(or drop a check to: PO Box 142711, Anchorage, Alaska 99514-2711 for $15.95 and we'll mail it!)
January 29, 2017 - Juneau, Alaska. It's been over a year since I have written here. The lost days of 2016... I travelled, I wrote music, I wrote poems, I performed, I worked in justice, I helped on campaigns, I ran for State Senate in Alaska and I won... a busy year. It is a new age, right? So focusing on my activities would seem to fit... But it doesn't. I want to enjoy these moments, but I can't. With a sickening horror over the last twelve months I've watched the worst of 'Merica come out. 'Merica - I saw it stenciled in the back window of a pickup with a "Trump that Bitch" bumper sticker stuck right by it. I guess it's easier to contract, create new words, fake it. It's the new norm. It would be funny, if it wasn't.
I reread that entry from 2015 tonight - written after a long night of driving, as I headed west to pick up my Mother in Carson City and drive her to Alaska where Sarah and I had a wedding party. We'd invited our friends, played music, drank wine, enjoyed time and I left behind that entry. I intended to write here, I intended to act, but I did neither. Like so many of us, I watched a slow train wreck cruise through the American political landscape, wobbling, de railing, appearing to right itself only to derail again, and again. The full impact dawned on me when I drove from Lakeland, Florida to Austin, Texas in late October. My Father-in-law would take his Clinton sign in at night for fear of it being stolen or damaged. I didn't see another sign of Clinton until just outside of Austin. But I saw a lot of Trump - including hundreds of signs and a two mile line for a rally in Tallahassee. I was heading to a reunion of friends in Washington State and, by the time I got there it looked like it might all be over. Compounded error, an angry and misled public, confusion - it all added up to 50,000 people in three states making a choice they'd not made before. We'd done our part: Not fighting back hard enough against a group of Senate charlatans who were more interested in screwing the country for their hollow ideology than they were in serving their country. Denying a Supreme Court appointment for 11 months? Thwarting every effort at stimulus because they claimed to oppose a deficit? The shear level of disingenuous dialogue will be swept away by short memories and new levels of outrage spit at us at ever-increasing rates of speed. Designed to wear us down and wear us out. Us. Those who still care for a constitution and a country. What really does make a patriot?
Yes, I reread that entry tonight, from last year, and now that warning from the past, a warning I ignored myself, has come to pass.
We are on the brink of a crisis, much greater than any we might have foreseen. Federal Courts have said this new Presidential Order that would single out Muslims, hold them against their will - even when they are carrying Green Cards, or Visas, or even holding citizenship - must be stayed. But Homeland Security and the Border Patrol ignore the courts. What are the historic outcomes of this behavior? Trail of Tears. Civil War. Internment camps. Alien and Sedition acts. The muzzling of the Press. We have survived these things in the past, and we have rebounded, but sometimes at enormous cost. Will we this time?
I had promised Matt in Austin that I would begin to write my thoughts when they had crystallized. They are beginning to do so. There really will be more to come because this is not over yet. Far from it.
December 7, 2015 - Elko, Nevada. Pearl Harbor Day, but its overshadowed by a different frame... Looming terrorism, threats that seek to undermine the Constitution, climate change, unrelenting argument, disagreement, discouragement.... It is what all of these things have in common. How is it possible that a leading Presidential contender in America could say Muslims should be banned and claim to love a country that respects religious freedom? Donald Trump is a sick man. Interviews on the street from NPR have those they talked to agreeing that this was the only way to be safe... So will Trump call for the banning of bearded white rural males the next time one shoots up an abortion clinic? Will he demand that young white males be outlawed "until we are able to determine and understand this problem..." when one takes it into his head to destroy another grade school classroom? I thought not.
So, the shooters in San Bernardino had legally purchased assault weapons and they apparently used them regularly at a shooting range or ranges in the L.A. area. When a bunch of Saudi's flew into the World Trade Center, we found out that the pilots had been trained at a Florida flight school (and I think one in Arizona). After that we began monitoring those who went to flight school to keep abreast of the potential threat. Do you think we will track those who use shooting ranges? Right. Or Republicans in Congress scream about protecting the homeland, but when it is suggested that those on the "No Fly List" be denied firearms, the call it a "distraction". The distraction here is that it appears that these people actually don't give a damn about the "threat" or the solution to it. That would be too much work. Instead they call the President a "pussy", rattle sabers and claim that they would kick some Moslem ass. But it is really just about the bullshit of power, and creating whatever mileage they can out of fear to retain and secure power.
It's sickening. But instead of calling it what it is, we argue with them about the nuances of these points - as though this was a legitimate set of arguments that could be reasoned. Reasoning between two people takes, well, two people willing to reason. Otherwise? It is just a waste of time. The ending to this story is not going to be pretty, I suspect.
Here is a better idea: do what Highland Park did. Determine how you want to be governed at the local level. At least seven Supreme Court Justices agree that local governments have that authority.
I really should listen to the radio less on these cross country trips....
December 5, 2015 - St. Peter, Minnesota. Heading to my evening gig in Windom at Mari's River City Eatery. Its always a great time and often either the first or last stop on a tour. Here in St. Peter I've stopped at the River Rock Cafe, as I often do. The town is hopping. There is a steady enthusiasm and bustling in the air, college (Gustavus Adolphus is here) is nearing finals, Holidays coming - you can sense an enthusiasm. I've spent so much of the last few days watching clips about San Bernardino, Russia and Turkey, Syria, and the frightening thugish idiocy of Trump, that this all seems surreal to me. I wonder how all of this will appear in ten years... twenty.... I am in a window seat here, but will people still choose window seats at restaurants? How will we look at strangers and those who do not look like we might? Will we look back at these days and the days preceding San Bernardino as some kind of "better time"?
Where the world is going - where we are going - worries me. I often comment on the political system here when saying these things, but I think it speaks for itself - so I can reserve my thoughts this time.... Except to say that I worry for an America where the leading contender of the other party says the President is tantamount to a traitor. Where the answer of a Pastor to the San Bernardin shooting is "arm them all!". Where hatred drips like tinsel in the season of joy. Where neighbor looks at neighbor, not knowing what they see, where our children are taught to trust no one.
But here, in St. Peter, at least for today there is laughter in the air, greetings, hugs, and smiles. At least here, now, there is Peace on Earth.
November 30, 2015 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Just finished playing at the open mic at the World Cafe (photos to follow) after another lovely night at Andrea Clearfield's Salon. The Salon is a magical experience that I wish all of you could experience. Andrea has been doing it for 29 years, and each of the six times I have performed there has been a pleasure. I build my tours around this two song experience and for those who have been here, it is easy to understand why. I read a poem, and Sarah and I performed two songs. The first was a new one "Paris 2015". While the Salon audience was the first to see it performed, I premiered it on WMNF in Tampa on Jeannie Holton's Acoustic Peace Club. You can hear the whole show here this week, but this is the new song "Paris 2015" (warning: slight errors - hey! It's a new song!). Thanks to Jeannie, Ian, and Noah for making this possible. More on Paris in the next entry, but before then a final shout out to John Hayes for his great photography at the Salon and the World Cafe. This guy knows what he is doing.
November 15, 2015 - Austin, Texas. Finished great shows in Oklahoma City and Seattle - House concerts hosted by friends who care about their communities. Margaret and Dan in Seattle on the 8th - champions of justice in the battle for the lives of youth; Mike and Carol in Oklahoma City - heroes of neighborhoods seeking to create a better city from a near-past that nearly destroyed that town. Radio with Phil Andrus and Eva on KTPZ in Port Townsend was also a kick. Two interviews, great stories, fun music... I'll be back in Port Townsend in late October for a couple of shows for sure and now with new friends! Thanks to you all (and don't forget to donate to KTPZ!) The cross-country trek continues: Austin tonight, New Orleans the coming week, then Florida, Philadelphia, DC, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota and then a drive back home to Alaska (Mom's joining me for that!)
Few took me up on the challenge at the end of my last entry - how do we deal with this ever-changing world - one where the patterns are beginning to show? I wish I had a less clunky way to communicate these things (other than one that wasn't limited to 140 characters like Twitter). Sometimes at a dinner (like tonight with friends Paul Schomer, his sister Amy and her husband Keith) I unload these thoughts and the dialogue (perhaps bordering a bit on a rant), crystalizes into a vision. Now, in the shadow of Paris, voices already muted fade into sad cries of anguish. Where will our next pain come from? What war is being fought here? What drives this deep-seated hate?
The commentators say it is Islam, religion, and the perpetrators echo that call, but there is no God that would see these acts of slaughter as some kind of ticket to heaven. That is a lie masking something else. But what is that something else? Why would young people - youth of a certain age and ethnicity or religion - choose to shoot and kill the innocent, maim humanity, take their own lives? Who so doubts the value of life that they destroy it randomly? There appears to be no moment of doubt. The path is chosen, the trigger pulled, the result certain. And yet there it is - on our screens. The consequences already unfolding: no more refugees; borders closed; ground troops from France in two weeks... If it is so predictable, why can't it be dealt with? What are the roots of the problem? Does anyone meaningfully ask? Or will we forever politically posture...
The pursuit of wealth, of power, of fulfillment of desire, rips off the masque of humanity from the leaders of this death cult leaving bare this visage of... nothing. No moral belief in humanity, certainly no real claim to spirituality. Instead it is a nihilistic view of the world, of life (though even saying that gives it much more meaning than is deserved). They prey on those who have nothing and no prospect of a future, victims at every turn of a world that rips them off, demands bribes, assaults them, hordes the wealth they produce, leaving them a prognosis of a slow death from starvation.
With no hope for themselves or their children, they cease to value life. And then there is a promise: "You give up your life; you go after those who have done this to you, and those you love will benefit. We will take care of them. You will wreak your vengeance in the name of God and in your death your family will thrive". And the author's of this? They believe in nothing. They twist the moral certitude found in these desperate survivors that the life of their own child or family is more important than their own, and they offer them a way to provide for that family within the context of the last thing they hold dear - their God. These incipient "authors" are nothing more than abusers, cruelly manipulating those of moral character to an end that twists their belief and that only serves the "authors". What do those "authors" get out of it? Power, sex, thrills, wealth... Whatever they want. All in the name of a false piety.
How to dissuade someone from taking a path that has been so effortlessly presented to them? A path that so pushes back against the Sisyphean weight of their existence? The only answer is one our political systems will never provide them. The must have hope of a future for them and their families; a vision of a future that matters. And this cannot be a false hope. It must be real.
I wrote a line in a song once ("The Wave") "Where are all our moralists and all our leading hearts...? While the unnoticed keep on dying, they're building walls and shopping marts..." And that's the rub. If you want to have people value the lives of others, you have to provide them an opportunity to value their own path in life. The one who does the best job of offering a realistic future wins. For example, how could someone in the Assad regime ever hope to succeed?
Tired of the corruption of the state robbing their future, at first people protest peaceably. When Assad strikes back they believe they can take their future in their hands and the revolution turns violent. To Assad power is more important than the lives of his "citizens" so he levels their neighborhoods. Without homes or livelihoods the last vestiges of hope disappear just as they watch the state disappear. Westerners wring their hands and say "if only they had left the strong man alone...". But they did not. We encouraged them in fact waving the hopeful flag of democracy only to snatch it back when things went South. Because that's how we always seem to do it... It helps us sustain our apparent beacon of possibility and hope. A beacon that now appears to be nothing but a mirage.
The irony of Paris is that it will lead to the end of the refugees flowing into Europe and that won't punish those who have given up hope - those who killed those innocent people - it will punish those who still have hope and have chosen a path, a desperate but real path, toward realizing it. And then, after we take that from them, where exactly will those two million people go? What exactly will they do? Who exactly will they turn to?
Tonight Paris mourns and I mourn with her. But what can I do, or you? You see it's not up to us. The resolution of this rests with those who have the power to create a hope for the future for those who have lost hope. That means that those who can will have to give up some of their power, their wealth, and practice their humanity. So the question then is really this: do our leaders believe in humanity? And the answer to that question is the only one that matters.
October 23, 2015 - Anchorage, Alaska. What a trip it has been these last few months. No great ruminations as I sat back in disbelief and watched the rapid dissolve of American politics, drifted in to poetry and began to write music again. A summer in Alaska was most welcome. Hanging out with Sarah at the House. Dinners and sunshine - all combined for creative time. Read too many novels, but found again my joy in writing prose. More to come on that I hope, more to come... Played a small house show earlier this month in Paciano, Italy for a great group of folks - guests from Alaska, Austin, Carson City and right there in town. Old friend Vonn Marsch joined in with Banjo. Local chef Tonino played a mean mouth harp, and Sarah backed up on vocals and sang too! All in all a great time with new friends Leslie, Jody, Bob, Ruth, Tonino and Alan. Sarah and I decided to make it official to boot!
It has been a great time of reflection on who we are and how we live. I haven't taken the time to write here as I have been troubled by the veneer of freedom that we seem to all operate under. Today, reading a copy of History Today, I saw this quote:
“With an increasing awareness of slave discontent, slaveholders targeted what they perceived as contributing to that restlessness: instruction of reading and writing. Suspicious of slave gatherings and paranoid that literacy could 'spoil’ a slave, they recognized that learned slaves who freed themselves from the shackles of slaveholder-imposed ignorance would be unsuited to a life of perpetual servitude.”
Indeed. It is that last bit: "learned slaves who freed themselves from the shackles of slaveholder-imposed ignorance would be unsuited to a life of perpetual servitude” that has me thinking... It is crystalizing a thought that has been nagging at me for some time, and beginning to influence more and more of my music. We dumb down education, we dumb down news, we dumb down our people, until the slow ossification of the bonds of servitude are not even noticed anymore... When you are overseas, everyone debates and gets what is happening around them it seems. Yet they look in bleary-eyed mystification at us: how can Trump and Carson be at the top of polls? How can the constant and escalating "shout" of our politics be the marker of the great democratic experiment? Where other nations build fair processes, we retard them. How can we claim a fair process when just 158 families dominate American political giving? When on one hand California expands voting rights, while Alabama forces Driver's License requirements to register, then closes DMVs in the counties with the greatest propensity to vote Democratic outside of the cities? More and more likely the rules are rigged here, but other great democracies endure change, grow with it and from it. Not us, it seems.
So where does this leave us? For me, its turned me, oddly, to music and writing and away from political activism. If the system is rigged, you have to learn to move outside of the system. I choose this path. Living a good life, living and sharing that life with good friends, reveling in our human gift and modeling it for others. This seems to me, here at least, to be the path that might work best... What do you think? Tell me, what do you think?
April 19, 2015 - Juneau, Alaska. It has been quite a few months since I wrote here. Life seems a whirlwind! I had a successful Fall tour - great reception for Traveling Through, the new CD, and some great adventures since then. I am gearing up for the Spring tour now - Starting in Reno on the 25th as part of Todd South's showcase series at the Wildflower Village, then Aspen, Colorado at the Salon at Justice Snow's (many thanks to Andrea Clearfield's unflagging support for that!) After Colorado, its back to Boise, Idaho for a Cinco de Mayo (May 5) House Concert then hard cross country to St. Paul, Minnesota for another (here for reservations and information for both) on the 8th! I finish this leg of the tour in my favorite restaurant in Windom, Minnesota, River City Eatery on the 9th. After a quick trip home I'm back on the ground and heading to Kerrville for a long weekend before returning back to Alaska. Whew!
But where have the days gone? There has been a flurry of writing, much reading, but, as in so many other years, I am in Juneau mostly these past few months working on the things that matter to me in Alaska. Far too often I have watched as the future of my home state, Alaska, is put on the line in a political process that has, at times, been demoralizing. But, as in past years, I am again optimistic that when they finally gavel out this session, they won't have undermined the very foundation of public education, denuded public broadcasting or devastated our basic services to Alaskans who face an uncertain future.
There are many people of good conscience in this body that are momentarily distracted by the politics of winning rather than service to the public. But, time and time again, I have been surprised at the resilience underneath it all and how even those who have been bombarded with superficial sloganeering rise up and vote the good vote, cast the right ballot, make the tough decisions that pit them against the loud, but on the side of the good. So I sit here and wait on this last day to see what they do next. Let us all wish them well.
October 16, 2014 - Anchorage, Alaska. It has been 42 years from this day that my Father's plane disappeared - it is an anniversary that we remember, but without celebration. An irony perhaps that seven months has passed and the last entry was also about a passing, a connected passing, that of Gene Kennedy, my Father's best friend. But that was the past and remembrance is a funny thing. Time distorts memory, memory fades and the present consumes us. Now in the midst of my Brother's fight for his political life, I'm caught in a kind of stasis - suspended imagination - as I watch the crumbling walls of democracy and find I have little will to imagine it different. Perhaps it is the night - quiet with the edge of winter cutting in - that sets me this melancholy tone. Or perhaps it is just this battle between memory and moment that leaves me torn in reflection. I'm not sure.
But, really, I should be elated. Earlier this year Tim Mason and I finished and released our live Bone Collector's CD - the crazy mixing of poetry and music that we do to create "soems" or "pongs". Seven songs that I'll post in the music and poetry section soon... We first released the new CD at the Old Songs Festival in Albany, New York in June and then had a bit of a formal release here in Alaska in September. It was well-received and sold a bit. One of the trifecta of projects I wanted to get done these past few years. "Six Truths" was another of those three.
But now for the third of those. I am but two weeks away from releasing "Traveling Through", the final title of the long awaited fifth CD (if by anyone, it was long-awaited by me!) I ought to be celebrating, but I'm drawn down by these other thoughts and this presence of loss. I suspect it will pass soon enough. Already I sense a bit of the momentum changing. Yesterday I commuted to LA for a visit to Bernie Grundman with Dennis Lind (the co-Producer on this project) for our mastering session. Bernie is the guy who mastered the best-selling album of all time ("Thriller") and whose shop just mastered the new U2 project (the bane of many an I phone 6 user). Charming? Yes. Talented? Absolutely. And the project? Better than I could have imagined. It has been a labor of love this work, but, with Catherine Curtis' superb artwork complete, it is now just up to shipping and handling to get me to the November 1 CD release at Side Street Espresso here in Anchorage.
And yet, I still have this feeling. Perhaps more than I should really write here. But, for now, it is enough. We burn so ever briefly on this globe in this vast unknown we call home.
March 17, 2014 - Anchorage, Alaska. St. Patrick's Day, remembering Guinness Beer and Gene Kennedy, my Father's Best Friend. St. Paddy's Day was always Gene's favorite holiday (or so I like to think) - a celebration that started early and went late. I had the good fortune to spend a few of those days with him (he lived on the East Coast for the most part of his later years so it wasn't always easy), but I have always remembered one in particular. It was when I first learned the profound power of the fabled Irish drink.
In 1984 my Mother was running for the U. S. House. As with most Democratic campaigns aimed at Don Young, we were in an uphill, perhaps Quixotic struggle, but we decided to fight the good fight. In the end we held Young to 55%, but it was a loss. Gene came up to Alaska to run the show - and we had our first real meeting as a campaign at Clinkerdagger, Bickerstaff and Petts, now no longer in Anchorage. I watched in amazement as the night wore on and Gene downed Guinness after Guinness without seeming to lose one bit of his acuity. Now it should be noted that I had, at first, attempted to keep pace with him so my perception might have been slightly off. Still it was a feat to remember - now a topic of campaign lore for those few of us who were there and remember.
When Gene was young, perhaps 18 or 19, he began keeping a daily journal. Really, daily. He rarely missed a date though now only six of those years remain (each journal was devoted to a year - no more, no less), but they tell a story of a man seeking purpose, changing in time as he realized the role he was bound to play in the world. See Gene had started life as a Republican, but the injustice he witnessed as the years passed, the intolerance in others, war, abortion, equal rights - all of these issues mattered to him and, in the end, he determined that there was increasingly a difference between the two parties on these issues. And, though fuzzy around the edges where the two parties overlapped, he became an ardent Democrat by 1960 when he first met my Father and Mother.
I've written about those days before - in a biography of my Father - but I have never really mentioned his story. Gene was an Educator and Administrator in those times (in both Alaska and Massachusetts) and an inveterate letter writer - keeping up a volume of correspondence that was intimidating to review (as I did when I sorted his mail for him before his death - that is sorted the letters written TO him, a number surely smaller than the missives he had sent out). But the thread through his correspondence always seemed to emphasize the same things - his passion for making the system better, his belief that others could do better, his focus on helping in the personal tragedies and celebrating the successes of friends, and his desire to keep this odd fellowship he had amassed over the years together. Nothing seemed to make him happier than when he added a new person to the fold, or found a way to connect old friends of his that had never met. This ability to build a network was not lost on me, and is likely why I maintain such a disparate group of correspondents and friends myself.
His Birthday fell on the same day of Kennedy's assassination - a day he could never forget and always honored. His Bay State namesake (though Gene was of the Protestant "Canady's", later turned to Kennedy), at the height of his promise, inspired him with possibility and purpose, and witnessing his life cut short added a fatalistic air to Gene's view of life and politics. My Father's death nearly a decade later - at the height of his popularity and personal strength - only added to Gene's sense of sadness and fatalism.
And yet it was his humor his friends remembered most when he died - his "Happy Warrior" nature and his inevitable belief that, in the end, right always triumphed. He left the road to us and our journey as he completed his in 2002. I catalogued his small library and gave books, as requested in his will, to his friends, keeping some for myself. I shared the journals that remained with his local friends (someone broke into the house in the three days after he died and before I arrived and took most of the journals - except for six that had fallen behind a bookshelf). But outside of the influence on all of us that I know he had, perhaps his lasting legacy was his bequest of his modest wealth to the Scholarship Fund he created in memory of my Father. Today that estate remains fully intact and has produced resources that have helped literally hundreds of Alaskans - providing over $300,000 in scholarships and Fellowships, creating a library and archive, and supporting worthy causes that impact education.
Every St. Patty's Day I buy an extra Guinness and I leave it on the bar for him. As often as not the bartender asks why, and I tell them some story about Gene. But most of all I talk about his core beliefs and how they inspired me and others around the country to do just a touch better, work a little harder, and find a greater purpose. So tonight Gene, lets hoist one together for all of those times and those yet to come.
December 1, 2013 - Austin, Texas. Last gig of this tour is tonight - it has been a whirlwind with a vacation over the Holiday with Sarah and her fabulous and fun family! Now in the musical Austin (as opposed to "Austintown" of the last entry). Thanks to J. Wagner and his partner Beth, a night of music ahead. Melissa Greener is opening the show, and it should be a nice mix of folks. The tour has gone well - Oklahoma City was amazing - Mike and Carol put on an incredible show and, after a short flight back to rural Alaska, I was back on the road to see Jan C. Snow and to play at her house in Lakewood, Ohio. What an amazing group of people - an enthusiastic crowd that helped set up the next two events - DC (at pollster friend Celinda Lake's home) and a return stint at the enchanting Salon of the lovely and talented Andrea Clearfield. I've nearly sold out my CDs and books, even after replenishing the total with Boston and Anchorage supplies! That is the kind of thing that makes it feel even better. We thrive on the sales of our "product", so a big "thank you!" to all of you who helped pay the gas bill... Now a week of recording with Dennis Lind Beery in Vermont before I head home....
November 12, 2013 - Austintown, Ohio. It is 11/12/13, kinda cool... in my nerd way I appreciate that. Finished NERFA with Tim Mason and pulled something of a "trifecta" - to whit: presented and performed in Kerhonkson, New York at NERFA, then drove to Somers, Connecticut to see Nenad Bach and the remarkable Kristen Graves, the Connecticut State Troubadour (Why don't we have a state troubadour?), where the host, Linda Abbott, asked me to play a song after the show and, from there I drove to Tom Bianchi's Birthday party at the Burren Pub. A long run-on sentence that emphasizes the nature of the "trifecta". Now, honestly, that's way too much driving and activity for one day, but, as I age I like to know I can still do certain things... like intense travel.
