, divorce, children, Ireland, the internet and the park. I spoke with the singer-songwriter from her home in Hoboken, NJ.

 

For years my grandfather, Irwin Alton Simpson, recited this poem every Christmas Eve, usually after a few shots of whisky. I’m not sure of its origin or when and where he first heard it, but he was an advertising man in Manhattan and, later, the Ad Director for the St. Petersburg (FL) Times, so he knew a ton of bawdy jokes and dirty limericks. (This poem is pretty tame compared to some he knew.)

After he died, the torch was passed to my father, Richard Irwin Simpson, who did an equally fine job, as he was also an ad man. He still recites the poem, even if it’s sometimes over the phone. James Irwin Simpson, that’s me, will be the next torch bearer.

With much love on this Christmas Eve, I share with you all this poem.

 

‘Twas Christmas Eve in the prison and the warden was walking the halls

Shouting ‘Merry Christmas, prisoners!’ and the prisoners replied, ‘Balls!’

This made the warden quite angry and he swore by all the gods,

‘You shall have no Christmas pudding, you dirty lowdown dogs!’

Then up spoke one old prisoner with face as hard as brass,

‘Warden, you can take your Christmas pudding and shove it up your ass!’

It’s a perfect afternoon in June, about 2 p.m., and we are up on the seventh floor. I stand looking past everyone in the room out through the parted curtains at the clouds, and I can’t take my eyes off them. Jesus, these clouds are breathtaking. My youngest daughter and her cousins sit on the empty bed, my wife and her sister lean against the counter under the t.v. which is bolted to the wall near the ceiling. Beneath the window my in-laws are parked on a hard teal leatherette couch.

I simply must see those clouds.

Longing for Home

By Jim Simpson

Novel

Editor’s note: This is the first chapter in Jim’s novel Beneath the Surface.

 

New Berlin, NY — Thursday, February 1, 1979

Leonard Conklin sat in the green overstuffed chair in the corner of his room idly flipping through the latest Sports Illustrated, which he had already memorized. On the cover was number 20, Pittsburgh’s Rocky Bleier, making a leaping end-zone catch over an agonized Dallas defender during Super Bowl XIII (Steelers 35 — Cowboys 31).

In photos from his youth he looked like a porcelain doll, a severely myopic puppet. When I knew him, he was in constant motion, a coiled spring: knee bouncing, fingers grasping and lighting cigarettes, eyes darting, lips moving and always talking sports. I couldn’t keep up with him though I knew I was smarter.

He was my mother’s only sibling, born when my grandmother was in her 40s, eventually becoming too much for her to care for. Back then my Uncle Billy had a sweeping range of unspecified mental issues (widely ignored by all around him), yet he possessed an eidetic memory for sports trivia. (Asperger’s Syndrome wouldn’t be recognized until 1944 and only officially named for Hans Asperger in 1981, a year after the good doctor’s death.) He was hyperactive, displayed attention deficit tendencies, was susceptible to stimulants and depressants alike. We merely called him Silly Billy, but not to his face. Billy was simply complicated.

A main character in my upcoming novel* has feeble short-term memory. His pockets spill over with scraps of paper covered in scribbled notes like tattoos on the leathery arms of an aging biker. A minor character fills her study with bound books chock-a-block with the lists of her daily life.

I’m not a list person, although I often write notes to myself. In the car. In the bathroom. But in a way maybe these notes are lists — things to remember, events by which to gauge time, yet not in list form.

My book deals with memory, history, and the chronology of a life whose gaps are filled by the most unlikely sources.

People are always asking me for directions.

My body language must exude confidence. Or maybe it’s my face: steel-eyed determination successfully masking utter cluelessness. Then again, maybe not, because a blind office worker once asked me to guide him to his building from Grand Central Station.

Really. I kid you not.

Two previous generations of my family hail from New York and my sister was born in Brooklyn Heights. My brother and I were the only two schmucks born in Florida (and not even Miami!).

That’s from Carson McCullers. Time is an idiot.

Being a child of divorce from an early age, I have abandonment issues. I know — pitiful. It’s not something on which I dwell; it’s just always at the back of my battered brain. What can you do.

