From Dead Troubadours


Oblivion Playlist

One day I’ll have to listen to the Dead Boys again
and the first Blondie LP
and Television
and lots of Ramones
and Lizzy Mercier Descloux and the Bush Tetras
and so many other mid- to late-’70s downtown bands,
even The Dance and Buzz and the Flyers.
“Life is too short to listen to records”
proclaimed Brian Eno,
whose “Baby’s on Fire” Marc Penka played
for me and Terry Berne, along with Talking Heads 1977,
one Vermont afternoon in 1977
to make us realize that maybe it was time
to start paying attention to rock and roll again.
Two years later, Terry and I were playing
at CBGB’s (once) in a minor No Wave band.
Life has only gotten much shorter
and the number of records
or whatever the current technology insists we call them
only more numerous.
So, what should I do?
Keep rereading Cavafy and Harold Rosenberg
instead of spinning Marquee Moon and Road to Ruin?
But I’ve eliminated so much from my life
including TV, live concerts, recreational drugs,
exhibition openings and the ridiculous dinners which
    follow them,
that I think I’ve gained enough spare time
to fill my ears with more hours of guitars, drums, bass
and snarling lyrics
from once upon a time in New York City.


South & North

Santiago, Chile, 1973: a few days after the coup, Victor Jara is
brutally tortured, then shot to death.
New York City, 1976: Richard Hell scrawls “Please kill me” on a
ripped-up tee-shirt.


An Unknown Troubadour

Argh, I can’t remember the name
of the guitarist who was living in this loft
the first time I saw it (winter 1979).
He was rooming with the legendary Bob Mason.
Terry met him once at the big Josef Beuys show at the
hobbling down the spiral on a broken leg.
Wasn’t he in the Heartbreakers at some point?
Didn’t he O.D. years ago?


Career Opportunities

Here is a vibrant folk tradition
full of timeless melodies and unforgettable lyrics.
Destroy it. Enjoy it.
Here’s a brand new Gibson SG.
Destroy it. Enjoy it.
Here’s the body of a teenage fan,
breathless to do anything you want.
Destroy it. Enjoy it.
Here is a fancy hotel room
paid for by your filthy rich record company.
Destroy it. Enjoy it.
Here is a bagful of extra-pure heroin
procured by your shady limousine driver.
Enjoy it. Destroy it.


On the day that writers overcome their eternal envy of musicians
   and artists
true poetry will
Here I am, shirtless and wasted in a high-ceilinged room
in Villefranche-sur-mer,
sprawled among Gibsons and needles,
awaiting another devastating dawn.
If something’s wrong with this poem
we can just forget about it.
Leave it alone.
Come back tomorrow
and hope it has fixed itself.
Who didn’t dream of Keithdom
circa 1972?
Oh, maybe millions
jettisoned later into some more cushy afterlife,
million-dollar sad.
Remember: songs don’t ever translate,
and hangers-on inevitably meet a sorry fate.
But so do the (unlucky) principals.
Hi, Jim Brody.
Hi, John Wieners.
The wager of poetry, lost & won.
Hi, Jeff Wilson and Marc Penka,
and all other forgotten heroin poet casualties
whose manuscripts and memories I still cling to.
Let’s rendezvous one summer
at some white villa of endlessness,
piping our shaky songs into a mobile recording studio
conveniently parked outside our erratic hearts,
strumming immortal junkie ballads
luxuriating in one last frayed masterpiece.
Never let me deny you.

—Raphael Rubinstein’s most recent book is a collection of poems titled The Afterglow of Minor Pop Masterpieces (Make Now). He is a professor of critical studies at the University of Houston and lives in New York City.


This issue of First Proof is sponsored in part by the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation.

downtown new york
BOMB 108
Summer 2009
The cover of BOMB 108