John Amen's Ridiculous Empire and More of Me Disappears
I’m sitting here, while an annoying car alarm blares outside, listening again to John Amen’s Ridiculous Empire, procrastinating writing this review of both that CD and his 2005 2nd book of poetry, More of Me Disappears, partly because I tend to procrastinate and partly because my dog, Frankie sits on my lap but mostly because I am blown away by the music and lyrics of the songs and who wants to write when they can listen to music like this over and over. The style is a hybrid of country, rock, folk, bluegrass and early Bob Dylan. The songs themselves are surreal yet gritty mini masterpieces about characters that include classical Greek gods and heroes, Biblical prophets and sinners such as Moses, Noah, Adam and Eve and familiar fairy tale favorites like Cinderella but as if they are living contemporary lives with contemporary vices. From the first track, “Harbingers & Alcohol,” I was hooked. Who can resist a lyric like “look at Achilles so enthralled with harbingers and alcohol?” As a poet who always dreamed of writing songs but is too chicken to even try, I am completely envious and lost in admiration. And every track on the CD while sometimes different in pace or style is just as compelling lyrically. It’s hard for me to single out any one track as the best and I keep noticing different things each time I listen.
But I’m going backwards because in my terrible vice of procrastination coupled with insipient writer’s block or at least an inability to write anything that isn’t either a pro or anti love poem about one specific person, I neglected to even listen to the cd until recently, well today. But I did read the poems, all of them in More of Me Disappears. And like the songs in Ridiculous Empire, the poems in More of Me Disappears are full of brave juxtapositions and ingenious images. Many of the poems seem to be straight from dreams, while others seem to be from waking life but still contain the semi surreal elements of distant memory coupled with the grit of alcohol, drugs, death and sometimes recovery.
“If love is a horse, good luck saddling it,” one of my favorite lines occurs in "A Small Place," and is a good example of just how evocative Amen’s work can be. What that could mean, indeed what most of the lines in a lot of the poems, may or may not be different for each reader and it might not be what Amen thinks he means i.e. what the lines mean to him. This is especially true of the poems in More of Me Disappears but can also be said of the lyrics of the songs in Ridiculous Empire. I love this sort of thing, the more inventive and at times less concrete, the happier I am as a reader. I’m a huge Robin Hitchcock fan and at times Amen’s images are equally ground breaking and perhaps even rival Hitchcock’s. For example, the first line in the piece “In A Revolving Door,” “I am in Neverland buying gifts for my geisha girl,” is immediately grabbing and pleasingly odd and the poem continues to evolve into something that could be science fiction or it could be a dream or perhaps both.
Now here’s the caveat, if you are extremely literal and allergic to metaphor and anything that cannot easily and instantly be clear, then maybe you will have a problem with both the songs on the cd and the poems in the book. But even then there are many pieces in More of Me Disappears that are clearly grounded in a very concrete reality. These still contain inventive images and if you are somebody that can’t get your head around anything surreal, the language is still grounded enough in reality to be decipherable. The poem, "So Many Lives" is a good example of that. There is an understandable first person narrative of a junkie past being explained soberly years later to a non-addict wife.
But honestly, I don’t see how anybody could find fault with either Ridiculous Empire or More of Me Disappears. Both the cd and the book had me wanting more. The only thing I would fault both of them for would be that they are both too short. I wanted more songs and more poems. I have not read John Amen’s first book Christening the Dancer or heard his debut CD All I’ll Never Need, but after experiencing his second offerings in music and literature, I’m going to definitely check those out as well. I may have put off writing this article but after finishing More of Me Disappears, I immediately wrote at least two new poems of my own. But really, you should find out for yourself and anyway, it’s time for me to go to bed. Maybe falling asleep to Amen’s Ridiculous Empire will help bring me some amazing dream imagery of my own.
Bio: John Amen is the author of two collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003) and More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and has released one folk/folk rock CD, All I’ll Never Need (Cool Midget 2004). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. His second CD, Ridiculous Empire, was just released (Spring 2008) and is now available for purchase. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine(www.thepedestalmagazine.com).
More of Me Disappears, John Amen, Copyright 2005, Cross-Cultural Communications, http://crossculturalcommunications.com/, ISBN 0-89304-888-7 ,Soft cover, 77pp., $12.00
Ridiculous Empire, John Amen http://johnamen.com/, Copyright 2008, Electric Bacon Songs, BMIv, Audio CD, 10 tracks, $12.00