We All Live In Ukraine

My new song. Please support Ukraine in their fight for democracy.

Youtube video

New colors wave for freedom
Wheat beneath the blue
Thank you, Mr. Molotov
We raise this glass to you
Old men with the young men
Staring down the tanks
They’ve shuttered up the opera
And sandbagged all the banks
Someone said that liberty’s
Been buried with a spade
Underneath the bodies
Of the men in the brigade
Who fought in Spain
We all live in Ukraine
Hypocrisy and tyranny
Beneath a golden dome
Wake up and you’ll find them
In the backyard of your home
The oligarch, the autocrat
Why can’t you understand?
He hides behind a painted face
And smells of contraband
His fighter jets crisscross your sky
His men march through your mud
The mothers’ and the babies’ and
The old man’s blackened blood
Flows down your drain
We all live in Ukraine
Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mao,
Pinochet and Pol Pot
Despotism through the years
As common as the rot
He beats his breast and then declares,
“Democracy’s for fools
He who wields the iron fist
Is he who makes the rules”
No place we can run to,
Ain’t no place we can hide
We need guns and bandages
We don’t need no ride
Let me explain
We all live in Ukraine

The iceman in the Kremlin
Wants us to call him boss
But someone in the kitchen’s
Putting vodka in his sauce
And if you speak against him,
I wouldn’t taste the tea
He’ll burn all your possessions
And he’ll hang you from a tree
His finger’s on the trigger
He hasn’t got a friend
Bare-chested in a snowstorm
And everywhere he’s been
He leaves a stain
We all live in Ukraine
The overlord is poison
Smeared upon the gates
It tars the hands of children
And the food upon their plates
The railways and the harbors
The concrete and the stones
The hospitals and highways
TVs and telephones
The markets and the steel mills
The coffee shops and bars
The hotels and the churches
The bicycles and cars
All make it plain
We all live in Ukraine
But you don’t have to listen
I just sing the blues
The Russian is a friend of ours
I heard it on Fox News
They say those bombs are gentle
They’re liberating Kyiv
From Jewish neo-Nazis
They want you to believe
That cat who thinks he’s funny,
He won’t have half a chance
No one’s stopped an army yet
With just a song and dance
He’ll die in vain
We all live in Ukraine

Three men on the freeway
Defending soil and salt
Meet an armored column
And bring it to a halt
Join us with a pitchfork
A hammer or an axe
To greet Vlad the Impaler
And kill him in his tracks
You think that freedom matters
In these cities of the plain?
They’ll stomp upon the flowers
That you planted in the rain
So don’t complain
We all live in Ukraine
Copyright © 2022 by Michael Kim Roos

Peter Jackson’s “Get Back”

Kudos to Jackson for brilliant filmmaking, putting the pieces together to tell a coherent story. In spite of all the advance hype that it was going to be all about how much fun the Beatles were having together, from my perspective, the film vividly documents how the group was fracturing against Paul’s strenuous and very poignant attempts to keep it together. Sure, they could still have fun. John was such an amazingly hilarious wit that he could liven up any gathering. But, not all that different, from the original “Let It Be” film, this is finally a sad song. Beautiful, but sad.

What Parts 1 and 3 especially both show is that Paul and John and George were all on different pages and consequently, even under the pressures to get the project done in three weeks, spent an inordinate amount of time just goofing off and spinning their wheels, getting nowhere, man. The rooftop concert was an absolute last resort that was absurdly unpretentious compared to the grandiose idea that Paul had tried to initiate–some kind of huge, mega, worldwide Beatles show. Still, I love what they did, and they made surprisingly fine music up there in the cold January air, but there remains something very pitiful about it–that that was all the greatest group in the world could bring themselves to do at that point.

Here’s how I would summarize the narrative:

Backstory–After the fractured recording of the White Album in the summer of 1968, where essentially John, Paul, and George worked as solo artists and used their compatriots, when they used them at all, as little more than a backing group for their own individual songs, and John meanwhile was thoroughly absorbed in his new relationship with Yoko Ono, Paul recognized his partnership with Lennon was in great danger of ending. Spurred by this crisis, in the fall of 1968, McCartney kicked into creative high gear and wrote some of the greatest songs of his career, which, whether he could bring himself to admit it or not, were directly inspired by his love for John, not in a homo-erotic sense, but in a creative marriage that he valued more than anything else in his life.

