General Cornflake

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 I’ve always been a HUGE Gary Larson fan, so here’s my first attempt at writing a cartoon (with thanks to my friend, Chuck Hamby, for feedback on the concept, and to Callan Souza for a fantastic art job).

Torturing the Saxophone

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Writer, musician, painter, sculpture – if  you’ve ever attempted anything creative and felt the terror of “putting yourself out there” to be judged by the world, you’ll appreciate the response that Swedish free jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson got when he sent a copy of his forthcoming album to one of his idols, the legendary comic book artist, record collector and musician Robert Crumb.
(This is from a good book called Letters of Note by Shaun Usher – you can buy it here.)

Gustafsson’s upcoming record was a compilation of his experimental interpretations of some jazz classics, and he sought Crumb’s opinion. Crumb, baffled, pulled no punches and responded with this brutally honest letter.

I finally gave a listen to those LPs and the CD you sent me, of your own saxophone playing and some Swedish modern jazz. I gotta tell you, on the cover of the CD of your sax playing, which is black and has no text on it, I wrote in large block letters, in silver ink, “Torturing The saxophone—Mats Gustafsson.” I just totally fail to find anything enjoyable about this, or to see what this has to do with music as I understand it, or what in God´s name is going on in your head that you want to make such noises on a musical instrument. Quite frankly, I was kind of shocked at what a negative, unpleasant experience it was, listening to it. I had to take it off long before it reached the end. I just don´t get it. I don’t understand what it is about.

You actually go on TOUR with that stuff. WOW. People actually… sit… and… LISTEN… to that. I mean, they voluntarily go to the place, maybe even PAY… PAY to hear that stuff. And then they sit there, quietly, politely… and LISTEN. Unbelievable. I should go myself sometime and see this. Witness it with my own eyes.

I don´t say these things with the intention to insult you. You seem to be a perfectly nice, civilized guy with a good sense of humor. I am speaking the plain truth of my reaction to the records and CD you sent. That this noise could give anyone any aesthetic pleasure is beyond my comprehension, truly. Is this the logical end of improvisational music? Is this where it ends up? Where does it go from this point? Is there any audience for this “free jazz” besides other guys who play it and maybe their wives who must patiently endure it?

I just don´t get it. Am I too un-hip? Am I a square from Delaware? A thick from Battle Crick? A shmuck from Keokuck?

—R. Crumb

I don’t know anything about Gustafsson, but I love his response to this letter. He named his next album Torturing the Saxophone.

Losing Lisa

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Many of my favorite writers believe that it’s a mistake to discuss the meaning of a song or story. If there’s a collaborative aspect between artist and audience, explanation preempts the listener’s part in the process. Don’t tell the listener what you’re feeling. Let them decided what to bring to the work on their own.

But I feel compelled to say that Losing Lisa isn’t about mourning for another person. The mourning is for a lost part of yourself. So while it’s true that first love is a common – and very powerful – memory, the thought of a sad old guy writing about his girlfriend from 35 years ago seems trite and a little silly.

On the other hand, surely everyone, at some point in their lives, feels the loss of a certain type of openness and trust that most of us had when we were younger (and more foolish?). So – for me at least – Losing Lisa is about losing – or letting go of – the ability to fully open your heart to anyone. There’s a good reason Willa Cather said that the heart of another is a dark forest. In the warm glow of first love, we blithely let others in … until someone chops and burns. Then the “No Trespassing” signs go up.

Even so, the song didn’t click until the realization that a female vocalist should sing it, which caused me to think of a friend of mine and another kind of Losing Lisa. I imagined a woman of my age, born and raised in the Deep South, right underneath that hard, metal buckle of the Bible Belt. In a less enlightened time, she might have had similar feelings before starting life with a man, which meant letting go of things she had felt for a girl in her past and conforming to a life very different from the one she might have chosen.

At 20, I would have told you that I didn’t grow up prejudiced against homosexuality because it wasn’t an issue. Looking back, I realize that my attitude then is confirmation of how ignorant and blind I was to what was all around me. People hurting and misunderstood, having to hide Love, which should be celebrated. I don’t think that I was prejudiced as much as I was naïve. Even today, living in wonderfully tolerant Burlington, Vermont, it took some time for me to realize that a woman might look back on how her life could have been and feel what I felt writing Losing Lisa.

Thank you to all the people involved in bringing the song to life, including Lisa, who really was the first girl I ever loved.

Losing Lisa
Written by John Carter, Rachel Pearl, and Ryan Prewett
Produced by Ryan Prewett and John Carter
Arrangement by Ryan Prewett and John Carter
Cello: Matt Nelson
Piano: Ryan Prewett
Vocals: Rachel Pearl

Losing Lisa
What can I say about losing Lisa?

First girl that I ever loved.
Feeling so strong it was like amnesia,
just one touch, forgot who I was.

Life hides the truth from the innocent.
I’m glad that I didn’t know.
We had our moment, a lovely illusion,
got to believe before we had to let go.

I’m losing Lisa, watching her fly. I’m telling Lisa … goodbye.