Initially when I headed into Binghamton last week I was looking for a bookstore that specialized in rare books, only to find out it was no longer there.... I found another specializing in paperbacks only to discover it was closing December 15 - both repeating a story I see all over America as one by one these old bookstores close. I stopped at another one (near Kingston, NY) on my way to my Groton gig where again I was greeted by the specter of another potential closing as the owner hinted at any interest I might have in buying his 175,000 volumes (that I could never afford....) The Groton gig? At Second Hand Prose was an interesting coda to that. A small lovely bookstore that was recently opened - crashing perhaps against the tide. Katharyn and Keith delightful hosts (and a nice friendly turn out - Thanks John and Jamie and Carol and Leo et al....) Lot of ellipses in this entry... It is the press of time making me write fast as I feel the need to get back on the road and make some progress tonight.
Our bookstores remain our heritage - the data storage format that we can retain after the electronics are so obsolete that whole works will be lost to innovation. As I have written before (May this year), two hundred years from now you will be able to pick up and read a book, but that floppy disc (do you recall those?) or that jump drive? Not so much....
November 8, 2013 - Binghamton, New York. Heading for NERFA and a Sunday gig there with Tim Mason as Bone Collectors - I am one of many musicians joining spoken word artists in our showcase Sunday at 11 am. Prior to that I'm in Groton, Mass. Saturday night at Second Hand Prose ($5 cover). Heading over to the Percolator Coffeehouse, a music series at Piedmont Hall in Somers, Connecticut to catch an acoustic set of my good friend Nenad Bach's there (he is called "the Lennon of Croatia" - I might even get to play something!) later that night (7 pm). After that, a trip through the Midwest to the House Concert in Oklahoma City on the 15th, a return to Alaska for a few days, then back on the road for House Concerts in the Cleveland area (11/22), DC (11/23) and the short Salon performance in Philadelphia (11/24). Following Thanksgiving it is a December 1st House Concert in Austin and then back into the studio for a week before returning to Alaska. A busy Winter schedule - much driving and music and poetry and visiting friends. Life is good that way....
I continue to watch the unfolding of the Edward Snowden papers with some fascination. I suppose this is our modern day equivalent of the Pentagon Papers. Those revelations about the Vietnam War helped bring an end to an Administration. Will Snowden? I think it is possible. What each new revelation - spying on 60 million Spaniards, spying on major search engines and hundreds of millions of Americans, spying on our allies, not just our enemies - has done is undermine any moral authority we had in the world. All of it has either been done under the nose of the President, with his full complicity or in front of him with little or no awareness. In either case it is appalling to know that the man who was elected in part to dismantle the Bush security state has done more to strengthen it than I could have ever imagined his predecessor doing.
Oddly, there are things that could have been done. Fire the NSA and other security personnel who lied to Congress would be a simple start. At the very least they have committed a crime. Theirs was far worse than Snowden's as we have only found out about it because of Snowden's revelations. This goes unreported but is worth noting - they would never have revealed the extent of their spying or lying to Congress and the American people without Snowden. That's why we protect the right to dissent. If this President meant his high oratory, believed the convictions he so eloquently voiced during his campaigns, he would be outraged. But he is... silent. He apologies for the screw up of the online rollout of the Affordable Care Act, but when it comes to this.... nothing. To be fair, he's apologized to the World Leaders - the allies whose cell phones we listened to, web surfing we tracked, but to Americans? Nothing but repeated denials of the extent of the activities, that are subsequently and repeatedly proven to be untrue. No apology. Mr. President, at least fire somebody.
I've been thinking about all of this for way too long so, before anyone else comes up with it, I wanted to put in writing my latest idea that could help resolve all this. It also offers a chance to pay down the debt (which is apparently more important than Americans' privacy). Here it is: I propose renaming the NSA the National Storage Agency. Fire the existing leadership and bring on board all the tech people hired to fix the Affordable Care Act website. Using all the NSA facilities and their expert staff of mathematicians they can become a Geek Squad and a Cloud Storage facility all in one. Computer crash? Contact the NSO - for a modest price they can restore all of your information even if you never contracted them to store it in the first place. Can't remember your last web search, or need to search for a phone record or two for tax purposes? For that same modest fee, just call your experts at the NSA. The beauty of this is that we have everyone's material stored so citizens of other nations can purchase our services as well. NSA a public relations problem? No more! Now it is the source of all recovery programs and the debt is paid down to boot. And, because we won't have to conceal our activities any longer, we can save even more expenses. Seems like a win win to me..... And for those of you who think I shouldn't make fun of this, that I am not taking it seriously enough, why should I? The President doesn't seem to....
October 15, 2013 - Billings, Montana. Passing through on my way to Port Townsend to hang out with some of my old high school friends. The trip has been an interesting passage from the mid west to the west while the government remains shut down and the debt limit looms. Quick stop here to check my bank balances, gigs and to drop this fast note.
Just a thought to consider here - what happens when we default? Or even better, what has already happened. I have said this before but will say again, this bickering undermines our place in the world. As the Chinese suggested over the weekend in one of their state papers, why should the world continue to keep faith in an American economy as the world's underlying economic guide? What they are saying is that we are at risk of no longer being the world's reserve currency - and impact of which will likely be higher borrowing rates for all Americans in the long run. More importantly it becomes a sure sign of our slipping stature.
Can a group of American legislators be so profoundly committed to a path that would truly realign our position in the world? It appears as though the answer, at least from the Republican Party Tea Part "Patriots", is "yes". Even more of a question would be "why?" There are some potentially interesting possible answers to that. They begin with Rep. Bachman's comments recently that this is all fitting into the apocalyptical plans of the End Times.... If true, "what a role I will have played!" is what I guess must be how she sees this. They are followed by the very words of Rush Limbaugh who claimed again today (as, I confess, I listened) that this is all about race and that Obama is using his race to get everything he wants. Or put more practically, there are people like Rush who can't seem to stand that a President of color might actually be able to push policies based on their merit. It might be about race, but not how Rush thinks of it.... And while I am in deep disagreement with this President on many things (especially NSA policy and the compulsion of security personnel to lie to Congress and America), I am more disturbed by this willful ignorance in dealing with our economy because certain Members of Congress either think it is biblical prophecy or they are simply bent on destroying an economy because of a President's race. Because, lets face it, if you say he only governs because of his race or he can't govern because of his race, its you who are making race the issue.
Enough for now. Looking forward to celebrating default eve with my buddies out West, in the other Washington!
September 4, 2013 - Washington DC. An old stomping ground of mine, often revisited. I'm a little tired tonight. Meshing lives - my long-time commitment to juvenile justice reform (through Reclaiming Futures today and tomorrow), colliding with the fading memory of the work in Vermont at the studio....
Last night I visited with my old friend Sarah Morgan for a great conversation about life and love and the difficulties of the things we navigate between our public and private lives - how much do we share out there with the public? How much do we hold to ourselves? I talked with her about the entry I had written earlier in the day and how I hadn't felt it complete. On one hand, after dropping off my girlfriend Sarah Sledge at the airport, I had become angry from the cacophony of sound and fury rolling over the airways as I drove to DC - the dialogue of war. On the other hand, I was still immersed in the beauty of the recording sessions - Dennis Lind Beery's deft hand, the patient joy of his lovely bride Amanda, the way they welcomed me and later Sarah, when she arrived to record, into their home. But I found my time limited and so chose to write about my anger and not the recording we had all done and the joyous evenings we had shared. I ended with a quick end note that there would be more to come. This is that "more".
Later in the night, while doing paperwork and preparing for today, I listened critically to the cuts from the music we made this past two weeks. I was taken by Sarah's haunting vocals on "Time" and my clumsy rendition of my Irish-like ballad "Calling of the Sea", I agonized over the placing of words in the wrong place in "Eddie's Song" (an older, longer version is still number 369 out of 3573 - still listened to on Neil Young's "Living With War" site!) and then listened quietly as I heard how Dennis had transformed some of my songs - discerning their essence, from the forced place I had so often played them.
I was struck, in the end, by the fact that I'd even completed this phase of the effort. I say that because it has not been easy getting here. I have been discouraged and daunted by the demands of other friends, life and the efforts I keep trying to hold together in all the many and varied aspects of my life (often written of here - though not always). But through the patience, counseling and guidance of Shannon Flattery and Tim Mason, and the encouragement of my editor Keith Liles, I finished "Six Truths". Through the generosity of Dennis Lind Beery and Amanda Beery I found my footing in the studio. And, underscoring it all, steady in her support, encouraging before I ever got to the studio, or saw a draft proof of that book, my girlfriend Sarah Sledge was there quietly reminding me that the faith she had in my ability to do these things was not unwarrented, but real - and based on something she saw in me that I had difficulty seeing clearly myself. As I told her two nights ago, I could not have gone this far in these efforts without her words and unwavering support. I'm still going down a road with this CD that still has a great distance to travel, so I can't give away all of the liner notes for the eventual disc, but I can see that this journey has an end, and I see my way to that end through the soft touch of her hand. For that is the nature of love.
I'm not very comfortable writing here about my personal life, and usually do so only as a reflection or a memory of those I've known, so I ask your indulgence in that. But know this: while I may not always acknowledge the debt I owe to so many of you, or the depth of those feelings I may feel, I am this way because I don't particularly feel as though I fit in a world of tweets and posts. I like to write letters, keep a journal, write on lined paper, collect old books and maps and smell the mustiness of time. Even this entry is odd, but inspired by yesterday's and a knowledge that many times acknowledging a thing matters more than I may realize.
This is a public document, not a private note, or a call. Even so, tonight, with these words, I'm thanking all of you right now, right here, before it is all a fond memory that I write about reflexively. And for Sarah - I thank you most of all for making so much of this possible with a simple belief and a real love for a man who may not always know how to best express those same feelings so publicly.
September 3, 2013 - Basking Ridge, New Jersey. My old Bard College friend Per Sundgren used to live near here (Per, if you are reading this, apologies for not calling - rushing to DC for meetings...). Per was part of the experience of Schuyler House - once a housing dorm of the College. A number of us chose to move off campus that year. We started at Schuyler and then four of us went further on to Rock City the following year. I learned about physics that year and began to shift back and forth in my loyalties to specific "Alaska" issues. That was the year I realized that being a caricature of an Alaskan wasn't going to cut it. The myth of the wild Northerner gave way to the reasoned speculation and inquiry of a person who was learning that the "East Coast" wasn't the enemy, it was just another part of America.
Since then I've been able to see so much of the country. Every state and so many roads and highways, small towns and rural hearts, urban landscapes and the grit of hard scrapple lives carved from the wildernesses we find in both rural and urban environments. It is a country full of contradictions and passions that are often stoked by those who seek to gain an advantage of others by using the hardships that have shaped so many to enflame them against each other. Complex thought, that, but I think true. We risk so much of who we are when we stop looking at those who live with us as just other aspects of America, and start to see them as an enemy that must be defeated at all costs. It hurts us, it diminishes us.
Now we debate another war with a new "other". What is the point of this? It is ill-conceived. I especially find it hard to be one of those who would cheer on this story, given how critical I was of the last one. An Administration official presents facts to the UN, a drum is beat loudly and we act. In this case perhaps there will be hesitation when Congress votes. Perhaps they will reject the President's call to arms? I don't know, but I do know that he is likely to ignore a "No" vote. So then what do we have? I guess we are best left to discuss that when we get to that bridge. Or, as I have often said, "that is a bridge we will burn when we get to it..."
And the recording? The sessions with Dennis Lind went very, very well. Still much to do, but 14 songs have been recorded with my vocal and guitar tracks and some additional work as well. I am excited and will post more soon. But now, back on the road.
August 23, 2013 - Bradford, Vermont. Immersed in the recording. Going to be a long day today, much to do. The project emerges as we play, stripped down we look for the right sound, but the atmosphere is relaxed and the studio peaceful. The chaos of the world around me fades slowly to a dull roar in the background, and I find myself slipping into the rhythm of this town. I greet people on the street, because I know them. I speculate on the Fall schedule (still looking for a few gigs in November - thanks Jeff!). Hoping to set out a schedule that will work for me. Many, many thanks to those who responded to the August 19th post. I'm not at that point today - that is, to look at our world as I have done lately. Nor am I reflective, no past stories to tell. But the mood is good and music is being created.
August 19, 2013 - Somewhere in New York. Listening to the BBC on my radio, through my I phone - what a world.... My CD player broke, but through a contraption my Brother Paul loaned me, I have been able to listen to BBC most of the time. Such a different take from our news. Warning in advance: this is a political entry....
I've been struck in the listening of both BBC and NPR about the utter black and white of the reporting on Egypt, a subject I do know a little about. I'm not sure how I fully feel about all I am seeing going on, but I do know this: the Egyptians as a whole are fed up with the Brotherhood and appear to be fully supportive of the response of the military - with the exception of the Brotherhood.
Most people over here will have missed the Grand Imam of Al Azhar's call to the Brotherhood to stand down. Al Azhar is the respected center of learning and the spiritual center of Sunni Islam. They and others on the ground know this history of flawed elections. They attempted to work with the Brotherhood leadership, but that leadership was committed to its limited vision of the state - to the exclusion of the at least three quarters of the population who did not initially select the former President, Morsi. Few people recall that Morsi only won 25% of the vote in the Presidential election - and triumphed in a close run off over a Mubarak regime candidate 51.8% to 48.2%. Far from a mandate - this was an invitation to work to build a grand coalition that could have set Egypt on a path of stability and possibility. Over 50% of the population had picked candidates that supported reform and the revolution rather than the former regime or Morsi's Brotherhood. Morsi chose instead to try and accrue all power to himself - even declaring this past December that his edicts could not be challenged. Few also either forget or did not know that it was Morsi who removed the last head of the military (Tantawi) and replaced him with his personal pick: al-Sisi, who is still the Defense Minister and the architect of both Morsi's removal and the crackdown.
These are nuanced facts that require some trust of the Egyptian people to sort out. John McCain's recent incoherent rantings and the profound utterances of a press that is only now trying to come up to speed on all that has happened are interesting to me in light of how little that same press seemed to care when tens of thousands of Iraqi's were being killed daily.... All the characters are there for this kind of drama - a military man in sunglasses, a wronged democratically elected President, bullets and marches... but this time it may not be what it seems. This time the Butler may not have done it....
At home here I am struck by the detention story of reporter Glenn Greenwald's partner. He was held for nine hours under the Terrorist Act in Britain - something so rarely done that the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have both felt obliged to comment on it as an error. It will undoubtedly lead to investigations in the U.K. and, though the U.S. has denied asking that it be done, I suspect that it will find its way back to us - and another "least untruthful" comment will likely be what we hear next.... I am saddened by how much we keep discovering about how much we are not told about how much we aren't supposed to know about or that our government can't comment on.... It is perhaps a bit ironic that we rail about how democracy looks in Egypt, when we don't even seem to remember what it looks like at home.
August 15, 2013 - Lloydminster, Alberta. Trip continues and has its moments. A bit of destiny just as I finished yesterday's note. A young man came into the restaurant where I was typing and asked if anyone was going toward Ft. Nelson. Found out he and his traveling companion (Barry and Matty) were two 19 year olds of Finnish descent (one Canadian the other from the old country) that had been hitchhiking to and from Alaska. Thy were actually heading to Dawson Creek (as was I) so I made room and, for the next 8 hours, we carried on a far ranging conversation about life and possibility. Astrophysics, travel, adventure, and the belief that we should live fully our destiny was the common thread that linked us. As fatigue slipped into our blood we grew quieter until, arriving in Dawson Creek, I set them in a parking lot and continued on my way - eventually sleeping by the side of the road myself.
Now I head for Saskatoon for the night. In a way bringing the RAV back here - the scene of that horrible "crime" last summer (car broke down and trapped me there for a week) I am, perhaps, hoping to purge the bad luck that has on occasion dogged me and this vehicle (I am now knocking on wood!) I have a room booked at the Senator and then it is off -likely to Fargo tomorrow and then Windom Saturday for music!
On a side note - always looking for a house concert or two and need to fill in some dates in mid-November in the Ohio/Indiana/Oklahoma/Missouri/Tennessee/Pennsylvania/DC/etc... region (Mid west/Northeast) before Thanksgiving. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas....
More soon. Expect bad times in Egypt tomorrow...
August 14, 2013 - Toad River, British Columbia. A brief entry after a long delay. In the intervening months hosted four House Concerts in Anchorage, did the "Official" book release at Side Street Espresso for Six Truths, and enjoyed one of the most beautiful Alaska summers on record.
The summer also saw unrest channeled into overthrow in an Egypt that is, today, descending into chaos. I will write more when I know more, but for now my access is limited by wi-fi and time - but it looks grim.
A short entry this, as I head to Dennis Lind Beery's studio in Vermont (Artist, musician, producer...) via my "usual" gig at River City in Windom to record the 5th CD (with an ever-changing title - still unsettled on that. Thought of "Fulton Street", "Geography of Love", now leaning to "Forgotten Streets"...). Should be there by Tuesday at the latest and then it's hunker down and record. Produced the scratch tracks with Kurt Riemann's help at Surreal Studios - a great place to record as well! He also featured me in "Goodbye", his and his wife M. J.'s latest creation - a beautiful, haunting piece.
That is all for now. More soon. Must get back on the road...
May 23, 2013 - Columbus, Ohio. Today a restful day in Columbus after an odd night in Cambridge, Ohio. I have been traveling much of the "National Road" on this section of the trip - US Highway 40 following the old Cumberland Road, called America's first National Road. It was the first major road built and maintained by the country - improved and paved in a way, "macadam" is what they called it, a bonded stone surface that we would think was a country road today. But all of that in the 1830s.
Public works were considered an integral part of America then - part of the debate between Whigs (one of the precursors of the Republicans) and the old Democratic Party. The D's in that day were champions of state sovereignty while the Whig's championed the role of government in fostering economic growth by supporting the new nation's infrastructure development - from canals, to highways, to sewer systems. All of these beliefs, so central to the battles of the 1830s and 1840s, eventually disintegrated in the new alignment built on the debates over slavery that eventually ripped both parties asunder. Southern Whigs, joined with Southern Democrats, Northern Whigs merged into various groups and birthed John C. Fremont's Republican Party. The names have stayed the same since the Civil War - Southern Democrats really the heirs of the state's rights philosophy that had been at the core of the old Democrats, the Republicans championing civil rights and a laissez-faire capitalism.
At the turn of the century (1900's) a new realignment began that was to split the Republicans along "Progressive" and "Capital" lines. In the end the post Civil War version of that party limped into our age only in the New England and Northeastern states where its survivors have increasingly become Democrats. The version that was less interested in a Progressive approach to the world realigned (post FDR) with those remnants of the old Democrats and, in a reversal, that strain of thought was relabeled Republican - a party as dominated now by old converted Southern Democrats as the old Democratic Party had been.
It is odd to follow this history, to watch this evolution of thought - when economic issues are ascendant, these define the alignments, when civil rights issues are invoked they define the movements and realignment. But it seems that it is the social issues that redefine the labels more readily than the economic ones ever have. Opposition to slavery was the issue that truly provided ascendancy to the Republicans - opening the door for a minority movement to gain power and assert power. Civil Rights, the Northern Democratic issue of the 1960's did the same Though it initially forced a realignment away from the Party in the South, it has brought a broader alliance to power - a power that only reapportionment has kept from being fully realized.
I think it fair to say that over time our long-term alignments in politics emerge from these civil rights alignments that pit an old order against a new paradigm. Time will tell what will emerge and how, but as I drive across this country I do see two America's. But the one emerging with a super majority? What will that be? That will be the one built by youth and minorities is in agreement on key civil liberties.
Two battles now - gay rights and immigration - will define this battle. Recently I heard Gay rights activists arguing against the recent Democratic decision to drop references to Gay Rights from the Immigration bill in the Senate. Arguing the unfair nature of this, these otherwise enlightened progressives miss the broader point: all of society can change together if there is alignment between these two views. The Gay rights language added would have led to the defeat of immigration reform and the potential voting impact of that in ten - twelve years. If reform passes, then the Gay Rights movement, if it took the position of support of reform at its short-term expense, could be seen as an ally - something truly important in the demographic battle of voters to come over the next two decades. Without an alliance between these two groups, both lose. Republicans know this. They will increasingly seek to find opportunities to pit both against each other, to define Democrats as cowardly to get D's to eat their own. Democrats should not be drawn into this struggle. There are better things to cut one's teeth on.
May 21, 2013 - Patterson, New Jersey. I am dogged each year - Spring and Fall - by NPR Membership Drives. It is a constant refrain as I drive across America.... I've meticulously timed these trips to coincide with guilt triggers. Every year has been the same. I once belonged to five different public radio stations - I still am with three (my two local stations and Sitka's) and occasionally send funds to others.... Driven by guilt, manifested by those begging us for cash so they can tell us perhaps the most honest version of the news. Begging for truth, it seems.
I spent one of those "After Hours" nights in New York with my friend Tara last night. Popping from the East Side, down to SoHo, up to the East Village, back to Midtown for a breakfast pizza and the end of a nine hour conversation about age and health, purpose and passion. The best kind of conversations that are punctuated by the characters that slip in and out of conversations - whether people or places. New York is timeless and even on a Monday night never sleeps.
Tara is in New York to care for her 92 year old Grandmother - an unheralded New York icon. For decades this New Yorker has collected signature of the tabloid famous... from Michael Jackson to Ewan MacGregor from Frank Sinatra to Snoop Dog (who recently gave her a shout out on Conan). Some people drop names - she has them, thousands of them. A patchwork that illustrates a city inexorably tied to the spotlight, and she always just outside of it - but known by them all. Its a beautiful story of timelessness and mortality teasing its way out.
New York City is filled with these stories, but it is now in my rear view mirror as I cheat Mayor Bloomberg out of $12 tolls by leaving town the long way round....
May 19, 2013 - Rutland, Vermont. A stop in Saratoga Springs has given way to the road again. I arrived at the lovely home of Amejo and Ed on Saturday morning - a great place of rest. Met up here with friend and collaborator Tim Mason and his lovely wife Shannon Flattery, without whom Six Truths would likely not have been completed. She oversaw all my efforts and nudged, pushed and inspired me to get it completed. I left Saginaw, stopped at Kaleidoscope, a most eclectic book store in Ann Arbor, where, much to my pleasure and regret, discovered some classics of old fantasy that I could not be without... Great conversation with Jeffrey Pickell, the proprietor, and then on the road again.
Form there it was off to Cleveland and dinner and a great conversation with humorist and author, and friend, Jan C. Snow. I met Jan C. in California at a show in Santa Margarita. She gave me her book, You May Already Be A Winner, and we have stayed in touch ever since - though not always consistently. We talked about art and poetry and music and planned to reconnect along the road as I head to Chicago next week.
I thought I had the timing for hotels and travel worked out, but ended up in the Rochester area after 1 am. For those who drive, that's a problem. Cheap rooms are gone and it really is hard to justify $150 for 6 hours of sleep... so I found a rest area and pulled out the blankets and pillows. What I now know is that is not as easy as it used to be.... Ah, the beauty of age and the wisdom it brings us.
Now heading to look at a studio for the Fulton Street project and then NYC tomorrow followed by....? I'm not really sure until Chicago on Friday.
Two reflections on this leg of the trip.... First, the huge Powerball fever that swept America this past week, as people vied against the odds to win the $600 million prize, even caught me. My Sister called and insisted I buy a quick pik 5 for $10. I did on condition she reimburse me if I lost. I did (lose that is, though someone in Maryland is $590 million less taxes richer today). Though, had I won, she'd have made $10 million (that was my easily given commitment). But that is just it: the lottery is nothing but a way, really, to fund government on the backs of those who are desperate to succeed.