The crisis resulted in the glorious “Let It Be,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Two of Us,” all finished and ready to go by the beginning of January, 1969. Not content to stop there, he also had a bunch more great songs in progress, beginning with “Get Back,” plus “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Teddy Boy,” “Oh, Darling,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “Carry That Weight,” and “Backseat of My Car,” all of which appear in unfinished form in Jackson’s film– more than enough for a great solo album if he wished–but what he really wanted was to bring the Beatles back together as a performing group and prevent John Lennon from asking him for a divorce.

The Jackson film, Part One

And so McCartney proposed a project that he felt sure would force them all to work together again as they’d done in the old days. To have a film crew show them writing and rehearsing new songs that they would debut in a culminating grandiose live concert for the world. The catch was they would have to do this in no more than one month, the end of January 1969, because Ringo was already contractually obligated to act in a film called The Magic Christian at the beginning of February. It was a fairly insane idea that was totally Paul’s, born out of his desperation to keep the Beatles together. But it was bound to be enormously stressful and difficult to get it accomplished in so little time, even if they were all on board with the idea. But besides the time pressure, there were two major problems that Paul could not have anticipated (or maybe should have, if he’d been more sensitive to what was going on with John and George). 

One, John was not in any great inspirational period of his own writing. His creative projects in the fall of 1968 were all with Yoko, making albums of silly noise and found sounds, all coming from Yoko’s own oddball brand of art. In the grand scheme of things, pretty inconsequential stuff. But John was madly in love with this woman and basically letting her take him wherever she wanted to go. The only true finished song John had by January 1, 1969, was his song of desperate love to Yoko, “Don’t Let Me Down.” So he could hardly be expected to be enthusiastic about entering a project that was entirely Paul’s idea, to rejuvenate the Beatles as a group, one that would feature Paul’s tremendous new songs with little to show from John. Probably Paul hoped that John’s creative competitiveness would crank back up once he was faced with Paul’s new work, but it didn’t really happen. By the end of Part One, John still doesn’t seem to have anything other that “Don’t Let Me Down” going on. 

For George, it was a very different matter. He had a tremendous backlog of songs building up because he hadn’t been allowed more than one song on a side on any Beatles album. So his frustration was mounting, and he was already looking for creative outlets elsewhere. He had spent several weeks in the fall of 1968 in Woodstock, hanging out with Bob Dylan and the Band and becoming great friends with them. In the process, he learned about the way they had worked to create music that became the Basement Tapes in 1967, so he returned to the UK enthusiastic about that process of collaboration and probably would have been on board if Paul’s new project would be a true collaborative effort among the four of them and they could do their own kind of basement music.

But when the project began in a gigantic barren and cold movie set at Twickenham Studio, there was no way for any of them to feel the kind of basement intimacy Dylan and the Band must have had. Plus, he could see that Paul wanted only to restore the group to being the Beatles again, with the old dynamic, of Paul and John as the leaders and George as the quiet one in the background. Paul was being very condescending and tutorial to George, who bristled at it. Part One ends with George getting fed up and announcing that he’s leaving the group. The whole project seems to be crashing and burning.

Part Two

The middle section of the film begins in this state of crisis. Without George, it could hardly be billed as a return of the Beatles as a performing band. John’s idea of getting Eric Clapton to replace George tells us that he’s not really interested in that any way. Paul, however, recognizes the disaster that looms. Off camera, there are two group meetings to attempt to get George back on board. The first one, we’re told, doesn’t go well. Then apparently someone proposes that they abandon Twickenham studio and set up a recording studio in the basement of the Savile Row building where the Beatles have their Apple offices. This, along with, I can imagine, some McCartney assurances that he would treat George more respectfully, brings George back into the fold.

And the atmosphere does dramatically change for the better in the new environment. George and John both feel more at home there, and things get even better when Billy Preston joins them. The film doesn’t make this clear, but all that I’ve read suggests that it was George who invited Billy in. Preston is clearly a fun guy to be around and a great musician, who quickly adds tasty electric piano flourishes to “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down.” I don’t think Paul was very thrilled about adding a new person to the group, but Preston is so good and such a positive influence, that he can’t protest.

