I saw Michael McClure and Ray Manzarek at Lounge Ax in Chicago in the 80’s and for a moment I was transported by the words and music. It felt like I’d broken through something. In “The Piano Poems”, Manzarek and McClure sit in for a live set in San Francisco and there’s always the possibility to be transported by these two and their words and music.
This is Michael McClure’s CD all the “songs,” are McClure’s poems with Ray Manzarek accompanying on piano, and flautist Larry Kassin joining in on a few of the tracks. McClure’s poems will stand out in your mind. The poems will take you all the way from “Pico Boulevard” in Los Angeles, and back in time to his “hits” such as “Jean Harlow and the Kid.” The highlight of “The Piano Poems” has got to be “Antechamber of the Night”, which stands out as a celebration of the self and the world we live in much as Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric.”
Manzarek accompanies not so much as a Jazz accompaniment but showing off his classicist roots. Manzarek’s accompaniment never over powers McClure’s poems but provides dramatic Brahm’s like swells when the poem hits the climatic moment. Manzarek’s aural backdrop animates and illustrates McClure’s poems. This is clearly a partnership of words and music that works together. It all sounds natural and unrehearsed, but it is obviously the product of two masters of their respective crafts.
If you’re not a huge fan of poetry, don’t let that intimidate you, McClure’s poems are accessible in language and tone. McClure is one of the last of the original beat poets left and he uses imagery everyone can identify with. Imagery that is found in nature and on the street.
In “The Piano Poems” there’s no guarantee that you’ll be transported to some other place in your mind, but you’ll never know unless you try.
Originally Published August 14, 2012