I think about the myth of society we have created and that I have written about here before, We are told that we too can become Bill Gates, or Michael Jordon, or... whomever we fancy in the world of the rich and famous. But the odds are always against us. That is not to say that we shouldn't try - luck hits, and when the odds are more in your favor they hit more often. The stuff of "trailer park dreams" I once wrote, but it is the same dream for so many. We hit the prize. "You can't win if you don't play" and so many other things we see. In contrast is the other lie, that if we just work hard enough we too can get there. So which is it really? Work to chase elusive wealth until we die, or complacently give our collective money back to a fantasy of instant millions? It is hard for me to know which is the better path (though I suspect believing in raw chance serves better odds).
The only way to unstack this deck that is stacked against so many is to fight for it. What I mean by that is to work to level the playing field. If we are going to be asked to clean up the mess others have made, to pay for their errors, we should insist they should as well. Why is it that we elect those who would take away working wages and benefits as though somehow they were better stewards of our future than we are? I don't know that answer, but given how much is spent to convince us to worship wealth, I suspect that there are powerful forces working within us against that vision. I count on it, in fact.
The second thing? I think a life that is lived well generates good will. Maybe that is my lottery belief. I think I take an extra step for those I know are doing the same. I think most of us do. I think that is a life, a way of being worth fighting for. I look for those who work to improve our lives, those who do so with little regard for reward. Those are the folks who may already be a winner...
May 17, 2013 - Saginaw, Michigan. Slowing down a bit. Great visits with friends Matt and Louisa Frank. He wore me out from badminton to hiking to sampling local libations! Met a great group of writers and others. Of note, Matt Bell and Josh MacIvor-Andersen, Tim, Tim, Kathryn, Regina, Helen, Dan, and more! That and a rubber stamp for the press from Fred's Rubber Stamp, and I had a two day slam dance of an experience.... I'll be back there, I am sure.
The drive from Marquette was odd.... I left the shores of Superior and headed south into the air raid sirens of Munising, Michigan. Watched a Father and a Son argue and was moved by the moment.... it was a "Why not?" "Because I said 'no'" conversation - acted out countless places for countless centuries. A young man yearning to break out, to run, to leave behind the sleepy town he grew up in and the gas station fate promised for the first scent of adventure that this second Spring day brought on.... And so we travel in these cycles. Born, live, die. We leave behind fading memories and impressions and yet things still change and we still drive it. We are nothing more than the pieces of those before - whether in our DNA or in our received wisdom. It is the knowledge that has come down to us that is as much of our evolution as anything else. We seek relevance in moments of rebellion, experience the full meaning of life in a moment of ecstasy, or sadness, or loss, or love.... It is what makes us human, this yearning for... meaning.
I played tag with a Harley and noted, as I neared the LakeMichigan shore, vast dark clouds like smoke over the road, only to realize they were bugs - midges? mosquitoes? gnats? In waves they crashed down on us, darkening my windshield worse than a hard rain. By the thousands they flew at the screen, careened around semis and painted the hair of the bikers. They moved like living spirals whipping through the air like a single, living being in a Sci-Fi flick- inherited connection, learned behavior?
I settled into Saginaw earlier than I might have, but I felt a need to stop, to rest, to think. As I checked into my simple room I saw three guys out front. Smoking cigarettes, spitting and talking. "The autopsy didn't show anything..." one said. And from there talks of investigations and staying one step ahead of the law. "They thought I did it, but they couldn't prove it..." circling back to the autopsy time and again.... I was in a dream, a bad TV show, but no one said anything conclusive, just danced around the butts that eventually littered the ground... neither claiming responsibility or denying an act. Each of the guys probing without probing too far... A dance with a macabre beat until they flipped their last butt to the pavement, cigarettes exhausted, and slept.
This morning it all seems surreal as I fill my tank, look to the road and imagine what night will bring.
May 13, 2013 - St. Cloud, Minnesota. My I Phone told me that it was 70 degrees and sunny today. I have stood out in the rain looking for that sun, while shivering in my jacket.... When did we decide that an I Phone was a better source of weather information than... actually standing outside? A bit frustrated, I dove into a Caribou Coffee to catch up on mail and the blog while waiting for a car repair (always it seems there is a car repair). I ended up in one of those spontaneous conversations with a man and his daughter and another customer over America and where we are heading. We all begin with clichés and deeply held positions, though we differed in our fundamental beliefs. In the end we reached a consensus - not on our specific issues, but in how to talk about them. The quest really for me in these trips seems to be trying to discern a way that we can talk about our differences that doesn't lead to anger and antagonism. Dialogue in a way that builds synthesis not dissolves into antagonism. We did it here. Shaking hands in parting. I felt the seed of something - some solution ticking my brain, just out of reach. perhaps I will let this percolate for a bit. Looking for others thoughts on this - e mail me at email@example.com, or post some thoughts on Facebook.... Enough for now, the car repair is done!
May 12, 2013 - St. Peter, MN. Played at River City Eatery last night. As always, a great crowd - including old friends Shelly and Bri (first Cousin, once removed) who shared her new book with me. Outside of Side Street Espresso in Alaska, I don't often play at coffee shops/restaurants, but these folks are always the exception. Mari and Andy run a great place and they are two very warm people in a state that has made "being inviting" its motto. We finished, after drifting into long conversations and readings from the new book (Six Truths), at about 2 am. My room was courtesy of Bruce Boldt and Prairie Wind Folk Music and Bluegrass Association - a wonderful gift, and an organization well worth donating to - I do. Both Bruce and Ivan Harris, fellow Kerrville musicians, took the guitar in my breaks and played some of their own music - you just have to love a life of friends wherever you go. Windom feels like another of my hometowns every time I come there.... Breakfast this morning and now on the road again.
It is odd weather here. Everywhere I go they are talking about climate change. Its mid-May, but it feels like November. The wind is brisk, blowing out of the Northwest, people are bundled up. It fell into the thirties last night - it was actually warmer in Alaska. I have gotten into the habit of blaming myself for this. Whenever I leave the state I seem to bring bad weather with me, leaving Alaska to bathe in warmth and sunshine. Arghhh!
Here in St. Peter I am surrounded by a red brick world - the Minnesota of the 1880s. If you strain just right, and imagine that the cars aren't here and that the roads are dusty dirt rather than the asphalt we know so well, you can almost imagine the horses and carriages, see back into that past. A lot of Minnesota is like that and, more often then not, people talk here in terms of who they graduated with thirty or forty years ago and, when they talk about not being in their home town, they are talking about a journey of an hour or two at most. Minnesota grows its future in the seeds of its past.
The more I travel the back roads, the "blue highways" the more I realize how much it is still like this. Yes, its true, that a many if these small towns teeter on their last legs. Masonic lodges left empty. Storefronts shut down, populations aging. But there is something else, a vibrancy a possibility, a hint of a future on the horizon - rich in music, art and imagination. I watch it come forth like a flower in Spring. For though it is cold now, Spring will surely come.
May 11, 2013 - Madison. An entry before I head out to Windom, MN, where I play later tonight at the River City Eatery. Looking forward to seeing Mari, Bruce, Ivan and the others I've come to know there. Windom has become a bit of an oasis along the highway.
Today, here in Madison, the sun is out, but the wind is blowing and its cold - like a North Slope (Alaska) Summer. Brisk enough to make you wonder why you left your winter hat at home, only to remember it is, afterall, May....
I chose Madison for a break as a reminder of sorts. I remember first coming here to see the town after College 1982. I gave my friend Wendy Barron a ride here from Bard. She was moving to Madison and, as we drove into the town, I came up State Street and was taken aback by the life of the place. I came back a couple of times after that. I still remember finding a copy of "The Water of the Wonderous Isles", a William Morris book published here in the 1890's.... My thrill and fear of paying over $100 for a book, back before I'd really begun to collect in earnest. In many ways it sparked those journeys of mine from town to town seeking out old bookstores between gigs.
This time Madison seemed different. It had changed, I thought, before I realized that it was less Madison that had changed (though indeed it has). It was me. The excitement of the college scene was part of what drew me in the first time. The thrill of discovery of a book I had heard of but never found was the fascination of the next visit. But a College scene is a college scene. And I now saw that there were far more bars than bookstores and, walking through the town, felt a sense of distance, perhaps alienation.
There is an earlier memory, though of Wisconsin, not Madison. I was driving cross country in winter - back to Alaska from the East Coast. It might have been 1980. I stopped at a rest area and a guy there saw my plates. What do you do? he asked. I'm a writer I said, for that was how I saw myself at that moment. I wasn't a writer, really. I had written some, but it didn't seem real. I was imagining my life in that moment before I responded and I saw it flash before me in a way that I had not before. The memory stays with me - not because I created my own little fiction that day, though I think that is part of it, but because it marked a point when I decided who I was, knowing even then full well that this would be no easy task. Today I have friends who are writers - Keith Liles, Matt Frank, Charles Wohlforth, Jesse Browner, Tim Mason, my Brother Nick among others, but whether or not it is a song, or a sonnet, an essay or a blog, it is a body of work, it is writing. And so, here in Wisconsin again, I can say when asked, "I am a writer, a musician..." We define our lives. We define our selves.
May 9, 2013 - Asheville. Asheville is a music Mecca. Saw the Wallflowers two nights ago at the Orange Peel preceded by great local music. The town positively oozes it from its streets. I was here for some of my other work - Reclaiming Futures and working to improve outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system with substance use issues. I've been doing work in that field (juvenile delinquency) for the past twenty years. Its shaped me - informed my music and writing, and, hopefully, has helped our community. Sometimes its difficult to know what you have had a hand in, or whether or not it has been successful. But each of these meetings reinforces that it has made a difference, that it does make a difference. Just a short entry today from the airport, but let me add that in whatever we do - large or small - it is the making of that difference that matters. How one might raise a child, treat a partner, build a community - all of these things matter. So keep it up.
May 6, 2013 - Chicago. Visited with friends in Austin - Christie and Andy for brunch and then Wendy and Ike's wedding North of town. Many Kerrville friends were there and the festivities went late, though I did not... at least not there. I headed up the highway leaving at about 9 PM, making my way to Chicago. I spent the night in Ft. Worth in a dubious hotel (the rooms around me were, judging by the sound, rented by the hour), though the price was right. The next day I found myself paralleling Route 66 for a good part of the way - reverse direction to a trip my Mother made so many years ago.
My Mother is an amazing woman. Widowed at 36, she raised six of us in the shadow of some poor choices and unintended consequences. But she was ever the adventurer. From the time we were young we were conditioned for the road. Cross country trips every summer from Alaska - crammed into everything from a station wagon one year to a VW Bug another (try that with two adults, five kids and a pregnancy!) I've ridden the AlCan so many times that its become old hat for me now.... Under my own control I must have driven it now 45 times, but if I add in all of those trips... well let's just say that I have been on it more times than years I've been alive.... I tell people that my Mom has a house in Carson City, but lives in her Toyota. And really, she should get a free one for all the years and miles she has devoted to that brand!
That is where we all get it - our desire to travel, so none of us were surprised when she told us she and her sister (Audrey) were going to drive all of Route 66 - and when she said "all" she meant all.... That is to say, every noted nook and cranny, grassy trail, dead end and cow pasture that had once been that route were on hers. She set out one day from Chicago and many weeks later she reached the shores of the Pacific in Los Angeles. She documented the drive too - with a few Route 66 guidebooks, she relived that bit of history - her own Kerouac story, though there weren't cigarettes and hard drinking. It was sisters though - and, though in their Seventies, they did their bit of flirting along the way. She collected photographs and words from those who were still there and became a bit of an expert. So much so that, some few years later as I was heading down some of the same roads in the deserts of California, I called her for ideas of where to find a meal. Barstow she knew.
She was 16, or maybe 15, when she took her first journey on her own. She'd met a young man while waiting tables in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He was working on a construction project, up from Oklahoma. He invited her down for a holiday and, with a little cash borrowed from her Grandma, Pegge bought a bus ticket for Oklahoma. Her honeymoon 4 years later was a documented journey up the AlCan in the dead of winter, a journey we repeated in reverse in 1994 or 1995 when she finally left Alaska for good. Just this year my Brother Paul and I found an old Milepost from those days and got her a copy for Christmas. A reminder of the road.
I thought of my Mom a lot yesterday as I drove the reverse of her Route 66, a lifetime of adventure that understands that, in the end, what we live are the impressions we've made and those that have maybe gleaned something from us. I've learned from her that a life worth living is one that has worth, and love and compassion - alongside a little drinking and irreverence. A full life, one of meaning and purpose when there is often so little purpose to see. She's made sense of a world that is really quite random, serendipitous, ill-timed and unforgiving. And that is a gift that I am happy to have shared in. And she reads this blog, so Happy nearly Mother's Day Mom!
Mom at her 75th this past Month, with Blues Musician friend Fitz (Clon Von Fitz)
May 3, 2013 - Albuquerque. Slept in Gallup last night and found out when I tried to check in that I'd left my Driver's License on a copier in Las Vegas. That was something to figure out. But the good folks at Kinko's FedEx there have solved all my problems - forwarding it to Asheville where I will catch up to it next week and providing me a scanned copy to assist should I have an unwanted encounter with the law!
Despite adversity, it's shaping up to be a good road trip. Given that some of the proposed events were cancelled, the announcement of the book and the generosity of friends has prompted some more music and poetry possibilities along the road. I am always open to your suggestions of listening room series, house concerts or other possible venues - so don't hesitate to propose one or two. I have a habit of getting to places... And some new songs are emerging - could be a very good trip indeed.
Some good responses from yesterday's blog - one suggestion overheard on NPR (as reported by my friend Lauren Horn) is analog storage on a stainless steel disc. Interesting... And what of other subjects? Lunch with long-time Kerrville friend Clara Boling at Bailey's on the Beech - closing May 20 (Clara is a brilliant blogger - you can catch her rich wit and creativity at her blog here). But I am going to have get out and on the road if I am to make tomorrow's wedding....
May 2, 2013 - At a coffee shop in Las Vegas - taking advantage of the wi-fi to catch up on mail and rest from the road. Heading to Austin for a wedding and to prospect a bit for future gigs. From there its north to Chicago....
Reflecting on temporary things. Back last Fall I renewed my subscription for three years to the Wilson Quarterly (not going to link it). After taking my check, I received a note from them - they decided to give up their print edition and be strictly on-line. I was struck by that - not only do I like to read the Quarterly (liked) when eating or bathing (not a wise idea for the electronic edition), but I thought about the greater ramifications of what it means to switch everything to a digital format.
I collect old books. I love the feel - the texture of them. My oldest is not as old as some I've seen and held - maybe 250 years old, but here is something to think about: that 250 year old book, still readable, still containing the data it had in it when it was printed, will be readable by generations more to come. On the other hand I have a number of essays I wrote on my Brother portable (far from a lap top in the day and barely portable) from 1989/90 when I was in England. These are on Brother discs and can now only be read by a specialist (if I find one) or line by line on the old Brother computer (which I retained for that purpose). They will, in time, become nothing but the 0s and 1s that make up the binary data stored on those discs.
I have old floppy discs (from when they were really floppy) that would also have to be read by a specialist now. The data and the formats constantly change and, unlike the printed word, could well be lost to future generations. What does it matter? The musings of a random individual can't really be worth all that much anyway, can they? And yet, it is often these very caches of information - the writing on clay tablets, scratchings in papyrus in a desert cave, the writing behind writing on parchment reused by illustrators for eons - that shed light on our past. When we slip to our Kindalls and our on-line journals (said by a guy typing on-line), what are we risking? Perhaps we are risking our past as we slip into a temporary future, a living only in the present as data storage changes on a whim, and the thoughts of our collective humanity slip away? I don't know, but it is why I publish and write and why I'll still collect books and read the tactile truth of the human condition.
April 29, 2013 - A big day today - copies of my new book of poetry, Six Truths: fifty sonnets were shipped today. I'll begin selling them through the website any day now! I'm hoping you like it - lt's split into six sections: Love, Loss, Lust, War, Time, and Distance and illustrated by my great friend Fred Jenkins with a cover by KeseyPollock and an Introduction by poet K. P. Liles.
Its been an amazing quarter actually. I was featured on Alaska Political Insider in January and March, on the Anchorage Observer "In the Phonebooth" show also in March - a remarkable collaboration between Anchorage, Alaska and Manchester in the UK (two great cities!), played in Sitka at the Grind in January and in Anchorage through the Anchorage Music Co Op just this past weekend (I shared the stage with Singer/Songwriter Laura Oden who's new CD "Alchemy" was just released. Check it out here) Now preparing for my Spring tour and studio shopping expedition. I leave tomorrow late and am back in Alaska on the 19th of June - in the midst of all this I'll be visiting friends, reading poetry in Marquette with acclaimed poet and writer Matt Frank, playing at River City in Windom, MN and dropping by Kerrville for about two weeks.
Fellow "Kervert" Tim Mason and I have finished the first Bone Collectors CD - hoping to see that out in the next few months. I also go into the studio in August/September to finally complete "Fulton Street", my upcoming CD (that has gone through as many names as years in the waiting...) I'm looking to set up October and November music - West Coast in October; Southern Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast in November. Looking for House Concerts, and great venues - and looking for a little help in getting into them... so e mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you might know...
At ground level, I was a little overwhelmed by the Boston events. I've eaten right near where the car jacking occurred - three blocks from my friends and collaborators Tim Mason and Shannon Flattery's place (where I often stay when I am in the area). Meanwhile in Egypt the situation continues to deteriorate, the economy waivers on the edge of collapse - insightful links here and here from Karim Abadir, my long-time friend and keen economic mind. So much more to write. Perhaps I will stick to it... but no promises, yet.
January 28, 2013 - In Anchorage after letting months pass by. Truth is, though I eventually made it out of Saskatoon and home, I missed the gigs at the Seldovia Festival and it really sort of broke me for a bit. My last night in Saskatoon was at a hotel downtown - classy, old, worth it. The Senator. The password for the Wi-Fi was "Welcome Home", an interesting connection to my Kerrville life. The drive back was long, and I was exhausted in the end.
Now I'm looking at what the new year holds - the travel somewhat changed as I had to come up with a better plan than driving the Alcan five times a year... So a new car for Alaska, the RAV there for now, and now I'll fly down to the "Lower 48". Age manifests itself in many ways.
It is a sad time now, though.... My Uncle Gene passed away after battling for two long years with cancer. I saw him last in mid-December - funny and smiling and fully aware of the next steps, the cancer by then having long sapped his strength of body, but seemingly only adding to his strength of spirit. His children - every one of them - rising to the challenge of a longer death. It was enough to make him proud of each of them, and it was enough for him to comfort his wife, my Aunt Bette, and let her know she would never truly be alone. It was lovely to see him so many times these past years and to see that humor I knew was always there. A delightful man, I'll miss him. My Mother isthere now, and I'll miss the funeral... I regret that, but only a little. I know that those who are there will do him a great justice, and have the right kind of celebration of life.
Soon I'll write about Egypt and other things, and the music to come. For now, this entry is for Gene.
Goodnight Uncle Gene.
June 21, 2012 - Dateline: Purgatory. Solstice, and I'm in a smoking room at a Comfort Inn in Saskatoon - my fourth hotel here in four days, none cheaper than $150.00 and averaging $180. Head Gasket blew on my way home and one day turned into two, then three, now four. I am feeling as though the winds of resistance are buffeting me on my way back and I am confused as to what is next, how to adjust, what to do. It is like purgatory. These hotels are all in what they call the "Industrial Zone" of the City. As attractive as it sounds. The air is cold, until today raining. No breaks. Just unrelenting boardum and the steady, repetative drone of the television. Tonight, no rooms. So, fingers crossed, the road will be before me again. I still face the prospect of single file traffic in the Yukon where the road was washed out last week. I am trapped in a way, and can not even find the energy for songwriting, but, finally, there is a song in it.
June 7, 2012 - Dateline: Kerrville, Texas. Nearing the end of the Fest. Music is great, as are the people. More to note soon, but suffice it to say that there is always a little peace at the ranch....
May 31, 2012 - Dateline: Kerrville, Texas. Nearly a month later, the trip fraught with...complication. I left Anchorage May 2nd, but the day before I found my tire flat - nail puncture. Replacing it the next day, the jack collapsed as i had the tire off and, stepping back from the falling car, I stepped on my prescription glasses... It was an auspicious beginning for the trip.... Trouble in downtown Anchorage on the way out led to an additional $1,000 out of pocket.... for car fixes. As i mentioned in the May 3rd entry, the trip was glorious, but fast. Before I knew it I was streaking through North Dakota on a rendezvous with the River City Eatery and a great night of music and conversation. From there it was to San Antonio, Texas for a week with my Reclaiming Futures friends, and a spontaneous concert in the Hotel there before returning to pick up my car in Minnesota and for back to back dates in Delft, Minnesota (thanks Bruce Boldt) and St. Cloud (thanks Jeff Poster and everyone in the family. Heading to the east coast after that I sensed trouble outside of Madison on the 14th of May... an overheating engine (the car does have 150,000 miles on it....) and trouble.
I was able to nurse the car to Chicago and, on the recommendation of friends Jeff Becker and Jodi Kessler, I got the car into Chicago Car Care (I swear by these lovely yarmulke wearing geniuses!) and rented a car for the Northeast part of the trip. Failed radiator, body damage, air conditioning out - this trip was not the great money-making follow-up to last Winter's tour... Did I mention the failed computer hard drive and the lost I Phone in Delft?? Thought not. But then I was East - Morrisville at the Bees Knees where I was invited to perform with the Celebration of Expressive Arts (CEA) in the Fall, then New Bedford to help on Justice issues after spending the night in Burlington with long-time friend Ken Schatz. After New Bedford, it was New London, the Long Island Ferry and then Greg and Megan Roth in Nassau County for our fundraiser for Hands Up for Kidz. A great outdoor afternoon had by all.
By then the trip was winding down. An evening with long-time friend and Croatian recording artist Nenad Bach was a needed wind down from the whole trip and, for some reason, it just felt everything was going to work out - new phone, new computer, sort of new car... I finished the tour in Burlington, VT. I won't say anything nice about Radio Bean, where I played, except that I was pleased that friends were able to show up for the event. And then, as quickly, I was back on the road in the rental - heading for Chicago and the next phase of the trip...
Since then I've been back to Minneapolis and St. Cloud - visiting relatives and friends and catching a Twins game:
Before heading south to Texas and Kerrville. Reached Austin last night where I thank Paul Schomer and his sister for putting me up for the night. Now, a few more car repairs under my belt, I am ready for renewal....
May 3, 2012 - Just a quick note as I am on the road heading to my gig at River City Eatery in Windom, Minnesota. At Toad River in British Columbia, taking a short break. The drive down has been replete with wildlife and night scenes - Northern Lights, the Moon, Venus on the horizon, Jupiter up high and in the distance the Midnight Sun.... Black bear, caribou, deer and hawks, coyote and birds, birds, birds... The world is beautiful.... Back to the road. Check out the gigs list for the upcoming shows this month!
February 6, 2012 - Last night, perhaps around 8 PM, Buddy Tabor quietly passed away. A singer/songwriter with a direct link to the soul. Alternately irreverent and loving, apolitical and revolutionary, album after album cut through to your heart and your head in simple tones and a gravel voice. Weary without giving in, spiritual without putting it on. Aware. Conscious. The words of a poet, the soul of a dreamer, the hands of a housepainter. Buddy Tabor was complex in his thoughts, simple in how he executed them. His body of work pearls worth holding and remembering, just as he is.
He came to stay at my house in late October and early November last year. He told me that his oncologist had told him that, if he liked smoking, it wouldn't hurt to keep it up. Buddy's way of saying the gig was up... but he kept playing. He'd wake up early and play a guitar of mine I'd bought in Mexico - in a town where he had bought one, built by the same man that had built mine - Digging deep for one more song, one more sound, one more expression of a life with an expiration date that was nearing.
He left in early November. The place was spotless. We hugged and said goodbye after I offered him the house again. "I don't think I'll be coming back up" he said, "but thank you." It was the last time I saw him.
