Farewell to Clay January, Lightning Rod

An old Litkicks friend, Clay “Lightning Rod” January of Texas, died of cancer this week. If you hung around this website during our message board years, there’s no doubt that you remember Clay. He was one of the best writers on the website, the owner of a sly and subversive voice.

I interacted often with Clay, especially on the Action Poetry boards, where I would often yell at him to stop posting too often, but he had such a good sense of humor about it that I could never be mad at him long. We met in person several times for poetry readings in Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland and New York, and he was awesome and fun to hang out with. He was an old and very skinny man with long graying hair, and it was clear from his poems that he had done some hard travelling in his years, and had carried a few monkeys on his back.

He liked to call himself Lightning Rod (as a poet and a musician) but insisted to me that Clay January was his real name. I never believed him, but I always believed the truths behind the tall tales he told. He carried himself with a youthful, pixie-ish energy, he never let go of his wide smile, and he gathered friends easily wherever he went. I’m happy to have been one of the friends he gathered.

Here’s a poem Clay January once wrote for a Litkicks writing event called The Quest. His poem is called “The Other Side of Morning”.

if you turn the morning inside out
like a sock
you’d think you would find evening
not so.
what you find is the other side of morning.

If I turned you inside out, what would I find?
blood and guts and spleen intestines bile and shit?
or would I find the other side of morning?

morning, a mobius strip
the bloodshot dawn embarrassed and
fearing the Day
clipped reminicences
gunshot grey hints of evening

shuffle the cards and you have morning
shake the etch-a-sketch and you have morning
divorce is morning, and death.

but if you twist the morning
just so
it goes on forever.

This morning is padded, I don’t know how to describe it. All the sounds are slightly muffled and distant from last night. Everything was clear last night. When the morning rescued me from my dreams, the volume was turned down and as I listened it sounded like the past rumbling in a sewer.

It occurs to me that it might be a hangover.
My socks are inside out, like the morning.

I got up on the wrong side of the morning this morning. My horoscope smirked at me.
The coffee was nervous.
Eggs, like two jaundiced eyes staring through a glaze of grease, knowing.

Knowing what?

Do you think you are the only one who has ever studied a morning orgasm, felt it in its parts, discreet and secret? What motion and rhythm; what perfect twist or deceleration? Is the morning orgasm better than when you come at night?

Hold On.

Mama said there would be days like this when the morning is inverted and all hopes for the evening are cocksure and doomed.
Christ rose in the morning, I’m sure.
It was a Sunday, if I remember. The tomb turned inside-out, like a sock.

Morning’s palette is pastel, touched lightly with promise– The Promise of the Day, followed by evening and other mornings.

The alarm rings, hot and we with anticipation.
The Day.
The Day is coming, the morning its herald.
The morning is virgin birth. The tomb lost a rock. The womb turned inside out, like a sock.
And the morning and the evening were the first Day.

I remember the morning, sunrise pink on the clouds
mist retreating, dew its calling card
I remember the morning, like a breath in a train of other breaths
a square on the calendar among other squares.

I’ll help you find the morning.

Morning is a liar from the East.
It tells you that the day will last forever.
Tomorrow’s morning will tell you the same.

Morning eats the strychnine night
Comes pure, innocent, distilled, forgetful

It’s dipped in the rose sauce of dawn.
born on the rotation of planets and suns
It runs on physics and casts its fate
Twenty four hours till the next
One morning replaceable by another.

One side of morning is rude and textured
The other side—smooth and compliant
One side of morning is lost in conjecture
The other side is crude and defiant.

To find what the Day is all about
Turn the morning
Inside Out.

The awesome photo at the top of the page is by Doreen Peri.

Farewell from everybody at Litkicks to Clay January, who is no doubt lighting up the seventh or eighth Bardo right about now.

25 Responses

  1. Thank you, Levi, for this
    Thank you, Levi, for this kind tribute to Clay.

    Yes, Clay January really is his real name but he’s been known by Lightning Rod most of his life. It has been his stage name and pen name since he was in his teens.

    Born on November 29, 1948, Clay was only 64 years old. After a long battle with cancer, he left us yesterday to go play music with his backup band. He called the band his Pips and every time one of his musician friends died, he would say that one day he’d be joining them.

