Pictures, Poems, and Songs
Pictures, Poems and Songs
More about Pat Speer than you probably want to know
This first photo is a relatively recent photo taken in Joshua Tree National Park. The recipient of the smooch is my better half.
The photo below is another self-portrait, of sorts, taken with a cell phone. That's my reflection in the window. I thought it symbolic of the disconnect between the American people and the war in Iraq. It was something that was happening over there, while we sat over here, behind glass. And yet we couldn't stop watching.
Ironically, and not surprisingly, my description of the photo above as a self-portrait was way too artsy for one JFK assassination "researcher". He concluded from this that I was a fireman, and he promptly e-mailed me to tell me where I could stick my hose, and said I was gonna need it where I was gonna go. (Yes, this is what passes for intelligent "criticism" in the modern age, where 12 year-old girls pretend to be 20 and 50 year-old men pretend to be 12, and everyone but everyone has an e-mail address and a webpage. Including me...)
The photo below was taken in December, 1988, and depicts a typical holiday celebration at my former place of employment. The employees would find an abandoned car in the neighborhood, smash it to pieces, and then forklift it out to the street to be towed away. Good fun. That's me in black. The madman on top? That's Mike Inez, who would go on to play bass for Ozzie Osbourne, Alice in Chains, and Heart.
From 1989 to 2001, I was a record buyer for a large music wholesaler. It was a very interesting time in the record business, and for me personally. (If anyone is looking for a really wild screenplay about the rise and downfall of the record business, I've got it.) Anyhow, for all the supposed glitz, most of my days were spent sitting at a desk, just like everybody else. The photo below was taken in the late-90's, on what would appear to be a very average workday.
Alligator Boy was written when I was in my early 20s. I was feeling isolated and was fairly angry at the world. Somewhere along the line I'd read about circus freaks, and was appalled to find that people with bad skin conditions were once put on display and billed "Alligator Girl," "Alligator Man", etc. I tried to understand how this might feel. I brought the poem into an advanced level college course just to see what the response would be. Well, the girl assigned to explicate the poem didn't quite get it. Which is what I expected. But after she spoke another woman chimed in and told the class my poem had deeply affected her, and that she had spent her whole week-end crying as a result. This unnerved me a bit. It was one thing to be angry at the world, and to try to spin this anger into art, but I couldn't bare to think I was making people sad.
Spread out among the reptiles,
I slither as I slide.
Don't dare to think me "man."
I'm not the same...
Others are inhuman--
They strike at what they please.
But me I'm damned to display to man
I'm something just "diseased."
Just "diseased"--a curse.
For if it weren't for my disguise I'd show them something
When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, I, like so many, was hopeful that some real and lasting changes would follow. Within a few years it became clear that my hopes had been misplaced.
"Let's seize the day" our hero cries,
as he slides into the stirrups.
But his horse is sick,
our future's stalled,
The Aftermath was written when I was in my late thirties, shortly after my best friend's six-year old son died from a previously undiagnosed heart ailment. I was surrounded by people who were just crushed, and I slowly came to realize that I, too, had been crushed. I realized that my whole life had been a fruitless attempt at controlling nature. I decided instead to embrace the chaos that is life, quit fighting the mourning, and accept death. I decided to "jump into the river and swim." These words came to me on a long walk. (One can read more about the little boy whose life and death made such an impact here.)
But now I see my mistake:
instead of cutting leaves with scissors,
I oughta cut scissors with leaves,
and leave "leave"
Requiem for the Living was a song that came to me after watching the movie "Iris." It is the last song on my self-produced and home-recorded CD. At one point I received a random email asking me to submit my inspirational poetry into a contest. I submitted the lyrics to "requiem" as a joke, but received a response saying it had been selected for publication and that I could buy the book in which it was published for only 50 bucks!
Requiem for the Living
Stand tall, out in the light
for soon the night descends.
Just sing, and you will write
a song that never ends.
Sing out, and watch your words
spread out across the sky,
upon the wings of birds
whose songs will never die.
Advice on How to Die came to me while walking in my neighborhood. My cousin Billy had died a few days before, and I suppose I was hoping it hadn't been too awful for him.
Advice on How to Die
Let your last thought be
that you're finally
I wrote this last one on my 57th birthday.
Song of the Dark
You say you're beyond it, but you're not really there.
I'm the whispering wind that blows through your hair.
I'm the thing you can't see living under your stairs.
I'm the dark--I'm the spark--so don't say you're not scared.
Although you're scared of me, you shouldn't be afraid.
I'm the 10 to the 5 of the afternoon shade.
I'm the 10 to the 8 of the midnight parade .