I hate goodbyes. Absolutely hate them. I’m no good at them.

In our room that morning as we changed into our bathing suits, stuffing towels and Coppertone into the souvenir Pan Am flight bags our father had gotten for us on a business trip, Glen told me how it would go.

“Answer her questions, but don’t start a conversation.”

“But Dad told us what to say last week. Remember? He said when we meet her to smile and say, ‘I’m state your name, very pleased to meet you, Kate.’ ”

“Yeah, I remember,” said Glen. “You can say it, but you don’t have to mean it.”

“Okay.” I watched him put a book into the bag and then slip a small white bottle of roll-on deodorant in after it. “Why are you taking that to the beach?”

“Don’t want my pits to stink.”

“You think girls from school will be there?”

Glen’s face went red as he zipped up the bag, then mumbled, “You never know.”

“I think she’ll be tall,” I said. “Taller than Mom, probably.”

“If you’re nice to her I’ll punch you,” Glen said, tucking the towel under his arm. “Hard.”

The snow was piling up outside, a white blanket six inches thick and gleaming in the moonlight, reflected up through Darla’s bedroom window. I had just finished reading a story to the girls from Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Treasury about sledding down a steep hill. Toad, the pessimist, is leery of such a dangerous undertaking, but the eternally optimistic Frog assures him they will be safe and have lots of fun.

Flying down the hill they hit a bump and Frog falls off. Toad keeps talking as if Frog were still on the sled, but a passing crow tells him he’s talking to himself. Toad looks back at the empty sled, freaks out and quickly crashes into a snow bank. Later, he tells Frog winter is fun, but staying in bed is much better. Safer too.

“I like that one, but it makes me cold,” says Emma, hugging her shoulders. “Can you tell us a Florida story?”

“Yeah, a Florida story!” Darla says, scrunching down under the covers.

So I begin as I always do.

August.

The ass end of summer.

The time of year when I’m slogging through the drudgery of everyday life: the commuting, the second-only-to-L.A. traffic of Atlanta, the smog, the latest Mexican drug-trafficking hub that is Gwinnett County, the belligerent assholes in their giant SUVs with the faded “We’re Proud of You” and “Support Our Troops” magnetic ribbons, the tragic irony of which is no longer worth criticizing or satirizing.

I’ve always preferred the muted light of an overcast day; everything looks calm and friendly in the filtered light, which is strange since I lived in Florida for the first 28 years of my life. You’d think I’d be accustomed to sunshine. But in Florida we had afternoon thunderstorms that scuttled in from the gulf every day like clockwork. I adored those gray cumulonimbi.

PARIS, FR –

“If you are lucky enough to have visited Paris as a not-so-young person, then
wherever you go for the rest of your life, even if it’s Palatka, Florida; Shangba, China; or Flint, Michigan (okay, maybe not Flint), it stays with you, for Paris is a portable snack — but like the best snack ever: a crepe jambon et fromage on a cold day, for instance.” – JL Stankus

Montmartre

We left the windows open at night so the room was cold in the morning and the cold was good.

Viewday_2

We woke to the municipal workers watering the trees in the square at Place Emile-Goudeau below us. I went to the window and saw one of them as he watched a young woman washing the big window of the pâtisserie on the corner.

She wore the Converse “Chucks” that were the rage, tight dark hip-hugger jeans and a bright pink blouse that rose up as she stretched, her olive skin winking at him. This was Montmartre waking up.

In college I worked one summer as a line cook in a 120-seat restaurant of a small hotel in Florida.

Although I had no formal training as a cook, I was able to bypass the usual progression from dishwasher to busboy to line cook, going straight into cooking because my friend Tony Spagnolo worked on the line.

Kitchen_2

“It’ll be fun, you and me working together all summer,” he said. Sure, I thought. What’s the worst that could happen? Food poisoning? Injuring myself or someone else with sharp implements? So I went to work.

It was grueling, hellish, fast-paced, chaotic, and for the most part, unrewarding. Of course I made some amateur mistakes, but I also did some good things and I learned a few things along the way. I also got to date a number of hot waitresses, but that’s another story.