How This Happened
When I was younger I had the hunger
To be somebody anybody
But I did not know who or what to do
Then gradually it came to me
I was the only body I could be
So if not what at least I knew who
And there was always this poetry
I wrote for my friends when I was younger
Then I set it to music you see
So I was a composer chorally
Musically I became somebody
But when I went mad then I went free
The church I worked for left me in the lurch
Disappointing me ultimately
Left alone I found love on my own
Through trying times my mad nursery rhymes
Are how I do what like nobody
Else now somehow as who knows what to do
I was born on New Year's Eve in Santa Ana, California, USA, where I find myself again, in a freak thunder and lightning storm they said must be for me, the last day of the year 1954, to a hitman for the Mafia and the prettiest girl he ever saw. I was raised pretty much by the Iron Grandmother, my sweet young mother's mother, who was determined for me to be a minister and not a Mafioso. She did her best, until she was ninety-six and finally died, having held on for as long as she could, worried sick about me for good reason, though I ended up being an artist in various media, mainly choral music composition and poetry. I wrote and published a hundred and thirty choral motets and partsongs before I really went crazy in earnest when the Iron Grandmother died, and ended up at my beginning really, writing my mad nursery rhymes.
Along the way I got a Bachelor's Degree in Choral Music, and a California Community College Instructor Credential, "Valid for Life," it says--they don't give these anymore--but I've never used it. Though I've taught a lot; music to gifted children, and also adults trying to get their GEDs, wonderful tough guys just out of prison and sweet young single mothers, and I was good at it and really cared, and they appreciated it. I've been a church choir director, guest conducted in university situations where they performed my music, that sort of thing. I was a fussy-fussy reviewer of new choral publications for "The Choral Journal," which published an obituary when they thought I had succeeded once at suicide. I have been a dual, Author/Composer member of ASCAP since 1980; I called them relatively recently and asked them if I still exist, and they said yes oh very much so, and that I was in good standing; I updated my address, but that was several addresses ago.
I've published a dozen or so big fat books--well, some are not so fat, like "The Little Book of Lance," which is; that one has a nice cover painting by my son Stevie--that are available on Amazon and all the booksites, if you're curious about my younger life; I haven't done a book in a long time now, since I was in the lockdown psych ward. But every day I rise to the occasion of working on my (work in progress...), polishing it until it shines, until it is just so. If you're curious about my music, it's just like my poetry. I like a poem you can jump rope to.
I'm almost a homeless person, but not quite; "I get by with a little help from my friends." I have three children: Maria, who is thirty-one and lives in Edinburgh; Stevie, who is twenty-nine and lives in San Francisco but sometimes in Paris; and Teddy, who is twenty-four and lives in Chicago but sometimes in Seoul. I hang out with a couple of big tough dogs here in this crazy place where I live, getting by with a little help from friends both human and non-human, though never inhuman; Marisol and Bowser are some of my best friends, and I'm arf-arf-arfully glad to know them.
This thing of mine, this what I call empathic communication of making and sharing my poetry and giving it all away for free to the world all over everywhere, has become the meaning of my life now somehow, and how I get by. It's like the music used to be for me, a different medium but the same thing. I lost my piano, all my music paper, and my pencils; I painted but I lost my paintings too. Now it's just this poetry and me. And you; thanks for that.
The poetry really all started, so you noticed, when I was in eighth grade on a Saturday afternoon in 1968; that's when it manifested that I was a poet, and this was how it was going to be. I went to the used book sale at the Orange Public Library, in Orange, my hometown, where I learned most of what little I know, and had to borrow a shopping cart to get my haul across the two parking lots back to Studio Lance, the home of the Iron Grandmother where I grew up, loved, and lost.
Along with the books I lugged all over until I lost everything, I got a recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on 78s, and I could see why they called them albums; it was I think nine discs, with only bits on each side. Oh, but the bit of the slow movement I heard that afternoon as I lay on my back on my bed there knowing I had my books and wondering now who I was; I found myself writing a poem about the sun coming up.
I wadded up the paper and threw it in my Presidential waste basket that stopped with Lyndon Johnson, but the Iron Grandmother found it there, and had them read it at her church the next morning, where everybody loved it, and loved me too, all of a sudden; it was very strange, but I liked it. So I wrote more poems then, and when I liked a pretty girl I'd write her a poem, or a book of them, as I did for a girl named Penelope, who had what they called "olive skin" back then, like my mother.
My father, the hitman, was a poet too; I guess poetry was his day job. His father too, Grandfather Lance, who lived to be one-hundred-and-two out under the stars among the red rocks in Sedona, Arizona, who said I was very Lancean indeed. I guess I am. I wondered if poetry was enough though, so I thought I'd learn how to set it to music and write songs, partsongs actually, for choirs to sing, also choral motets; I did this and got degrees, and composed and published lots and lots of choral octavos with all the best publishers; it was nice.
But along the way I got encephalitis when I was nineteen, and went into a coma and died, but I came back to life this way, more of a poet than ever, and there was something else too: my word thing. Now, with the dura mater of my brain burned away by high fever and the rest thoroughly shaken, but stirred too as it turns out, the poetry came out crazy: my favorite review ever was when this one guy spoke of me as "this... this... nursery-rhyming MADman!" That's existential nursery rhymes, actually, and yes sir.
I struggled with being a misfit and tried to kill myself several times, never dying, being comically immortal; I really tried, with auto accidents, that sort of thing. But, here I am. I was ultimately diagnosed Bipolar II (Rapid Cycling) Paranoid Schizophrenic Psychotic, and was kept in the lockdown psych ward for my own protection. Since I lost Studio Lance I have lived in a series of perhaps increasingly absurd situations, but I kept on writing my poetry. It's my thing, what I do, and I do it for you, with love.
That my poetry means anything to you means everything to me. Thank you, all and each, with all my heart.