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Studio Time

jennysletter

This is the story of a song that came out a finished work the first time I played it, never having played it before. This had never happened to me with a song that has both music and words. Which is to say, I have improvised piano tunes that were finished works, though I could never repeat them exactly as I played them the first time. But music and lyrics in their finished form the first time I played a song? Definitely a first.

Which reminds me, if I may briefly digress, of the one short story I’ve written in my fifty years of writing stories when the first draft was the final draft, and that turned out to be one of my most popular stories, Of Water and Melons. I recorded it for CD of stories I Steal My Bicycle and other stories. And you can listen to my reading of Of Water and Melons on YouTube.

Now back to the song story.

So… the basic guitar parts, piano parts, and my vocals for eleven songs on my new album Lounge Act In Heaven were recorded and I had a three-week wait before I could get back into Peter Temple’s studio to do more work on the album. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Moreland was listening to those eleven songs and figuring out her accordion parts and vocal harmonies.

I had been practicing those eleven songs every day for months. Now that they were recorded to my liking I no longer needed to play them, so I turned my attention to working out second guitar parts and vocal harmonies, though those would mostly have to wait until I heard what Gwyneth came up with.

And I resumed my usual practice of improvising on both piano and guitar and hunting around for appealing patterns of chords and neato melodies.

On a beautiful fall morning, about two weeks before Gwyneth would begin recording her parts for the songs, I picked up my guitar and played high up on the guitar neck a repeating pattern of three jazzy chords and sang in a plaintive voice, “Got my songs together, waiting on studio time. Got my songs together, waiting on studio time, studio time.”

Then without pausing, I shifted to a classic rock n’ roll chord progression and sang, “If I make a million from my music, this is what I’m gonna do, build me a super duper studio for me and you, get a super duper engineer, on call twenty-four hours. We can work there night and day, maximize our power.”

Again without pausing I went back up the neck to the high jazzy chords and repeated, “Got my songs together, waiting on studio time. Got my songs together, waiting on studio time, studio time.”

Then I played the rock progression again and repeated, “If I make a million from my music, this is what I’m gonna do, build me a super duper studio for me and you, get a super duper engineer, on call twenty-four hours. We can work there night and day, maximize our power.”

Song finished, I put down my guitar and went outside and had a good laugh because the song struck me as both a funny satire and an honest elucidation of my impatience to get back to work on the songs for Lounge Act In Heaven. In a wholly unanticipated outburst, I’d composed an anthem to the adolescent fantasies of millions of wannabe rock stars who imagine the only thing standing between them and stardom is studio time. That is to say, when I was young, before the advent of digital everything and YouTube, aspiring musicians everywhere longed for studio time.

I played the song again, wrote down the words, practiced the song many times, and when I finally got back in the studio I recorded the groovy tune in one take. And while recording the song, never having done this before, I spoke the line “Shred it Johnny” between the rock progression and the high jazzy.

I really loved how the song turned out and thought I’d like to find a hot lead guitar player to play hot lead guitar on the instrumental sections. But after Gwyneth came up with a groovy accordion part and I recorded a vocal harmony, I thought I’d face my lead guitar demons and take a crack at playing lead. After lots of practicing, we recorded my lead guitar parts and I was happy with the results. Shred it Toddy.

Studio Time

Got my songs together, waiting on studio time

Got my songs together, waiting on studio time

Studio time, studio time

 

If I make a million from my music, this is what I’m gonna do

Build me a super duper studio for me and you

Get a super duper engineer, on call twenty-four hours

We can work there night and day, maximize our power

Shred it Johnny

 

Got my songs together, waiting on studio time

Got my songs together, waiting on studio time

Studio time

 

If I make a million from my music, this is what I’m gonna do

Build me a super duper studio for me and you

Get a super duper engineer, on call twenty-four hours

We can work there night and day, maximize our power

Shred it Johnny

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Sometimes It Seems

 

gwyneth tray

So there I was in early 2019 in our house a mile inland from Mendocino, creating songs for Lounge Act In Heaven. New music and lyrics were coming with ease and I was also writing words for music I’d written years ago but had never gotten around to recording. A most exciting creative time for me.

One morning I was in my office/studio and said aloud to the unseen ones, my main audience these days, “I want to write a calypso.”

The minute I said the word calypso I thought of Harry Belafonte, a vastly important person to me when I was a young music-hungry kid in a household with a non-musical father and a musical mother who only played the piano and sang songs from the 1920s and 30s when she, as Paul McCartney put it, had a bellyful of wine. I loved standing beside her and singing along as she played from a Tams-Witmark songbook and sang the old songs in her beautiful soprano.

