Monday, August 20, 2007

Late Summer Jewels

Dazzling beauties (eye-candy in flight) are the monarch butterflies, the small, very vocal yellow warblers, and the tiny hummingbirds. They seem undaunted by the heatwave we've been locked into and are fluttering, flapping, and zipping among my porch and garden flowers. Every now and then they gather around the birdbath. Watering my plants is a daily task, with rain in such a deficit.

As September nears and the summer cycle moves toward closure, I try to commit to memory the poetic sights, sounds, and smells of this late-summer week. I look at my flowers and trees and realize what a strenuous effort is required of them to grow, blossom, and produce seeds. The essence of life really is marvellous!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

special song

A few weeks ago, Bill and I played an outdoor gig and were about 1-1/2 hours into the gig, playing one of our favorite cover songs, The Sky Is Crying. As I sang the last portion of the song, I felt the first shy raindrop land on my arm. It can't be, I thought. Steadily the little dance of timid raindrops became more persistent. We finished the song and hastily disconnected the keyboard, guitars, and amps... and ran with them toward our vehicles. The sky did cry for about 20 minutes and the gig ended early. We had a rare chance to sit inside the restaurant, eat veggie pizza, and talk about whatever ... the poignant and the mundane. Eventually, we reminisced about our mutual friend and former bandmate, Philip (who passed away early last September) and Bill asked me if Philip and I had ever co-written a song, to which I replied, "we probably would have if we hadn't run out of time". I remembered a day back in 2002 when Philip came to my home and gave me a lead sheet of a song he'd written, saying he would love for me to sing it. We didn't know each other well at that time. He'd written a great lyric and a beautifully haunting minor-key theme for the blocks of the song. I worked some with the song and asked him if he'd be OK with my re-doing the bridge to make it stronger and more complementary to the theme, and to make it work for me and the way I'd sing it. He agreed to think about it but the subject didn't come up again and time marched on.

The day after the recent rained-out gig, I frantically searched through boxes of music and lead sheets in my basement. Finally, I found the yellowed, crinkled-up lead sheet. I sat with Buddy, my piano, re-acquainted myself with the song's theme, re-did the bridge and created an intro that I think Philip would be thrilled with and an ending that spins a major-key tilt on the song's minor-key theme. The first several times I sang the arrangement with Buddy, tears welled up in my eyes and I felt overcome with emotion. I felt very close to Philip -- or maybe he was really there, beside me. I will debut the song at my next gig. Philip and I have co-written a song! I Could Really Fall For You is a beauty.

Ironweeds ...

They are not weeds, folks ... they are exquisite wildflowers, found in parks, along some roadsides, on the edge of forests, occasionally in backyards, and in the gardens of herbalists and wildflower fanciers. They are the majestic crayola purple-flowered ironweeds, with flower clusters stuck on the ends of multi four to eight-foot sturdy stalks, bursting into bloom here in east Tennessee right now. Back in Connecticut (where I'm originally from), they flower in September and are often hit by frost before or while completing their cycle and going to seed. They are perennials, though, and will return season after season if not disturbed. It's not easy to get them to grow from seed and they need to be handled with care when being transplanted. Their tough stalks remain well into the next season and I break them off to use as tomato stakes in the Spring. I love these plants. My purple ironweed grows to a height of ten or more feet each year and waves at me through my music room window. I thought it would be nice to put its picture here to be enjoyed.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Prison Concert