What can I say about Losing Lisa?
Love has a mind of its own.
Both of us babies in the bodies of grown-ups,
finding the thrill. Losing control.

No dream’s as strong as the first one,
when you both believed.
Broken hearts soon learn how
to stay hidden, to deceive.

I’m losing Lisa, watching her fly. I’m telling Lisa … goodbye.

Lisa where are you? Do you ever
wonder or think about me?
Reach out at night, all I find is
an empty space where Lisa should be.

I’m losing Lisa, watching her fly.
I’m losing Lisa tonight.
I’m losing Lisa, watching her fly.
I’m telling Lisa … goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

©2016 Fifth Business Music LLC

What Love Is

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Here’s What Love Is, a song I wrote on Christmas morning 2014. It’s been a long journey for this song, and it owes a lot to Andre’ Maquera and Shane Murley.

What Love Is
Written by John Carter, Andre’ Maquera, and Shane Murley
Produced by Andre’ Maquera and John Carter
Arrangement by John Carter, Andre’ Maquera, Shane Murley, and Eugene Rice
Bass: Andre’ Maquera
Drums: Damian Roy
Guitars: Mike Huyler and Andre’ Maquera
Mandolin: Will Patton
Vocals Extraordinaire: Shane Murley
Recorded at West Street Digital in St. Albans, Vermont.

What Love Is
Chases the darkness away
Says everything that words can’t say
Make an old man young
Make a cruel man kind
Yeah that’s what you’ll find
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is

When you’re feeling down
Like you lost everything you thought you’d found
And the life that you’re living doesn’t feel like it’s your own
You’re not alone
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is

I still dream of your eyes
When the night comes down
Feel your ghost there beside me
But you’re not around
You’re not around

‘Cause I let our love fade to black
And you can’t move on, when you’re still looking back.
But I might have changed it all
If I’d known the cost
Yeah that’s what I lost
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is

Nothing stands alone
You better feed that love, or it’ll sink like a stone
Because the love that you give
Is the love you feel returned
Yeah that’s what you learn
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is

©2016 Fifth Business Music LLC

A lot has happened since 12/25/14, but the dedication stays the same – Malgorzata Ab Aeterno. Click here to read the poem.

Malgorzata Ab Aeterno

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Malgorzata Ab Aeterno
by John Carter

The world turns.
It carries us where it will,
towards eternity or oblivion.

The world turns.
It carried me to you,
daughter of light
shining inside me.

The world turns.
It carries us where it will.
Towards eternity or oblivion,
we move together.

Małgorzata (Polish pronunciation: [mawɡɔˈʐata]) is a Polish given name derived from the Greek word margarites (μαργαρίτης) meaning “pearl.” It is equivalent to the English “Margaret,” which also means “daughter of light.” Long before it was a television program, ab aeterno meant from the beginning, from an infinitely remote point of time in the past. In other words, always.

What Love Is (Nashville)

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Here’s the Nashville version of What Love Is. I wanted to hear what Ryan Prewett and Patrick Aprea would do with this song that Andre’ Maquera, Shane Murley, and I originally wrote and recorded in Vermont (What Love Is).

What Love Is (Nashville)
Written by John Carter, Andre’ Maquera, and Shane Murley
Produced by Ryan Prewett and John Carter
Arrangement by Ryan Prewett
Bass: Ryan Prewett
Drums: Ryan Prewett
Guitars: Ryan Prewett
Vocals: Patrick Aprea

What Love Is
Chases the darkness away
Says everything that words can’t say
Make an old man young
Make a cruel man kind
Yeah that’s what you’ll find
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is

When you’re feeling down
Like you lost everything you thought you’d found
And the life that you’re living doesn’t feel like it’s your own
You’re not alone
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is

I still dream of your eyes
When the night comes down
Feel your ghost there beside me
But you’re not around
You’re not around

‘Cause I let our love fade to black
And you can’t move on, when you’re still looking back.
But I might have changed it all
If I’d known the cost
Yeah that’s what I lost
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is

Nothing stands alone
You better feed that love, or it’ll sink like a stone
Because the love that you give
Is the love you feel returned
Yeah that’s what you learn
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is
That’s what Love is

©2016 Fifth Business Music LLC

Tiny Flowers

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Tiny Flowers
by John Carter

Tiny flowers,
reach for the sun,
red, blue, golden.

I transplanted them last spring,
thinking they were just vines,
ground cover to fill the space
between what I imagined were the real flowers.

But they marched up the hill and exploded,
a storm of tiny blooms scattered across the lawn.

Like me,
they don’t belong here.
And winter is coming.

Morning Poem

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Morning Poem
by John Carter

I woke without you,
feeling echoes of the disarrangement
as you left our bed.

Lie still and listen.
Delicate footsteps carry my love.
Water runs. A drawer is opened.
The twinkle of a spoon as she stirs tea in her chipped blue cup.
Inside,
I feel her calm music.

Outside,
snowflakes waltz on invisible currents,
drifting down like
gentle kisses from a loving sky.

Lie down with me,
my inamorata earth.
Let these kisses cover you
with a blanket of our perfect morning love.