In addition, John brings in a new song, “I Dig a Pony,” which he apparently came up with over the long weekend after George’s departure. Paul also debuts “Oh Darling” in these first days at Savile Row, another song to John, I believe. It includes the line “I’ll never let you down,” a naked response to John’s “Don’t Let Me Down.” Even the normally taciturn Paul points out at one point in the film that the two songs are linked thematically.

So things go far better in the next week, and the Beatles pretty quickly get five or six songs in good enough shape for public presentation. The recording machine is running constantly. But that’s somewhat a problem, because there are so many takes of the songs that it gets hard to distinguish the ones that are best to use for an album. A big difference in this entire section is that Paul is no longer trying to push anything on the group. He makes a visible effort to sit back and let the sessions go where the others want them to go, so a lot of time is spent on George’s songs, “I’ve Got a Feeling,” partly composed by John, and “I Did a Pony,” plus a lot of silly jamming, like “Dig It.”

Part Three

Then things start to bog down again as they have to come to terms with how this project is going to culminate. Paul makes it clear he does not just want another album to be the end of their work. He wants more, a live show, somewhere, somehow, but George is clearly unenthusiastic about any live performance, although John, it seems, sees it as a fun thing to do and will go along, but without providing any sort of leadership on it. And so for days, they kind of sit around and doodle and spin their wheels again. It looks like Ringo, who will happily do anything with the group, is totally bored out of his gourd for hours of this.

The film director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, knows that his own project needs something big to cap things off or all of his effort will have pretty much gone for nought. I suspect he is the one who comes up with the idea of the rooftop concert. George is still opposed, but John wants to do it. I get the feeling that Paul is majorly disappointed that this will have to suffice for his big Beatles concert, but he has no other alternative at this point. And so, they go up on the roof, and lo and behold, John and Paul have great chemistry up there, while George and Ringo also play very well, and we have the last Beatles public performance. It’s fun to watch the young London bobbies flummoxed at trying to get the most famous musicians in the world to stop playing or at least turn it down, because a few very stuffy businessmen (and a little old lady who was awakened from her nap) have complained. Most people on the street seem to really love what they are hearing.

Ironically, there were still those three poignant McCartney songs that he began the project with—“Let It Be,” “Long and Winding Road,” and “Two of Us,” that still needed to be performed for the film project, but their acoustic nature meant they were unsuitable for the rooftop, so they recorded and filmed them the next day in the basement. My only disappointment with the Jackson film is that he chose not to present these three beautiful performances in their entirety to finish the film. Instead he shows only partial clips of them during the closing credits. I can only assume he felt that the relatively joyful rooftop concert was the most appropriate way to end the film, with the Beatles’ last live performance.

I disagree. I think those three McCartney songs provide a very poignant and proper coda to the whole project. Of course, they emphasize the sadness of it all and frankly, the failure of it, at least according to Paul’s original conception, but for me that’s the full story. The film makes it clear that the Beatles by February 1969 were a fragile ship, leaking badly, and it could not be kept afloat for very much longer. I think Abbey Road, the making of which began almost immediately after the Get Back project ended, was recorded with the total awareness that it would be the last act of the Beatles.

November 28, 2021

Review: Bob Dylan at the Aronoff, Cincinnati, OH 11/9/21

It’s complicated.

It’s hard to express my emotions in the aftermath of last night’s concert. In many respects it was wonderful. In many respects it was disturbing.

It was a dark show for sure. For starters, there was the minimalist stage. Over the past twenty years, Dylan’s stage set and lighting could sometimes be pretty elaborate. Audiences were used to seeing, for example, his Oscar prominently displayed, or manikins posed in the background or a statue or two of Greek goddesses or complex overhead lighting and projections. Nothing like that now. There was nothing on stage but the instruments and amplifiers (Vox AC30 and Fender Tweed for the guitarists, classic choices). The backdrop was simply a solid black curtain. There was no overhead lighting, no projection screen. All lighting came from the floor below the musicians, which was a bit like the effect of sitting around a campfire and shining a light upwards into your face as you tell a spooky story, and which must have been difficult for the musicians. Dylan himself seemed to be bothered by the lighting and squinted a lot.

The musicians were all dressed in solid black, although Dylan did have some light-colored figuring on his jacket, the only relief from the black on stage. It all had a very funereal aspect to it, and I don’t doubt that was the intended effect. The only hatted musician was Tony Garnier, who wore a solid black pork pie.

