Saturday, October 23, 2004


By Jack Random

On October 21, 1969, the summer of love was over. Woodstock was history. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were dead. Within a year, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were dead. A year later, Jim Morrison joined them. Chicago was the city of political corruption and police brutality. Boston was the home of racial strife. Painted faces of compassion walked the Avenue in Berkeley and the Haight in San Francisco. Student protestors had been beaten and gassed but they had not yet been shot dead by the guns of the National Guard. That was yet to come.

On October 21, 1969, the Jack of Hearts lay down and never rose again. The poetry of Zen, the bodhisattva of word jazz, the beat of the beats, the soul of a bum, the thumb of an endless highway, died in his sleep with $91 in his account, not a nickel in his pocket, and a belly full of Johnny Walker Red.

Jack Kerouac was a soldier in the army of social consciousness, a tireless fighter for truth, justice and the most illusive little gee god of all: enlightenment.

On the Road is his legacy, his guidebook for survival in an age of perpetual flux. Mexico City Blues is a prayer to the silent desert moon. And Dharma Bums is his epitaph.

All writers – especially the spoken word kind – are preachers, prophets and diviners of the human soul. The Jack of Kerouac was one of the finest of our times and, who knows, but of all times. He died at 49. He died before I even knew my name.

He understood that death was only a punctuation mark. He lived and wrote like a madman on a runaway train. He knew where he was headed.

He never wanted to be a legend. But, let’s face it, he could use the publicity.

Tip one to Jack tonight and toss a thought around.

Gather in comfortable places. Plot and commiserate.

That’s what Jack would have done.


Thursday, October 21, 2004


By Jack Random

As the president decries the politics of fear and Orwell turns over in his grave once more, the vice president emerges from his bunker to warn the good citizens of this land that a nuclear terrorist attack looms if the senator from Massachusetts replaces his master in the oval office.

Time is running out, Mr. President. You are losing this election and, barring the unspeakable, you will lose decisively. The people have deciphered the code. You are not only a liar and a hypocrite, you have a marked tendency to proclaim the exact opposite of the truth, as if saying so repeatedly and with vigor, the people will surely accept your pronouncements as reality.

But the people have eyes and ears and cerebrums of their own. Even a biased mainstream media cannot hide an avalanche of compelling evidence forever. You claim your opponent will say anything to suit the occasion, but it was you who lied at every corner and every turn to justify a war that was neither necessary nor righteous. Over and again, you spoke of a grave and gathering threat, and then you swore you never said the words. From your mouth, we heard dire accounts of mushroom clouds, weapons of mass destruction, phantom connections to Al Qaeda, and complicity in the 911 attacks on this nation, and then you fought every step of the way to prevent the truth from emerging. It was you who twisted and distorted honest intelligence and then allowed the Director of Central Intelligence to fall on his sword for your crimes of deception.

Yes, Mr. President, we are sick to death of the politics of fear. We have lived with the politics of fear for over three years. We have taken it in with our morning coffee. We have tucked it into our beds at night. We have calmed our children after nightmares. We have held our breath for the first news of the day and we have watched our soldiers come home in coffins. We are tired of living with the politics of fear and you, Mr. President, are its champion. Karl Rove, the only adviser outside the ideologues of war you listen to, is the author. It worked its charm like a mass mesmerization during the campaign of 2002, when a crumbling economy and tax breaks for the rich were not enough to prevent a Republican takeover. But even a master can play the same tune too long and yours, Mr. President, has fallen to the level of elevator music.

If ever a president deserved to be discredited, it is you. You were placed on a pedestal and you have fallen of your own accord. When you speak of your accomplishments, you seem to forget that we live in the world you only speak of. When you say your tax cuts really favor the middle class, we do not believe you. When you claim your gift to the drug companies is actually a benefit to our seniors, we do not believe you. When you proclaim that our schools are improved with your policies of “test every child and bury the failures,” we do not believe you.

When you say, however, that there will be no draft under your administration, finally we believe you for your administration will effectively end on November 2nd.


