Rose of my heart

jersey roses

Best e-mail I’ve received all day had this photo, with a note saying simply “Roses still in bloom!” I’ve had a great time during my residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and I’m going to hate leaving — it’s a beautiful place, and I’ve made great progress on a new novel — but I’m also looking forward to returning to New Jersey and my gardening correspondent.

Years before Bill Haley became a mediocre and unlikely rock-and-roll pioneer he billed himself as Yodelin’ Bill Haley, performing country swing with his band The Saddlemen. Here’s Yodelin’ Bill singin’ “Rose of My Heart” —

Even better, here’s the late, lamented Eva Cassidy doing a beautiful rendition of a song based on Robert Burns’ “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” —

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Hard times

It may be that the economy’s on the upswing, but New York City’s homeless people might argue with that analysis. So, too, might the folks I encounter nearly daily in central New Jersey.

As my son and I walked along Canal Street and up Second Avenue in lower Manhattan, a few days ago, we saw more homeless people than I remember seeing in NYC for a while, including a young couple camped out on a sidewalk in late morning, the girl sleeping on a pile of blankets while her companion stayed awake and kept watch.

Next day, early in the morning, at a park along the Raritan River in central New Jersey, I saw what has become a familiar sight: three homeless men, wearing all of their clothing (including winter parkas in 80 degree weather, as they left a small, wooded nature preserve in Highland Park where they apparently spend the night and then headed toward a long-established encampment along the riverside in the shadow of the New Brunswick-Highland Park bridge.

I believe that many of us these days are so distracted by our own lives and other issues — that the problem of poverty, both urban and rural, has faded from our view. There’s a feeling, I think, even among well-meaning and caring people, that food pantries and government programs and volunteerism have got the problem under control. But, just walk around Manhattan these days, just visit rural Virginia as I did last fall, and drive around the old section of my old hometown of Yonkers, New York, and it’s clear that as the rich are getting so much richer, the poor are getting so much poorer.

Here’s Woody singing his “Hobo’s Lullaby” —

Here’s Dylan, singing Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times” —

And here’s John Prine, singing his classic song about being invisible and lonely, “Hello In There” —

Songs of summer

It’s the summer solstice, so of course I’m thinking about the Drifters…and Sly and the Family Stone…Springsteen…and even Tom Waits…

Yep, I’m thinking about songs that make me think about summer.
There are others, of course, including “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran and just about anything by the early Beach Boys.

But I’ve been in Brooklyn a couple of times in the past two weeks, and as I rode the J train over the Williamsburg Bridge and along the elevated tracks I heard this great summertime song, a hit for The Drifters, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and performed here by the great Dusty Springfield:

Last weekend we were at the Jersey Shore, on the Raritan Bay side of Sandy Hook, with the little dog Roxy, a collection of short stories by Stephen King, and a cooler equipped with sandwiches, cherries and white wine.

Here’s what I looked out at when I wasn’t reading, eating, playing with the dog or sipping wine:
sandy hook

And here’s the song I heard, even though there wasn’t a boardwalk in sight:

And then I heard this song, drifting in upon the soft bayside breeze:

And as I looked out on the water, the sunlight dipped and danced on the rippling bay, and I heard a voice ask “What makes the water glimmer like that?” and I replied, “It’s a school of diamondfish.” Then the sun slipped behind a big white cloud, and the diamondfish all dove out of sight, and music drifted across the water from a beach club across the bay, and Tom Waits began to sing this song:

Finally, just because, here’s Sly with his Family Stone: