Thursday, June 05, 2008

Poi Dog Pondering: A 20 year love affair

This post is written without coffee, while I reflect whether anyone really reads or cares about the personal stuff I write here.


When you're young, your choice in bands sets the soundtrack of your life and helps you identify who you are. 20 years ago I saw my first Poi Dog Pondering show at hole in the wall dive in Columbia, Missouri and my soundtrack was set. Last night I saw Poi Dog after a 3 year audio hiatus, 5 years and two albums of disappointment while they toured a new album I knew nothing about and is the impetus of this post so you can see how the songs of the Frank Orrall and the music of Poi Dog Pondering have been interwoven in the fabric of my life.

Poi Stories

You are a butterfly and my eyes are needles.
"Pure Poetry," says Tim Volas, a friend from Jr. High rediscovered in college. We are working at Shakespeare's Pizza in Columbia, Missouri. "You have to listen to these guys." Tim has control over the store stereo, and it is played often while I wash dishes in the back and deliver pizzas. Soon Poi comes to town and I see them in a shit hole bar, The Blue Note (v1). 8 people are crammed on a tiny stage making crazy noise with a trumpet, a mandolins an accordian and one instance a frying pan. It was high energy Bedlam and I was hooked.

YouTube - Poi Dog Pondering - Living With the Dreaming Body

"No this band is not 'just like Rusted Root'! Just because there is a penny whistle in both 'hits' does not make it the same. The energy is totally different, the sound is totally different!" (I've never heard any Rusted Root beyond their one song.) Say what you want about me, but don't Dis my fucking band.

I turn on several fraternity brothers to Poi Dog Pondering. I am the only one who can whistle the entire penny whistle solo in "Living with the Dreaming Body." At least I thought I could. I smoked a lot of weed back then.

Relentlessly climbing, encumbering and swallowing fresh pain. Melting, reemerging and rising up clean in the pouring rain. Rise up in the pouring rain, only to drop down and decay again.

During my student teaching, I used Poi's "Fact of Life" in my lessons about the New England Transcendentalist. The kids generally don't dig it. While I'm only 4 years older than them, they are obligated to hate everything the teacher does because I am an old man to them.

A lifetime of accomplishments of which the dirt knows none, only in death can one truly return.

I am living in my first post college apartment, which is some guy's furnished basement. I met him through an agency. Later he kicked me out for being consistently late with the rent.

A girlfriend gives me a cassette of Poi's second album "Wishing Like a Mountain, Thinking Like the Sea" for my birthday. It is several months before I actually listen to it because I suffer from anxiety and acute thanophobia and I never make it past the first song which is about death. Eventually I listen to it and come to love the song and entire album.

At bar one night watching a local Dead cover band, I meet a fellow named Henry Horning who becomes a close friend. He lives with me for a while in the basement and I turn him on to Poi Dog Pondering. He takes that love back with him to Cleveland where he turns on his entire immediate and local extended family on to Poi. Parents, Siblings, Nieces and Nephews. Poi becomes the family soundtrack played at weddings and births and get togethers. The family has road tripped to Chicago and around Ohio to catch shows. I love the Hornings. They're awesome.

Lost fragment: at one concert in Columbia, the concert gets interrupted by a bomb threat. Everyone goes outside and we hang around chatting with the band, smoking our cigs until the show goes on.

Me, Henry and Henry's Sister Mary-Helen (in town to go to nursing school) go see a Poi show. Mary-Helen runs into a guy she knows, and they REALLY hit it off at the show. They start dating and eventually marry. I include this story because MH became a close friend of mine talking me into calling Alessandra for the first time (with Poi playing in the background, of course) from her apt. one night.

Sometimes like a dream you come cut from the same cloth
The light in your palm so white I feel it in my heart
Horse hoof imprint on the saddle back bare hide of a horse
You come with steam of breath and Caligula's's head
To me so lonesome and longing and so unsatisfied
Even with all this beauty flooding deep into my eyes
Stop for a moment and listen to the wind
See the trees, leaves the sun they catch and their rustling din

One day friend of Mary Helen's comes to town from Ohio for a Poi show. I take the day off to play tour guide. We go to the Arch, hang out and have a great time, stopping by the Bar to try and say hi to the Band during sound check, but they are already gone. We are told it is going to be a driving, high energy show. Me and this guy have a great day. We hear "Jackass Ginger" for the first time and are blown away.
I never see or hear from this dude again, but a great time was had by all.

