After the Ferris Wheel Stops: Tom Kozlowski Sings Poetry

Image of ferris wheel light from Tom Kozlowski's lyric

All the Light I Had at the Time

All the light I had at the time: fairy dust, blue and fine.
Fellini-esque flying Christ. Moonlight walks, rivershine.

All the love you left behind: markets fell, but I survived.
We crashed and burned, o love of mine. Flames never go out of style.
Flames never go out of style.

Tilt O’Whirl, Ferris wheel. Laughing in a House of Mirrors.
You said you wanted the carnival life, the Tunnel of Love.

All the light I had at the time couldn’t keep us satisfied.
That hit-and-run turned me inside out: faith like a phoenix on wings of doubt.
Faith like a phoenix on wings of doubt…

Fortune Teller, Wonder Wheel. I learned to laugh, I learned to feel.
Took a chance on the carnival life. Got lost in a Tunnel of Love…

Thrive on nothing, maybe less. Defining zero as nothingness.
Sayin’ “life is sweet” is such a curse. To kill a mockingbird is even worse.

All the light I had at the time: fairy dust, blue and fine.
All the love you left behind—we crashed and burned, o love of mine.

Music by Tom Kozlowski. Lyrics by Tom Kozlowski and Roy Bentley.

Copyright © 2014 by Tom Kozlowski and Roy Bentley. All rights reserved.

Instructions for a Sky Burial

Songs of a Hungry Heart from the Country of Not-knowing

Image of Tom Kozlowski, singer in the spirit of John SteinbeckIf you ask me what friendship is, I’ll look to Tom Kozlowski. I’ve known Tom since 1966. One characteristic we share is what Bruce Springsteen refers to as a “hungry heart,” which, to me, is a mind that asks fundamental questions and revises the answer based on ever-evolving experience. Take “Instructions for a Sky Burial,” a song about journeying that we wrote as a result of reading about a practice the Tibetans use to send the souls of their dead to some Next Place. The song starts off: “Take a cup of loss / Add a body breaker / Flashing shiny knives / under Tibetan skies.” Tom and I were born in Dayton, Ohio in 1954. Both of us loved books and music at an early age, and our friendship became collaboration. In the songs we write together, we share a territory whose frontiers are states of ecstasy and imagination. (I call it The Country of Not-knowing.) Performed by Tom in his signature style, this song is from an unfinished CD called In the Pocket. I hope you enjoy it.

Photo of Tom Kozlowski by Deni Naffziger.

Copyright © 2014 by Tom Kozlowski and Roy Bentley. All rights reserved.


Steinbeck Suite for Organ

From Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen, two books that made John Steinbeck famous—Tortilla Flat and The Grapes of Wrath—have inspired American singers to celebrate both sides, sunny and sad, of John Steinbeck’s moody populism. Aaron Copland wrote orchestral music for The Red Pony and Of Mice and Men in the 1940s, and Ricky Ian Gordon’s operatic setting of The Grapes of Wrath premiered in 1977. But before now pipe organs have been silent on the subject of John Steinbeck, and that seemed strange: the author listened to Bach and had an ear for church music developed as a child. The February 16 premiere of Franklin D. Ashdown’s monumental Steinbeck Suite for Organ at Mission Santa Clara—65 miles from Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas—remedied this historic oversight. Pulling out all the stops on the reverberant Mission Santa Clara pipe organ, James Welch brought passages from Tortilla Flat and The Grapes of Wrath chosen by Ashdown to thundering and whispering life. Five movements describe moments of high drama from two Steinbeck classics: I. Perambolo (“The Humanity of John Steinbeck”); II. Divertimento (“Making Camp and Celebrating on Route 66: The Grapes of Wrath”); III. Miserere (“’If you’re in trouble or hurt or need—go to the poor people. They’re the ones that’ll help’: The Grapes of Wrath”); IV. Musica de los Paisanos (“’How lonely it would be in the world if there are no friends to sit with one and share one’s grappa’: Tortilla Flat”); and V. Toccata (“The Conflagration of Danny’s House: Tortilla Flat”). Crank up the volume on your computer, then listen, laugh, and weep. The live recording below is courtesy of Santa Clara University and includes movement pauses and audience applause.


From the Garden

Love-song lyrics about the types of flowers commonly found in gardens? It may sound unusual in connection with John Steinbeck, but the author who wrote “Chrysanthemums” loved to garden and grew many types of flowers and vegetables at home, even in New York. The New York actor and singer Alan Brasington liked the idea of song lyrics about the garden of love so much that he gathered, performed, and produced a medley of American love songs featuring the types of flowers Steinbeck would have known and grown a century ago. The SUNY New Paltz graduate and London-New York theater veteran sings with Alice Evans, an award-winning Broadway actress whose family descended from the American patriot Nathan Hale.