Oliver Sacks has died and I can’t get Rilke’s Der Panther out of my head


Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf –. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille –
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.’

I can’t help it. Oliver Sacks is dead, and there are a myriad of thoughts shooting through my brain. I want to write about all of them.

Actually, I’d rather brew a pot of coffee and settle in to watch each of said thoughts explode into the room. The same way I did with a percussionist friend I knew in college who turned me on to a particular man who mistook his wife for a hat. That’s not even the best Oliver Sacks connection – just the first one I knew.

Later I read his ponderings on music and the ways it impacts our brains – fascinating stuff. Stuff with which to brew another pot of coffee, I assure you.

I’ve read so many obituaries and essays today about how important he was to this or that writer or thinker or scientist, and I want to link to every last one of them. I wish I could take you on a tour through my obsessive day of Oliver Sacks devotion, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do his memory justice. Having said that, I think he might’ve moderately appreciated the attempt to tie in all these disparate ideas that’re still overloading my brain.

Instead, I’m just going to get a tad bit obsessive about Der Panther, which is the German poem I’ve included above. Although I was well aware of his poetry before I saw the film Awakenings, Rilke’s words grabbed me and shook me out of a weird slumber. In the hands of Robin Williams’ character, I was thoroughly jostled by the image of the big cat pacing back and forth in his cramped cage.

This isn’t normally a place where I allow myself to analyse poetry, so I’m loath to go down that road. Although it’s tempting, I’m more inclined to provide a few links and let you go there if you’re so inclined.

First of all, quite an impressive selection of translations can be found at Alternate Translations of The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke, and if you’d rather have a ‘Best Of’, here’s Der Panther: Six Ways of Looking at a German Poem. There’s a nice article by John Banville in The New York Review of Books called Study The Panther!

As he says there, ‘…Rilke had no illusions about the solitariness of the artistic project, or its difficulty…‘, and that’s where my thoughts finally settle in the darkest corner of the night as I continue to consider Oliver Sacks.

I could wax philosophic about how he faced his death and expressed himself so exquisitely in the process. Were I to do so, I’d certainly focus on that last stanza and how he recently announced his illness so publicly and fearlessly. Instead, I’ll just wrap this up with the Stephen Mitchell translation of the poem:

‘His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else. 
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides 
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly–. 
An image enters in, 
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.’

Tanz in den August

On the last night of April, there’s a tradition here that you stay up late & dance your way into the First of May. It’s something that apparently originated in medieval times or perhaps even farther back in history. What frivolity – all in the name of welcoming everybody to the month of May. Or May to everyone. 

So, I’ve been joking about dancing into August, hence the title of this post (Tanz in den August). Why the hell not?

We had a Blue Moon last night, and it was something special. What is that, anyway? When there are two full moons in a single month, the second is called the Blue Moon. A night of wonder, if you believe the hype. 

Onto a bit of news, since I’ve not been keeping things current here. 

This time last year, the band was in Berlin for a week. We had a different name, which shall go unmentioned, and fewer songs. This time we’re headed to Prague & hopefully I’ll be able to take the time to use this space to document our Czech shenanigans. 

Now we have a name everyone seems to like – we are Old Braunfels – and we’re getting into all sorts of trouble. If you see us in your town, you should really come check it out. A few dozen pleasantly surprised Bavarians can’t be all wrong in recommending us. 

Oh, we’ve also got a new member who sings quite beautifully & plays a mean violin. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. She’s called Violetta, and here she is with our favourite Jarrod:

Stay tuned. This is gonna be fun. 

Feverish thoughts while trying not to think too much about the Munich Security Conference


Thought I felt a cold coming on, but there was too much going on this weekend in Munich to slow down. I wasn’t going to be a hypochondriac about it, so I pushed on through.

It’s early February, so that means the annual Munich Security Conference was taking place. I typically pay close attention to what’s happening there & I did my best this year, but a few excellent concerts and what turned out to be more than a simple cold had me rather distracted.

The big topic at the conference was apparently what’s to be done in Ukraine, and this is where my take on things gets a bit shaky. I’m going to blame my feverish state for my loose grasp of the specifics, but from what I understand there’s been a lot of diplomacy to find a non military solution to the fighting that’s going on there.

While being openly mocked at the conference for continuing to insist that the citizens in Crimea democratically chose to rejoin Russia, the Russian foreign minister continued to insist that the West has meddled in this situation from the beginning. I’m not suggesting that there’s any validity to his argument and there’s plenty to suggest that the Russian position reeks of old school propaganda; however, the European leaders attempting alternatives to more weapons should be lauded.

The photo above is from the Amerikahaus, which has been a cultural outpost in Munich since the end of the Second World War, and that’s where I found myself on Saturday evening. An alternative country band called Lambchop was on the bill, and they played through most of their album from 2000 titled ‘Nixon‘. Interspersed with their music, the musicians had a bit of deadpan fun at the expense of the former American president.

I walked out into the night wondering about Realpolitik and what’re now generally seen as easier times. As some present day American politicians insist on saber rattling and tough talk with regards to the Russians, I’m weirdly relieved to live in a country that at least gives pacifism more than a cursory nod.

Now this could be my fever talking, and I’m well aware that the situation in Ukraine could spiral out of control despite the good intentions of Germany’s Chancellor and France’s President, but sending any weapons into this cauldron seems to be the wrong message. Someone mentioned purely defensive weapons, and I almost spit out my chicken soup.