    Clay’s work extends back over 45 years. He was an accomplished songwriter and musician (flute, keyboard & sax, among other instruments), as well as a social commentator, humorist, and spoken word poet.

    Lrod and I were very happy to have some of the Litkicks poets perform with us in our Cabaradio Show in DC as well as Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, Maryland. It was also a pleasure when we met you and some of the other Litkicks poets in NYC a couple of times to perform at The Bowery Poetry Club and The Back Fence.

    Clay is survived by 2 sisters, several children and grandchildren, along with many musicians, songwriters, poets and friends who respected him and collaborated with him. I was honored to have spent 7 years as his creative partner. He taught me more than I can ever put in words about music, poetry, life and philosophy, as well as love. He will be sorely missed by a great number of people whose lives his generous spirit has touched and whose talents he has influenced.

    For those of you who are interested, here are some links to his work:

    Lightning Rod – Poetry

    Lightning Rod – The Poet’s Eye – Social Commentary

    Lightning Rod – Soundcloud – Music & Spoken Word

    Lightning Rod Books

  2. Thanks for the info and the
    Thanks for the info and the links, Doreen. Those shows were all great — and also the Algonquin.

  3. not my favourite thing #1
    not my favourite thing #1

    i don’t like dwelling on loss
    and not you
    how you were so riled up
    tossing your ire at every wrong
    this sudden lack of you
    this no more of
    and not you
    this i do not like
    yet here i am
    caught in a not-you chasm
    a gaping breathless pit
    not filled
    but mockingly so
    not you

  4. I am so sorry to hear this
    I am so sorry to hear this news. I liked Clay very much, enjoyed his company, admired his talent. He accompanied me on flute when I sang and played guitar at the Bowery Poetry Club in NY. He had never heard the song before, but we ran through it twice backstage and he played a perfect accompaniment. I enjoyed my stay with Clay and Doreen for a few days in their Virginia home when we were doing a “Cabaradio” show in Washington DC, with Levi, Cayrn, Ronnie “Yabyum” Klemper, and others. The cd he did with Doreen, “Oral Sets,” is one of the best spoken word CD’s I’ve ever heard. Always hoped I would see him again.

  5. Sad news! I always enjoyed
    Sad news! I always enjoyed reading his posts on those ole message boards.

  6. We had a poetry party in Clay
    We had a poetry party in Clay’s and my hotel room. Is that what you’re referring to? If so, yeah, that was great fun, Levi!

  7. Bill – it was a joy meeting
    Bill – it was a joy meeting you and having you over to my house. Thank you so much for your participation in one of our Cabaradio shows and many thanks for your kind words about our CD “Oral Sets”. Clay really enjoyed playing flute to accompany your song at the Bowery. I’m so happy you had the opportunity to meet him and I know he enjoyed meeting you, too. I always hoped I’d see him again, too. He will be missed by many.

  8. Hi Doreen — yes, the poetry
    Hi Doreen — yes, the poetry party in the Algonquin hotel room is what I was thinking of. If I remember correctly, L-Rod had an electric piano, Vaselina and Ronnie were there, there were a few guitars around, and it was probably better than the poetry reading down at the Back Fence, which was also great.

  9. Always enjoyed your words,
    Always enjoyed your words, even if at times, too young to understand.thanks, and I hope all is calm x hazel – onthebus2002

  10. never got to meet you, clay,
    never got to meet you, clay, though i always meant to. every time i thought i might be a poet i read your stuff and knew better. best wishes for family and friends left behind, and travel well.

    as for the name, he talked about it once over on studio eight:

    What’s In A Name?

    Post by Lightning Rod » Sat Aug 16, 2008 12:25 pm

    “I had a press agent who once told me that I was crazy to call myself Lighting Rod instead of using my real name Clayton Barry January.”

    “What more perfect name for a poet than Clayton Barry January? When you say it, it’s perfect iambic quatrameter, or in musical terms, a perfect 4/4 measure of dotted eighths and sixteenths.”

    “I’ve got nothing against my given name, I’ve always liked it really. But in my youth, I was visited with a vision. I’m not trying to get all Mormon on you here. But I had a vision, more like the American Indian naming ritual. It’s a ceremony where you take your identity, state who you are. From that time I have presented myself as Lightning Rod.”

    “If you want to call me Clay, I don’t mind. ‘Hey You’ will even work. But I mainly answer to Lrod. When I talk to myself, I address myself as Lightning Rod.”