Two long years are spent waiting and hoping for a new Poi CD. At this point all I'm listening to is The Grateful Dead and Poi Dog Pondering. I don't have a stereo, so the only place I listen to music is in my car. I am sent a box of promotional cassettes with several songs from "Volo Volo". One night after a night at a bar I drunkenly make my friends listen to the songs in the car before driving home." I don't go to AA for another year or so.

Hey! Hey! Hey!
Slippy side, Side-Side-Side go to go

a long time gone and a long time past
so soon so soon -- Lack Luster Lack Luster
how can I muster
The faith That I need to see
The Things I need to see --
on again off again
try to hold on to the ribs
of the situation at hand.

a long time gone and a long time past,
since I felt That Things were within my grasp. . .
wheel roll round
round, round, round -- hear that Sound.

Volo Volo is finally released, nearly every song is the story of my life and probably yours too. You should listen to it, it's really good. I am totally floundering around in my life. My desire to be a teacher has fallen apart, I'm a likely alcoholic living in a shitty apartment with no AC in a St. Louis Summer. Winter almost kills me when all the heat goes out the walls, I owe a few grand for a computer I bought which does nearly nothing I need it to do (Mac Color Classic in 92? Craptacular). I have few to no friends. Thing pretty much suck, but I have the Poi to listen to and it keeps some part of me uplifted.

I've got my body I've got my soul
I have so much to learn now this I know
I might have eyes I might have fingers and toes
But tell me what good are all those things
if you ain't got your soul
I've got my body I've got my soul
Someday I might have a million dollars,
then again I might have only
One change of clothes
You may deal in silver you may deal in gold
But tell me what good are all those things
if you ain't got your soul
Now cut me bleeding down fallen
if I should rob from my soul
Let the sight of my blood remind me
of the truths I do know
Like the fleeting hold the body has on the soul
I've got my body I've got my soul
Help me keep it true help me keep it straight
help me to heep hold
Cut me bleeding down fallen
if I should rob form my soul
And let the sight of blood remind me
of the truths I do know

Because every time you lie deceive or cheer
you lose a little bit
Lose a little bit lose a little bit of your soul

Eventually I get some of my shit together. Stop drinking and go back to school to learn a new trade. I spend time hanging out with Mary-Helen and as previously mentioned she convinces me to call up Alessandra while I operate on Poi courage. We make plans to fix her step-dad's computer. After a comedy of errors and some time passing we eventually begin dating.

Drowning in my heart to be drowning in your arms
won't you take me?
Three summers eves, tangled up in sheets won't you take me?
Take me!
I'm as steady as a see-saw, and as longing as the wind
visions come so filling I swoon-whoo-hooon.

YouTube- Be The One

Alessandra and I spend a lot of time in my very messy apartment making love to Poi Dog Pondering.

3 fucking years pass without a new Poi CD.
But they continue to tour.

Sorrow is an angel that comes to you in blue light
and shows you what is wrong just to see if you'll set it right
and I've fucked up so many times in my life --
that I want to get it right this time.

Complicated, it's all right.
So tell me something someone and help me get it right,
or hit me over the head, box me up and say good night.
I can't stand to see myself go through the motions
that bring me back into these same old sad emotions.

Alessandra finally gets to see Poi along with my mom one night. "Complicated" is played for the first time in STL. Ale gets hassled by security after the show when she wants an autograph because she is underage. She gets bounced, but I don't recall if she gets in a quick hug afterwards.

"Pomegranate" is released. It sounds totally different from the other albums in that it is very, lush and stringy with a hint of "house music" in it. After the second listen it sinks it's hooks and is here to stay.

I am working at a local microbrewery designing labels. Alessandra and I make up two cases of beer with custom Poi Dog labels on it to take to a show in Columbia. After the show I present the beer to the band. When asked for a hug by Frank I get a great big. "FUCK YEAH!"

Alessandra's Parents go to Indonesia to work for 6-8 months. By the end of week two I've moved in to her house. By the end of the month we have taken up residence in the Master Bedroom.

1995 Jerry Garcia Dies. Dead and Poi are mostly what I listen to. Alessandra's parents return home and we get an apartment together. One night while watching something on ABC we hear as part of an ABC promo the opening music to "Complicated". Alessandra and I totally freak out with joy. Poi has hit the mainstream?! We never see it again.

I need something to take me over the top

Halloween 1996 my father falls in a swimming pool and drowns.