We'd had a falling out at one point --neither of us fully sure why - and the years had calcified us a bit. But I always got a card at Christmas, in his wife Jeannette's hand, from both of them, and I listened to his music still. When I heard he was sick and in Anchorage, I got a hold of him and suggested we get together. I'm glad we did. We reaffirmed our friendship and talked late into the night a few times, as we had done in the past, though I was in and out those days. And, when he hesitantly asked me about staying at my place, I immediately said "yes" regretting that I had not offered it first. It was an easy "thank you" for years of knowing each other.
I first met Buddy in the mid-Eighties. I picked him up hitchhiking in Juneau and took him to Douglas. I was a kid really - a bit scared living in a new city without a clue of what a future might look like - torn between politics and music. Buddy even then, now more than 25 years ago, had a wizened edge that echoed Townes Van Zandt. He had a cassette tape with a hand printed cover that he might have given me or I might have bought that showed me the magic touch of a musician who was "doing it" - making music.
Our paths crossed from time to time after that. Usually in Juneau at first and then later other places as my own music began to grow. He offered comments and suggestions on my work, I complimented his, and we played a number of shows together starting in the late Nineties and ending around 2006 soon after we had played Folsom Prison.
I can't say much now about all that drove us apart. Though I recall it, its not important. It was just dumb. Stupid that we hadn't played together more. Stupid that we hadn't railed against the system late into the night, like we once had. Just plain dumb.
Why do we do it? Plant our foolish flags of pride in the sand? Damn our present over a past that is, quite literally, done? It is what we do though. And for me it has meant one less friend I might have known that much better. One more nearly-missed farewell.
So farewell Buddy. Just one more gig to play - and its bound to last forever.
January 29, 2012 - A Muezzin's call and beeping horns compete for attention on the streets of Cairo... A haunting sound that called into the streets thousands of Egyptians... Determined marchers slowly filled the squares and the bridges- from all corners of Cairo, from the neighborhoods or homes of those who were martyred, all heading to Tahrir again. It is a year since the revolution and the revolutionaries have surprised themselves. In commemorations that many believed would be celebratory acknowledgements of Mubarak's fall, the seeds of discontent have sprouted. And the harvest may well be a renewed revolution. As people gathered on the 25th and then the 27th and 28th the cries were the same: down with the military, return our revolution... and no more of the past. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, desperately trying to drown out the cries in Tahrir on Friday by turning up their sound system with music and Quranic prayer were denounced as the country edges closer to a new moment in history.
Here in the Mideast and North Africa, history is unfolding. The revolution in Libya trembles, the Syrian regime struggles, the Arab League balances authoritarianism with reform... And all seems to cry "What will our future be?" Populations are growing here. Religious belief the opiate of those who are denied education or opportunity. This is a tinderbox of extremism that need not ever be lit. Throughout the world desperate despots cling to power - their political position more important than whatever claim of intent drove them to take power. For in the end so many have only one aim: their own gain.
We have made governance a contest and office a prize. We have lost sight of the purpose, which is to govern, to provide, to make this crazy assemblage of millions of people here and millions there function together. We hide behind nation and religion when we fail, instead of accepting that our path has not worked. We forget to change, to assert, to try something different. We objectify those who care or who oppose us and we minimize them. We no longer see them as human, we see them as obstacles. And then there is reaction and death.
There is a better way.
None of us here are quite sure how this mass of citizens - angered by blocked streets and security crackdowns - rediscovered this revolution, but they have. Headlines in the English language dailies speak of it everyday - and sense its momentum. The SCAF have disappeared from the airwaves and the streets and a tension seems to underscore everything... anticipation in part, fear in part. There is something in the air... At first I wrote it off as the wishful thinking of friends, but now I have seen it for myself. And I wonder how it will turn out, half hoping I could be here to see that next step. But I leave tomorrow.
Yesterday one friend, Ahmed, said to me "It is a miracle - millions on the street in a city of millions and no police or military to be seen - and yet no crime!" I warn him that this might be a prelude, a ruse, a hope by the SCAF that by being absent crime will erupt and the people will turn on the revolution. But we talk about motivation and action and I learn that these revolutionaries have learned from their mistakes.
They are honing their demands - making them clear and simple, they are calculating their marches so as not to disrupt traffic and commerce too much, they are steady and calm and tolerate the Parliament, but do not cede that it was their power that brought that Parliament into being... It is as though there are two tracks - one, shaped by the SCAF that attempts to slightly remold the existing structure to pacify the rage that led to the overthrow of Mubarak one year ago February 11, and one that is demanding a free Egypt and goes forward now without regard to the efforts of the SCAF. They have learned that when one side plays this as a game, the other must rewrite the rules. And they are becoming very, very good at this rewriting...
Late evenings give way to magic... a poet, Mustapha, chants in classical Arabic and we are mesmerized by his hands, his eyes, his voice. Passion for politics gives way to ribald joking only to snap back with the mention of a Salafi or the Brotherhood or the latest Coptic killing.... The smoky haze of Cairo obscures nothing. Inhaled it gives clarity, expelled it is the scent of change.
January 25, 2012, 2:45 PM - The sounds of Tahrir Square.
January 25, 2012 - Car alarms and the odd cacophony of horns wake me like a distant atonal symphony - backed by the haunting refrain of the muezzin calling believers to mid-morning prayers, voices below in the street talk in high-pitched Arabic, and the quiet thud, thud, thud of a tennis game echo from the courts nearby. The Revolution's Anniversary dawns in Cairo.
I'd stepped off the plane two days before to the burnt smell of Cairo's air - caused by the torching of rice patties and the burning of coal. Its a smell that I will forever connect to that first visit some four months before, when this was new to me and the task daunting. I arrived on the day of the first sitting of a nearly fairly elected Parliament or People's House. Each member of the 508 person body took their oath to the constitution - though some Salafis added a line to their oath that said they swore it as long as it did not contradict the Word of God... A move that led to outrage and declamation from the more secular and liberal members of the body. Speeches honoring the martyrs of the last twelve months - over 800 dead over 6000 injured were contrasted with thank you telegrams to their executioners... the contradictions were manifest, but the promise still real.
Today its estimated that as many as a million people will attend events in Tahrir Square, on one hand celibrating the change to a new government, an overthrow of an old regime and the promise of a new beginning. While still others will March for the unfulfilled promise of those first heady days of January 2011. When anything seemed possible - even the imagining of a new, free future.
But power intervenes. And personality ends u facing personality, party against party as those that once marched hand-in-hand (or as they say here: "on one hand") find themselves at odds - struggling. So how did it all turn out after the House elections? The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and its allies gained roughly 47% of the vote. Their once allies and now adversaries on the Islamic front, the Salafi Nour Party and its allies came in second with as many as 29% of the vote. They were followed by a virtual tie between the Egyptian Bloc and the old Wafd Parties - the liberal stalwarts of this election - each with about 10% of the number. The remainder of the seats fell to Islamic and revolutionary parties that split their votes and consequently their power in the first breath of an election. As many as 13 parties will be represented in the new Parliament: a prescription for inaction and chaos that serves the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) well.
About three weeks ago, as almost a metaphor for the liberals loss of hope, Jimmy Carter came to town to pronounce all is well in Egypt. His comments were perceived by many here as a thinly veiled bid to preserve his Camp David Accords from the potential rise of Islamic forces in the nation. He exacted promises from the parties and in the end wrote a report and held a press conference where he legitimized for all the false claim of Tantawi, the head of the SCAF, that the photos of the women stripped and dragged through Tahir square was a fabrication. For those of us who saw the video rather than just the photo, it was a shocking travesty of leadership to hear this former Nobel Peace Prize winner say this.... For the Egyptian liberals who not only witnessed it, but who documented reliably over 500 cases of fraud and as many as 900 violations of election law, it was unconscionable.
The process of a revolution does not happen over night. In Libya yesterday remnants of Gaddafi's old regime have fought back. In Afghanistan, the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban has ended in a stalemate of civil war and suicide bombing. In the United States, we fell into Civil War some 85 years after our Revolution and change is still a struggle. In Egypt this Revolution or what Thomas Friedman has called an "uprising" is far from consolidated and very, very fragile. The military carefully steps forward trying to control its economic clout and preserve its members from prosecution. The play the Muslim Brotherhood off against others with a promise of power - for the MB have thirsted to rule for a long time - while at the same time ensuring fraud holds them in check by elevating their rivals the Salafis... Sidelining the liberals who would prosecute these so-called "heroes of the revolution" for their crimes against their people, their 12,000 political prisoners still held and their still extant emergency detention law.
And so today while some celebrate a Revolution others call for its completion and even some for its renewal. It is an auspicious day here, and the future can be found in Tahrir Square. But will we see it?
December 3, 2011 - In State College there is a mural on a wall on Hiester Street. Past greats, legends that have made this sports city a Mecca for college sports, images all found in "Inspiration", the work of artist Michael Pilato. Where Jerry Sandusky once sat, here near the center toward the bottom of the mural, you now see a chair, empty except for a blue ribbon memorializing victims of pedophilia. It wasn't an easy decision, but one that had to be made. This blog has other references to those abused - a link below and in the links section to Karen Holt - but a link is rarely enough for a voice silenced by abuse.
Wrapped in the mountains of Pennsylvania, snuggled into the hills waiting for the coming winter, State College sits centrally in Pennsylvania and for much of the past month has been at the epicenter of sports talk. One by one new revelations in other places slip out. Syracuse? Maybe. And where next?
It wasn't the scandal that had brought me there - though I seem to have a knack for finding myself in the midst of it. I'd come to State College to play a House Concert, hosted by my Kerrville friend Laurel Zydney, her husband Andrew and son Ben (my roadie for the show). It was a soothing night, though the trauma was ever-present in conversations. Tired from too much travel, I was able to sit on a stool in their living room with thirty or so guests in attendance and together we embarked on a bit of a journey - reflection, humor, and a touch of sadness. All taking us away form the reality of their past month. In the end the conversations - during the show, the breaks, and after - snaked into the late evening and early morning hours ending with a reconnect to an old Alaskan friend Michael Pelikan. It is the nature of these evenings to remember the connections between each of us. And so it was with this night and has been with the others on this tour. It soothes me, these moments of grace. These connections across distance, time and place.
I'm on the road again today after a brief stop in Kansas City and tonight it will be New York and more connections. For now that is enough.
December 1, 2011 - I talked to a taxi driver from Iran last night. Zoroastrian, he left in 1977. I said "Before the revolution there?" He answered, "We do not call it that"... We drove from a bar here in Kansas City back to our hotel after an electrifying conversation with a bartender named Bo who gave our cynical view of America a hip-check of youthful enthusiasm. We adjusted our thoughts accordingly and wondered if an American politics was still possible.
And, in that taxi, that guy's enthusiasm still seemed with us. Sitting twenty minutes in the cab after we had arrived at our destination, we were caught in a new conversation that always ended with a question: "Okay, good night.... But let me ask you one more thing..." he'd say. My friend Randy and I would try and answer - not always from the same perspective - and that question would become another dialogue... a hopefulness for the Mid East, for America, for a future for his three daughters. We parted ways with Sy, gripped by possibility.
Across the sea in Egypt a violent week had given way to peaceful elections that stunned even the Egyptians. No one killed in the first of many stages... Millions voting in lines snaking back as much as three kilometers. Banter and dialogue among those who opposed each other not about hate or anger, but about pure politics and a process few had ever imagined they would see. Was there vote buying and fraud? Yes. Ballot irregularities and administrative failures? Of course. But the papers are reporting them and the voters are documenting them in an unprecedented outpouring of hand held recordings and videos posted all over social networking sites and in the media. It is in many way s a transparent election that, because it is drawn out, will likely end up more poorly than expected for those caught cheating. This is a people that will not quietly accept documented manipulation after waiting so long. I have faith in this outcome... I believe, in the end, the average Egyptian will be heard - regardless of the type of government they choose.
Here in Kansas City the world suddenly feels possible again.
November 28, 2011 - I walked home in the quiet, warm Philadelphia air last night. Home, to Steve and Diane Rukavina's place. The music and performance and the conversations of the Salon - Andrea Clearfield's child - now 25 years old...still coursing through me. It was a good night. It reminded me of why I love to do what I do. The people - Jay, Cheryl, Jason, Charles, Elliot, John, Eric, Carrie, Connie, Richard, Jennifer - all coming together to make for a great evening... We must expose our world the creative invention that humanizes us. Without it we are less than human.
Though entertainment and performance was the currency of the night, there was also no shortage of good conversation to shape the evening that followed. We are all debating the state of things here in America. Occupation Wall Street - a spontaneous outpouring of angry and resolute desire for change, co-opted by those who seek disruption for disruption's sake. The Tea Party - a harnessing of that same anger by the very, very wealthy to be wielded as a weapon against any who would challenge the dominance of the wealthiest one percent.... Even when that one percent's representatives in elected office seek to systemically eradicate those same Tea Party members benefits, pensions, wages and even, ultimately their life style.
What do we make of a future of fewer and fewer choices, and a state dominated by the few? How do we reconcile a world of need with the evidence of privilege and the slow destruction of the very fabric of our culture? And how do we reconcile the killing of those who simply shopped to hard - such a stark contrast to those simply fighting for the right to vote in other nations... I go on too long, perhaps, over such things...
November 27, 2011 - Last night was a treasure of intimacy... Friends Thomas and Kathie Tallant did a great job of setting up their house for a great crew of friends - an evening that opened with great music (a recording of their Paganini will be found here or on Facebook soon!) and I even got a chance to play some unusual instruments (note the size of that lute.... called a Theorbo)
I woke up at 2 am and hit the road again - there truly is something magic about driving through the night - everything so unusual, masked, guarded. Ended up in Roanoke this morning now heading to Philadelphia and the Salon this evening. No great insights today... nervous about Egypt, elections tomorrow. Violence simmers below the surface... The US comes out strong against the violence... We shall see....
November 26, 2011 - The days are rushing past like a truck down a freeway at night. Surreal lights like ancient spaceships floating down rivers of asphalt... Time slipping by, but full, so very full. Two lives really it seems - Egypt and the music. Now for the music.
The music tour began October 30 in Manchester, UK according to my good friend Martin. Played a song there for his magnificent wedding (accompanied there by the vocals of my girlfriend Sarah Sledge). Then it was back to Anchorage for the official kickoff at Side Street Espresso November 5 and again on the 8th for Arctic Entries (as the featured artist). From there it was to Cairo (see below) where I played for friends at the home of Naguib Abidar and then to Dallas, Texas for an amazing house concert at the home of Randy and Denise Renter - two Kerrville friends who made me feel as though I was always at home. It was an electric evening with Kerrville friends Jerry Earwood and his wife and Scott Ausburn (his photos of the event are on my Facebook page) along with many others. There Randy and Ron Isaacson connected me to the work of the late Karen Holt and her touching work around abuse, and Bill Nash joined me for a song circle to close out the evening. Truly Magic.
Dallas was followed the next night by the generous hospitality of friends Mike and Carol Wofford who opened their magnificent house in Oklahoma City to friends and neighbors as a fundraiser for the Food Bank of Oklahoma. The evening was a different as I could have hoped - a unique dynamic mix of people that made me feel as though music truly was our common language. The evening went late, not just with the music but with conversations that stretched all of our boundaries. Absolutely electric. After a week break in Florida with Sarah and her parents, I'm on the road again. Today in Knoxville where I am hosted by friends Thomas and Kathie Tallant. Another great evening? I'm counting on it....
November 24, 2011 - An earlier entry may be found below for today, a memory of my Cousin Peter... I felt the two entries should be separate. This, then, some other thoughts for these past six weeks... More to come about music soon.
I wrote last month about Egypt. About a world of burning wood and ordered chaos, of people struggling to build a nation from the remains of 60 years of authoritarian rule, of a people who cared enough about democracy to die for it... And so, this week, they have.
This is the last, best effort to build a peaceable national democracy in the heart of Islam. A democracy that could look after its poor and its minorities and afford the right to self-determination to all of its people, regardless of their gender or religion or who they know or who they are related to... A dream we are supposed to have been conceived in, a pursuit to which we as a nation are bound by history and purpose. And yet we watch as this experiment in democracy starts to descend into an unnecessary cycle of violence and repression - its pattern and progress almost predictable in its slow downward trajectory. But it need not be this way. We need not let it happen. It need not always be the choice of geopolitical imperative outweighing the lives of people.
It is not in the interests of our allies to ensure a free Egypt - whether run by the Muslim Brotherhood as some think, or the secularists like the Free Egyptians (those I know there) as others do. In either case the repressive monarchies and authoritarian states we call our friends are threatened - whether from a repressed Islam, or a powerful secular voice. In all instances, if Egypt were to succeed, it would indicate to others in the region that this country - this 7,000 year old symbol of culture and humanity - has found a different path than either repression or self-immolation upon which to build a society. These allies would never like that. So in Washington diplomats and experts whisper threats of what democracy might bring to those who know no better. They haven't been there, or if they have, they have wined and dined with the military rulers who control 40% or more of the economy and repress their people in the name of righteousness, while threatening any who speak ill of them. No, they haven't been there, but I have.
Today the military has chosen to allow chaos to rule the streets by not protecting those who assembled and demanded civilian government. They've chosen to shoot them and tear gas them and use nerve agents to permanently harm them. They've lied about what they have done and been caught in those lies. They've cut a deal with the Islamists to avoid losing their monopoly. These are our friends - the allies that promote stability? Since when did stability look like a state that kills its people, and promotes a party that will threaten the rights of one of its nation's genders and its religious minorities? We cringe at pepper spray in California, sprayed in the eyes of peaceful students. In Egypt the police have aimed at the protesters eyes when they shoot, permanently blinding those who survive.
These are grim thoughts. I was there a week ago, and I left with a different feeling. I was watching a democratic process unfold before me. I watched a Facebook page turning with new "likes" at a rate of 100 an hour - not to find out about the latest casualties, but to discover who their candidates were, the latest political ad, the latest party statement. I left a country that hoped for a future - and planned for an election November 28th. I landed in the U. S. and saw on the news a country convulsed in the reality that the secularists just might do better than it was thought, that the alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), just might not succeed. The reality that the ruling status quo might be broken. And then all Hell broke loose.
As I have watched this all unfold, I have been on my music tour, set up well before I knew I would be in Egypt. And, while the tour has been good (kudos to Randy and Denise Renter in Dallas and Mike and Carol Wofford in Oklahoma City for throwing great events - more on them and their events in the next entry), I have been troubled by all of this and stunned at the surreal contrast of the world I've played for here and the one I played for there. But I have not lost hope. I have spoken to some in Washington and have been on the phone with friends in Tahrir Square and I believe it may still be possible for a new Egypt to emerge. And while I recognize that "Black Friday" will dominate the news in the States - as we run from bargain to bargain, that day will take on a whole other meaning in Egypt if we do nothing. As more than a million people crowd the streets again on Friday asking for the right to be governed by themselves, their rulers, the SCAF, will face a choice and will have to determine which side of history they will come down on. And, in what we say to them, what words our government whispers into the ears of the SCAF, we too will have to decide on which part of history we'll come down.
It is in our interests as a free people - and as members of humanity - to care. We should. It is not just about Egypt, its about whether or not there will ever be a third way in those nations where a majority of the people practice Islam. A way that could well lead to the end of our never-ending war on terror. A world that promises a future for those who have no hope for one.
In January, while visiting my Mom in Carson City, she turned to me as the people filled Tahrir Square. "I wish I could go", she said... "I wish I could be there too" she finished. We were watching history unfold. And while she can't be there, she inspired me. I can't stand back and watch, I've engaged. Will you?
November 24, 2011 - An apology is in order. It has been well over a month since I've written, but the lack of words is not for want of action. Much has happened in this past six weeks. It has been difficult for me to decide where to begin in this time of sorrow, success, peace and conflict. It is now Thanksgiving Day and, for the first time in a very long time I am taking a moment to try and put some of these things into words. This will be two entries.
My younger cousin Peter passed away the week of the 7th of November. A heart attack, followed by attempts at revival and then, after a brief hospital stay, his passing. Traveling, I was unable to attend the funeral, but his death has been on my mind. A life I had lost touch with, and yet one that formed a part of my youth - encapsulating those years when I first understood both how joy was found in the camaraderie of family, and how cruel children could be with each other.
These memories echo a time that changed me, formed me. When I was growing up, Peter was one of many cousins - sons and daughters of my Mother's Sisters and her Brother - that we distant Alaskans busted out with - 17 cousins of various ages that helped socialize us, in some instances perhaps criminalize us (though not Peter), and in all ways immerse us in the feeling and concept of family. I remember hanging with the cousins before "hanging" was a word used to describe that kind of activity. And in St. Cloud, it was the small Mom and Pop grocery down from my Grandparents that we visited. Ice cream or frozen pops, melting before we got back in the oppressive Minnesota summer heat. We were less close with Peter's family - Sheila, Timmy and Cindy... Sheila, older, mysteriously teenaged running off with my sister Nichelle to things we guessed were "parties" or maybe off behind the house then returning with a hint of smoke.... Timmy, quiet, a loner, already heading down a path that would find him in the military and a distinguished career. Cindy - always in her own world, walking to her drum...
And Peter, as with the others in his family, a bit of a loner, though not by choice. He wanted to do things with his older cousins (us), but his family lived across town, rather than out of town. When they came to visit us at the Grandparents, the visits were shorter, as theirs was a short distance to go, and Uncle Tom always had an early morning wake up for work - and Aunt Barbara was always sure to get her kids home for an early day before bed. But it wasn't just the schedule. We older cousins were haphazard in our treatment of Peter. Alternately accepting and rejecting him in ways that only kids can do and kids can painfully feel.
But Peter survived that ribbing and wronging of youth, and married Nyome and raised four daughters. And like many, he was a metaphor for the working class life of America - struggling to eke out a living, supporting a family, looking for opportunity and missing a few as well.
I'll miss a cousin I could have known better, but now never will.
October 9, 2011 - The dust of the Sahara is on my shoes, and the smell of wood burning is in my mind as I return from a week in Cairo. The energy was palatable there and I left a group of friends and leaders who believe in a future, in the possibility of a better world. It echoes the thoughts I've had over these past few years, the feeling growing within me that we have allowed ourselves to lose sight of what it is to be human, to aspire for something better. Instead we are learning to settle for something a little worse, a little more hateful, a little less than what we can be. And so it is there as well, as I read how these peaceful efforts have been stoked to violence and now two of my friends - those I stayed with and worked with have been injured just moments ago, others have died. For power is always reluctant to let go. And so it seems again. I'm going back because we must make a difference.
Here at home I watch the mass dismissing of Occupy Wall Street by the same media that embraced the Tea Party and it is clear to me why, for this media is not threatened by the anger of the Tea Party, they are protected by them. They ridicule the leaderless, powerless OWS, because that's how they win. With a page out of Babbitt, they spew out the words of conformity to a public that has continually soaked it up. But will the people, our people, ultimately see that the real outrage is not a President or protester who wants health care, a fair wage and an end to obscene corporate greed; its a greedy, self-serving media that would rather reward the wealthy and damn the middle class. Are we smart enough to see this? Only time will tell.
This entry is brief, a plane to catch, but I know this: there is a confrontation coming here and abroad that will shape us. Which side of history will you be on?
October 1, 2011 - At an airport, waiting on another plane. Last week I played in Salt Lake City at Ken Sanders Rare Books. Quite an evening. The show was opened by Duncan Phillips, Utah's son. He was followed by singer/songwriter Shane Jackman and then Tim Mason and I performed as the Bone Collectors - our combination of original music and spoken word. Good evening had by all. I note though that for the first time my I Phone heated up to such a degree (pun intended) that a note saying "temperature" came up and i had to actually put it in the refrigerator to get it to work again! Ah the mysteries of technology..
