Sunday 20 May 2007
The Wart is my first visitor. He comes bearing wine from Mt Baker with instructions on how to decant. I can't wait to decant! I ask him what he knows about performance art in Washington. He tells me about Larry Van Over's stunt in the late 1960s, avant garde stuff.
Thousands attended Van Over's dropping of a piano from a helicopter into an open field in Duvall, Washington, a logging town which today has a population of about 6000. It was a KRAB-FM radio event (The Jack Straw Foundation was founded by KRAB). "KRAB-FM was one of the first non-commercial radio stations in the country. The station's main purpose was to be a forum for the discussion and presentation of science, arts and public affairs programs. KRAB was formed at a time of progressing technology, when relatively few FM receivers existed and community radio was unheard of. The first day KRAB was on the air, its transmitter blew up and was rebuilt. Broadcasting from locales ranging from an old donut shop to an abandoned firehouse, KRAB struggled and thrived for twenty-two years" [Jack Straw].
After the drop, people mobbed the piano and made off with the loose pieces. Once the crowd had dispersed, the only thing left was the harp. The Wart says he has it, the guts of Ray Shelbred's famous jazz piano, dropped from a hundred feet in the air. He's offered it to the EMP, but hasn't heard back.
The Piano Drop proved to be an important event not only for the avant garde scene, but for the rock music scene. It marked the advent of outdoor rock festivals in America. "The Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter than Air Fair was born of the “Piano Drop,” an event held four months earlier in Duvall on April 28, 1968, and sponsored by radio station KRAB and the Helix newspaper. The Piano Drop answered the musical question, 'What sound does a piano make when it’s dropped from a helicopter?' More than 3,000 inquiring people made a pilgrimage to tiny Duvall to witness this earth-splattering event and to see a show by Country Joe and the Fish. The Piano Drop was a countercultural success. The event also made money, causing Paul Dorpat, publisher/editor of the Helix, to speculate, 'If 3,000 people come to hear one band, how many would come to hear a dozen, or two dozen, or …?'" [History Link]
Unfortunately, the piano didn't burst into a thousand pieces or make the amazing music organizers were hoping for. It just sort of thud into the wet ground and, without losing integrity, slumped a bit.
The birds today are lovely, lovely and active in the trees and meadows. I take refuge in Sherwood, behind my Eastern White Pine. When I look up to place a twittering, I see a small yellow bird above my head. It is my first sighting of the American goldfinch at the lake. What a high and provocative call. In the late afternoon, I look back to see a raccoon scrunched by The Gates of Hell. He gallomps over the meadow to my White Fir. He climbs to the tippy top. I notice then all the large nests high in the trees. There are crow picking through my meadow. Behind Sherwood the barn swallows navigate a racecourse of insects. At four distinct times during the day, I place myself in their path. I let them spin around me. I follow one of them with my eyes, as it swerves and dives, and it's as if he is still and the whole world is a blur. I get caught up in his movement. It's like dancing with my eyes.
Three mallards walk by. A different pattern. A different speed.
5 teenagers on the path call to me, "Do you want to read us a poem?" I raise my head. I nod. They approach. They are wearing hoodies. They have facial piercings. Four boys and a girl.
I have a friend's anthology with me today. I flip to Amy Lowell's "September, 1918." "This afternoon was the color of water falling through sunlight." Lowell is explaining how we store up images in times of stress. "Some day there will be no war./Then I shall take out this afternoon/And turn it in my fingers."
How are we accessing today's images? Are we taking the afternoon or are we storing it up? What is keeping us from it? I suppose stress is doing its part. And time. And all the comforts know. What a registry of images we'll have for later, when we find the calm we are seeking!
And when will that be?
What kept the women and children of 1918 from their "alleys of dropped maple leaves?" Lowell explains, for her part, "I have time for nothing/But the endeavor to balance myself/Upon a broken world." Time demands that we store the poetry.
One says, "Cool." One says, "I did a report on Emily Dickinson for school." Another says, "I like Robert Frost." "I write poetry," says the skinny boy. "He raps," explains the girl. He won't do it now though. He needs to be in the mood. They notice my mango. One of them asks where I got it. I tell them PCC. "Can we go up and get one?" "You don't have money." "Yes I do. Ok well, maybe I don't." I offer them my mango. "You can't take her mango! That's rude." I tell them it is part of my job. And so they take it.
16 brave people came to see me today. I read to them Dick Allen, Mark Strand, Amy Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop and Russell Edson. Let's get out of the rain!