Poi performs 6 shows at the Vic Theater in Chicago. They add a 7th night which falls on my 30th birthday. Alessandra and I road trip up to Chi to catch the show. It's fucking electric! There are dancers and costumes, Frank on stilts 12-15 musicians and back up singers...complete Pandemonium! Several songs have been retooled and I smile for the 1st time in a month. Happy 30th Birthday indeed.

Later after the shows have been engineered and are being sold as "Liquid White Light" I see myself in a photo on the website, holding Frank up while he crowd surfs.

Poi goes on tour with The Dave Matthews Band. Because we don't know when the next Poi show is, we decide to go to the concert to get a hit of Poi Energy. Poi's set is fantastic, but like all opening acts, there is jackshit for audience there. Alessandra and I dance our asses off as do the Interpreters for the Deaf. We've never seen anything like it. After the set, Ale and I are accosted by members of the audience who have seen us shaking it, asking us who the hell that was that they just saw and were we with the band. "No we reply, but we did come to specifically to see them. We don't know DMB, but we'll give him a chance since he sold out a large outdoor venue.

5 songs in to DMB Ale and I get bored and leave.

Life goes on. I change jobs.

Note: Jesus, this is taking all day. Somebody better fucking read this.

"Natural Thing" is released in 1999. I only like 3 tracks on it. It's to House Loungy and electronic for me. It's even more radical than "Pomegranate". I don't really listen to it.

October 9, 1999 Alessandra and I get married. "Say that you'll be the one" is our first dance.

I change jobs several times and begin listening to other music, but still keeping Poi at the top of my list.

"Sweeping Up the Cutting Room Floor previously unreleased studio out-takes 1987 - 1994" is released.

Meh. Some songs are only OK, but I don't find myself listening to it.

I change jobs again.

2003 I find out that Poi is finally coming back to town in support of their new album. Happy Days. It's been something like 4 years or so since a Poi show. I work right down the street from the venue, so I buy tickets at lunch and then buy the new album "With Seed Comes Fruit"

I think it's awful. It's so unPoi that I can't bear to listen to it. It's more clubby and I don't know, just so off from what I want that immediately reject it, as does Alessandra. The night of the show, we sell our tickets and decide not to go to the show. We are both very disappointed.

By 2006 I am no longer listening to the Grateful Dead and Poi Dog Pondering has nearly faded away. The Dead because now that I've been sober for 12+ years and no longer in the culture, I discovered something the rest of the world knows. They sound like shit when you aren't stoned. And as for Poi...if you don't like the what they've been putting out, and you aren't going to the shows...then you aren't reinforced in your consciousness.

And you who say that in death we will pay
the dead, they can't hear a word that you say
Your words are not kind, sober or giving
they only put fear in the hearts of the living
So put away your tongue and roll up your sleeves
Pick up that shovel and bury me deep."

Around this time I discovered that I was missing out with music. I wanted to express myself so I started playing guitar. "Bury Me Deep" was one of the first songs I learned. I had a goal to write my own songs and perform in front of an audience.

Years went by and it didn't happen, though I practiced nearly every day. I just couldn't get any better. However, one night I went to an open guitar jam where everyone takes a turn teaching the group a song. I declined my turn, but was talked into giving it a try. So I taught them Bury Me Deep, then I led the group of 12 or so guys into a version where I sang it in a quavery voice. I felt empowered and could fully understand why Frank does what he does.

Things being what they were. 3 years later I gave up the guitar for drawing.

Christ man. It's like a laundry list...have you made it this far? It seemed like a good idea last night as I lay there in bed after the show. What show? Read on.

2006 saw Alessandra in Brasil visiting her family and me on my own for 2 weeks. I saw that Poi was coming to STLs newest swank venue The Pageant. I decided to rally my friends Sappo and Kevin to go to the show. It had been so long since I saw Poi, I had to go. So I paid my 20 skins and went.

Oh no! It was a stripped down version of Poi with only 4 people. Crap. Poi has a fat sound. You've got congas and drums and shakers, a violin, backup singers, saxophones, the works. This was 3 core members and I think a drummer. It was a crippled Poi at a fraction of the power...They didn't even fill the place. In Chicago they can easily draw 1000+, but STL only a couple hundred. An hour into the show Frank started noodling Electronic House. I left early greatly saddened.