The Fall tour is coming together well. Many thanks to those who have offered to do House Concerts! Dates confirmed for Anchorage (2), Dallas, Oklahoma City, Knoxville, State College PA, Philadelphia, Rhinebeck NY, and Reno NV. Dates nearly locked for Boston, Washington DC, Port Townsend, Helena MT and Kalispell MT. Still trying to see if something in the old Northwest can work out (Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin?) and Carson City NV. Also looked at California, but not hearing a whole lot from there... Still we'll see. Its a full Fall nonetheless!
This trip is different though - harkening back to my old life and new sensibilities. I'm heading to Cairo, Egypt to assist with helping develop enthusiasm for the coming elections there. I am helping with the next phase of the Arab Spring.... It means something to me. I grew up in a family steeped in politics. While some may scoff at it, I know that myself, my Parents and my Brothers and Sisters all believed that it was a part of our obligation as humans to provide for others and to spend some time in the service of the public good. But increasingly people have lost faith in that public good, as have I. I am unsure of what politics means in America anymore. Behind the consistent spewing of hate and the words of battle lines drawn, I have lost sight of the good that either side is intent on - if they even see it. There are fundamentals, as I have written of before, that ought to mean something - like caring for the sick and infirm, not begrudging that wealth obligates you to serve those who helped get you there, that education matters. But we do the opposite. We slash our obligations, make the returning something to our society and evil and we do so with little or no debate - those still believing meekly cowing down to the bullies that shout at them, push them, pepper spray them... Meanwhile, a world away, democracy begins to bloom, but at what cost and in what form?
We have the tools to engage people in a new birth of democracy, but will they be turned into tools that manipulate a promise to serve a theft of resources? A new elite? Will they fulfil aspiration or crash upon the shores of the haves at the expense of the have-nots? A many with a computer degree is selling food in a stall and, harassed by the police one too many times, sets himself on fire. And the match sets a flame to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and others... A single match, but will it set a world on fire, or light a lamp? It is these moments that matter, and so I go to Egypt.
There are odd parallels worth considering. When Jimmy Carter tied Human Rights to arms sales, and refused to sell to South American dictators that were throwing their youth from planes above the Atlantic, Mothers were emboldened, people rose up and the military was shamed. Regimes toppled and democracy today is the norm in most of South America... Economies weathered the crisis, and democracy took root. It has not always been an easy path, and we have not always agreed with those who have come to power, but the systems are intact and, even in Venezuela there is credible opposition to the leadership. In Eastern Europe, when Gorbachev withheld the Soviet fist, democracy bloomed too. I remember reading the essays of Valclav Havel in those heady days, and I remember the fear I felt when I heard opportunists talk about the money that could be made... Democracy, which had been the light that kept dissidents alive there was side-stepped for economic policy. We cast it as the triumph of capitalism instead, and planted seeds of greed that tear those nations apart to this day. It was never capitalism that kept those believers hoping and willing to risk their lives, it was the concept of freedom - that people have a right to self-determination.
But we used that belief to cut those nations and bleed them dry - paid lip-service to democracy, when our goal was to extract wealth. We disillusioned millions, who have given up on this form of government now seemingly inexorably linked to capital. And now in the nascent Arab rebirths what will we do? How will we act? Will we support democracies that choose not to follow our desires? What is our commitment to the right of self-determination?
It matters what we do. It matters who we choose to be and how we choose to act out our unique humanity. Democracy must be real. Must lead to change. Must right wrong. But it has become a tool that is used against the disenfranchised - denies them education, manipulates their fears and, consequently, weakens its very core. We must take democracy back and show that it can lead to a voice for those who have no power amidst those who ceaselessly jockey to manipulate and hold power. It must seek an unswerving redress of grievance, and balance of moral good. That is why I'm going to Egypt.
September 14, 2011 - I'm writing this as the 14th dawns. Some thoughts have been coursing through me as we start to smell the advance of Fall and Winter. Near my house there is a Steller Jay that knows when we are here. Yesterday I heard him making his cawing sounds and, when I opened my door, he was on the rail waiting for me. He knows we put peanuts out for him and he is no dummy. He'd called me to the door. When we first met him, he was reluctant to come around and waited until we were gone. Then, still wary, he came closer and closer, recognizing that we meant no harm. Surely I will hear from some of you about not making him (or her) too familiar with humans, and I understand that - we often destroy those who trust us. But this bird had an affinity and certainly not a fear. Yesterday I grabbed my camera and waited until he returned and then shot the video (AVI format), uploaded on Facebook. Could not upload it here, but here is a picture of our friend...
A metaphor of sorts of trusting nature...
While a pleasant distraction, other thoughts bubble near the surface. THe shouting, the anger, the hypocrisy of those who seek power and not public purpose, who use trust and good will to siphon off what is left of a person's belief in what is right... I read in a Harper's piece earlier this year about the misuse of Founding American's quotes - the making up of quotes that sounded as though they came from these historic leaders just to suit the purpose of gaining power and control. I'm struck by the un-Christian attitudes of those who claim to lead churches and attack those with charitable attitudes claiming they are socialists or, worse, liberals, as though caring for others, helping the destitute, caring for their fellow man were not Christian-like ways of being. I guess Christ must have worn a business suit when he preached, read from a book of statements that were unchanging, persecuted any who strayed from the path, and collected money from the already desperate to pad his bank book... At least, if I were an outside observer looking in at the gruesome, predatory practices of many of our popular religious leaders I might think that. I'm not willing to paint all with that brush, but would not be surprised that some of those mentioned below in an earlier blog were painted as anti-God for their support of the disenfranchised....
But I am not stuck simply on religion. I'm driven again and again by the seeming incongruity of the two types (broadly speaking) of humans that we are around - political party, denomination, race, nationality not withstanding. Those who believe in good faith that they should seek to improve the condition of all as a common goal of humanity - the essence of being human; and those who are driven by a desire to simply accrue more for themselves at any cost - often using the words of those who care in a way that gains them power, but who share little in the way of belief. Two different views of humanity - you need not be religious to believe in the awesome gift of our humanity. You need not be a-religious to care for nothing but your own place of power.
Words control us, co-opt us, are used as weapons, and rarely as a defense. It is this that troubles me and that I hope to write more of in the coming weeks. We as humans thrive on our common words, though meaning evolves. Words flow through us almost organically. I have talked with many of my friends about this over the years - how certain words ebb and flow in our dialogue, almost taking on a life of their own.
In the mid-Nineties it was "wonderful", stretched out. Prevalent these days, though on the wane, is the phrase "I mean" placed before every other sentence. Listen for it. You do it yourself. The bored or rushed person has a new way to move along conversation: "right" repeated again and again. Historians use of the word "narrative" picked up now by every social scientist and then the mainstream media was hardly uttered a scant two years ago. The current beginnings of the use of "conceit" increasingly as a part of our diminishing of motive is the next step: "...it seems to be his conceit to believe that..." Once you know this, that words take over a place in our subconscious collectively, the next step is easy. Control words. Make "liberal" a bad word - forget that our Founders saw this as a word of revolution and change - of a break with monarchy and the embracing of government by the governed. Now it is spat in a breath or whispered as a curse. Or that "media", once the bastion of freedom, has devolved into a synonym for elitism along with a college education and a university instructor.
I marvel at the success of those who are wealthiest and who seek to aggrandize themselves with more and more power, who are able to convince those who are poorest to vote for them, while those who struggle to improve wages, working conditions, and our twilight years are somehow vilified and held up as examples of un-Americanism. I profess to not understand it, as others also do, but, in fact, I do understand it.
Ours is no longer a nation that reveres education or learning. Ours is no longer a nation that aspires for a common good, or a basis in fact and science that leads us there. Instead we have set out on a new road, oddly a proto-Darwinian story - a "Lord of the Flies" like survival of the nastiest. While those who would dumb us down and tear away our foundations of a just state may profess they don't believe in evolution and that they do believe in God, neither holds true. Under their guidance we evolve, but into a more brutal state that has little left of charity. We compete for everything, for everything has become competition. We even watch the struggle of new releases of movies to see who is number one and who number ten... It is all a race. And here is the craziest thing about it those who do care, who fit the human condition I described above, accept this competition and dutifully play by the rules "of the game". But the other side never does. They don't need to. They don't care about the game, they just care about the power, the winning. If they lose, they change the rules. Or the words...
So listen you poets, and singers, and writers... Push through these thieves and steal back your words.
September 13, 2011 - Last week a friend encouraged me to keep up the blog.... I lose sight of time so easily as seasons pass (much as I think we all do). Again delay, and now September. Much of the past weeks has been developing the Fall schedule - a number of House Concerts and other venues as I plan my "I need to get the next CD done" tour. Hoping to concentrate activity in a way that helps me raise enough to get the CD out. Not sure of the name of it yet, "Fulton Street", "Geography of Love"... other names may come and go. Its a good collection of songs that need to be winnowed down, so the tour will help in a way. I'll watch for reactions, get feedback... The songs span from the mid 2000's to now and may yet include some of the three or four that I am presently working on. In all, they represent a journey through many, many places and states of being. It is an ever-changing world and I suspect that these upcoming shows will be part of it. Already on the schedule for sure are Oklahoma City, Dallas, Philadelphia, State College PA, Reno NV and Boston. Waiting for confirmation include gigs in New Jersey, Rhinebeck NY, Helena and Kalispell Montana, Port Townsend WA, DC and Knoxville, TN. I'm open to other ideas and look forward to your thoughts and suggestions. More entries coming this week as well as the start of the calendar update!
I should note here, and will note again in the next few entries that I am joining Tim Mason in Salt Lake for two gigs as the Bone Collectors, our poetry/music collaboration in late September. More on those soon.
July 26, 2011 - I have delayed a bit in writing. Houseguests and summer in Alaska are not very conducive to the creative spirit and often lead one down a path of quiet contemplation. Years ago as a kid I read Dunsany's "Idle Days on the Yan", one of his many short fantasy pieces about a traveler drifting down a river and seeing the improbable sites on his voyage. The story has a touch of lethargy and delay to it, a touch of the "perhaps I'll do that tomorrow..." refrain that can infect an Alaskan summer... But the houseguests are gone and the page beckons. New music is bubbling below the surface and, yes, there is work to do... So I begin again.
All of these thoughts are in the shadow of the budget debate and the slow train wreck of the government's ability to either be civil or function. Was it ever worse? We think our times are always more dire, then read about members of Congress beating each other with canes in the 1850's - back when even firearms were allowed in the chambers. But it is true that these are different times. Now more people are subject to our whims, and our actions can mark the dividing line of poverty for so many. And still Congress dithers... more interested in re-election than right action.
Most recently gay marriage was expanded to New York, and I was surprised at how quickly this US House seized on the coming Armageddon that loving marriage presented while ignoring their fiscal responsibility and the much more real crisis of the economy. Here, in Anchorage, this battle was fought nearly twenty years ago. Our Anchorage Assembly struggled over the language of protection of basic rights for all citizens, including the addition of the words "sexual preference" to the City code as a prohibited reason to discriminate. Let me be clear (as the President is wont to say), not special rights, but the same rights a person of color or differing religion would have. Simply put, their argument was should you have the right to discriminate against gay people.
Needless to say a number of our high profile mega churches came out, Pastor Prevo's flock, misled and non-Christian in attitude, but only Christian in name, were driven like sheep to the Assembly chambers where they bleated their view of the imminent destruction of Anchorage, and they won that battle. Ruined political lives, ended careers, drove a wedge through our community and then tried to hammer home their gains by explicitly identifying gay persons as an issue to be confronted and opposed.
Finally, in the midst of all that, a number of churches rose up from their drift, their observation without comment, their "Idle Days...", and spoke out. They hired me (for a pair of shoes) to help them facilitate a declaration of Christian love and rights. Though I was not a practicing follower of a religion, they trusted me to help them develop their thoughts. So week after week, leading up to the big vote, they worked on this statement. Line by line, word by word. Catholics, Methodists, fundamentalist Baptists, Lutherans, Jews, and many, many others. Brown bag lunches and discussions of conscience. In the end they wrote a manifesto and raised enough money to put it in the local paper - just in time for them to watch as those who fostered hate backed down and removed their proposed anti-gay language and the fight ended. No ground seemingly gained, none lost, but leaving a community that had honed their skill to hate just a little bit more - courtesy of our mega church.
Their ad never ran, but I kept the final print-ready copy and, while dining with my house guests last week and discussing how far society has moved, was reminded of it again. I went up and found that print-ready copy in my closet (ok, ok, yes, I kept it in the closet...) and read it to them. It occurred to me that this brave moment of these brave people had never been published. So here it is in full below, paid for at the time by those signing below and their friends.
And so I too drift along the river and discover great things in decent people:
On Human and Civil Rights
Biblical faith requires from us a responsibility to all people. We are each others' teachers. We lead by example. We are bound by common values. We, as religious leaders, affirm these values:
Through these shared values, we work, defend, and advocate for human and civil rights for all people, regardless of religion, race, or sexual orientation.
Rev. Ronald R. P. Meyers, Rev. Ron Martinson, Carol Ann Seckel, Rev. Fritz Youra, R. Kevin Seckel, Dennis B. Holway, Rev. Donald D. Parsons - Bishop, Steven Charleston, Rev. E. Wesley Veatch, Rev. Dr. John C. Bury, Rev. Steven D. Humburg, Rev. Bruce A. Engebretson, Rev. Frederick (Fritz) P. Laupe, Rev. Daniel M. Bollerud, Gaetana Cincotta - S. S. A., Rev. Allen P. Price, Danielle Griffen - OP, Karen Yesh - SMAH, Chaplain Dianne O'Connell, Sister Marilee Murphy - CSJP, Rev. James R. Fellers, J. Rose McLean, John R. Tindell, Rev. Robert W. Nelson, Rev. Jay P. OlsonKetchum, Rev. Glenn Groth, Rev. Rick Cavens, Fr. Steve Moore, Rev. Charles H. Eddy, Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
June 21, 2011 - It was a crazy fast ride home - but that road gets lonely when all you have to talk to is yourself. No cell coverage, disconnected, I found I had to... read. Newspapers when I stopped (and Canada has great ones) or listen to CBC (great, real radio), where I learned that the Bush Administration (II) actually tried to dig up dirt on bloggers in an eerie reflection of the last days of Richard Nixon... It took getting out of the country to discover this, though it finally made the news in America yesterday. Not music, but worth reflecting on. Will we remember? Will we care?
I am struck by the age we now live in. We correspond in 140 character bites (sadly, with photos as we have recently learned, not counting against the number of characters regardless of size - which in that instance doesn't appear to matter), we e mail and text. Finding ways to say things in shorter and shorter phrases and iterations. We dumb down the language, replace "you" with "u" and have to learn whole new social niceties (does no period at the end of the sentence in a text mean she does not care? Why does it take more than a day to get a response, have I done something wrong?). I crave letters and once (have I written this here) wrote daily. Fortunate enough to go to Oxford, I'd wake up early and walk to a tea or coffee place, cards in tow, and write two or three in the morning and at least another in the afternoon after lectures or tutorials. I received nearly as many (the envy of the mailroom) and felt as though I was in a golden age of thought and correspondence. I wrote long letters often, exploring ideas that were budding in my head of the inherent nature of man, new music, politics and philosophy. There is something about the written word - not subject to cut and paste PCs - that forces you to consider your words, craft them. I miss that.
I still carry a stack of cards with me, a concession to that past but rarely find the time to pick up a pen and write them... I find excuses, and as often as not I call, e mail or text the intended recipient making my news old long before it gets there. Perhaps I will try and write again, maybe there will be a few less texts, fewer e mails for a bit... We can write a revolution... Of course I'll put that off at least until I've posted this on line...
June 18, 2011 - In Ft. Nelson, British Columbia. Heading home on the long drive. The Alaska Highway before me. There is a place in the middle - a moment when you are at your most lucid and most creative. Balanced, as on a knife's edge - eternal and momentary. There was a time when I felt this feeling and I would relish it and consider all that I would create now. Savoring it, I would let it pass. Gradually I learned that when I felt it, it was important to have the tools of the trade nearby - a guitar on or near the bed, a pen at hand.... But more often than not I would find a distraction instead - resolving to write, I'd head for the nearest coffee shop, only to pick up the advertising newspaper instead. Or read the history of a restaurant on a menu, or, more recently, check political news on my I phone. There is a discipline to creativity that must be cultivated, or the creative moment slips away. Lost forever. Most of my best songs were written when I tapped that experience - at least those that were not coerced by a flirtation or discovered in a line scratched down in the past, finally liberated to form a song like an archaeological ruin unearthed and imagined in its beauty. But these are thoughts from the declining end of a knife's edge experience. The road beckons, as does my home...
June 17, 2011 - Different stories emerge from your consciousness. Like the ebb and flow of an ocean, first rising to the surface, then down again. It has been that way this week. Stories I haven't told in years finding themselves at the surface, renewed in their remembrance and telling, all with the same basic themes: finding that which was lost; the good nature of people; the impossibility of chance; magic.
In Kerrville I repeated a story from my errant travels in South America when I was 17 and again at 22. The story at 17, though, perhaps most set me on a path leading to magic and impossibility. We had been there for two months already, climbing mountains in Bolivia and seeing the country. Our team of seven had been slowly whittled down to three -- myself, my best friend from high school, Tuckerman, and his Father (our leader, loosely) Bill. We had decided on the destination of Sajama, third highest mountain in South America and the highest in Bolivia. Isolated in the southwestern Bolivian desert, the last stop in civilization would be the dusty city of Oruro, wracked in poverty and decaying.
We arrived in Oruro as the last days of an election campaign were ending. The Banzer dictatorship was giving way (or so they thought) to democracy and the cities were alive with rallies and drinking and the megaphoned voices of candidates desperate to win an election they never could. We stayed a night in a simple hotel, public showers and bath down the hall. Eager to wash the dust of the road off of me, I headed for the shower. I remember it well -- the first hot water for days and for this 17 year old, a soapy oasis in a dusty trip. I took off my two favorite rings -- both handmade. One was gold with runes etched into it, the other turquoise and silver. I set them in the soap dish, and settled into the warmth of the water coursing over me and then a long, good night's sleep. We set out early the next morning for the three-day ride to Sajama in the back of various Toyota trucks - the cheapest and most regular form of transport. It was early on the second day, now covered in dust, as I put my gloves on, that I realized I no longer had my rings and remembered that I had left them in the soap dish in Oruro.
I ranted for a bit and was despondent -- thinking: "if we just went back..." I would still be able to find them. Bill knew it was useless, but told me we would return after the climb, but that we couldn't turn back now. Of course he never intended to go back. Our route would take us in the opposite direction when we were done, back to La Paz and then home. Not consoled, I nonetheless agreed. I was powerless to do anything else. We continued to the small village of Tumarapi (sp) at the base of the mountain.
The climb was difficult. The mountain, deceptively easy in appearance, rose over 1,000 feet higher than Denali and created its own weather. We managed to get up to near 19,000 feet over the course of a few days (all mountains in Bolivia already start at around 10,000 feet, so climbs take less time) and ended up bivouacked as weather closed in on the side of the mountain on a ledge of stones that we had made, with a tent barely big enough for the three of us. Stuck on the ledge for that night and the next day, we grew bored as the night came on. Bill began to tell ghost stories of the lost climbers of Sajama -- a story about a foreign embassy staff person who was lost on the mountain and was said to haunt the peak looking for other wayward climbers.
It was as he ended this story that we hear the first sound, like a distant "hello!" shouted over the incessant, non-stop howling of the wind outside our tent. We all froze and I looked at Bill. "Stop it", I said, "that's not funny". He look perplexed and denied he had said anything, as did Tucker. Just as I was starting to get angry, the three of us, now looking at each other, heard it again. "Hello in there..." and "Is there anybody there?" A foreign accent, maybe German. I think it might have been the only time I ever saw Bill, the inveterate teaser, truly stunned and maybe even frightened. After a moment one of us unzipped the tent (not sure who) to see where the voice was coming from - this manifestation of the exact story we had just heard. There, in the gale-force wind, was a man with a light jacket, goggles, holding what look liked a space blanket in his hand. "Hello", he said. "Do you have another tent or blanket?"
His name was Thomas Deskau, a teacher of German from Oruro. He had come up the mountain thinking it was a day climb with only his light jacket and the emergency blanket. He had become disoriented in the altitude and, when night fell (as it does quickly near the Equator), he had gotten lost only to stumble upon our tent. Our tent was barely able to fit the three of us -- one on top of the other -- and the slope was too steep to allow for building another ledge and pitching another tent, so we gathered extra clothes and gave up one of our sleeping bags and set him up down wind of our tent to provide a little more shelter, half not expecting him to be there in the morning - a mirage from a ghost story.
But he was there the next day. His feet hurt, he said, but he insisted on joining us in a failed attempt to summit. We saw the summit flags, but wind and coming night forced us back down and we stumbled back to our tent in the dark. That night he told us something about Oruro and I, fully realizing that we would never be going back, drew a picture of my rings and wrote a description of the hotel down (I did not recall the name) and asked him if he could look for them when he returned. He agreed to and the next morning got ready to leave, tucking my note in his jacket. Still complaining about his feet hurting, we convinced him to take his boots off that next morning and saw that his feet were horribly frost bit -- probably from the first night. Concerned, we asked him to stay with us and said we could get him out. But we were burdened with all of our gear and he refused. He took off down the mountain. Faster and faster he seemed to walk, while we struggled after until he disappeared.
When I tell this story I shift here. I talk about getting back to Tumarapi, missing a bus by seconds and not seeing another for three days (due to the election). I describe getting back to La Paz, the cold night sleeping on sheep carcasses and machine parts, the dinner celebration with Alaskans we stumbled upon, the coup and my first encounter with an Uzi. I talk about fleeing the city and missing our ferry, thereby losing our luggage. I talk about how we got the luggage back, after tracking the bus driver and how we bribed our way across the Bolivia/Peru border to get away from the devolving country that had closed its borders. I talk about Peru and the return home. It's a long story, full of the adventures that have been at the core of my life and that shaped my first real adult impressions of the world and which likely drive me to this day. But those stories are for other times. This story ends some seven or eight months later when the mail came to my apartment in Anchorage.
That day the mail included a box from someone named Tim Beale, a name I did not know. There was a note inside which I still have (along with the box) that said that the contents of the box were given to him (Beale) by a friend of his from Europe who had been traveling in South America and had passed through Miami (where Beale lived) on his way home. The friend had been to Oruro and met a German there who insisted he take the box and make sure it was sent to the address written on it - my address. When I opened that smaller box I saw both of my rings and a note from Thomas Deskau. He had survived the return, his feet intact, and had gone, after his recovery, to the hotel that I had described. There he had asked about the rings and the desk clerk, beaming, brought them out and assured Thomas that he new the owner was bound to return. It is of little doubt that those rings were worth at least half of a year's salary for that clerk, but he had held on to them. Thomas had met a man traveling and thought it would be more reliable to mail the rings from the States, as he could not trust the Bolivian postal service. This traveler was passing through Florida on his way back to Europe and entrusted the rings to Beale so the proper postage could be put on them. And Beale had mailed them to me.
It is an odd story. Of coincidence and luck. Of the good nature of people. Of ghosts and good fortune. It is a true story. It is a magic story and it shapes me.
June 16, 2011 - A long time has passed since I wrote. Oddly, time without my car, left in Arlington, Virginia while I slipped back into patterns of life that pay the bills and keep my house in Anchorage. Divorced from the road, an uneasy and volatile relationship at times, but reconciled now. Car in my hands, Kerrville and Minnesota in my rear view mirror, I head home again. Always heading home. As in past years, Kerrville was a reconnection to great friends and the meeting of new ones and then it was Austin for a night and then a lunch before landing on Interstate 35 and heading North to see family and for a music event for my Uncle Gene at my Cousin Jeff's - with all my Mom's family there (Bette, Barbara and Tom, Audrey, Cousins Kelly and John), Jeff's daughters Bri and Emily, John's son Matt and friends Trina, Jill and Pete as well. It was a good evening. The previous evening was at Cousin Anna's and her husband Gary and lunch with Uncle Pete, visit with Cousin Barbara - Minnesota, my other home.