It’s only a shanty in old shanty town,

the roof is so slanty it touches the ground,

In a tumbled down shack by the old railroad track,

like a millionaire’s mansion it’s calling me back

The records I remember my mother playing when I was little, and those records only rarely, were a couple Mills Brothers albums (which I loved singing along to) and Artie Shaw’s big band hits, which my parents played and danced to at every party they ever gave. We also had a read along/sing along album of Winnie the Pooh. When Winnie sang Tum Tum Tiddle Iddle Um Tum Tum I was supposed to turn the page. That was our home music scene until…

1957. I was eight. A movie called Island In the Sun starring Harry Belafonte came out that year, caused a national sensation, and made Harry an even bigger star than he already was. Island In the Sun was such a big deal culturally that shortly after the movie came out every sophisticated household and many quasi-sophisticated households in America had Harry Belafonte’s hit album Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean.

I will never forget the first time my mother put Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean on our old monophonic record player. I came out of my room like a moth drawn to a flame, listened breathlessly to the heavenly songs for the duration of Side One, then dashed to the record player, turned the record over, camped by the speaker for all of Side Two, and then turned the record over and started Side One again. I must have listened to that album from start to finish five hundred times over the next few years, and my mother occasionally played the album while she made dinner for the first few years we had the record, so I came to associate supper with calypso.

My favorite song from that album was ‘Cordelia Brown’. Oh Cordelia Brown what makes your hair so red? Oh Cordelia Brown what makes your hair so red? They say you come out in the sunshine with nothing on your head. Oh Cordelia Brown, what makes your hair so red?

When I was ten, I went to Discount Records in Menlo Park and with my very own hard-saved three dollars bought Harry Belafonte’s album Love Is a Gentle Thing, a mix of Calypso songs and folk songs and what in those days were called Negro Spirituals. I played the album countless times and still remember several of the songs sixty years later, including ‘All My Trials’. If living were a thing that money could buy, you know the rich would live and the poor would die. All my trials lord, soon be over.

Some months later, I bought another Harry Belafonte album, brought it home, took the album out of the Discount Record bag, and was horrified to find I’d somehow brought home the wrong record. The man on the cover was African American and wearing dark glasses. His name was Ray Charles. How was this possible?  I had watched the record store clerk put the Harry Belafonte album in the bag and hand the bag to me. Was the clerk a sleight-of-hand genius? And why had he given me a record by someone named Ray Charles and not Harry Belafonte?

Then I turned the album over and here was Harry Belafonte. Seems in those days record companies would release promotional albums that paired two of their recording artists on the same LP so the popularity of one might aid the popularity of the other.

Now here is something I find interesting about me, and maybe about people in general. For the first six months of owning that Harry/Ray album, I listened over and over to the Harry Belafonte side and steadfastly avoided the Ray Charles side.

Then one fateful rainy Saturday, having exhausted the indoor resources of our house and being a bit weary of Harry Belafonte, I lowered the needle onto the first cut of the Ray Charles side, the song ‘CC Ryder’. When Ray began to play the piano in a way I had never heard anyone play the piano and sing in a high plaintive voice unlike any voice I had ever heard, I only listened for a moment before I lifted the needle from the record. Why? Because Ray’s music and his incredibly emotional singing seemed like something I was not supposed to hear, something frightening and forbidden and dangerous.

A little while later on that same rainy Saturday, my mother announced she was going to Macy’s, did anyone want to go with her? My sisters and brother all jumped at the chance to get out of the house and my father was at work, which meant I would have the place all to myself.

When my mother and siblings were gone, I returned to the living room, lowered the needle on Ray Charles singing ‘CC Ryder’, and seven songs later I was a totally different cat and rarely listened to Harry Belafonte after that.

My parents loathed the Ray Charles side of that record, so I only played it when they were not around until we got a stereo with a headphone jack, and thereafter headphones were the salvation of my musical life.

So I lived another sixty years without listening to Harry Belafonte, but his songs and timing and phrasing were ingrained in me and I wanted to write a Calypso song. I spent several days hunting around on my guitar until I found a calypso-like chord pattern I loved, and when I’d mastered the pattern, I started scat singing with Harry’s calypso phrasing, and out came ‘Sometimes It Seems’.

One of the things I loved about Harry’s calypso songs was that no matter what the songs were about, they sounded sweet and hopeful, and that’s what I aimed for with ‘Sometimes It Seems’.