I'm the dark--I'm the spark--I'm the reason you pray.
Without me, you'd falter. Without me, you'd fold.
Without me, you'd crumple under ten tons of coal.
But with me all around you, you can finally be free.
You can open your eyes and see what might be.
So remember my message. Remember my song.
Without left, there's no right. Without right, there's no wrong.
There's a beam of white light at the bottom of this mine.
But before you can see it, you have to go blind.
From the mid-1980's to the mid-1990's I spent thousands of hours writing and recording hundreds of songs. In 2001, I went back and listened to my tapes of these songs, and converted a number of these recordings to digital files. In the process, I came to a strange realization: there were recurrent themes in my songs...as if they were trying to tell a story. For the next year or so, I tried to figure out just what that story should be, and re-wrote and re-recorded some of the songs in order to better tell this story. I even wrote some new songs. Here, then, are some of the highlights...
SUFFER IN SILENCE
I wrote Suffer in Silence pretty much as an exercise. I wanted to write something from the perspective of an abusive monster, and make it believable. I ended up scaring myself.
First came the title. It then occurred to me that to be worthy of its title a song called Satan's Blues oughta sound like a collaboration between Guns N Roses and U2. It ended up sounding more like The Jesus and Mary Chain. But I was fairly happy with it, anyhow. (Dina Fisher helps out on bass and vocals.)
SONG FOR A WHORE
This is a verse from a song written as an answer to Ani DiFranco's Letter to a John. Shorter and sweeter.
I wrote Scenic Route as both a tribute and homage to Kurt Cobain. I had a fantasy that some total rock star like Chris Cornell or Eddie Vedder would record it, and do it justice. I still have that fantasy.
SAYING A PRAYER
This is one of my more autobiographical songs. I had a crush on someone whose boyfriend was a bit unstable. I took this raw material, magnified the desperation tenfold, and had a song.
MAY AS WELL BE BLIND
A friend of a friend heard a tape of this song and told me he really liked it, and that it reminded him of Morrissey. At the time I thought he was pulling my leg. I later heard what he heard. And so... Morrissey, if you're looking for some new material, have I got a song for you...
WAITING FOR THE WORLD TO BEGIN
I kept the lyrics vague on this one so that the listeners could decide for themselves... To whom is this song directed? Jesus, or some girl? Or both?
SEE YA LATER
With this one, I was trying to capture some middle ground between The Velvet Underground and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The music was recorded live with a band in the late 80's. The vocal was over-dubbed in 2002 or 2003. (Dina Fisher helps out on bass and vocals. Lead Guitar: Tim. Drums: Kendall.)
SLEEPING IN THE SUN
I re-wrote this song a number of times. I wanted it to be both musically and visually stimulating, where the listener could close his eyes and see the song. How did I do?
With Marley's Ghost, I self-consciously tried to synthesize the whole of human history and literature into a minute and a half. How did I do? (Dina Fisher helps out on vocals.)
In 2019, I re-wrote the lyrics. Here they are:
(I was) standing in the doorway across from the temple,
and gazing at some hands slowly writing on the wall,
when old Marley's Ghost started rattling at his shackles
and wailing for the mass of souls soon smothered by our fall.
A dream of a memory then drifted through my eyelids
and betrayed my father weeping on a pile of fresh ash
as dust fell to earth, and skin dried from sweating
and leaves blew along, and scuttled slowly past.
Suddenly, a flash--and I saw my father's future.
Eyes burning from the salt left by forty years of crying,
he'll crawl to a spring flowing from a sacred mountain,
where the grass is always green and lambs lie down beside a lion.
Smoke stung my eyes as they opened to the present.
As our marketplace grew crowded and a slave auction started,
a low rumbling noise like a wild wall of water
drowned out all the cries of the soon-to-be departed.
Racing for the gate, I left behind my father.
As a sentry started shouting that the palace was on fire,
I drove a silver stallion across a stark moonlit desert,
remembering what I'd been and to what I should aspire
I remembered a lot of things that never did happen
and I planned a lot of things that I never will do
so how can I pretend that what I say today
ever could have happened
or ever will come true.
SMILES OF AN ANGEL
I wrote Smiles of an Angel for a girlfriend, who I sensed was horrified by my other songs. I now find it all a bit embarrassing. But only a bit.
I wrote Only One as an experiment...to see if I could write a song so corny my then-girlfriend would appreciate it. My experiment was a success. Ironically, I had a subsequent girlfriend who liked to tell her friends I wrote the song for her. Even more ironic, the song I wrote as a satire of popular music became one of my favorites, and featured what is probably one of my best vocal performances. (Admittedly, this isn't saying much.)