The backing band was solid and professional, if a bit dour. The two guitarists (Bob Britt and Doug Lancio) stood mostly together center-stage behind Dylan. Their playing was understated and competent, nothing as flashy as the flourishes and stage presence of Charley Sexton. They were mostly very straight-faced and concentrated on Dylan and their instruments. No one in the band (other than Dylan, which I’ll get to) engaged with the audience, but we’ve been used to that in Dylan shows for a long time now. Nothing of the muted flamboyance in Charley Sexton’s head bobbing presence and playing. Lancio and African American drummer Charley Drayton are brand new members of the band. Britt joined for the 2019 tour, which I saw at Dylan’s Northern Kentucky University show two years ago. I liked Drayton’s drumming. Only Tony Garnier and multi-instrumentalist Donnie Heron are long-time members of Dylan’s group. Their professionalism and dedication to the task of serving the master, with eyes glued on him at all times, are apparent.

All this is good and satisfying. The quality of the music was first rate, and the acoustics of Proctor and Gamble Hall were excellent. Sitting in the first row, I was a bit concerned that I would get audio mush at an excessive volume, but, no, the sound was perfectly mixed and balanced, with the volume level set just right. Dylan’s vocals were crystal clear, at least as long as he sang directly into the microphone, which he on rare occasions strayed from.

Dylan himself stuck to piano playing, behind a low profile upright piano, not quite a spinet, but also not a full upright. But it was the weak link in the music for the night. Nothing that you would cross the street to listen to and occasionally, with some clunker notes, something you might cross the street to get away from. After Shadow Kingdom, I was hoping we might be treated to a little acoustic guitar playing from Bob, but not to be. No guitar, no harmonica.

On the other hand, Dylan’s singing, particularly on the quiet RARW songs, was very moving, heartfelt and lovely. Some of the best singing he’s ever done, in my mind. It was frequently riveting. I would love to have a full recording of the show for that reason alone. There were some minor glitches. He clearly needed cheat sheets for the words to the RARW songs. Consequently, he rarely ventured very far from the piano and the lyric sheets. I’d not seen this at a Dylan show before, a sign that his mind and his memory are not what they used to be (that is to say, no longer something to marvel at).

Which leads me to the most disturbing element of the show: Dylan’s stunningly frail physical presence. In the past, Dylan always took the stage with a swaggering confidence and arrogance, the air of a general leading his troops into battle. That was still there when I last saw him two years ago. But over the COVID break, the ravages of age have undeniably begun setting in. He is quite evidently an old man now, who needs to hold onto things for support. That seemed to be another reason for him not to venture far from the piano. He seemed very unsure of his footing and balance. He walked without assistance, but his steps were shorter and more of a shuffle than in the past. I got the impression that Garnier and Herron, the two veterans in the band, were at least partially so attentive to him during the show because they had to be prepared to leap to his assistance if he should fall or get disoriented. In fact, at least a couple times, Dylan seemed to look to them for guidance as to what to do next, something I’ve never seen in the past. And once, Dylan seemed a bit confused and abruptly exclaimed to the audience, “Well, what’ll we do next?” A puzzling question, since the set list was exactly the same as it was for three previous shows.

Another new element in the show I hadn’t seen before: Garnier and Britt both had iPads on stands for reference. Dylan himself, unless it was hidden by the piano, only had sheets of paper to help him with lyrics. Those were visible from time to time as he flipped through them.

BTW, in case you’re wondering, Dylan was not wearing a wedding ring. The only band member with one on was Bob Britt.

