Anthony N. White - writer

My Little Black Notebook

In 2005 I became obsessed with what Jack Kerouac called “New American Pops” or non-syllabled haiku. Just like haiku, the American version that Kerouac played with is just a tiny snapshot of words that can quickly evoke a powerful emotion.

I knew I wanted to be a novelist but the amount of work it was going to take seemed so overwhelming that I didn’t think it could even start. So this was my solution. If you can write a story in just a few words that evokes powerful emotion then it should be easier when you have seventy-five thousand to do it.

At the time I was living in Watertown, New York and taking classes at SUNY Empire. That summer I worked at a restaurant near the library so I would leave for work early and spend some time in the library researching different Japanese Haiku Poets. I figured in order to break the rules you have to know them so I went back to the originators of the art and studied as much as I possibly could.

There in the basement of the Watertown Library I came across my favorite haiku. It was instantly my favorite and without a doubt had an immediate impact on me. I read it over and over again, sitting on the floor in between rows of books. I had gotten used to writing down the ones I liked the most in this little black notebook I carried with me and this one was no different. I scribbled it down and for months went back and read it over and over again.

About a year later I moved to Rochester, New York and stashed all my old writing in a box. I thought that someday it would be fun to go through it, maybe take note of how far my writing has come, or rehash old ideas that never made it passed the scribble stage. Sometime later, after my third or fourth move in Rochester, I decided to look through that box. There were so many memories in it, but not the little black notebook filled with haiku. I was disappointed but I figured that I just didn’t look hard enough, that it was probably stuck in the binder of another notebook.

Years went by. I could remember parts of my favorite haiku and occasionally I would google lines related to it. I couldn’t remember the author, but just new when translated it had the word “lichened” in it. I knew it was something about rain, a grave, and sadness. That was all that would come back to me. Google didn’t have the answer and whenever given the opportunity to look through books of Japanese Haiku I would, but I never found it. That little black notebook contained the answer and it had somehow vanished.

Year later still, I thought of that poem. Only this time there was a death in the family and we would be going to the same cemetery that my grandmother is buried. I needed that haiku. I dug the box out of the basement and went through it very carefully, examining each book and paging through them all. I took other boxes apart and looked through them. Nothing. The book was missing. I stood there in amazement and disbelief. How did I have all of my term papers from college, labeled and stored in hanging folders, but missing a notebook I spent months writing haiku in? “What a wasted summer,” I thought to myself.

Yesterday, I found it. I’ve been thinking about this book for about twelve years and I wasn’t looking for it at all and I found it. It dropped out of a newspaper article I was saving. I must have jammed the New York Times over it and it got caught up in there somehow. What’s more interesting is that the section of the Times I was saving was an obituary that Paul Westerberg wrote for Alex Chilton. Not only do I love both of those song writers, the day Alex Chilton died was the same day I started my punk band in Rochester, Pat Buchanan’s Hearse, or PBH. I saved that article for so many dear reasons it’s actually comical to find that it had been housing that notebook all these years. Chilton died in 2010.

Today I’m going to carry that notebook around all day. I just want to hold it. I genuinely missed it. Maybe in a different post I’ll share some of the haiku that I had started writing because of my studies. But for now, here’s the one that haunted me for almost fifteen years:

Winter rain deepens                                                                           

Lichened letters

On the grave…

And my old sadness

-Roka

Another Replacements Story

My favorite band of all time was recommended to me by a convicted murderer.  One summer weekend I was in my front yard, my trusty tape deck strapped to my belt, listening to Green Day’s “Dookie” when a convicted murderer walked up, took Dookie out, put in Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, and before he hit the play button said, “You need to listen to this.”  And simply walked away. I walked around with it for months, I played guitar along with it, drums along with it, sang along with it; shit, I think I slept with it.  I wore that tape out.   And The Replacements, bar nothing, became my favorite thing.

Stories like these are always about The Replacements.  Whoever turned a Replacements fan into a Replacements fan can be a tricky, disconcerting character.  In this case he happened to be a convicted murderer.  At the time, he hadn’t been convicted yet, so he was just a murderer.  And, at the time, I didn’t know he killed anyone, so he was just my friend.  We started a band together.  This was in the late 90’s.  Alternative music everywhere, Kurt Cobain dead, Alice in Chains posters still on my wall, and a murderer in my basement writing some really great songs with me.  The name of that band was The Easy Franklin Vantrip.  Goofy name.  Long story.  Good group of guys.

My obsession with The Replacements grew through college.  I saw a solo Paul Westerberg show, followed Tommy Stinson through his projects like Bash n’ Pop, Perfect, and his amazing solo album “Village Gorilla Head”.  I saw The Replacements first show in 25 years in Toronto a few years ago with my good friend Ian.  He was in Easy Franklin Vantrip too.  We’ve been friends for over 20 years and ‘Mats fans for almost as long.  I’ve read books, bios, album reviews, old articles, bought great B-sides, bought fake B-sides and talked to everyone I could find about The Replacements.  There’s a new book about them by Bob Mehr called “Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements”.  There’s a great article about it with amazing rare photos from The Washington Post that Ian sent me.

Every time I turn on anything ‘Mats I think of my friends in The Easy Franklin Vantrip.  One was convicted in 2000 of murder in the 2nd degree and put up for life.  His first eligibility for parole isn’t until 2024.  I think about how one day after he was convicted his girlfriend came up to me and gave me a message.  I think about that message a lot.  I wonder if he gets to hear The Replacements.  I wonder if he still thinks about The Easy Franklin Vantrip.  The other two guys are my best friends, one about to get married, the other a new daddy.  The Easy Franklin Vantrip was the first real band I was ever in and The Replacement were the first real band I ever heard.

Even though i was in bands before i first heard The ‘Mats, I was never in a band the same way again.  That day, running the mower around the yard, the motor’s sound drowning out the outside world, it was just me and The ‘Mats.  And I understood.  And it had to be that group of guys, that lawn, that tape deck, and a band member with a Replacements tape cruising by.  And I was hooked.   Ian and I drove around in Devin’s car listening to the CD all through high school and even college.  Christ, I put that album on when I drove Ian and Devin to Devin’s wedding.  And now Dev and Jill have a son.  And someday Lil B will hear this story.  Just as my son, already, ad nauseam has heard this one. And I’m sure he will again.

The Replacements, to their endearing, adoring fans are more than just the lovable losers who wound their way into our hearts.  They’re inseparable parts of our memory, for good and bad, intertwined in the fabrics that make up or lives.   Every time I turn on The ‘Mats I think of my friends, I think of The Easy Franklin Vantrip, I think of being young and impressionable, and somehow, I think of nothing at that the same time.  The ‘Mats are playing and I go into a trance, memories and emotions rising and falling at the same speed as Bob’s guitar solos.  Everybody has a Replacements story.  This one is mine.