Recently we bought a portable hard drive for all our music. 80 Gigs filled to brim, but when I needed some space for file transport. Poi was one of the first things I dumped after The Grateful Dead. It had been a long time since I listened to them. I would skip the tracks whenever they popped up on random.

April. I was running errands and on a whim I grabbed "Wishing Like A Mountain Thinking Like the Sea" for the cd player. "Hey. I thought to myself. This is a pretty good album it holds up." Then the next day, driving out to my sister's house Alessandra and I listened to Wishing again and lamented the lack of Poi in our lives.

Just before the end a great efflorescence
A plead to the will of the sea
A great soul collective
Painters pile paint upon paint
Losing themselves to get what they see
Enshrouded in a cocoon of doom
And then set free
YouTube- Jack Ass Ginger

May 2008
I happen to see in our local "alt" paper that Poi is playing next week. Wait, they have a new album? Wait, it's sort of a return to an earlier era, not quite, but sort of? I run the idea past Alessandra. I could honestly go either way. She says yes, she does indeed want to go and I am very trepidatious
. I don't tell any of my friends. Tickets are bought, but we can't find the album around here anywhere.

Last night we get to the show when the doors open. We want a table because of Alessandra's fibroid (Named Junior). As we are going down the stairs we run full into Frank watching the CDs. Ale starts talking to him. Tables are being snatched away. I say "Hi" and hustle off to snag the last table.

Later I go back to Frank (who doesn't know me...obviously) and tell him about the concert I went to after my dad died. It's funny, because the guy has no idea how much his music entwined in my life. Look at all this shit above. Me and the music were like that (crosses fingers), then had a falling out.

Frank looks older, and puffier. Cherubic with thinning hair, his voice rough. I was concerned that it was played and that it wouldn't be up to snuff for the show. I wish I could have told him how much his music meant to me over the years, but I'm sure he has heard it before.

It was a full on Poi show with 9 members on stage. The violinist had taken off for a family emergency, but fucking rocked! It reminded me of my very first show seen back in the old Blue Note. With that one exception in 2006, Frank and co have always put on a first class show. At one point they dispensed with the set list and began taking requests, even willing to fuck up a song or two due to lack of practice. It was sweet.
The new songs, the new album. They're good. Good and Real

So today, after a long slog of typing, after a gap of many years. I am once again filled with Poi Energy.


Yes, long post indeed, but I enjoyed it very much! Poi is an essential part of our history together and it only brings happy memories of us together.
Great read! I'm the very same way, music permeates my life. Good to hear that you and Poi are back into a harmonious place. :)
Silly rabbit, I love reading your blog and going to the various links etc. Today, you inspired me to download some Poi from iTunes. Peace.
So happy you have Poi back with good stuff rather than having been left with a not to sweet taste in the past. I remember how much I enjoyed the show with you both and kept my autographed T for a long time. Great work with your posts, your writing is teriffic and colorful
Thanks all for commenting. I lately been thinking about what kind of personal stuff I feel like posting because so few people comment I just sigh and don't do it.

For example did you know on Memday weekend I performed a wedding in a mountain chapel in Utah, narrowly missed getting infected by a pukey baby, drove across Wyoming twice and got a speeding ticket doing so then telling the officer I was looking at the Mountain goats instead of the spedometer?

Nope. Because I was trying to think of context.

Anyway, so you guys ARE out there. i might as well get back to it.
and write what YOU want... not what you think we readers want to read. Ramble on! Ugh, pukey babies...
Here's how small this planet is: I KNEW Frank Orrall. We were both in bands in Hawaii in the 80's, but he was well known then for being in the most influential punk bands there, most notably Hat Makes The Man, whom I had the pleasure of opening for with my band The Skeletones. I think we even shared space on local compilations.
You don't know me. I happened to surf into your blog due to the Poi mentions. I have different stories, but the exact same thread of Poi Dog music running through a couple of decades. Thanks for your stories and your words.

Hi Guy and Lisa. Welcome to NTM! Did you see them at the Old Blue Note on 8th lo those many years ago?

Come on back. The comments are always open.

Truly a GREAT post, good sir! I have been a HUGE fan of Poi since I managed a Wherehouse record store back in the '80's and '90's and received an advance promo-only cassette of the first album (which, incidentally, I got Frank and Abra to autograph years later...). They have been an integral part of my musical life throughout their career, and through all of their phases, incarnations and styles. I absolutely adore the band - they continue to get me through life and inspire my day-to-day artistic and musical endeavors. PDP ROCKS!!!!
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