My song-by-song commentaries, as much as I can remember

  1. Watching the River Flow
    A good opener. Back in 1971, the most important line was “What’s the matter with me? I don’t have much to say.” That could still be relevant today, but now the song seems more inclined to emphasize the sitting “so contentedly” by the river, watching it flow. Dylan no longer has to worry whether he has something to say or not, although RARW certainly declared that he still does (or did last year anyway). This is also a good warm up number for the band.
  2. Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)
    It’s odd that this was actually the oldest Dylan song of the setlist, a Blonde on Blonde number, which was an angry roar to his audience opening and closing shows in his big comeback tour in 1974. To me, it seemed a bit out of place in this setlist, out of sync with the other songs. Not that it was played badly. Dylan sang it well. I can’t believe it was intended as a message to his audience the way it was in 1974, but I’m not really sure what his intent is in including it. It was part of the Shadow Kingdom show last summer, but I have no explanation for why he did it then either. I generally believe that Dylan carefully selects all his songs to perform, although it’s not always easy to discern the reasons for his selections.
  3. I Contain Multitudes
    Now we enter the heart of the show, with the opening song from Rough and Rowdy Ways. It was a bit of a rocky start, however. Dylan ventured out from behind the piano for the first time and stumbled with the words of the very first line, singing “Yesterday, today and tomorrow and yesterday too.” And then either he went blank on the second verse or the mic went dead on him, so he put the handheld mic back in the stand and went back to the piano to finish the verse with the lines about drinking to the truth and to the man “who shares your bed.” The rest of the song went off without a hitch, and he sang it with real emotion.
  4. False Prophet
    This was a highlight for me, without question the best uptempo blues rocker of the night. Dylan really snarled the lyrics. The album version of this is good, but I felt this rendition topped it. The band sounded strong, even without the snappy lead guitar playing of Charley Sexton.
  5. When I Paint My Masterpiece
    A more countrified version of an underrated song, a sister to “Watching the River Flow,” written about the same time. Donnie Herron played fiddle on it, and it all bounced along nicely. There are some new lines, but the only one that I could clearly make out was “Sailing around the world in crimson and clover./ Sometimes it feels like my cup is running over,” in place of those silly lines about a “dirty gondola” rhymed with “Coca-Cola.”
  6. Black Rider
    An excellent heartfelt rendition. At least equal to the album version. Minsun said afterwards the song reminds her of Schubert’s “Erlkonig,” a haunting piece of music set to Goethe’s original poem. I understand the connection. In both, a protagonist is pursued by death. If I had to pick one song from the show to sum up the night, it would be this one.
  7. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
    Okay, maybe this is in the setlist just to provide relief from all the gloom and sadness. But it didn’t really work for me. Again, not that this was a bad rendition. Just seemed out of sync with the rest of the songs.
  8. My Own Version of You
    A very nicely done carbon copy of the album version of the song, which I love.
  9. To Be Alone with You
    This was, for me, maybe the biggest surprise and delight of the Shadow Kingdom show last summer. A complete rewrite of what was a trite throw-away on Nashville Skyline. Whenever and for whatever reason, Dylan has transformed the lyrics into something far more profound and sincere as an expression of love. Another piece of evidence, for me, that Dylan has not lost his writing powers. Sadly I can’t really remember enough of the lines to transcribe them here, and the lyrics at Bobdylan.com are the old, trite NS version.
  10. Early Roman Kings
    I’m a fan of this song from Tempest, but I didn’t really care for this arrangement. The words are the same, but Dylan threw out the great old Muddy Waters riff that drove the original and replaced it with a blues riff that I found less interesting. The words are still great though, and Dylan sang them with conviction.
  11. Key West (Philosopher Pirate)
    Another excellent, essentially duplicate performance of the RARW arrangement. My appreciation of this song has grown over time. The chorus still seems a bit trite to me, but the rest is a fascinating look inward, as most of RARW is.
  12. Gotta Serve Somebody
    This is another good rave-up in a mostly downbeat show. The lyrics seemed pretty much entirely rewritten except for the chorus, which still offers the choice between the devil and the Lord. I don’t get the feeling it has that tone of fundamentalist cant that the original had, however. Seems more like a simple choice between right and wrong, good and evil.
  13. I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You
    Another highlight, and it was all about Dylan’s singing, which was breathtakingly tender and melodic. A real thing of beauty. I would die to have a recording of this performance. Very very poignant.
  14. Melancholy Mood
    A brief bit of Sinatra here near the end of the show. Seems like a very appropriate selection for the mood of the evening. Dylan let the band stretch out a bit as he sat on the piano bench, with his back to the audience and listened to them play. Then he sang a couple verses and the song ended after barely beginning, or so it seemed.
  15. Mother of Muses
    Again, a lovely rendition, very true to the RARW version.
  16. Goodbye Jimmy Reed
    I love this blues rocker, and this was well done, even if Charley Sexton’s guitar was missing. Another strong vocal performance by Bob. I still quarrel with the presentation of line four of the song at bobdylan.com, which ought to be the Bob-approved official version, but some songs are clearly incorrectly transcribed, as I think this line is. The transcription reads: “I can tell a Proddy from a mile away,” “Proddy” meaning protestant. But I’m certain Dylan sings “I can tell a PARTY from a mile away.” To me that fits the point he’s trying to make in beginning the song with living on a “street named after a saint,…where the Jews and the Catholics and the Muslims all pray.” He’s including all faiths in his point of view. I see no reason he’d want to take a shot at protestants.