We are bound by the myths and magic that grow up around us, with us. I heard no few stories of my past in this past two days. One story still makes the rounds unchanged after all these years... I had been doing one of my many cross-country trips in my twenties (or was it my late teens?) and had stopped to visit Uncle Gene and Aunt Bette. To protect my stuff I had parked my car in their garage in Minneapolis (Nordeast, as they say) and, after an evening of stories and dinner, ran out in a rain storm to unlock the garage padlock and set out on the road for somewhere that I don't recall - all I knew was that it was East... I pulled the car out (the trusty brown Toyota), put the key on the top of the car while I re-padlocked the garage. I bid farewell to the city of my summers in youth and headed East to Wisconsin. It was in Madison when I realized I had forgotten to take the key to the garage off of my car... Hundreds of miles later, I pulled over and, in a desperate panic, reached up on top of my car... and found the key. Stunned, I called Gene and Bette and let them know I had the key. The next day I dropped it in the mail and the story became a bit of family lore, a bit of magic... There are others to tell and, one day they'll come out too.
I drive a lot - have since I was young. I tell people its been 42 times up and back on the Alcan, but think it might have been more. Easily more. But the miles roll under my car like time itself. And I've watched time - often surprised when I look in a mirror and see a shock of grey, a line, or feel the weight of life or see it looking back at me. We choose things - every day, every moment. We have before us the path of happiness, but will we take it? We live in drama and regret, but always within reach of something else. Will we reach? These choices determine so much, and we don't get to rewind, or redo. So we see the risk of life and many, fearful, settle for what they know. What is before them. We may ache for what we leave behind us, and yet revel when we have the wisdom to see forward. A friend once told me "If you ever change your mind, let me know..." and I loved that. For rarely are doors left open, whether or not we ever walk through them. We cannot know who we will be or what we will face over years. But the door is cracked even if, in time, forgotten.
When I was 19 one of my first powerful relationships ended. She was a singer with a voice that would melt any Alaskan Winter and I found myself tortured by a loss I could not comprehend - I had imagined a lifetime with her (but what can a 19 year old know of a lifetime?). So, when I could no longer handle the searing pain of loss, I packed up my old Toyota Corolla, stopped by a holiday party (Winter in Alaska), bid a dramatic farewell to my old high school friends (oh, to make her feel the sense of loss, I thought - never a good idea when the old girlfriend has already moved on), and then I drove away in the middle of the night, the radio echoing my choice with Supertramps' "Take the Long Way Home".
I had no clear idea of where I was going, but I knew it was to find my way out of this place that I knew had caused me so much pain. I knew I would find solace in the road. I knew I was gone. Baby, I was out of there... I might have said to her.
I drove under a clear sky and, before the moon rose, I saw the Northern Lights, a necklace around the night and then the moon... As the miles ticked by in that wasted subzero winterland, I grew more and more tired, eventually falling asleep and flaming out into a ditch some 240 miles North of Anchorage. Tok a ten mile walk away. 5 am. No vehicles. And so I got out and walked, and reflected and in that cold, as each step took me closer to that flashing amber light (visable from ten miles away), I thought of who I was, where life goes, how we choose...
Car towed out, I didn't head home. I continued. A resolve had come over me on that walk and I'm sure it changed my life. I knew that I would always pull myself out of the ditch, and move on. That knowing I could be at the party, or on the road was no choice at all. It had to be moving forward. Reality bested metaphor, and I became my own music or poem. I drove that time through the states to DC and I was gone from Alaska for over five months. In many ways I never returned, though I did physically come back. I knew then as clearly as I know now that you live once (as far as you can know) and in that life there are few limits on what is possible.
I recall at one point having driven past Crater Lake Park in the middle of the night and heading to Eastern Oregon. The road was silent, cold, the night clear and, as I drove down from the park, I saw a flashing amber light ahead of me. Experience told me it was at least ten miles away. And, with Fleetwood Mac's "Sara" playing full blast on my 8 track, I drove away from my past to somewhere only the road could show me.
February 9, 2011 - Airport in Minneapolis and the temperature is twenty degrees cooler than Anchorage. I wonder about this mythic anomaly of Alaska - the ice box, the folly. Where you can walk across ice in the summer in sandals, or ski down mountains in shorts. We build myths and live them. Had a friend once who adopted the garb of the supposed Alaskan. He grew up in the Anchorage area - born in South America. But when he went East for college he bought a Stetson and an accent, and played the tough Alaskan. His parents had been hippies - escaped to Alaska from the East. Father a College Professor, Mother a postal worker. But my friend? He was John Wayne in "North to Alaska" and the folks in Connecticut ate it up.
I came to visit him once during the Bush/Reagan Presidential Primary and he convinced me to come to the Connecticut College Republicans convention as part of his College's delegation. Not only was I a tried and true Democrat, but I had the long hair of a person who was rarely comfortable with more than one fork or a name plate by my dinner setting. I covered the Democratic Convention in New York City later that year as a reporter for the Alaska Public Radio Network (strictly voluntary, but I did interview Betty Friedan), but in March I travelled to the Connecticut College Republican Convention as part of his College's Republican delegation - under the assumed name of Hallowood Kaxlaxian (when asked I claimed it was British and Greek). At one point the battle between the Yale Reagan and Bush delegations turned into a credential challenge, each side fighting to see which would be seated and secure the delegates for the State Convention. I was selected to Chair as a "neutral" and practiced every trick I knew to get the Yale Bushies in - only to lose in the end. A strange experience, to be sure, but revealing also. We so easily move to deception....
And so it is. We spend a lifetime crafting stories of who we are, who we want to be - sometimes knowingly making the details up. But we risk losing ourselves in them. A Stetson and a myth, isn't necessarily the truth...
February 1, 2011 - A short entry from here at DCA. More I hope to follow - including a photo or two of the snow scape that is the East Coast these days (and this before the storm to end all storms gets here tomorrow!) The Salon was a dream - great act after great act, and the good company of my friends Steve and Diane. The audience was amazing, the venue the best and I was invited back by the charming Andrea Clearfield to perform again. It was a magic night followed by drinks among the musicians at Monk's Cafe just down the street. So many things to say about it, but a plane awaits me... In Alaska for a few days before bouncing back and forth between coasts this month....
January 29, 2011 - I've settled into Harrisburg, PA for the night, Philly tomorrow. Last night I slept in Elkhart Indiana, but not before driving to Goshen and falling back into a dream, a strange trip from two and a half decades ago. It was 1985. September. I was taking a drive-a-way from Anchorage, Alaska to Marlboro College in Vermont. A remembrance of a Mother for her daughter. I hadn't wanted to drive alone, so my brother Nick had connected me up with his friend, John Chandlar. Later simply known as Crystal John.
Crystal John and I went booming down the highway in that Subaru and I learned he was on a quest, into his past, for a Pink Cadillac - the last bit of his Father that remained now sitting in an old garage on the outskirts of Goshen, Indiana. He'd cruised in it in high school and after, and it brought a simpler life back to him. With his Father's death fresh, he needed to see it again. Drive it. Remember.
We drove through the nights from Anchorage, down the isolated beauty of the Alcan - and all along the way we were paced by the distant ring of the Aurora, like a guide or a protector. John claimed it was the quartz crystal that he had that brought the lights out, and he wrapped that crystal in duct tape and stuck it to a stick, creating a magic wand of sorts that he would periodically wave into the air - blessing our trip, marking our way - while space music, the odd tonal sounds of synthesizer music, played in unending loops on the tape deck. The duct tape came in handy. We fixed a broken door handle, and a gear shift with it, and even water hoses in the engine, but John never worried about those things. We had his crystal to lead the way.
We finally stopped one night in Canada - we'd been driving non-stop for two or three days. John wanted a drink, and he was sure that the crystal had told him where to find one. I can't remember the town, or the beer, but I know it was the rest we craved and we slept hard. I remember coffee the next morning - we had to be in Alberta. John lifting up the creamer and showing me that it said "a petroleum product" back when folks in Alberta were still proud of their oil. He poured it into his coffee anyway, smiling and saying, "well, at least its organic..."
On the evening of the fifth or six day (after a brief Minnesota stop to visit relatives - all of whom found John to be a ...treat) we caught the exit into Elkhart off the Indiana Turnpike. He regaled me first with stories of this birthplace of many a saxophone and tales of his time here when he'd been younger. But as we neared Goshen he asked me what day it was. "Friday" I answered. He smiled and looked at me like a teenager might... "The streets will be packed" he said. "Cruising, its all there is to do on a Friday night here." I didn't believe him for a minute. We'd seen no traffic, it was near midnight. But when we hit Goshen, we came to a stop. Lincoln Street - at least I think it was Lincoln Street - was impassable. In the strange courting pattern of youth of a time, big cars, and bravado had turned the main drag into a parking lot - punctured by the flashing red and blue of police cars, the roar of unmuffled engines and the coy shrieks of girls ready for guys on the make.
We slowly worked our way through the pack, and down some side streets, stopping by a modest house of indeterminate age. His Mother met us, and gave us a late night snack. We slept and I remember awakening to the smell of coffee. When I got to the kitchen, John was there. We quickly ate breakfast, and I packed up my few things into the car, and went back in to thank his Mom for the hospitality. John smiled when he saw me then. "Come with me," he said and headed out to the garage. He lifted up the door and there, like a mythic beast, sat a light pink and white Caddy. A beauty by any stretch. Quest complete. "I got a new plan," he said to me. "Gonna take this Caddy and head south. Warmer territory - Arizona or Mexico. Maybe I'll trade it for a Semi - and try running things back and forth between the two." I wasn't exactly sure what he meant by "things", but I had an idea that it might not be all that legal. Still, i wished him well and after a quick goodbye, headed out again, Crystal John and his Mom in my rearview mirror waving farewell.
I never saw Crystal John again, but I got a cryptic note from him some years later - a folded up poster saying simply "Jake for Sherriff" and some photos of the Sandia Mountains shot from a moving car, I'm guessing the cab of a Semi, or an old pink Cadillac. I later used one of those to help create the cover to "Albuquerque Road". And Goshen? I hit it last night, Friday night, at 11 pm, and there was hardly a car to be seen. It had changed, or maybe it had always been like this and that night twenty-five years ago John and that crystal had simply summoned up his 1970's life one last time, just as he remembered.
January 27, 2011 - Lincoln, Nebraska tonight. Talks with friends as day gave way to night. Talks with myself, once night had fallen.
Wyoming set in the heart of the Rockies, but flat as the Great Plains toward which the road flowed, pouring me into the endless windswept landscape of Nebraska. I listened to music by Philip Glass on Nebraska Public Radio as the sun set over Kearny. He was a cab driver, even after he premiered his first major works. An artist who actually was a "hack", funny. Art doesn't pay that well, and it never hurts to keep a foot on a paycheck to keep the house from blowing away...
Two sunsets. One from Nevada a week ago as I came into Reno, but the top one from tonight in Nebraska while talking to my friend Tim Marino...
January 26, 2011 - Rock Springs, Wyoming for the night. Wind howling so loud it drowns out the TV, and the doors are rattling as winter threatens to break in and bury me in drifts. Heading East to Philadelphia and thinking about the gigs I need to set up in Minnesota in April and the work before me... I drove in silence most of today, thinking of words my Mom has given me yesterday and years ago. Words that echo in the heart of all of us - about loss and love and possibility. Perhaps the song will emerge, though I'm never sure. She writes about the rhythm of the road - that's where I get this wanderlust. Years of youthful traipsing across the country in the back of a Buick or Ford station wagon (or a Plymouth or a VW Bug). Knowing that the fries tasted the same no matter where you went and that a pool was a summer necessity for parental sanity on the road.
I'm following a path tonight and I wonder where it will find me tomorrow. Rehearsing words I'd wish I'd known at every loose end of life, practicing for everything yet to come. We practice for 90 years more or less, until perhaps we get it right.
January 25, 2011 - Lovely time visiting my Mother in Carson City, Nevada. Also had a chance to see an old friend, Laura Mathews (McNeil). Time to catch up on life, reflect on the passage of the past few years and months, have fun hanging out with my Mom and her friends Mark, Susan, Jo and Mark and Susan's Nephew and Niece (and her beau). The trip across country was crazy. With tractor trailers strewn about the highway and temperatures dipping so low that even Alaska looked comfortable... Songs eluded me, but not contemplation - the soil from where songs are grown. Where seeds first find root. And so it has been this trip.
I do often wonder how things change, how they emerge. One day a thing is one way and then, when you look again, its something new. A line around the eye, a feeling, the worn step once sharp, the weathered wood, once fresh. A memory that might have bitten, softening. And closeness lost or distance covered. What we cherish now, something we did not imagine or perhaps even know two years before. And so we discover the real mystery of life: that we live in the present and not the past, that we are in a constant state of renewal, that we cannot know our future except to know that it is a consequence of how we choose to live our present and that, in the end, we have choice - the ability to choose which path we will walk upon. Nothing is preordained, nor inevitable.
I set out tomorrow for Philadelphia and join a private show at the Salon on the 30th, then see Keith Liles again on the 31st before returning to Anchorage for a few days. I leave the comfort of Carson City and dive back into Winter. I hunger for Spring.
January 17, 2011 - Croton-on-Hudson at the Home of Nenad Bach, Croatian musician and activist. Hosted here by his charming wife Vera and daughter Lea. It was a long two days these last - I popped up to Bearsville to appear in the filming of Marc Black's "No Fracking Way" video (the use of water to push natural gas that ineviatably harms the drinking water of a community) after a great dinner with David and Jeanne and an all night drive from DC (and a roadside sleep in Pennsylvania). Old haunts in this New York journey. Tonight its to the Cornelia Street Cafe to hear Keith K. P. Liles read as part of his New York Quarterly poetry success. After that? Its off west to vist my Mother and other friends before returning to play in Philadelphia (and for another Liles reading) at the end of the month... The journey continues.
January 13, 2011 - A night of live music here in Staunton, Virginia after picking up my oft-injured guitar. A movie and a night walking. The last few nights were magical in New York - the snow on Tuesday night coating the ground as I talked into the night at St. Dymphna's with friends. An evening catching up in DC and now here, with the news of the quiet demise of my old cat - Kitten (with a French accent), or Buddy, he'll be missed.
There's much to reflect upon, but no more for now...
December 27, 2010 - Just was sent an e mail from my friend Mark Stadsklev with this post of the eclipse which uses as background music "Twinkle" from my first CD "Such a World". Thanks Mark! It works well with the photo montage... Quite a lovely Holiday so far - hanging out in Alaska with friends, getting ready for the show in two days, plotting the next few months... More on that soon. Looking for ideas and gigs, so feel free to e mail me!
December 21, 2010 - Following a "blood moon" eclipse, solstice and the return of the Sun. All full of portents these days. Crisp and clear in Alaska and a House Concert to announce locally. Steve Bacon and Andrew Norsworthy are in town so we have elected to put on a House Concert at my place next Wednesday, December 29th. Songwriters in the Round with limited seating, fine wine and a suggested $10 donation to keep those guys in guitar strings... Steve will be joined by Kendra Kinsey.
December 10, 2010 - Over four months later - no entries as I slipped back into a bit of politics and found myself in Alaska at home for the better part of the year. I'm traveling now - in Edmonton, Alberta. On my way to Baltimore and a private gig for JMATE. I wanted to do the drive again - freeing my mind up for music. Seeing the barren wilderness of the Alcan (pictures to follow), listening to the quiet, steady rhythm of the road. Its all a bit releasing and I watch out my window and feel life change - as it so often does. From here I head through Saskatchewan then down at North Dakota, across Minnesota and Wisconsin Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Penn, DC then Baltimore. From there I return (by plane - car stays in DC for a bit) to Anchorage for the holidays then back out in January for music and contracts in January before returning again to Alaska in February. Not sure where this year will find me, but looking forward to the feeling of change I have begun to sense....
July 28, 2010 - (Three months later - no entries for The return to the states, New York, DC, Anchorage, Carson City, NV., Kerrville Folk Fest (another marvelous year there), Wyoming, Anchorage again, Austin, Carson City again (my Mom lives there... so I try to get there when I am driving), Oklahoma for WoodyFest, New Orleans, DC, Omaha, Nashville and Memphis (in Nashville as I write this). Its been an amazing time and I am too far behind to say everything, but there are things to share - AT&T and I phones, for example, are useless on the road to conduct any kind of meaningful conversation in the west. No service being the operative and of course the dropped calls - seems they built the I phone antenna (I do not have a 4, just a 3) s that it does not quite meet the range of AT&T cell towers (see picture below). It sucks and I am beginning to believe those adds about coverage - not AT&T's. But enough of that digression.
Music is going reasonably well, and I continue to do a bit of my old day job as well - Juvenile Justice training as I travel. I've seen some amazing things lately - sunsets and sunrises, often sleeping in my car, feeling the roll of the road beneath me... The quiet of night.... Good music... surprising friends... and just time to think, which I may do too much of. Its been a good journey, but tomorrow I pick up my Huss and Dalton in Staunton, VA (finally repaired) and head back to Alaska in my trusty Toyota. Yes, a good journey, but as all do, this one finally reaches its end. Need to pocket a bit more money, see my friends in AK, my house, my books. A sense a season changing, time changing, the future emerging. Its a good day to drive...
April 29, 2010 - (2nd entry) I took this photo in the Latchemere (Battersea Park Road, London) a few days ago - it reminds me of an old painting. I was in the pub a few times and these three are always at the same table doing a crossword....
April 29, 2010 - I must admit, for a while there I thought I might never get back on line and do an entry. Much frustration with the old Mac which was prompted by something now known as the "black screen of death" which meant I lost my ability to see anything on my computer. Mac claimed it was user error and not covered despite the fact that the exact same thing is found all through the Mac forums and they said without an original receipt I could not get a refund on my Apple Care - so this is my way of saying a none-to-fond thank you to them. If their platform was not so good for music, I said... and then when I get a new Mac and tried to migrate the website software I ended up with nothing but disappointment - that and the migration of e mails - how about a warning to all of us that you changed how e mail extensions end? and that it means they just come up blank when you migrate? or that address books don't smoothly move over? Well after days, and days, and days, here we are: an entry finally, most addresses (not all) restored, most e mails (not all) restored. Outside of a guy named Abe, nothing but disappointment from Apple support.
Well enough of the rant. Back in the UK now after three weeks touring in the states - very successful gigs in Boston, Worcester, Portland, OR, Brookings, OR, Austin (as part of Paul Barker's SXSW deal), and Anchorage, AK. Spent three weeks in Juneau working on some education issues (successfully) and visiting old friends Mark, Catherine, Arlo - my Godson - and Maddy, Shari P., Chris, many others and new friends too: Aurah and Mike, Michael, etc... A little time in Michigan visiting Matt and Louisa (check out his new book "Barolo" - I loved it!), and now here. Many new songs and hope that all of this will become an album soon (as soon as I can afford it, that is!) Heading back to the states in early May for time with friends and family before Kerrville - (including former Alaskan and now New Yorker, poet Keith Keith K. P. Liles, who's own book, Spring Hunger, is also a great read!) Hope to see you all down the road! (picture from Brookings below)
March 6, 2010 - First gig at Hezikiah Stone's (see below) went well! It was as though Tim and I had been rehearsing this past seven months. The Burren 8:30 pm tomorrow. Had the good fortune to catch the Leonard Cohen Live at the Isle of Wight movie last night followed by good conversation and a stop for a drink at Richard's place. That is Richard Cambridge - a poet and performer. He swears we are cousins separated by time. Judge for yourself from the picture below. Good being back in the states, visiting friends and driving. Still a bit of jet lag... Distance is so weird...
March 1, 2010 - Last day in the UK for a bit - while Europe suffers under storms, London is actually warm and the sun is out. Some writing done, friends well met - now time to play a little music and do a little work. Head to the states in the morning then to the Boston area on the 4th to play at Hezekiah Stone's Coffee House followed by another gig on the 7th at the Burren in Sommerville - both as the Bone Collectors with Tim Mason. From there its to Oregon, then Austin, then Michigan, then Alaska. Busy March. In reflection, its been a good trip. I came here less focused and perhaps a bit adrift (I called this my "Year of Living Aimlessly") but, with new songs and a plan beginning to emerge for the new CD, I am, if not moored, at least under rudder control. I look forward to seeing folks along the road!
February 24, 2010 - Manchester today heading to London tonight. Was in Edinburgh over the weekend visiting new and old friends - all a good thing, though no access to wireless - always a problem when the bars close at 11 - creates havoc for communicating with the states. Part of the journey was to identify studios for potential recording and had some success there thanks to my friends Ron Young and Linda Dewer. Also meeting up with new friends Simon Robinson (Robbo) and his wife Jenny - great time had by all though I did lose my favorite winter hat after 22 years... Plan on posting photos and maybe another soundtrack later in the day/night at Facebook. Having trouble on line though even here, so this entry will be short. But, before I go maybe someone knows why Scotland has three different currencies from three different banks all allowed to print their own money?
February 16, 2010 - Spent some time on the 14th at the Holy Drinker, a Clapham/Northcote venue that is high on good company, warmth and Guinness. Everyone there was dissing Valentine's Day - perfect company. Great conversations with Claire and Katerina, with liberal doses of quiet time watching it all happen around me. Feeling a bit restless here, and I have some work to do. Songs almost bubbling out, but not quite. This marks the end of the season of anti-decision making. I always call from Thanksgiving to Valentines Day a time when one should not make major decisions about your life - if you live in a Northern clime. We are, to put it simply, impaired. Cabin fever, lack of vitamin D, cold - really not the best conditions for thoughtful analysis. So, decisions to come, for sure.
February 12, 2010 - Back in London, where I was greeted by the perfect cappuccino from Valentina at Il Molina, a local coffee shop. What a perfect name for this weekend. She and her compatriots have a tiny outpost of Italy here - with all the drama, boyfriends (they'd be on scooters if they could), and coffee adventures one might imagine. I sit amused often as the combination of new mothers, elderly Brits and hip writer/actors file in and out. I grab my table in the back, write a journal entry, read a paper, work on projects, the book, or songs, but mostly just watch. Seeing friends tomorrow, but anticipating a quiet Sunday. Time for a little reflection on the nature of love and relationships perhaps. Working on another new song.
February 8, 2010 - In New York still and the wonder and magic of this place continues to fascinate me as it always will. Some of my most difficult memories will always be associated with this place, some of my best songs, but also the constant reminders of magic here. I am reminded of the opening of the book "Veronica" by Nicholas Christopher - one of my favorites - which describes where Waverly street meets itself (it winds around and actually intersects itself at its west end in the Village), and I associate NYC with the magic of that book - sort of a northern continent magical realism. And so yesterday at brunch with friends Michael and Kyle, I mention it - the magic of always running into someone I know, or some moment (like yesterday's entry). And as I wandered the street, looking for a movie or a place to plant my seat for a bit, I look up and see a man walking my way, ear buds in but looking at me oddly. I start to turn away, but he says: "excuse me, are you Tom Begich?" Stunned, I stop. After all I do not live here. "I am..." I respond, only to have him say: "I'm Michael McHale - I knew you at Oxford." (For those who do not know, I was there from 1989 to 1990) - twenty years on, we see each other again. Admittedly we had reconnected as avatar's over Facebook, but really, the odds are pretty crazy. I do love this place. (Michael owns Michael McHale Designs - fascinating lamp structures. Take a look.)