Wednesday, October 20, 2004


By Jack Random

When a platoon of soldiers out of Jackson, Mississippi, the 343rd Quartermaster Company, refused to carry out an order to transport contaminated fuel along a dangerous corridor north of Baghdad, it was not an act of courage or conscientious objection. It was an act military prudence in keeping with every soldier’s first obligation to his fellows and himself: survival.

As much as we would like to embrace their cause, we can only offer our sympathy and support. This act of defiance does nothing to indict the war; it indicts the incompetence of those charged with carrying it out. It does not instruct us to ask: Why are we in Iraq? It rather instructs us to ask: Where has all the money gone if not to protect the troops? We have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $130 billion and committed $70 billion more, yet our soldiers remain ill-equipped and we are further from victory now than we were on the day of Shock and Awe.

Realistically, what is victory in Iraq? What does it look like? What does it smell like? If we ram through a sham of an election (as we did in Afghanistan), if we crown a CIA strongman and convene a parliament without authority, will it be settled then? If we establish permanent military bases from Mosul to Basra, will the Arab world ever accept such an outcome?

Truth to power: As long as the rivers run and the skies are blue-gray, there can be no victory in Iraq. It will never happen – neither in our lifetimes nor in the life spans of our children and grandchildren. A commitment to victory in Iraq is a promise of never ending war. If the president wishes to make a promise he can keep, let him speak no more of an all volunteer army or the politics of fear; let him deliver a promise of eternal war, a war for all ages, and a trail of destruction unprecedented in world history.

As the president babbles on about staying the course and fighting terrorists abroad so that we do not have to fight them here, we should reflect that only Israel and America could have transformed Islamic fundamentalist terrorists into freedom fighters – just as we did with the same terrorists in Afghanistan when they opposed the Soviet invaders. As the president panders to voters in Columbus, Ohio, and Pensacola, Florida, he would do well to reflect that the only city that matters in this election is the ancient city of Babylon.

The Jackson 17 has handed Senator Kerry the issue he wanted: the war is poorly planned and poorly administered. Those of us who have opposed the war since its inception must go a step further. We must call on all foreign fighters in that war torn land to lay down their arms as a matter of conscience. This is a war that should never have been launched for a cause that is unworthy of dying and killing. If we crush the resistance, it will only be born again. If we level the land with a torrent of bombs, as we did in Viet Nam, everyone loses.

If we would have an end to the rumors of military conscription, let us assert the right of every individual to conscientiously object. If we would have an end to the very concept of war as the ultimate arbiter of international conflict, the solution must begin with individual choice. There will always be sufficient volunteers to fight in the defense of our nation. The combined volunteer forces of all nations may be called upon to stop genocide or fight back fascist imperialism. Even today, a volunteer army would be wholly adequate to fight the real war on terrorism. The only wars that require conscripts and mercenaries are those of the immoral, illegal and unjustified kind.

Our troops in Iraq by-and-large did not sign on to this duty. None should be held a moment longer than their initial commitments. The “back door draft” policies of the military are nothing more than an attempt to compensate for inadequate forces. That there are so few volunteers for this debacle should inform us all as to the morality of the war. That being the case, every soldier must confront a classic moral dilemma: whether to refuse a sworn duty or cooperate in an immoral endeavor. For those who choose, as a matter of conscience, to refuse, it becomes our duty to aid and comfort them.


Sunday, October 17, 2004


By Jack Random

It is often said but rarely taken to heart: Everything is politics. Buying groceries at the neighborhood market is politics. Taking in a film at the multiplex is politics. Hurricanes and tornadoes are politics. Choosing to watch Fox News or Link TV is politics. Supporting your local theater is politics. Driving a Humvee or a hybrid is politics. Obsessing on Laci, Kobe or The Survivors is politics. Reading Arundhati Roy, Michael Mann or Stephen King is politics. And yes, poetry is politics as well.

The Beatlicks, patron saints of the Nashville poetry society, have recently announced their departure from the dense forests of Tennessee to the arid expanses of New Mexico, “leaving the green and wet and moving to the brown and dry.”