Here Dylan addressed the crowd, with some words about Cincinnati, only a few of which I could make out: “The birthplace of Roy Rogers!” He thanked the crowd affably and then introduced his band. All of this had been absent in Dylan’s shows since, it seems, around 2001. It’s hard for me to remember the last time I heard him say anything to the audience. So this was a refreshing change. Minsun remarked on it, as well. His lack of engagement with the audience has always been one of her chief complaints about his shows. It was also a bit unnerving because as he was speaking, he seemed to need to keep his center of gravity low to keep from tottering over.

  1. Every Grain of Sand
    This is a great choice for a final song of the evening, though it’s quite a bit different from the way this tour began with the Milwaukee and Chicago shows. After ending the first two shows of the tour with “Love Sick” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” which would seem to indicate that a lost love is very much on Dylan’s mind, he switched gears and replaced the two songs with one, a spiritual piece of introspection from 1981. Maybe Dylan decided that he needs to focus more on the state of his soul than on regrets over lost love. I found this rendition of EGS to be a little flat compared to the original studio and the demo versions that have been officially released. Dylan seemed to have run out of energy by this point in the night. There was no real encore, btw. Dylan and the boys never left the stage until the conclusion of this song, with Bob stepping very carefully around the equipment, holding things for support, and descending some steps at the back of the stage.

Final thoughts: It was a sad and lovely night, bittersweet, as life is. As beautiful as much of the show was, I left the auditorium saddened by the thought that I probably will not see Dylan perform again. He has set 2024 as the end of this tour, without declaring that this is any kind of a farewell tour. But it is hard to witness his frailty without wondering how long he can sustain a grueling tour like this. His large and luxurious private bus was waiting outside and we walked past it on our way to our car, figuring Bob was probably already inside, but no amount of luxury can provide the kind of respite an 80-year-old man will certainly need from the rigors and physical demands of the touring life. Dylan surely knows that better than any of us, and I wonder if, like my father, who pushed and pushed and pushed himself to take care of my mother until he finally dropped dead in his kitchen, Dylan is also trying to do the same, to keep moving and making music on a public stage, until, finally, he drops dead in his tracks. I know we can’t have him forever, so I have to admit that maybe that would be the most appropriate way for him to leave. And I just have to be thankful I was lucky enough to see him and hear him one more time before that fall.

For my father, Jim Roos (1930-2021)

Like a Rose

He was a born peasant boy,
Conceived inside a barn, it’s said.
Ragged magi brought some gifts,
A rock, an iron rod, and a smile.

But what he did with what he had!
Although his heart was closed at first
To certain things, no need to list,
It opened like a rose bud at the last.

To him, no man was an enemy.
Color blindness is a virtue.
And if at first he couldn’t see,
He kept on looking till he could.

He taught us how to give ourselves,
Expecting nothing in return.
If only he’d allowed us this:
To give him back what he gave us.

7 August 2021

Hunger Is Good Discipline

A new song written and recorded for the Hemingway Society’s virtual gathering “Holidays With Hemingway,” December 18, 2020.

Watch the YouTube video here: “Hunger Is Good Discipline”

Paris in December, iron clouds about to crash
Your guts are gone and hollowed out, your pockets full of ash
Your dreams at times as comatose as bodies in a morgue
Hunger is good discipline in Jardins du Luxembourg

Up and down the boulevards, Saint Jacquues and Saint Michelle
You wonder if you’re walking into Paradise or Hell
You stop and gaze at Marshall Ney, who gestures with his sword
Hunger is good discipline in Jardins du Luxembourg

Old men at a chessboard, beneath the barren trees
Their faces wrapped in woolen scarves, their hands between their knees
The bishop takes the faithless knight, the rook just bars the door
Hunger is good discipline in Jardins du Luxembourg

Step inside le musée to speak with Paul Cezanne
You ache to write the way he paints. Starvation lingers on
Then back out in the biting wind amidst the crowds and roar
Hunger is good discipline in Jardins du Luxembourg

Down on Rue de l’Odeon in Shakespeare’s Company
Syvia smiles to see your face and she offers you black tea
The smell of books and candle wax and papers on the floor
Hunger is good discipline in Jardins du Luxembourg