February 7, 2010 - In New York for a few short days before returning to London. Last night I went to the "Red Riding" marathon - based loosely on the Yorkshire Ripper story. Five and half hours. A woman in the line, hearing I had been in London that morning (she had just come in from Florence) asked me if I had come all the way to New York just to see a British show... The movies were disturbing, a bit uneven but good - often described as a British "Godfather" without the laughs or "haunting". It ended after Midnight and I stepped down to the subway to catch an A train Uptown, and was stunned by the sounds of a saxophone. With I Phone in hand, I recorded it. I may be able to post some of it on Facebook, but here is a link to what I am calling "Life as a Soundtrack". The scratchy noise is my jacket against the phone - can't control for that when it is as cold as it is here! Its about ten minutes - sit back and just enjoy the ambient sounds of Sax in a Subway... Life As A Sountrack
February 5, 2010 - London has been great - working on setting up future music possibilities. Posted new photos at Facebook, and have nothing but great things to report! Cold? Yep, but not as much snow as DC today (or so I am told!) Been visiting old friends and writing music, as well as working on a few long distance contracts.
Don't Miss it! The week of December 7 - 14, 2009 CHECK OUT YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS! I will be on Tom May's River City Folk. The show will air on XM Channel 15, "The Village" and also be webcast if your local public radio station does not carry it. This is an hour-long radio performance/interview show with a few new songs and some old favorites. I hope you get a chance to listen - e mail me your thoughts!
January 20, 2010 - Did I really let almost two months go by? Did I really not write about Buenas Aires? Or the Sitka Grind's 100th anniversary (what a great night it was - I wrote TWO spontaneous songs for them - though I have no recordings of either...) Did I really not mention that I made it back to Anchorage for a day? That I am in New York now? That I will be in Seattle tonight? Really? What an idiot. I really need to learn to blog better. London next week - maybe being away from things will help... I am building my schedule for the coming years and am open to suggestions at email@example.com, so let me know about opportunities for music. In the meantime, I'm still working on the private eye in Barcelona career goal. Who knows? the world is officially an oyster.
November 23, 2009 - Played at the Lizard Lounge tonight with Tim Mason as the Bone Collectors - nice crowd and great talent out there. I had not realized that it was a competitive open mic (hosted by Tom Bianchi) but we ended up in the final which was quite cool. Stillwater was good - mostly relatives in the show, though Mike Mayer came up from Eagan and former Alaskan Barbara Korri showed up from the Twin Cities. It was good seeing cousins Jane, Barbara and Anna (who with her Husband Gary hosted me), though I blew it and missed hanging out with them after the show as i got lost in conversations after I was done.... Following Stillwater it was a mad rush East for Boston - visited old friends Jeff and Jodi in Chicago/Evanston (great food blog that they do here) and Matt and Louisa Frank in Grand Rapids (he's a fab poet! she a charmer). Went all the way from Chi town to Boston with a four hour break in Syracuse NY. Little tired now, so this entry will have to do.
November 14, 2009 - Spent some great days with old high school friends up in Port Townsend but, as the rental money reaches its end, I am pleased to say that there may be a light at the end of the car repair tunnel. Heard yesterday that the car might be done Tuesday, so I head to Vancouver BC by train tomorrow, by plane to Kamloops on Monday, bus to Cache Creek where I will overnight and ideally pick up the car and get back to Seattle on Tuesday to get my gear and head out to Stillwater by Friday. After that? The road is open and I haven't quite decided where Thanksgiving will find me. I have a bit of a worry about getting over the passes, but I think I will keep heading east. Added some March dates recently, and hope to add more soon.
November 10, 2009 - It has been a week in Seattle - being told by the folks in Cache Creek that the car will be delayed, delayed, delayed. It's a bit frustrating - wanting to head out. Also found out that I bruised the bones in both feet during the accident so have to take it a bit easier to give them time to heal... Still, hanging out with Brother Paul is good, and I've gotten a bit of writing done (as well as many games of Jewel Quest!). I did get the word that the car may be done by Monday - and that means I will likely be playing at Dunn Brothers in Stillwater, MN on the 20th - (won't make it to Chicago I think for Keith's reading - too hard a haul). No pithy post-election observations to offer, no witty review of world events. Just a touch of impatience to head out and play some more music... (a Happy Birthday to my Brother Nick today!)
November 2, 2009 - After a day at a Juvenile Justice conference and visiting a number of friends there, I raced from Austin (within the speed limit for those wondering) to get to Seattle to meet a friend for my birthday on Friday (B day was Halloween) and ended up getting caught in Cheyenne, Wyoming in the worst blizzard in 13 years. The roads closed, I found myself in the Laredo Hotel (at least I think that was the name). If I can I'll post a photo from the outside of the room. Snow drifts blocked the hotel room door and, when I opened it, the snow stayed in a berm about a foot high which I stepped over to get my luggage into the room. After killing a cockroach, I settled on to the bed and began to search for alternate routes out of Cheyenne. But the roads I 80 and I 25 - were both closed. A friend suggested I look at some of the smaller routes, so the next morning I tried heading out US 85. No one on the road, huge blowing drifts and white out conditions made for a great chapter in the adventure book! Using back roads I got to 85 (the freeway access was closed) and managed to get around the north end of the storm before roads were closed that far up (Douglas, WY) and had clear blue skies through Montana and clear sailing to Seattle. On time for a Fridayarrival, I headed to downtown and three days to relax for my birthday. Saturday was a day spa and massage where I managed to burn my arm in the sauna and throw my back out on the massage table, but always looking for that silver lining, I noted that the burn was in the shape of a heart - boding well for the coming years! OK, not really. It was a burn. I spent Halloween at Kell's drinking Guinness, watching strange costumes fill the place up and having a great conversation! After that, it was wine tasting North of Seattle with my brother Paul driving, then finally settling in to rest and a World Series game that night. Through all of this I ended up discovering that the insurance company has elected to repair my car, so now I need to figure out how to get to Cache Creek when it is done. And, when will that be? Ahh, that remains as the unanswered question.
October 26, 2009 - So the thirty minutes at Artz was great - Christie and Andy Garbe (who also, along with their dogs Scout and Gromit, are putting me up) brought out their friends and family, Buddy Gill - an old friend from political days, Swafo (great new CD out), Cynthia and Laurie from the Kerrville Festival all madeit out as well - 14 on top of the usual crowd in all. Afterwards Paul Barker invited me to join he and other friends at Donn's Depot where their Monday performer - Chris Gage - asked me to play a few songs. It was a great night, played well, music was well received and I was touched by the generosity of my Texas compatriots. No news on the car definitively yet, though it looks as though it may be totaled by State Farm. Waiting to hear... Tired tonight, need to sleep, but looking forward to more adventure...
This is a photo from Austin at Donn's Depot, Shot by Winker
October 25, 2009 - Missed writing for a while, but been busy... Played in Worthington, MN on Friday night (thanks again Bruce Boldt and Ivan Harris!) at BenLee's. Allison at the Three Stones (massage Therapist) gave me a quick chair massage before the show (very, very good) to help release a bit of the soreness from that accident and then she and her husband Devin showed up for the show. The music went well, small but enthusiastic crowd - had a great time! That gig had followed a trip across country in a rental car from Seattle to Spearfish, SD (where I visited old friends Kay Jorgensen and her brother Joe), and then to Minnesota. Left from there to Texas on Saturday morning and made it south of Dallas on my way to a brief stop at Conroe county and the Camp C.A.L.M. folks (later today) then Austin tonight. Lot of time to think on the road - writing new music and thinking about some poems. Need to head out now, but hope after all of the running around I can slow down a bit and reflect here. Having a great time though, and the road is before me still.
October 18, 2009 - Over a month off of the notes here as I continued to plan my break from Alaska and my music plans for October and my coming year. Trips to Michigan, Kentucky and North Carolina in September followed by a great last Alaska concert at Side Street Espresso culminating in a small gathering and farewells to my friends (Sarah S., Sarah K., June S., Julia H., George Gee and so many others) at my house on the 1st of October - the day I headed out to New York City with my good friend Poet Keith Liles (his first visit to that grand city!). He spent a week and a day in the City while I popped down to DC for a House Concert hosted by my Sister-in-law Deborah Bonito and a meeting of the Reclaiming Futures folk I have worked with in the past. The House concert was great - sound provided by my friend Steve Spellman who bailed me out at the last minute (He owns the Guitar Shop in DC). Had a nice reconnection and dinner with my friend Emily and friends Laura M., Winston (my ever-traveling friend) his brother Peter, Becky J. and so many others. Then it was back to New York and Springsteen shutting down Giants Stadium (thanks to my friend Justin Goldspink and his sister Sophie). Keith and I stopped in Seattle on the flight back to visit my Brother Paul, then were back in Anchorage on the 12th in time for me to finish packing up my car heading out on the big move.
Reporting on the past is easy to a point. All seemed to be going according to plan - with the highway before me, I knew I had more than enough time to catch my gigs in Portland and Brookings, Oregon. So with my car, my few possessions, some contract work and music before me I headed into a change of pace that promised I hoped revelation, understanding and awakening. In a way all of this has happened in the past few days and now there are few clear plans and a little bit of a sense of liberation. A brilliant encounter with a huge black bear in the middle of the night after a stop for a soak at Liard Hot Springs were highlights from the Alcan, but after Ft. St. John it all seemed to be settling into a well-known and perhaps comforting pattern. All that was dashed South of Cache Creek.
Earlier in the day I'd heard from my planned primary contract - the work I do that allows me to both continue to do the public service I enjoy and allows me the opportunity to music as well - The contract was not going to happen. Untethered from income suddenly, I actually saw it as an opportunity to focus more on my music and writing and truly beginning to take the leap I often talked about, but which I always managed to cushion. No cushion here. Still with my car and my music plans in tow I was ready to forge forward. Three hours later the car was gone. Wrecked in an accident south of Cache Creek. Faced with a choice on a curvy stretch of the Fraser River Canyon highway between a cliff, a semi and a retaining wall, after overcompensating on a curve, I chose the wall and snapped my tire rods and crashed the driver side of my car. Alive, but stuck in a fairly desolate area of Canada I kept traffic moving while waiting for the tow truck. With the help of the driver and the RCMP I found my way back to Cache Creek and Robbie's Hotel and a night of sleep as I tried to figure out my next step. The only thing I really knew as I fell a sleep is that for the first time in years I had no plan.
The next day - with no rental company in Cache Creek, I realized I had to get to the next closest town - Kamloops for a car. My Brother Paul went to work from Seattle in trying to find a rental for me while i contacted my insurance agent (kudos to State Farm for providing great service so far!). While talking to Denis from Montreal - the proprietor of Robbie's about my dilemma, he volunteered to give me a ride into Kamloops. A few minutes later and a knock on the door and Denis hands me a modified WWI helmet and with a smile says "Hope on the Harley - its just like a car". I learn that it is like a car - without a windshield. Arriving in Kamloops I find Paul has set me up with a U Haul and I'm back on the road with a farewell to Denis and my stuff loaded into the U haul. Leaving my car behind for insurance agents to determine its fate (to be or not to be totaled.... that is their question).
After an overnight in Seattle at Paul's and a short visit with my friends Jerry and Terry Holder, it was off to Artichoke Music for their songwriters showcase. It was a great evening joined by friends Valerie from Anchorage, Eric McEuen who set up the gig for me and Dan Lowe - who has helped me out in the past. It was a great night - I was last up of five and the audience reacted well - I think I'll be invited back in March to play... I wove in the tale of the demise of my car and it all seemed to go quite well.
Following an overnight in Coburg, I was off to Centre Stage in Brookings - a gig that my friend Howly Slim guided me to and that Kim Banfield and Perry Devine run. Joined by friends Fred and Susan formerly from Anchorage, now living in Trail, OR., it was another great evening. A small audience, but singer/songwriter's that appreciated the music. It was an evening worth remembering - and a place to which I will return in March also.
Thoughts and comments? e mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
August 24, 2009 - Garden concert, two gigs at the National Museum of Dance, an amazingly wonderful crowd in Morrisville Vermont, a great birthday show for Tim Mason at the Burren (thanks for joining us on bass Tom Bianchi!) and today a radio show in Provincetown (WOMR) and a great concert at the Cape Cod Cultural Center. Ten dates in ten days. The tour is done. I wasn't always in the best of moods on the trip, but thanks to Tim and Shannon, things improved. A lunch with the charming Morgan tomorrow and then a long trip home... Playing Thursday for twenty minutes in Anchorage at Out North (around 7) and then relaxing for a bit before the final concert (for a while) in Alaska - September 24th at Side Street Espresso (Mark those calendars, get those tickets!) Was able to complete a sonnet, two songs and a lot of therapy on the trip... Tomorrow I'll share the company of my good friends Keith and Sarah and just... build a fence. : - ) I did manage to carve my initials in wet concrete while on this tour - always a good thing to do!
August 21, 2009 - Getting ready for the Garden Concert - only severe thunderstorms are forcing it inside! A melancholy day - first draft of a sonnet to post:
Kate (revised 8/24)
She stood with the quiet grace of a dancer
Feet slightly turned - halfway between being
And un-being... listening, eyes seeing
a man with yearning words, for, by chance, her...
Eyes closed now - she saw a young girl spinning,
Round and round as his words sang counterpoint
Tutu floating in a a ballet - a joint
collaboration: song, dance. Beginning...
For when she was young her magic danced free
Though time had long stolen that sweet belief
Now awoken, an unburdened motif -
Of movement, sound, and possibility...
But when the sound dies, will she still recall,
That she believed in magic after all?
August 17, 2009 - Rushed up to Colchester VT this morning to film our 1/2 hour Television show for Rik Palieri's Songwriter's Notebook at LCATV. Rebecca Padola did a great job of producing the piece - now we just have to figure out how to post it! Four hours up, a great lunch with Rik and Tim's partner in crime (and wife) Shannon before dropping her off at a retreat outside of Montpelier and four hours back to Boston. I'm tired but thinking about things - I was struck by a sign in the restaurant we stopped in: "Things happen for a reason - Just Believe". So I was thinking about that on my way into the restroom where I was confronted by another sign: "Employees must always wash their hands". Just proving that there is little to be discerned if you base your life on reading signs. Seven more events to go (we added two just today). No more for tonight - its late...
August 16, 2009 - Just finished "The Culture of Lies" by Dubravka Ugresic'. Loaned to me by my friend Emily, it is a sobering series of essays written at the time of the beginning of the Yugoslav wars, with some postscripts from five years later. I was most struck by her grasp of how we rewrite what we know - how we redefine our past. How memory becomes a fictional narrative or, in its truth, selectively interpretive. We believe what we remember because we keep telling ourselves it was so. Nation statelets breathe like living human beings. They use the tools we've devised for overcoming our personal trauma, they slip into a belief in a past and the construction of a reality that never was. She stubbornly refuses to give up her past and, in her glossary, defines that stubbornness. At her most pessimistic she believes this will never change - but perhaps it may be in some instances now some ten years further on... But the lessons are all too real and applicable to us all: do we rewrite our own histories to conform to a more comfortable, livable present? And further, outside of us, how does our own dialogue as a nation - the shouting of truths that are less than true at each other - falsify our national past and damage our present? Questions worth thinking about perhaps. Let me know your thoughts. email@example.com
August 15, 2009 - Performed tonight in Newton, Mass with Tim Mason. Disappointed that the crowd was small (guilt to those who could have been there!), but what a wonderful crowd it was! Reconnected with old friend India Spartz and her husband Alex and really enjoyed the hospitality of Kathryn Breses - thanks Kate! Looking forward to the shows coming up - taping community TV in Colchester VT on the 17th and then in the 19th listen for us on Burlington web radio WBKM from 7 to 9 on Tuesday the 19th. Hope you can listen in - I'll be playing a new song (at least I think I will).
August 9, 2009 - Last night's House Concert here in Anchorage was amazing - what a great group of folks showed up to hear my music and Keith Liles' poetry. Keith was on - hope he posts some of the recording - he had a handheld. If so I will link them in. Standing room only and I really felt the road opening up before me. I introduced my two new songs "Fulton Street Rain" and "Looking at you", and people genuinely liked them it seems - so finally writing keepers again. Life isn't always easy, and if it could be about not having had the experience to write those songs, I'd have preferred a little longer dry spell. Every songwriter's lament.
I'm planning on saying goodbye to Alaska for short while as I do a bit of a driveabout (in the grand tradition of the Australian walkabout). Got a crazy travel schedule emerging, but it brings a bit of solace to be out there. I have a flexible October and November - so if you know of gig possibilities drop me note and lets see if we can set something up - have car will travel - and I certainly will need the cash : - ) Well enough for this rainy Alaska morning. Time to say good day.
July 31, 2009 - Tour is set - check out the gigs page! Very cool, radio, TV, Internet and live performances with Tim Mason in Mass., New York and Vermont, but I am going to kick it all off with a House Concert at my place with myself and poet Keith Liles. Limited seating, so send an rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want in...
Been a crazy week - I am not sure if I will ever quite recover from it. Yin and Yang. Success along side loss. Too much really to describe, but I realize that you have to move forward. Finally wrote a good new song - after quite some time - Fulton Street Rain. Watch for it. Connected up with friends in NYC (thanks for putting me up Paul Schomer and Joel Berg/Lori Nazim!), visited my Brother Paul In Seattle and am in Idaho Falls tonight - heading home tomorrow. That's all for now - have to get a little sleep...
July 12, 2009 - Been working on the new tour and spending the last few months working on big transitions. I was in Kerrville for an incredible time in May/June, followed by Boise, Brooklyn, Wyoming, Salt Lake, Brooklyn again and a none stop ride. Since Memphis I had been back east a few times both on the music and justice fronts. Now Tim Mason and I are finalizing the gigs for our Northeast tour set for the 15th through the 25th of August. We have shows in Boston, Saratoga Springs, Burington VT (TV) and out on the Cape set up already (I'll post those soon) and are trying to land just a few more gigs. All and all it should be a great time. I soon will likely be closer to the east as well - looking at a move in the near future for a short time. As a consequence I have fallen behind in all things as I paint my house and prep my life! But not to do anything easy, my good friends Terry and Jerry Holder are coming up later this month (next week in fact) and I will be hosting a house concert for them to get their mid July Alaska tour started (email me if you are interested though as of today we are only taking folks on a waiting list). It should be a great evening and a better tour - her tour dates are linked above - just click on her name.
On a sadder note - I want to mention the passing of my good friend Rob Nauheim this past Friday. Rob was a wonderful friend, Father to his children, and Husband to his wife Beth. He was also a great music producer (the Emeralds) and was producing both my next album (a project we had been working on for a couple of years), and my first joint project with Tim Mason. As a producer, Rob new how to listen and he had an innate sense for how to make a good song better and a great song memorable. Beyond all that though, I will miss him for who he was - the way he fought his cancer (pancreatic), and held on for over three years when doctors said he wouldn't. I ran into him after not seeing him in a number of years (his wife Beth sang on my CD Albuquerque Road, but I really had not seen him since that cd was recorded). I ran into him three months or so after his diagnosis and we agreed to do the project together. Between my schedule and his illness we weren't able to do a whole lot with it, but we did have great conversations and I got to know him again. That - and becoming friends again with his family - were a treat I will always cherish. I'll miss you Rob.
Enough for now - I am off to my good friend (and Harmonica player) Rolfe Buzzell's and his partner Sharon Holland's House warming. No promises as to when I will next write...
February 21, 2009 - Tim Mason and I are having a great time at the Folk Alliance - the X M 15 Village Radio gig was great and we play for a bit longer later tonight. Should be good (at Help Me Ronda's Room - you can imagine...). Yesterday caught Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers... I know, I know, but they were great! Also Noelie McDonnell and Emmet Scanlon & What the Good Thought reminded me of just how great the Irish can be (thanks Sheena)! Great first experience of music for me hearing them. Saw old friends Kate and Bill Isles, James Lee Stanley and so many others. Two that I failed to mention during my silent time on this blog were Joe Crookston and Randall Williams who, with Lindsay Mack, invited me to join a show with them at Caffe' Lena last May. They were here also and playing up a storm. Much more to write about, but it will not be as it is time to rehearse...
When will she notice my imperfection -
Each simple wrinkle or silver-white hair?
My course, rough skin or time-worn reflection
in lines echoing the laughter we share?
And how will she hold me when time is through,
and before us lies just a moment here?
Will her lips still touch me, her hand move to
mine, to hold tight, grasp and calm aging fear?
Or will she just laugh off these foolish thoughts,
hold my hand, touch my cheek with patience born
of passion years past? Seeing that love, not
some shaddowed vision, unreal, fragile worn.
For age, or time, not even death alone
can erase what chance found and love has known.
February 16, 2009 - I mentioned the sonnets yesterday - done. The goal is to help reimagine this form, not that it isn't still relevant. To that end, you can hear some of the sonnets read live on the home page, but here is one in its written form (as yet, unedited):
They were awkward lovers, stumbling into
grace. Unsure how to match different strides -
or how to describe the pasts they'd been through.
But, with fingers gliding, pressing - sure guides -
they would slide into a dance or sweet tale
of two who were never meant to find this:
Where each breath - exhale, inhale - would unveil
one more irrefutable proof of bliss.
So it seemed as he sketched her with his hand,
drawing this perfection in air. Or when
she slept and innocence framed her face - to
leave him breathless, knowing this would soon end.
He clipped a curl and held it to his face,
and inhaled this moment of awkward grace.
And this photo I took from the inaugural:
February 15, 2009 - Could I have really let 10 months go by without writing here? Yep! I decided to send e mails, make some cash to pay for the never-ending remodel of the house (it nears its end now - perhaps two weeks away, though it started in November of 2007...). And soooo much has happened since then. On the surface, a new President, a new Alaska U. S. Senator that I happen to be related to (my Brother Mark was elected this past November!), I mentioned the house, deeper down lots of travel and reflection on the world, music, writing, love and life. As some friends say, I smell an album there, and they may be right.... Tim Mason (whose new book of poetry "Feral Voices" was just released) and I have worked on a new collaboration of spoken word and music following a great gig up at Whole Wheat Radio this past September, while playing with Rolfe Buzzell again in Dillingham this past November reminded me of exactly why I do this (posted some radio clips from the two stories in Dillingham in the Press section). I not only travelled all around the states since that last entry, I managed to have my first Kerrville experience in May (won't be my last - worked theatre security!) and a second in the fall. Spent much of June in Idaho and August in Europe, September and October in Alaska and all over the East and West coasts, November in AK, December in DC, Idaho, Washington state and AK and January at all of the election festivities in DC (with a quick stop in New York and Boston). There is probably much to say about the great folks I have met and the things that went on, but those will have to slip out over time. More importantly, in the process of all of this, I rediscovered the meaning of love and happiness - something that has eluded me for a few years. I suspect I'll write more on that over time, but suffice it to know it is there.
Also new for me - I finally (today) joined Facebook - so now my every word can be seen by all... I keep swearing that I am going to reduce the technology vicegrip on my time, but keep failing. Alas, more perhaps to that as I struggle with tech and the web over time. In the meantime I am finally starting to re-book shows for the coming year and hope to have a full two year calendar up in the near future. Keep your eyes out for that! First up is Memphis and the Folk Alliance where I will be in the Club Passim Showcase with Tim Mason (later to be Broadcast on XM 15 The Village). I would be remiss if I also did not mention that Saturday February 21st mark's the release of my good friend Terry Holder's third CD "Ticket to the Moment". She and husband Jerry along with a raft of good musicians have made a great CD. Do try to stop by if you get a chance and are in the area.
In the meantime it gets late, so I will sign off with a full intent to try and keep this blog up....
April 7, 2008 - So a day after what would have been my Father's 76th Birthday - April 6, 2008. Unbeknownst to the Anchorage Press, they published their superb piece Into the Sky on my Father the same week as his Birthday. Take a look, and maybe get a bit more into my head (not that this blog doesn't do that). I often wonder how his life would have evolved - and, naturally, how ours would have (all of us children and my Mom).
Its been one of those months. In Saipan playing for friends last month, now back home (still waiting for the house to be finished) and mixing a bit of that political and musical life of mine with a large dash of community. The usual mix. On the music front, I will be playing here in town at Side Street Espresso on the 17th and Esther Golton is opening! Her Dulcimer and flute and my sound (hopefully joined by my good friend Rolfe Buzzell on harmonica) should be a great time to get out and celebrate (one hopes) Spring. After the five inches that fooled us this past week - its time for the real thaw!
