First Kisses of Rock + Lit

Man jumps off desk while playing guitar
Man jumps off desk while playing guitar

The second coming has arrived. All bang, no slouch. Meet Issue Two of Radio Silence. It's everything one could want from a magazine uniquely dedicated to literature and rock & roll. This latest brilliant love child mixes everyone from David Remnick talking Bob Dylan, to Jim White riffing on David Byrne's luminous "superwhiteness," to selections from Edith Wharton and the forgotten (until now) novelist Don Carpenter.

Each essay felt like an unforgettable first kiss and each goosed me to muse that life should be lived like an endless series of unforgettable first kisses. Whether it's words or rhythm sections raining down, there's clearly a magical alchemy at the intersection of these genres. Radio Silence is full of great writers chronicling musically-induced epiphanies and musicians recounting ecstasies bred by verse and prose. Fans of both will feel giddy at this blurring of the lines between artist and audience. Mr. Yeats, perhaps at last, the falcon can hear the falconer.

What I pick up throughout the pages of this issue is an anthem to all that is most ancient and most advanced in human experience. It is the story -- told over and over in guitar licks and couplets -- of what it is to be vitally, viscerally present in the bodies we inhabit for however long they contain us.

In a conversation between rocker Bruce Springsteen and poet Robert Pinsky, moderated by John Wesley Harding, the proud New Jersey natives explain why they do what they do. Pinsky connects his inspiration to an interview he heard with the late saxophonist Dexter Gordon, describing the simple yen to give others the same thrill that music had given him as a child. Pinsky describes that hope to share one's early thrills as "the truest thing I ever heard about art." In sync, Sprinsteen explaining that he writes to give listeners "the raw enthusiasm, the raw hunger, need, desire for living -- that's what we want to give you, just that, just be hungry."

This notion of being hungry, being "on the trail of something" comes around again in singer Tift Merritt's remembrance of Jack Gilbert, a man she knew only through his pages of his poetry collections. She notes that a hallmark of his work is the greed to know, to be awake and alive enough to experience all that is fearsome, and heavy, and possible in the brief time we have. She wonders whether we aren't somehow "watered down" by the prevailing flow of social media and turns to Gilbert on the question of how we "fill our largest loneliness." She speaks of the artist's work as "a statement of principles, a kind of conscience." Certainly for Gilbert, his work is a declaration of intent to feel acutely present and refuse nothing of life's trembling gifts.

There is too much to quote from the gifts of dripping duende that Gilbert left behind, but here's a small bite of "Haunted Importantly" which I hope leaves you famished for more. The poem describes a man hunting for once-heard spirits and following the sound of a bell through the streets of Madrid, before turning back with the realization that seeing it was not what mattered. That he could hear it and know it for what it was, therein lay the beauty.

"...It was not the bell he was trying to find, but the angel lost in our bodies. The music that thinking is."

Issue Two of Radio Silence itself has too many treasures for you not to discover them for yourself. However, I can't fail to mention Dana Gioia's essay on and 2005 interview with Ray Bradbury, which illustrates for literature what Zach Rogue's personal list of songs in which to weep says for music.

Rogue explains his need to hear the eternal sounds and undying universal truths of Neil Young when facing the loss of his own father: "The greatest gift music gives us is its permanence." In harmonious counterpoint, Gioia traces Bradbury's "butterfly effect" on contemporary popular culture and mythology, and tells a beautiful story of an encounter between the famous American writer and a group of Hispanic men from a cleaning crew where Bradbury was to give a keynote talk. After an introduction from Gioia, the kitchen crew began nodding in recognition and asking for autographs. They then help the wheelchair-bound Bradbury out onto the stage to great applause. Literature -- like music -- forms a bond that crosses all time, space and personal history.

First thrills, be they songs, stories, sonnets, or kisses, are meant to be shared. That they can be repeated and celebrated, rekindling that early, abiding spark, feels miraculous. Radio Silence, consider yourself on heavy rotation. I'm hungry for first kiss #3.