Pass by the roasted chestnuts, the mandarins and spice
The cheeses and the long baguettes, don’t think about them twice
The plums, the apples, les pommes de terre, croissants sold by the score
Hunger is good discipline in Jardins du Luxembourg

You learned it all from Ezra, Mark Twain and Gertrude Stein
Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Flaubert, the finest of fine wines
They say that Joyce went starving here, Verlaine, Stendhal, George Moore
Hunger is good discipline in Jardins du Luxembourg

So write you one true sentence, the truest that you know
And if you find success in that, the rest will surely flow
Don’t doubt that you can do it, you did it once before
Hunger is good discipline in Jardins du Luxembourg

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kim Roos

Milton on Mars

Another new song, really a complete rewrite and rearrangement based on a song I originally wrote for a creative writing class in 1973. I was a beginner then. Only snatches of 2 or 3 phrases from that early attempt have survived. And musically it’s nothing like the original. Better now. So many other things I wrote then are buried and gone, but with this one, though I knew it wasn’t good enough in its original form, something kept knocking on my door. It’s all a mystery to me. A live video recording coming soon.

Milton was a miner of the mountains up on Mars.
Waterproof on the edge of the roof with his banjo and guitars.
In the mad Montgomery moonlight, he’d howl the whole night through,
And if you asked wherefore or why, he’d be like this to you:

Well he’d say:
Sing me Jimmy Rodgers or an old Hank Williams song.
You might see eternity, but I’ll last twice as long.
Life is naught but shadows, a few honkytonks and bars.
I’ll rest my bones in a vale of stones in the mountains—up on Mars.

Met him at the crossroads once on the downside edge of town.
A freight train in the distance, a high and lonesome sound.
A guitar strapped across his back, a banjo on his knees,
Naked as an angel in the wind above the trees.

And he said:
Sing me Jimmy Rodgers or an old Hank Williams song.
You might see eternity, but I’ll last twice as long.
Life is naught but shadows, a few honkytonks and bars.
I’ll rest my bones in a vale of stones in the mountains—up on Mars.

Never saw him after, but I ponder him a lot.
I count the years, the tears and fears, and I down another shot.
You may say it’s senseless to wonder when I’m dry
Why hello’s so much harder than whispering good-bye.

And I say:
Sing me Jimmy Rodgers or an old Hank Williams song.
You might see eternity, but I’ll last twice as long.
Life is naught but shadows, a few honkytonks and bars.
I’ll rest my bones in a vale of stones in the mountains—up on Mars.

5 May 2020 (Updated 30 May 2020)

Sweet John Prine

John_PrineI’ve written and recorded a new song for the great John Prine, who died from the coronavirus on April 7. John has been one of the most important influences on my songwriting, since I first discovered his music in 1973. We have lost a national treasure. My song is about more than John. It’s also an attempt to wrestle with some of my feelings during the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown. Have a listen through this YouTube video. If you like it, the song is available for streaming at all the major outlets. Add it to your library and stay well!


“Sweet John Prine (Stuck Inside Bucyrus With the COVID Blues Again”

Sweet John Prine
(Stuck Inside Bucyrus with the COVID Blues Again)

I woke up this morning to the sound of something broken.
I rubbed my eyes and scanned the skies,
‘Cause it seemed like God had spoken.
Sometimes you just can’t figure what the shouting’s all about.
The ball looks fat as you swing the bat,
But it’s three strikes and you’re out.

They all want me to hurry,
And I tell ‘em, “Just a minute.”
I hate to make ‘em worry,
But my heart just isn’t in it.
I’m standing at the crossroads, and I’m waiting for a sign,
‘Cause I don’t know how I can make it now
In a world without John Prine.

Well the governor’s gone plum crazy and I’m stranded in Bucyrus.
We were doin’ fine, up and down the line,
Then Happy New Year! Have some virus!
Now I got me a list of questions, but I don’t know who to ask.
But tell me, Ace, should I trust your face,
If you refuse to wear a mask?

They all want me to hurry,
And I tell ‘em, “Just a minute.”
I hate to make ‘em worry,
But my heart just isn’t in it.
I’m standing at the crossroads, feeling lonesome for a sign,
And I still don’t know if I can make it go
In a world without John Prine.