Nearly done with those Sonnets - just had one posted to DailyKos. Du'a Khali Aswad was a Yazidi girl in Iraq who was "honor" murdered by her family for dating a boy of another sect. The brutal killing was captured on cell phone cameras, by cheering members of her family as this 17 year old life was snuffed out. It saddened me then and does so still. Check out the blog and the Sonnet there.
Starting to book the end of the year, events coming in May, June, July. Keep checking back, and I will see you down the road!
March 21, 2008 - Spring is a great thing - felt heat in the sun yesterday and attacked my driveway with the pick and shovel... Remodel nearing its close... back at home after a GLORIUS week of music. The combination of the SLOFolks concerts (thank you, thank you, thank you Elisabeth) and being joined by my good friend and mouth harp player Rolfe Buzzell and his partner Sharon Holland made it memorable in Morro Bay (thanks to Coalesce Books) and the Green Acres Lavender Farm - where we were also joined by the fine stylings of Claudia Russell and her fabulous band - Bruce Kaplan on mandolin and guitar, Mark Petrella on base. I slipped down to LA and, in the house built by his grandfather, saw Severin Browne and a number of my LA friends (hey Dana!), Severin's wife Melinda had a house concert/revue - great acts like Dan McFeely, Severin and so many others.... playing standards and original music. Quite cool. At the end of the night I played a few songs in the chapel with Dave Morrison, and Jaynee Thorne - that was cool. Also saw the dungeon... another story, that.... Drove up to Santa Barbara that night where I stayed at my good friend Anne Bussone's apt. - she was generous to put up with, er... put up Rolfe, Sharon and I in Santa Margarita at her house when we played up near San Luis earlier in the weekend. Came down to Kulak's on Laurel Canyon Blvd. for a great open mic night ( I was #34 - essentially last, but it went well... Saw fellow Alaskan Marian Call there - she did a great a cappella song (her accompanist had already returned to AK, she was heading out at 3 am). From there it was off to Garret Swayne's MSSS and a really good night of music on the bill (again) with Jeff Gold. Rolfe and Sharon joined me again and a number of friends showed up - Russ and Julie Paris, Bruce Grossman, Tim O'Gara (love that CD), Michael Doman (can't wait for that cd!), Gene Lippmann and so many more. Always a great time. I usually get to stay and listen as the night goes on, but an airplane to New Jersey was calling so it was off for an 11 pm flight all night. Returned from Jersey on Friday (after sleeping in Seattle airport) and headed up to Whole Wheat Radio in my old stomping grounds of Talkeetna on Saturday..... What a night that was.... Lots of folks online, and the local crowd made it happen. The music flowed and at the end I even read a few... Jim Kloss and Esther Golton were the best of hosts (okay and Beta too) and the next day we did a long talk on politics, philosophy and music - a great radio conversation while eating breakfast - loved it. EVERYONE needs to listen to Whole Wheat.
March 3, 2008 - March dawns with a brisk cold and finds me at home for a moment getting ready for the Southern California tour - San Luis Obispo Folk Society (SLOFolks) has me at two events: the first in Morro Bay the second in Atascadaro. Following that I head to LA and Garret Swayne's Mainstreet Songwriters' Showcase for a repeat performance. Hope to catch some of you folks there. Still working on those sonnets - getting close now... Much to do and little time it seems - Spring cannot be far now!
February 13, 2008 - Below a picture from our Tim Mason/Tom Begich Crazy Crow House Concert hosted by the wonderful Susan Mumma down in Seldovia on February 10. What a great time and great photos from Savanna Lewis (she shot my MySpace photo). Tim invited me to join him on his Alaska tour and we had a great time developing a set combining spoken word and music (listen to Gideon'e Bible and Midnight Run here). I'll try to post some of that as time goes by, but all is available at Whole Wheat - thanks Jim Kloss and the audience there for really making that evening real. Tim and I closed his three venue tour here with two sets at Whole Wheat Radio where I will be playing on my own on March 15 (competing with the Talkeetna Oosik Festival, alas!). It has been a busy two months and many, many thanks to Sharon Harrigfeld in Boise for the great House Concert, Randall Williams for being a wonderful guest and musician (and Caroline also!), Mike McCormick for allowing Randall and I to open for Ann McCue, Nora and the crew at the Anchorage Folk Festival (that was an amazing night!), Mike Huelsman at Out North (and Shotzi for allowing me to follow the play and Daniel for posting one of the songs...) for two January performances and as always George Gee and Deb Seaton at Side Street for hosting Randall and Tim on two different nights. A whirlwind for sure!
Photo (c) 2008 Savannah Lewis
January 18, 2008 - I have just discovered that my email@example.com e mail address was drifting into the netherworld. As recently as this week I sent some one to the web site to get a CD order they had paid for, and he probably sent it in, but I never received it. I think this might have been going on for the better part of the year.... If you are out there, e mail again, its fixed! Just this evening (late on the 17th, early on the 18th) I have recovered my computer after a series of fatal flaws. Still without my address book, all else finally seems to be working. Tough when you depend on these things.... Playing a lot this month, and a little next. Jump on the gigs link and see what is up!
December 11, 2007 - It seems these may become monthly entries.... In Boston now after although bought of laryngitis, that did not stop the show from going on at the Burren. Hugh was behind the bar and Brandon hosted for what was a great night. I had the joy of listening to some great music, hanging out with friends like Tim Mason, playing a little then hearing from remarkable DC-based spoken word artist Chris Chandler who played Passim earlier that night -- he and his guitarist, Seattle's Paul Benoit, were an amazing way to end the night. Really top notch. Not only did Ray come down from New Hampshire and bring in Ian (a great music fan), and Julie, Cecely and Rob stop in, but the guy who taught me guitar and taught me how to teach, Bob Reid, slipped in by the bar. The first song I ever wrote I called the Bob Reid Blues, premiered it that night! After probably 25 years, it was a treat to talk with Bob again, though it was over way too soon. Tomorrow night at Passim, opening for Kelly Joe Phelps and then Sunday in Morrisville, VT at Bees Knees. Quite a week! Stayed with old friends Tory and Wayne this last few days, and hitting the road soon to try and visit with those I can... Note: at home my house is torn up, a remodel job, so for once I don't miss that place!
November 8, 2007 - Late at night trying to catch up on music e mails after a great weekend at the FAR-West conference in Vancouver, WA. Got to see old friends, make new ones and play lots and lots of music. Still a little tired these days, but almost back to normal. Still pushing the deadline for the poetry book and just relaxing (when not working) in a snowless Alaska!
October 17, 2007 - Well the tour was going great -- Fun gigs with the Holders at Rose Street House of Music (with Emily Kurn too!), Cozmic Cafe in Placerville, at Nina Jo Smith's house, and at Ordinary Miracles in Cotati, but in the midst of it all I took ill. On my way to Las Vegas for our Garage Mahall gig, I stopped at my Mom's in Carson City and she convinced me to go to the hospital to check out what was ailing me (all kinds of indigestion-like pain and other things). Before I knew it I was in the emergency room and, five days later, walked out without a gall bladder and with medication for pneumonia and other ailments. Wheww.... what an ordeal (which caused me to miss the Las Vegas gig where Terry and Jerry did a great job picking up my slack). I'm on the mend now and will be up and about a little later this month. See some of you at FAR-West in early November!
September 26, 2007 - Packing and working like a crazy man as I try and get ready to head out to San Francisco later this morning for the mini-tour of California and Nevada. In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure, a gift from Russ Paris from the House Concert at his and Julie's place down by LA earlier this year: Tom on YouTube .
September 18, 2007 - Man has it been a long time since I have had a chance to update this website! One of the great difficulties of being an independent musician is maintaining the website, the MySpace, the Sonic Bids, the schedule, oh and life itself (almost like a Monty Python sketch, that last). I usually take the summer off to enjoy Alaska at its best, but this one was full of turmoil and change - -house reconstruction, best friends moving out of state, way too much travel and some great music gigs throughout! Since the last entry been to LA, New York, Pennsylvania, DC, Puerto Rico, Oregon, Northern California, Washington state, and Montana (as well as here). Continuing to do work with youth and helping communities develop strategies to prevent crime when I'm not playing music (a strange but oddly satisfying life). Also continuing to write sonnets for the February book... edits are being done by one of the finest poets I know (and, yes, I know a few) Keith Liles (he has a book ready for publication, so go to his MySpace and check him out and either publish him or pass it on!). Really, not quite the relaxing summer I'd hoped for (ergo the lack of entries). Musically, it was cool having som eof the folks from FAR-West up here for music at OutNorth -- a great venue here in Anchorage. Still hoping to continue to develop that venue. More importantly I and my friends the Holders are heading to Northern California and a series of gigs next week and the following week. Terry and Jerry Holder moved to Olympia last month and she has moved forward tremendously on her new CD (untitled as yet) with the guiding hands of Freebo, Joel Tepp and Kurt Rieman of Surreal Studios. Our tour next week begins with Terry at the Rose Street House of Music on September 27th. I join up with them on the 28th and we head to Placerville to a perform at the Cozmic Cafe that night. On the 29th we are at a House concert back in San Francisco (e mail for more information and to reserve a seat: firstname.lastname@example.org) and then we close out Northern California in Cotati at Ordinary Miracles on Sunday (for more information e mial: email@example.com). The following week (after a long-delayed visit to my Mom in Carson City) we end our tour in Las Vegas at Garage Mahall. I'll get a little respite after that -- some time to work on my own CD -- before heading for a couple of gigs and some other work in Denver and then FAR -West at the begining of the month. More on that later! Now I'm off for a break and a glass of wine. : - )
April 26, 2007 - Returned from another great "Grind" in Sitka on April 21 (my Mom's Birthday! Happy Birthday Mom!) Got to love those events -- was able to stay at the "Clarke B & B" (not really a B & B, just the home of my good friends Tom and Gretchen Clarke), meet up with many old freinds like Jeff Budd, and even get Gary to come up on stage with me (thanks man -- great harmonica work!). I just LOVE that town. If you haven't been to Sitka, you need to go, but respect the folks there : - ) . Tom and Gretchen got me out for a walk at Mosquito Cove (luckily too early for those critters) and I was able to just relax and enjoy the beauty of Southeast Alaska. Following a couple of days in Juneau (visiting old friends) I was back at home and preparing for this Saturday's 7:00 pm House Concert at the home of Jose Salas and Claudia Rivera (see gigs) and a sneak preview of the event at my Side Street Espresso haunt tomorrow! (11:30 am for those who read this). California coming in early May and Pennsylvania and other haunts later that month!
April 6, 2007 - Today my Father would have been 75 had he lived. But instead I am older than he ever was now by 6 -- nearly 7 -- years. I find that odd, in a way. Its a day of reflection... Usually the Fund would announce winners of the scholarships named in his honor, but those have been delayed for a month or so.
I have finally slowed down a bit, trying to catch up on the world of recreation, though building a great number of sonnets in anticipation of my book of sonnets (to be released in Feb. '08) ! Though normally reflective of love or adventure, some have slipped political lately. Following is Ozymandias (2007)- a remake of a great sonnet with W as the protagonist ...
Armed with the ammunition of story
I blaze forth, retell my past, and create
the heroic pattern of history
Where myth becomes truth, reality debate
I stand as democracy’s lone sentry
I dictate and decide who is with us
and who lies against freedom’s destiny
Or denies to history my purpose
I treat the future with abandon, for
My name is Ozymandias, arisen!
I determine all and then command when war
Is to be forgotten and rewritten.
Legacy? It is left to my judgment
I am but God’s vessel, his instrument
By the way, "Eddie's Song" continues to hover around 100 out of 1200 plus for the "Living With War" site. If you want a chance to help move that song along, just click on the site and when you get there, do a "find" on "Begich". That will take you to the song (then just click to listen!)
March 7, 2007 - Waited TOO long to make this update but much has - and continues to - happen! I spent the second week on February heading down to Juneau, Alaska then over to Minnesota where Bill Isles invited me to join him and his wife Kate for two gigs - one in Superior Wisconsin, the other down in White Bear Lake near Minneapolis. While the crowd was small in Superior, it was an amazing evening. Bill's audience knows him well and I was warmly welcomed. I was also pleased to see my cousin Jeff's daughter Bri show up - popping over from Duluth and making me feel pretty good about music that transcends age : - ) The big suprise came in White Bear Lake where 16 members of my extended family and a number of their friends showed up making for a verrry friendly crowd. These were folks from both sides of my family, some who had never met and some I hadn't seen for over 25 years! Very cool and a great evening too. With a fond farewell to Bill and Kate, I stayed with my cousin Anna and her husband Gary and just caught up for a missed quarter century. Though much of the following weeks were also quite full, one highlight was in Hawaii where my friend Laura Nissan asked me to play after a conference for Reclaiming Futures (another of my many lives - you might have heard the tag on NPR "...and by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which is sponsoring Reclaiming Futures..."). Laura and a small group of friends from New Hampshire to Oregon and beyond gathered around an umbrella and I was able to play a number of the new songs for them for about an hour and a half. Magical - and for all of us a good evening. Enough for now except one last thing - just found out that I'll be at Out North Theatre next Saturday (17th) opening for Samarabalouf - amazing French jazz trio! I saw them first on Paris TV when I was overseas this last year - mesmerizing. Life really is too cool sometimes!
February 13, 2007 - Back in Alaska for a moment -- The Burren gig went well -- folks from Providence, RI and up in Maine showed up, as well as folks from Boston. Just a great time had by all. Loved Host Danielle Miraglia's music and the music of the Drew Hickman Band, and the crowd, though loud, seemed to like the sounds. Drove my friend Riley back to Providence that night before returning to Boston in time to catch my early morning plane! Very tired now....
February 9, 2007 - Played at Club Passim on Wednesday opened for the Santa Cruz River Band, and had a great time! Really loved listening to the Band, and just felt lucky being surrounded by all the music -- very, very cool. Also got to see lots of friend: Liz Spinney brought a friend of hers, Jen, Lael and her husband Charlie stopped by. College friend Victoria and her Husband Wayne made it. Valerie (friend who also worked for me in Alaska) left hubby at home and brought her friend Eve and Leo Carroll came in from Concord. Leo loved the SCR Band and, when I left, he was offering to help carry their gear! What a great group and engaged crowd it was. Tonight Leo and I poppoed over to the Colonial Inn in Concord to catch John Fitzsimmons. It ended up another cool night of music as John asked me (thanks to a discreet request from songwriter Jim Shaw) to play a few songs and the folks there seemed to appreciate the music. Its the kind of thing you just love (I was the last customer out of the bar as Jim Shaw slipped out right in front of me. Getting ready to play the Burren on Sunday (8) then home Monday for a day or two! "Eddie's Song" was at #53 this week.
January 31, 2007 - "Eddie's Song", one of the pieces I am most proud of, has made it to number 70 on Neil Young's "Living With War" site. I was stunned to see it move at all and then those of you on the list have helped it move into the top 100. So many thanks for that -- I played it for the Anchorage Folk Festival crowd this past Sunday and was struck by a Viet Nam Vet, (14 months in) Mike, who came up to me and thanked me for writing it. That, and the overwhelming emotion of the e mails I have received, are truly humbling. Thanks gang....
January 25, 2007 - The California trip is complete! Music at the Porch in Santa Margarita (sans sound system) was cool -- great photos from Dusty Davis -- followed by a little after party at Anne's house. The next day was the 10th Anniversary show at Russ and Julie's House concert. The room was packed (at least 100), the company good, the music fabulous. Had a great time and felt honored to be in the company of folks like James Lee Stanley, Severin Browne and James Coberly Smith, Freebo and Jim Photoglo, Laurence Juber, Lowen and Navarro, Berkley/Hart, Wendy Waldman and Penny Nichols as well as many of the friends I've made in the LA area. A great week, though I'm glad to be home again!
January 17, 2007 - It snowed in LA today.....
January 17, 2007 - Played at Garret Swayne's Mainstreet Songwriter's Showcase last night and had a great time -- been a great week actually. Finally finished traveling with my old friend Martin Gibbs -- left him in San Francisco as he headed North to Seattle, and I back to LA to play (see below). Capped off the Bay area trip with a visit with Tim Mason's wonderful wife Shannon and her Touchable Stories project in Richmond. She is doing remarkable things there -- worth getting involved with! If you don't know Shannon Flattery or Touchable Stories, go to their web site and learn more -- get involved and contribute! : - )
January 7, 2007 - A new year dawns and it is already full of activity -- though the cold up here has got me barely moving -- some kind of prehistoric instinct for survival I am sure.... Just returned from a mad cap trip to DC (and a little beyond) where I spent New Year's Eve with good friends Martin Gibbs and Sarah Morgan. Martin popped over from London with his Dad, David and picked up his friend Jamie McLeod in Boston. Together they met another British friend, Simon Skinner -- (I knew them all in England when I lived there). Martin is heading off on a great trip across America that we cooked up after I did the same last year (he joined me for some of that one last year). I went as far as Chapel Hill, NC with them then had to turn back for dinner with friends in DC (Rob and Karla and Kim) and home... I'll hook up with the journey later this week in Phoenix and together we'll head to San Diego, LA, San Luis Obispo and San Francisco before I take leave and head back down to LA to begin a short week of music!
The show on the 28th on KCSN's "Tied to the Tracks" with Larry Wines went very, very well, should have it up soon. I was even invited to a party in LA (had to e mail that it was pre recorded and I was in a coffee house in Alaska... alas). Larry will have me on for two quick songs this coming Saturday (January 13th) at around 8:00 am Pacific Time -- which will help me promote the Main Street Songwriter's Showcase gig (thanks again Garret!) and mention the Porch in San Luis Obispo and Russ and Julie's 10th Anniversary House Concert on the 20th. A busy week for me ending with a visit to San Diego and then home.
Check out the gigs list -- new updates all the time. There are upcoming January dates in Alaska, February dates in Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, and more after that! If you know of a good venue drop me a line and let me know who to contact. Love to play!
December 15, 2006 - Too long between entries, but I suffered from the inevitable hard drive melt down. Left me unable to add to this for three weeks, but all is well now. Big next five weeks coming up. Just finished confirming a great week in mid January in Southern California (check out the gigs link) starting with 1 hour pre-recorded radio show on Woodland Hills/Northridge's own KCSN (88.5 FM) broadcasting as www.kcsn.org. The show airs at 8:45 am Pacific Coast Time as part of Larry Wines' "Tied to the Tracks" show, and should be good. After a few weeks here at home (Mom visiting now!) I head down to Phoenix to meet up with my old British friend Martin Gibbs -- he's on a cross country drive (Boston to Seattle) and I'll join him from Phoenix to San Fran. Then its back south for Cafe Bellissimo on the 16th of January (Main Street Songwriter's Showcase with Garret Swayne), The Porch in Santa Margarita on the 19th and Russ and Julie's House Concerts tenth anniversary concert on the 20th. Just a great week! Don't forget to pop over to the music link and buy a cd or two for a stocking stuffer -- they go out immediately and shipping and handling is my treat for Christmas (okay, its always my treat). See you all down the road!
November 18, 2006 - What a week so far! Played at Folsom Prison on Thursday the 16th with good friend Jerry Holder and Buddy Tabor. With help from Buddy, Cheri Snook and especially Jim Carlson (runs the arts program there) we stepped into a bit of history. Folsom's changed -- the old prison where Cash rocked the house is a relic. The new blocks are brighter, less stone more concrete. But the gate checks, the guards and the guys in the yard haven't changed. Each step taking you deeper into a life you can't really know. An odd feeling that. We played in the Chapel -- four concrete block walls -- on a stage where the only adornment were two roughly painted hands reaching up to the sky. Freedom was a theme, and loss, and life. We took turns playing and listened to the poetry of Spoon, the music of Marty and another inmate (who sang "A Cowboy's Confession" -- a song that came to him in a dream) as they and we belted out original creation. Thanks owed to all and those fifty who came to listen. As Buddy Tabor observed, whether your inside or outside those walls, its a limited gig for all of us. Following that we joined Terry Holder and drove up to Grass Vlley for a lightly attended fundraiser and some of the worst jokes I've laughed at in a long time...thanks Buddy!
Last night was our first here at FAR-West in Sacramento (that's the Western end of the Folk Alliance and a conference of music, venues, singers, tips, and talents held annually) -- Susan Mumma and I (she of the Seldovia Summer Solstice Music Festival) co-hosted an Alaska room featuring artists from Alaska (or born there) and those who have played in her summer festival. What a night, after successful showcases from Buddy, Lauren Sheehan, Dan Lowe, James Lee Stanley, Tim Mason, Terry and Jerry Holder and myself, Terry and Jerry, Tim, Susan and I traded songs (and liquid joy) until the wee hours of the morning finally stopping as the conversation drifted into world saving, life and the hard reality of loss -- bookends for another day of music.
Tired but awake, we begin another day.
November 5, 2006 - Well, not so successful at doing the blog thing, but here is another attempt.... Just returned from the Sitka Grind -- a monthly event with a number of artists from the community and beyond held in that marvelous City by the Sea (Paris of the Pacific!). This time it was the "Maritime" Grind -- sea shanties and Ocean themes, though one act put down "Motorcycle Mama" and "The Thrill is Gone"). I played my new song "The Wave" (on the next EP CD "Five Songs, Five Stories" this Summer) and an old one: "The Calling of the Sea" (likely to be on the Winter 2007 "Forgotten Streets and Lost Broadway"), then took my ten words from the audience. In the end, we had the audience singing the new construction of "A Whale of a Tale" to close the show. Ted Howard, local Sitka History teacher and fab guitarist joined me on stage for that last song and a playing of "Fat Moon". He was just great! Sitka was completely clear, the moon full and the air was magic -- like it always seems to be to me when I am there. Friends like Jeff Budd (who hosted the Grind), Tom Clarke and Sheldon Schmitt just add to my always great experiences there. I always seem to leave to soon, but I've been on the road traveling for a while and needed to get home. Can't wait for the next time... Great people, great town, great time.
Also new -- I should be posting a new first cut studio version of "Eddie's Song", which addresses war, on the home page (if I can figure it out). Pass it on if you like, and get it on the air if you think it should be.
July 24, 2006 - This is my experiment: first blog entry. Just finished a whirlwind week down in Los Angeles, The San Fernando Valley and Las Vegas. Many thanks to Garret Swayne (http://www.garretswayne.com) for hosting a great venue at the Main Street Songwriters Showcase. The crowd was excellent, including a number of old friends. I hadn't seen Bruce Grossman (also a singer/songwriter) since college days (great to connect up again!) and got to see old friends Bob Meadow, Ron Young and Linda Dewar, Gordon DeBoer and many others. After a quick trip to Vegas to meet up with one of my musical compatriots, Terry Holder, and her daughter Erin and granddaughter Jade, and friends Anne Bussone and, Andrea Stats, Mary and others, I headed back to a night of a casual meeting of the music scene with Russ Paris. You should all check out Kulak's Woodshed which is operated on the generosity of both its physical and cyber patrons (www.kulakswoodshed.com/) and the current happenings at Russ and Julie’s House Concerts which can be found on at (http://jrp-graphics.com/houseconcerts.html) to really get into the San Fernando Valley. Finally ended the trip with a stop at KCSN, 88.5 on the dial there (and webcasting at www.kcsn.org) for a live show with Larry Wines host of "Tied to the Tracks" - a great show from 6 am to 10 am every Saturday featuring live interviews and great independent music. Chicago Red and the incredible Wiyos (www.wiyos.com/) were on after me - loved watching that live music in that small studio! Check it out on the web. I recorded a copy of one of my new numbers, "Eddie's Song", which should get some airplay over the next few months there - that's its first recording (though it is copywrited!) That's it for now, gotta catch a flick.
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