My long-awaited prison concert date was on May 19th. Nestled in the northeastern-most corner of Tennessee, about three hours drive from home, was my destination -- a maximum-security prison, housing some 1,000+ inmates. I'd begun inquiring in June of 2006 about performing in east Tennessee prisons, starting my quest with headquarters in Nashville, then contacting the individual facilities. The Mountain City complex is the only one that responded favorably; in fact, one of the locations didn't respond at all. One day in August, 2006, a letter arrived at my home from the NECX chaplain, asking for a demo of my music and for more information about me. A few weeks after I mailed him a CD, he contacted me again and said that he doesn't have a CD player because CDs aren't allowed in the facillity (because they could be broken to be used as weapons); he said that he can play cassette tapes on a tape player he borrows from one of the inmates. I recorded the contents of the CD onto a cassette and sent it to him. He was enthused and said he'd be letting me know soon if he can let me in. When I didn't hear further for several months, I called him, figuring the concept had been tabled, but, instead, was told that he had been out following a heart attack. After he returned to work, he e-mailed me requesting a formal letter of intent, including what I planned to say to the audience in-between songs, and telling me, in detail, about security procedures to expect. Shortly after I sent him the requested letter, he called me with the news that I had clearance for a concert date. I was elated!

Why did this mean so much to me? Several of the people I'd told about my mission asked me why I'd want to do such a thing; actually a few of them sort of rolled their eyes up toward their foreheads and in toward their noses. I could reply (and did) that I've volunteered on behalf of every other demographic group ... children, animals, elderly ... and didn't want to overlook this shunned and largely forgotten part of humanity -- and that is very true. While writing my life memoirs, though, over a period of about six months this past year (a majorly liberating endeavor for me), a profound realization worked its way to the surface of my mind ... and I knew it was time to acknowledge it, shine light on it. If any of you do read my memoirs, you'll find parts that will astonish, amaze, and amuse and you will also find a shocking section about my brother, my only sibling. To condense the topic at hand to a few sentences here, he was very abusive to my mother, father, and me from the time he was 13 or so up until his death at age 40, when he was violently murdered in California by a 19-year old man who had met him only one time. A spiritual though non-religious person, I had prayed almost every night during the previous two or three years for "my brother to be taken" so that my family could know some peace. I guess I figured his lifestyle might produce a fatal illness, accident, or heart attack. I've always sensed that the young man factored into the picture, somehow, as a result of my heavenward beseechings. In a very real sense, my relief became his burden. He went to prison, of course. I could have avoided telling all of this and just said that my motives exist out of compassion for the men in prisons, who committed a horrific crime during their raging testosterone years (teens, 20s) and while under the influence of drugs -- and who are truly sorry -- and that they need to feel some personal worth while serving their sentences, particularly if they will someday be released into society. But I wanted to honestly and completely answer the question of why my prison ministry of song matters so much to me and has been such a personal quest.

The day of the concert arrived! I'd had my '91 truck checked out and serviced, readied its interior for a vehicle-search, and loaded it up with maps, route numbers, bottled water, some personal items, and my music gear. My concert was the first of its kind (non-religious, although I did include one of my inspirational originals that has a rousing interactive chorus). At the facility, the security personnel were very considerate and kind to me. After my equipment and I had been processed, three inmates set up every last detail of my music gear, even a little side table for me to use for my bottle of water and lead sheets, and a small rug for my pedal. They manned the excellent sound system which had been donated by a church. They were experts, the best soundmen I've ever worked with.

A young man of 23, serving a life sentence for the murder he'd committed at age 16, asked if he could try my keyboard. He played beautiful passages of various and intermingling genres and was a great show opener. More than 300 inmates who "had freedom of movement within the compound" flowed into the room. Some of them came up to me and told me where they were from and bits of information about themselves. I looked around the room at the mostly young men in their uniforms of denim blue with a leg stripe, a scene I'd imagined many times during the days leading up to the concert. I did 13 songs for them .. blues, jazz, rock, latinesque, shuffle, inspirational, ballad ... and more blues; the songs were mostly my originals, but I included three beloved and rhythmic cover songs. Hands clapped and feet stomped, smiles were everywhere, voices chorused at appropriate times. For some of the songs, inmates volunteered to come up front and play the maraca and tambourine I'd brought. In-between songs I chatted much like I do with general audiences; they clung to every word. I concluded the show with a little walking-bass blues song I wrote that says "Time for me to leave now, as much as I'd like to stay" ... they roared with laughter. The applause thundered and still plays in my mind. When they shouted "encore", the chaplain sidled up to the mic and in his matter-of-fact, fatherly way thanked them for coming and asked them to return to their cells. Many of them lined up to shake my hand and then they disappeared through the doorways and the huge room was empty except for the chaplain and me. He escorted my equipment and me back through the series of security chambers and out into the night.