    “…. it was something like a beam of light, but more precisely, a bolt of lightning. It was a yogic vision. I was standing on my head in my attic garrett shaped like a pyramid. There was a Texas thunderstorm. Lighting stuck and I felt it enter through my feet. It exited my head and I was unharmed. I was meditating, I was relaxed. I offered no resistance, the lightning went right though me, leaving only the realization that I was Lightning Rod. It was a pretty profound experience, so I had to change my name.”

  11. Regarding his name, I suppose
    Regarding his name, I suppose it’s possible that I was wrong to disbelieve him when he said he was born “Clay January”. I suspected it was a made-up name partly because Clay had a fanciful imagination (though I never knew him to speak an untruth) but mainly because I think it’s such an unusual and awesome name that I can’t picture anybody lucky enough to be born with it. I can barely think of a better name to enter the world with than “Clay January” — clay, from the earth, January from Janus, it’s just popping with connotations. If I had been born with a name like that, I would never have chosen to cover it with a name like “Lightning Rod”, which seems to me much more conventional.

    But, I did just google “surname january” and discovered that it is indeed a naturally-occuring name of Anglo-Saxon heritage. So, I suppose it could have been his real name. I’m jealous as hell of this name.

  12. Levi,
    It definitely was his real name. Clayton Barry January. It not only “could have been his real name” but it really was and I assure you there’s nothing to “suppose” about it. It’s on his birth certificate which I saw with my own two eyes. *smile* I never questioned it, though. Lrod always told the truth. I always liked the name Lightning Rod as well as his given name. I like the name he was born with for the same reasons you do. He was very strong man to hold out so that he could live through the entire month of January. Somehow I find some significance in that. It was early in January when they didn’t expect him to survive through the night but he survived almost 4 more weeks. He always was a strong, feisty and determined man. Mr. January made it through January! His sister said, “He hung on to life longer than anyone thought possible, but then he never was one to follow the rules. He was a man of great talent and incredible insight, but more than that, he was a really sweet guy.” He really was very special. He greatly impacted the lives of many.

    Thank you so much for reposting his post from Studio8. I think he titled it “How Lightning Rod got His Name” but I may be mistaken. Clay and I were so honored to record your excellent poem titled “This is the Problem of Heaven.” Thank you for allowing us to do so! It was a special piece to Clay. (And it is to me, too).

    Here’s a link to Mnaz’ piece which Clay and I recorded. Words by poet Mark Nazarenus, vocals by Doreen Peri and Lightning Rod, music by Lightning Rod.



    I’ve created a memorial forum for him at Studio8. Clay’s in-person Memorial Celebration will be held this coming weekend on Sunday, February 24, 2013, in Dallas. He didn’t want a funeral. He hated funerals and thought they were barbaric. He wanted a celebration and as per his wishes, he will have one. I’ll be there to join family and friends as well as musicians who will play live music to pay tribute to Clay.

    RIP Clay Lightning Rod January

  13. PS – Don January, a famous
    PS – Don January, a famous golfer, was his uncle. Clay grew up hanging out with his uncle, playing golf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_January

    Also, some more bio info:
    Both his father and his mother were in show business on TV. His father did a cowboy show for kids sort of like Captain Kangaroo only acting as a cowboy character. His mother had her own exercise show on TV. As a child, he spent a lot of time at the TV stations. Show business was in his blood.

  14. That’s very interesting about
    That’s very interesting about Don January and his parents, Doreen. What a fascinating life he must have lived. I occasionally used to ask him questions about his past (as is obvious on Litkicks, I am often fascinated by authentic 1960s hippies) but he only wanted to talk about recent years. I can understand that impulse.

    Anyway, Doreen, okay, as a result of these information updates, I now officially withdraw my suspicion that Clay January was a made-up name. I stand convinced! And I agree that I never knew Clay to tell a lie, though he was quite a talker.