SCARED TO DEATH OF DYING
I re-wrote this song from scratch more than once. In this version, I was aiming for The Rolling Stones. I fell far short, of course.
This song, about a guy going out of his mind, nearly drove me out of my mind. I wrote, re-wrote, and re-recorded the lyrics a hundred times or more over a 15 year period, and will probably re-write them again tomorrow. Inspiration: Bob Dylan. (Dina Fisher helps out on vocals.)
SIRENS IN THE NIGHT
Yet another song re-written from scratch 15 years or so after first being written.
GUILTY AS CHARGED
Some brave country artist should cover this one. Johnny Cash might have given it a shot. No, come to think of it, he would not. June would not have approved.
Yet another song written as an exercise. I wanted to write a song whose music and lyrics were in opposition to each other, so that the song conveyed one thing when listened to casually, and something else entirely when listened to carefully.
GET THE FUCK AWAY
The music was recorded live with a band in the late 80's. The vocal, with a brand new set of lyrics, was recorded in 2002 or 2003. I was aiming for The Stooges with this one. Sometimes I think I pulled it off. (Dina Fisher helps out on bass and vocals. Lead Guitar: Tim. Drums: Kendall.)
Another semi-autobiographical song. There really was a purple mansion in one of the neighborhoods I grew up in. A number of my childhood friends did succumb at an early age. If you hear a bit of Springsteen in this one, by the way, it isn't your imagination.
SUMMER NEVER ENDS
Like a lot of men my age, I was quite taken by Bruce Springsteen's albums Born To Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The River. With Summer Never Ends I attempted to tap into the spirit and sweep of those albums, and mirror Springsteen's bittersweet yearnings for an America just out of reach. I still love this song, and hope that some band comes along and covers it.
In 2014, while en route to the L.A. Zoo, some new lyrics popped into my head. They improved the song a bit. I made some more changes in 2017.
Here are the lyrics (as of 2017):
Gotta find a better place where summer never ends
where we pass the plate at picnics still and where neighbors act like friends
where a billion bathing babies are wading in a pool
where I can pledge eternal love and not be thought a fool
Gotta find a better place where summer never ends
where flowers stretch towards heaven before the night descends
where little kids run naked through the sprinklers on their lawn
where older kids plan parties for each night their folks are gone
Gotta find a better place where summer never ends
where out of sight is within reach just around the bend
where summer girls in summer dress bring the streets alive
where being young means lots of fun and a reason to survive
Gotta find a better world where summer never ends
where death is just a fact of life and no one worries when
where no one sleeps all winter, and no one wakes up cold
where everyone lies sweating from the passion in their soul
SLEEPING ON THE RAILROAD TRACKS
For some reason, I thought it would be a challenge to write a song--that was clearly a song, and not a sung poem--that failed to have a chorus or a refrain. This is that song.
SCENE OF THE CRIME
This is perhaps the last recording I'll ever make. I re-wrote this song from scratch--new music, new lyrics--while I was trying to put my songs into an order that told a story. I'd love to hear some covers of this one. In my mind I've heard covers by Nick Cave, Jack White, Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton, Brandi Carlile, etc...
PRICE OF IMMORTALITY
There's a Tom Waits and Bob Dylan influence on this one, of that I can't deny. Unfortunately, I screwed up the vocal. I was supposed to sing "what they've been trying to win is free" but screwed up and sang "what they've been trying to buy is free." In the words of Rick Perry...OOPS.
Here are the updated lyrics:
Some losers pray their luck won't last forever
well, they should save their words, and not even waste their breath
for if they'd read the cards they'd see
that what they've been trying to win is free
for the price of immortality is death
Just look at the stars all around us.
The ones that leave a twinkle in your eye
aren't the ones that light our way
or make the night seem more like day
they're the ones that shoot like arrows cross the sky
So if you want your love to last forever.
be prepared to swear it with your dying breath
For when it comes to love, we're just like those stars above.
The price of immortality is death
Another song trimmed down from a longer song. I can hear Brandi Carlile singing this one.
In 1986, my buddy, Dale, and I drove across the country...and back. We spent 33 days on the road. Across the south and midwest, we saw a number of abandoned schoolhouses, sitting in the middle of fields, like remnants from a prior civilization. I was strangely drawn to them, but we never stopped the car to investigate. (Dina Fisher helps out on bass, keyboards, and vocals.)
LIKE A SUNFLOWER
I had a couple of chords and some half-written verses. I decided to record what I had before I got sidetracked and started on another song. The result was awkward, like a sunflower reaching for a sun that's forever out of reach. Somehow, that felt appropriate.