I’ll do everything you tell me, if you’ll just provide a reason,
And I promise you, if you see me through,
I’ll be better for next season.
The clock says close to midnight, but I don’t think I’m gonna sleep.
As the preacher moans, just rock my bones,
And I’ll count what I can’t keep.

They all want me to hurry,
And I tell ‘em, “Just a minute.”
I hate to make ‘em worry,
But my heart just isn’t in it.
Now I’ve had enough of waiting, there ain’t gonna be no sign,
I’ll be better now. I’ll get by somehow
If I remember sweet John Prine.
Yes, I’m better now. I’ll get by somehow
If I remember sweet John Prine.

Copyright © 2020 by Michael Kim Roos

Reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms

Roos-hr-139x210My book Reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, co-authored with Robert W. Lewis, was published by Kent State University Press in June 2019.

A close analysis and commentary on Hemingway’s great novel of love, war, and ideas.

In this comprehensive guide, Lewis and Roos reveal how A Farewell to Arms represents a complex alchemy of Hemingway’s personal experience as a Red Cross ambulance driver in 1918, his extensive historical research of a time period and terrain with which he was personally unfamiliar, and the impact of his vast reading in the great works of 19th-century fiction. Ultimately, Lewis and Roos assert, Hemingway’s great novel is not simply a story of love and war, as most have concluded, but an intricate novel of ideas exploring the clash of reason and faith and deep questions of epistemology.

The commentary also delves deeply into the roots of controversy surrounding the novel’s treatment of gender issues through the characters of Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley. Catherine, they argue, is far more than an object of love; she is a real feminist heroine who is responsible for Frederic’s maturation in developing a capacity for true love.

Written in clear and accessible prose that will appeal to scholars and Hemingway neophytes alike, Reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is the most sweeping guide yet available to Hemingway’s finest novel and contributes to a richer understanding of the writer’s entire body of work.

You can order it from any of the following links:
Kent State University Press
Barnes and Noble

Praise for the book:
Reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms can certainly stand proudly
alongside the preceding volumes in the Reading Hemingway series. The editorshave provided us with a highly readable presentation of facts, interpretations,and sources. It is an immense endeavor, an incredible resource, and a fitting tribute to one of Ernest Hemingway’s most enduring masterpieces.”
–Stacey Guill, The Hemingway Review

Reading Hemingway’s A Farwell to Arms deserves a place alongside
Hemingway’s masterpiece third novel. Lewis and Roos’ guide and commentary will reveal the hidden seven-eighths of AFTA’s iceberg like no other critical glossary extant.”
–Ricardo Landeiro, Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature

“Lewis and Roos offer detailed and well researched comment on a very extensive array of pertinent foreground and background topics, making this the ultimate book of footnotes on the Hemingway’s classic novel A Farewell to Arms. In addition, however, this volume still has an engaging and well developed thesis regarding the novel’s presentation of the faith/religious view of life versus the rational/scientific view. It can be used as a reference book, or it can be read straight through if you are already familiar with the novel. Maps and photos are included. This is an admirably complete package. If you have shelf space for just one book on A Farewell to Arms, this is the book.”
–David Anderson

My song “Caporetto” was inspired by the novel. Watch a YouTube video of the song here.
My song “Unfinished Church” was inspired by another of Hemingway’s great novels, The Sun Also Rises. Watch its video here.

Dark and Scarlet Moon (For John McCain)

YouTube video.

Listen on SoundCloud

Seems like all is ashes, dust, and sadness
Whatever’s on the stove is way past done
All the minions marching to the madness
Whatever’s good and true is on the run
Masked men with machine guns in the garden
A pirate ship at bay in the lagoon
Desperate people praying for a pardon
Underneath a dark and scarlet moon

Another day, another hero fallen,
Who is there to stand among the brave?
Who is there to hear the wounded calling?
Who will lay a wreath upon the grave?
Someone sang a hymn so wise and truthful
I’d sing it but I can’t recall the tune
Everybody busy looking youthful
Underneath a dark and scarlet moon

Somewhere there’s a child so warm and tender
Wrapped up in her mother’s loving arms
Somewhere there’s someone who won’t surrender
To the power and the greed and false alarms
The Midnight Special standing at the station
Conductor say it leaving here real soon
Must be some way out of this damnation
Underneath a dark and scarlet moon


Copyright © 2018 by Michael Kim Roos