  15. Levi,
    Interesting, because an extensive amount of his poetry and his large collection of lengthy essays have been autobiographical and include quite a bit of information about his teen years and twenties, during the hippie era, the 60s. He’s written in great detail about his experiences experimenting with various hallucinogens and other substances during that era, living in several hippie communes, building and living in a geodesic dome, run-ins with the law, meeting many famous musicians including Stevie Ray Vaughan among others (he used to play music with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s brother), as well as people like Alan Watts and Frank Zappa, both of whom he met and had conversations with. A huge amount of what he posted on Litkicks was about his history and (from my experience) he’d always jump at the opportunity to talk about those years. But, as the admin of the site, I’m sure you couldn’t read everything that was posted. After all, there was a HUGE amount of material posted by many people. Plus, you only met him a couple of times and those weren’t really social times, per se, since we were gathering together to perform in shows, so he didn’t have much time to talk about his life. I’m sorry you missed all the stories but they’re available. He posted them all over the place online plus there are life stories in his books. Yeah, I agree that his family history is very cool! I wish I had more info at my fingertips and in my head.

    I’m finding myself wanting to log-on to chat or send him an email to ask him some questions so I can share the information. Then I realize, I can’t. And that’s when I start crying again.

    Thank you again for this tribute page.

  16. LRod played Captain
    LRod played Captain Beefhearts harmonica…..and
    Don January was a Masters Champion, me and my dad followed
    Him around pebble beach back in the 60’s, he was the coolest….

  17. I know nothing about Clay
    I know nothing about Clay January except what I read on-line from his alter ego Lightning Rod. L-Rod is definitely a voice, talent, & songwriter, who’ll be missed. I first met him on-line on the Litkicks boards back in 2004.

    I got re-acquainted with L-Rod back in “Studio Eight” & “Algonquin’s Table”. He always had an opinion & had much general knowledge about many subjects. I only recently heard his sound recordings–within the last three years. Many were done with friends like Doreen Peri. In my opinion, L-Rod was a world class musician & songwriter.

  18. Clay January that we knew
    Clay January that we knew married to Linda , father of Sativa Sunnyday January lived in Denton Texas in the late 60’s early 70’s. Was involved with the original “Red Head Shop ” on Fry street. The structure still exists as the zebra head shop, ( last time I was in town). Jewelry maker, musician, and non graduate of Bryan Adams High School in east Dallas, expelled for allegedly beating a teacher, who no doubt provoked Clay knowing the peaceable soul that he was. We lived next door in the sweetest trailer park south of Denton. Far Out Man….. RIP Clay, much love, take good care…..

  19. I knew Clay well when he used
    I knew Clay well when he used to play with the best band no one ever heard of, Captain Z Electric. In those days he called himself Lightning Rod Flash. Other members of the band were Wand Wunderlich doing vocals, Simon Sands (Virgil Eugene Sanders) on guitar, and Hank Tolliver on bass, along with an assortment of other musicians. That would be around 1975. They were one of those magical combinations that absolutely should have been world famous, but were stuck playing the last of the coffee house circuit. They were absolutely brilliant.

  20. Yeah, I knew Clay too. He
    Yeah, I knew Clay too. He probably delivered the heroin to my brother that killed him. Not that that was Clay’s fault–they were just two junkies getting high some 20 years ago. The poetry was okay as was the music. But I am so fucking over this artiste bullshit.

    Sorry for your loss Sativa and Random and Doreen (even though I don’t know any of you.

  21. Doreen, It was with great
    Doreen, It was with great sadness I discovered today the loss of my old friend Clay.
    We were best friends from the mid-60’s to the early 70’s. From his time working part time at a ice cream store on Knox St. to his marriage to Linda we shared (created) a lot of adventures.
    I still remember the house we rented in Denton our freshman year at NTSU.It was at 1407 West Oak and rented for $50.00 a month,($25. each) bills paid ,furnished.
    The landlords 50+ yr. old daughter was sweet on Clay and had sent him love letters.
    If you ever find yourself curious abot those years feel free to contact me
    -Bob Mullen
    w 972 387 5788

  22. I worked with Clay for 30+
    I worked with Clay for 30+ years. I actually called him pop. I still have a trove of memorabilia. We had quite a time. Too many stories to tell. He lived under my roof before he met Doreen. He was one of those guys that was truly ahead of his time. He was my good friend and I still hold him close.

  23. Hung out with Clay summer of ’67 at the “big house” in denton. Shared lots of weed and hash with him and Linda and other residents. Sweet, smart, creative guy. He once made a gold and opal ring for me that was stunning, ended up hocking it to eat. Will never forget him and those times.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!