The evening was an epiphany for me, one of several in my life, but most definitely the most powerful and spiritual.

My Political Opine

I recently completed the reading of Al Gore's book "The Assault On Reason". It provides documented answers and explanations regarding the convoluted, blatant, secretive, and corrupt agendas in the Cheney/Bush White House. I personally wish Al Gore would become a 2008 presidential candidate, although I understand how the 2000 debacle had to have affected him; I know how it affected my trust in our electoral system.

If we ever again have honorable leaders in the White House, their tasks, in terms of fixing what has been damaged or shattered or neglected or mismanaged (the scope of which is mind-boggling), will require a complete turn on most issues. It will take majorly strenuous effort and honest, non-partisan cooperation.

Additionally, there is a hurting need for a national health-care plan. I and many others are uninsured. I work "deals" with doctors when I can -- either barter (usually one or two of my CDs) or plain-out asking for discounts and freebies. There is a musicians' organization called Rock A Mole Productions that has been petitioning for health coverage for all Americans....they have a film called "Everybody In, Nobody Out". Anyway, I digress.

We need to get religion out of the presidency and run the country using reason and real ethics. It was a portent of things to come when the president declared, several years ago, that he was God's chosen one. Nobody has God in his hip pocket and nobody should.

Just A Walk In The Park ...

"Just A Walk In The Park"... You’ve probably heard that phrase many times, meaning something is so very easy to do or handle (at least, I think that’s what it means). As smart as at times I've been reputed to be, and in spite of the wide span of concepts that come to me by whatever means, I never would have thought of simply walking in the park had I not been invited to accompany someone very intriguing on such a walk one day six years ago. The magic of that experience led me to later walk by myself in the park, taking in the natural energies, looking at the naturescape, and feeling at one with it; it is a process that has evolved in me since. One day last autumn, one of my best songs, a 12-bar blues, flew into my head as I walked there; that day was overcast, as the wind was swirling leaves around on the ground.

Well, today I went for a walk in the park. The sky was azure blue, as East Tennessee swelters through yet another heat-stroke day with no rain in sight. Once a week I take my dog to the park so she can enjoy seeing the rabbits and squirrels, but what I’m talking about in this post is the kind of "walk" I do there alone when I feel the need. Almost always, I am doing what I would call a walking meditation, which is sometimes a spoken prayer (I address the power on high as "Universal Spirit" and think of it as a giant sphere of male-female benevolent energy), and often an outright supplication. If you were a little bird perched on my shoulder on some of these occasions, you’d hear me saying something like "please help me do a flawless performance at tonight’s gig" (honestly, I say things like that), or "I would greatly appreciate your help with ... (handling a person, situation ...)".

Today I felt drawn there to do a walking/talking meditation that didn’t ask for anything. I felt so unfettered. I found myself saying "thank you" and "I appreciate" as each entity and element in my life came to the foreground of my mind, whether mundane, creative, personal, natural, musical, or spiritual; it felt very refreshing to do this. High on my list is "the breath of life", probably all the more precious to a person who, at times, struggles with asthma, and who also happens to be a singer!

Anyway, I think what I’m saying is that a walk in the park can be much more than what the phrase "a walk in the park" implies. It was blissful.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Introductory post...

Did you ever do something you didn't quite expect to do and then find it was exactly what you needed to do? I amazed myself this past week ... and set up this blog for myself.

Please stay tuned! I will do my next posting early next week. One of the things I will tell about is my recent prison concert. I'll probably also give a thought-stream about late-summer and whatever else I think will be worthwhile reading. My articles are/will be copyrighted to me.

I'm a singer, songwriter, keyboardist w/bass, piano teacher (adult students) and holistic health counselor (music, color and more). Also, I'm a nature-lover, astrologer, physical exerciser, part-time activist, humane educator, and promoter of peace through understanding.

I hope to hear from you.