I can think of no street in America, or of people inhabiting such a street, capable of leading one on toward the discovery of the self.

Henry Miller

You're gonna be out on the road, out on the back street, man, out on the highway. And the colors are gonna run.

Just learn about it all day and all night and dig sounds and go down to the river and watch the artists go through the motions!

Van Morrison

He who has few friends: This is the wanderer.

I Ching

Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detained!

Walt Whitman

Nobody's ever taught you how to live out on the street and now you're gonna have to get used to it.

Bob Dylan

Street Song

I'm working on my second book, Street Song. At one level it's a memoir about my years on the street and the chain of events and changes in beliefs that led me there. But it deals with other matters, too. If I had to sum it up in just a few sentences, I might say

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
There are two works by others that have helped to inspire this book. One is Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, and the other is Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. At the front of Tropic of Cancer, Miller quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson:
These novels will give way, by and by, to diaries or autobiographies—captivating books, if only a man knew how to choose among what he calls his experiences that which is really his experience, and how to record truth truly.

That passage fascinated me. Before deciding to be a singer/songwriter, I'd been a big reader who read nothing but novels. For a time, I'd wanted to be a novelist. But I became dissatisfied with the form. Novels weren't true. Emerson made me wonder why anybody would bother to write fiction when you could write creatively about your real life. If only you had the courage—and a real life...

I liked Miller's attempt at putting Emerson's idea into practice. I was especially impressed by his decision to abandon everything and descend penniless to the street. I thought that was courageous. Today, I find Tropic of Cancer difficult to read. I dislike Miller's contempt for other people and the crudeness of his lust—both of which were exaggerated, I think. But I still find his vision for the book strong.

Street Singing

Busking at the Pike Place Market in Seattle in May, 1972.
Photo by Timothy Eagan

I discovered Astral Weeks around the same time that I first read Tropic of Cancer. For many years, it was my favorite work of art. I loved the vividness of the world Morrison created. It was both real and poetic in a way that made me think he had actually seen beneath the surface of reality. I loved the story: the movement of a boy out onto the streets and his maturation. And I was captivated by his vision of romantic love taken to the level of mysticism.

Having said all that, Street Song will be nothing like Tropic of Cancer and Astral Weeks. Back in the days when I lived for the sake of art, the two works pushed me in a certain direction. From there I took off on my own.

One of the difficulties of this book is that it discusses the search for the Self through my personal story. But the true Self is found only by going beyond one's small personal self. Still, from the beginning, the work has felt right. I think that's because the story depicts real events, and reality is always a legitimate subject.

In North Beach

Photo by Julie Michelle