Anyone who’s watched European politics for a while will have at least a handful of theories about what’s really going on behind the scenes. I’m not by nature a conspiracy theorist, and I continue to hold out hope for whatever’s left of Realpolitik. Whatever happens, it’s certainly going to be a gold mine for the troubadours among us. At least there’s that.

Sea and sky twenty years later

I feel like a castaway but I’m not afraid
You and me and a couple of dusty volumes
I wanna be your Messiah but there’s no way
I feel the tide roll in around us

You be the sea and I’ll be the sky
I want you with me now don’t wonder why
You be the sea and I’ll be the sky
Endeavor with me now don’t wonder why

This love’s like a labyrinth but I’m not afraid
You and me and a strong sense of forever
Like the old Swiss Family Robinson let’s drift away
If we go down at least we’ll drown together
(I can’t forget you)

You be the sea and I’ll be the sky
I want you with me now don’t wonder why
You be the sea and I’ll be the sky
Endeavor with me now don’t wonder why

It’s a little like this
It’s a little like being afraid
It’s a little like yesterday
Though I don’t mean to invade

Clouds rolled in front of your face
Your tears became the rain
I heard wonderful thunder
As you murmured
As you murmured my name
(Take me far away,
Teach my soul to feel that way
You take me far away
It’s wonderful, wonderful)

Roll away
Roll away with me
You be the sea and I’ll be the sky

It was only a few decades ago, but sometimes it seems like yesterday. When their music comes up on shuffle, I’m twenty something years old with big dreams and little experience. The band I went to hear on Friday nights at Sudsy Malone’s in Cincinnati were first acquaintances and then friends. Well, friends of friends at least.

Over the Rhine still exist as Karin Bergquist (vocals, guitar and other instruments, I think) and Linford Detweiler (bass and piano and pretty much any instrument he set his mind to playing) and various musicians complementing them for tours and recording and whatnot.

Back in the proverbial day, the band was a quartet with Karin, Linford, as well as Ric Hordinski (guitars) and Brian Kelley (drums). I enjoyed quite a few local bands when I lived near the banks of the Ohio River, but Over the Rhine I liked the most.

This song perfectly describes the male-female dichotomy. Mother Earth…Father Sky.

Something about these beautiful autumn days made me think about their music. ‘It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play‘. Taught them to play, indeed.

Bike Thief, Motherscratchers




Stuck in a Dream

Ok, so here’s some news:

My friend Patrick White, who I knew as a guitarist, is now a bass player. And a good one. He plays in a band in Portland called Bike Thief, and they’ve got a new record.

Some of you are probably already scolding me, ‘Hey lahikmajoe, they don’t call them records anymore.‘ They do if it’s on vinyl. And Stuck in a Dream is on vinyl. Like a real band or something.

What if you don’t have a turntable?

Well, they’ve prepared for that eventuality.

Go to their Bandcamp website here:

Bike Thief’s Stuck in a Dream

You can load up on all the Bike Thief merchandise you’ve ever desired. Oh and most importantly, you can get the digital version of Stuck in a Dream there, as well.

Just in case I’ve been derelict in introducing the band properly, here’s the lineup:

Febian Perez: Lead vocals, Electric guitar, Acoustic guitar, Synthesizers
Greg Allen: Viola, Violin, Synthesizers, Backing vocals
Patrick White: Bass guitar
Steven Skolnik: Drums and Percussion
Thomas Paluck: Electric guitar, Backing vocals 

Purportedly, they’re on the radio in Prague. If there’s a tour, they might make it to Munich. Patrick has already been warned that even if they’re music is well received in Amsterdam, the band’s name won’t be embraced. As our mutual friend Jodi reminded him, stealing bikes ain’t cool with the Dutch.

Ode to Joy


Tonight’s the Eurovision Song Contest, and during the voting they’re singing Ode to Joy and climbing ladders. As one does.

I don’t care how camp this thing is, I watch it every year, mock it on twitter and laugh at the voting from the countries that couldn’t get their entry into the Finals.

If you have no idea what this is, I’m not sure you want to research it. My parents were visiting me one year during the weekend when the Grand Prix was on. They watched it with me and were completely baffled by the whole ordeal.

This year? I suppose the bearded lady from Austria. Or the Polish maidens churning butter & washing clothes. Yes, that was a thing.

It’s a bit like an annual World Cup for the Homosexualists. Was that an insensitive comment? I can live with that.

wish I had a river I could skate away on


This is from one of my very favourite songs of all time, and I don’t know why. Why I love the song so much, I mean.

It’s just like that sometimes, isn’t it?

See, I’m a songwriter, so I think a lot about what makes a great song. There are lots of theories, and I’m fascinated with all the ones I’ve heard, but ultimately a good song is one you love. Full stop.


The one included below is a rare recording of River, which if you don’t know it is on the Blue record. Aunt Joni put that particular long playing album (LP) out in 1971, and every hippie chick I’ve ever known had a copy. For many years it was either the actual vinyl record, but later it was a cassette tape and then even later it was the cd.

Every song’s a classic. Really. If you hate any or all of Blue, you’ve got no heart. You’re dead to me. It’s that simple.

If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, go get a copy of Blue. Download it legally, go look through your mom’s music collection…really find someone/anyone who’s got a copy, then copy it for your own collection. You could even import it if that’s your preference.

You’ll be glad you did.