I first met Pamela Hirst and Joe Speer when the wZ (AKA, Jim Wisniewski) and I crashed the Nashville poetry scene with a wild, futuristic version of GB Shaw’s Joan of Ark. We were without doubt the fringe radicals of what seemed a tightly knit community, greeted with gaping mouths and only slightly muffled derision, but we were welcomed with open arms by Nashville’s King and Queen of the spoken word. To paraphrase the words of Richard Blane, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

We are all intellectually aware of the interconnectedness of all things. We accept that a tragic event in September 2001 altered our vision of the world but we rather doubt that a fluttering butterfly in Kuala Lumpur can change the course of history in Tallahassee or Nova Scotia. Nevertheless, the power of the word, written or spoken, is surely underrated. The power of poetry is that it speaks both to the mind and to the heart. The most poignant and powerful message against the war that is now spreading its dark wings over much of the world was delivered by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Speak Out) in verse.

Come November 2nd, if the pundits are wrong and Tennessee breaks from the column of red states, it may well be the legacy of two Nashville poets. Transformation is a strange and fundamentally unpredictable phenomenon, springing from the convergence of seemingly unrelated, random events. The word reaches out to a handful of malleable souls, who in turn reach out to a handful of others and so on until a trickle becomes a stream, becomes a river, becomes a tidal wave of change.

Those of us who have lived in the south are acutely aware that some of the most enlightened minds and most powerful voices for change reside there. Among them were Joe Speer and Pamela Hirst. In this season of electoral politics, we reflect on the living legacy of two individuals who have dedicated their lives to their chosen art form. We sense that they have left an indelible impression on the Nashville skyline.

What Nashville has lost, New Mexico has gained. With the power of the internet, perhaps it no longer matters where one resides – except for the electoral college. We wish them many more years of fruitful creative endeavor.

The legacy lives on.


Beatlicks leaving, but not without a legacy
By K. DANIELLE EDWARDS, The Tennessean (October 2004)

When you think about celebrated institutions coming to an end, you might think about the destruction of historic buildings. Or the closing of that community bakery after generations of decadent aromas wafting through the neighborhood.

Seldom do you think of the everyday people who help bring a little sunshine into the life of the community. Joe Speer and Pamela Hirst, aka The Beatlicks, are an institution in Nashville poetry circles. This week they are leaving Nashville for Speer's native New Mexico.

''I'll be leaving the green and wet and moving to the brown and dry,'' Speer says with a laugh. ''We've been phasing out of the Nashville scene for the past few years anyway because we've been traveling, and Pamela decided a few months ago that we needed a change.''

Speer moved here from New Mexico in 1988 to stay with his brother and mother, who was ill with cancer. After his mother died, Speer met Hirst, who offered him a ''new connection'' and a new reason to stay.

''The first place I knew about (doing poetry) was Windows on the Cumberland in the late '80s,'' Speer says. ''There weren't that many venues, and we thought it was important to have at least one venue so poets could get together at least once a month.''

The Beatlicks had open-mike poetry nights at Douglas Corner Cafe, Woodstock Cafe, Bookstar, Asylum, Bean Central and other venues.

Through connections in other cities, they helped bring a new form of poetic recitation to Nashville: the poetry slam, a verbal duel of verse and emotion.

''We brought the slam concept below the Mason-Dixon line in 1990. The first slam was at Douglas Corner,'' Speer says.

The Beatlicks also produced a regular show on Nashville's Community Access Television. Speer's proudest moment was performing at the now-defunct Summer Lights Festival.

''It wasn't like some little dingy club or a small room in the back of the bookstore. It felt like we were big time,'' he says.

Speer thinks poetry will always be an underground fixture. ''I don't see it as being a mainstream thing. There's always poetry there, but it always has a back seat. We're always in the balcony.

''Mostly I see it as an event that is hosted by people who love poetry. They do it not for the money or for the recognition, but because they have to do it. People need a place to share their works. I see it continuing as a little stream. It's an ancient and beloved art.''

Speer and Hirst, both in the their mid-50s, are looking forward to the tranquility of the more subdued New Mexico scene, which has pockets of poetic movement.

To keep up with The Beatlicks in New Mexico, visit