In his commodious recording studio, Peter Temple set up three microphones and we tried a couple takes of ‘Sometimes It Seems’ with me playing the guitar and singing. I was not happy with the rhythmic consistency of my guitar playing, so we recorded the guitar part first, which allowed me to focus entirely on the somewhat tricky chord changes without the distraction of trying to sing, too. Once I was happy with the guitar part, we recorded my vocal part, made a rough mix, and gave that mix of voice and guitar to Gwyneth Moreland.

Gwyneth spent some time figuring out her accordion part and a vocal harmony and then came to Peter’s studio. We recorded her accordion track first, then she sang, and we liked her singing so well, we mixed her voice slightly louder than mine, which resulted in a pleasing duet. Then I recorded a second vocal track we placed low in the mix, and voila, a sweet simple calypso song.

Sometimes It Seems

 

Sometimes it seems life’s not fair

And nobody seems to care

Nobody seems to understand

Makes us want to run away to the end of never land

 

But when you dance with me

Our worries disappear

When you sing with me

We overcome our fears

 

So let’s dance together every day

Sing harmony and chase those blues away

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The Way Things Go

composing a letter to the aliens

Last week’s blog entry recounted the origin of the song “Sugar Mornings” from my new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven. Since posting that article I got an email from a fellow in Virginia asking if the song ‘The Way Things Go’ is true. So…here are some origin tidbits about ‘The Way Things Go,’ Track #1 on Lounge Act In Heaven.

One of my favorite things about writing songs is the myriad ways in which the songs arrive. Sometimes I’ll be improvising on the piano, I’ll start to sing without knowing what words I might use, and out comes a line or two of a song. This beginning may not grow into something more, but sometimes the words and melody are compelling enough to pursue. Or I’ll be somewhere without a musical instrument, writing a letter or a story or just thinking, and a line will come to me that seems made for music. Lately I’ve been inventing catchy chord progressions on the guitar that inspire me to sing, and this has resulted in two new songs.

I composed the rhythmic pattern of guitar chords for ‘The Way Things Go’ in 1995 when I was forty-six. I had just moved to Berkeley and was recovering from a difficult ten-year marriage. The first words I wrote to go with that pattern of chords told a bitter tale of betrayal and broken promises. The song was not so much about my marriage as it was about a mythical relationship made of parts of several relationships I’d been in where money or the lack of it trumped love every time.

Singing that bitter ode was cathartic for me, but I was not inclined to share the song with friends or audiences for a few years because I was pretty sure anyone but me would find the song difficult to listen to. When I did finally perform the song a few times for other people, the song proved to be the massive bummer I thought it would be, so I retired the words and hung onto the pleasing chord progression.

Fast forward to 2019. Playing guitar again after a ten-year hiatus, I rediscovered the chord progression that would become ‘The Way Things Go’ and after just a few iterations of the progression sang, “Ricky and Kathy were lovers in high school, then Ricky went away to war.”

The hair on the back of my neck tingled pleasantly and I knew I was onto something. I wrote the rest of the words over the next few weeks and loved the song so much I was going to name my album The Way Things Go until Lounge Act In Heaven came along and won the title contest.

Would I say the lyrics of ‘The Way Things Go’ tell a true story? Yes. A true story composed of truths from many stories, some about me, some about people I’ve known, some about people I’ve imagined, and some about people I’ve watched from afar. I also think the song is very true to our time.

The Way Things Go

 

Ricky and Kathy were lovers in high school

Then Ricky went away to war

Kathy fell in love with a used car salesman

Five kids by 24

 

Ricky came back from Afghanistan

He didn’t know how to be,

So he wandered down to Hollywood

Landed in a situation comedy

 

I’m not making this up

That’s the way things go

The way things start is never how they finish

I thought you’d like to know

That’s the way things go

 

Now Ricky played the part of Larry Dorfman

A guy with a checkered past

Larry’s wife Camille a stewardess,

teenagers Lisa and Chaz

 

And as long as he was Larry Dorfman

Ricky knew how to be

But away from the set of the sit-com

He was all at sea

 

This is all completely true

That’s the way things go

The way things start is never how they finish

Don’t you know

It’s the way things go

 

Well that show ran for seven seasons

And Ricky became a big star

Mansion in Malibu, New York penthouse

Million-dollar car

 

Then they made him a super hero

In a billion-dollar flick

He fell madly in love with his co-star Vicky

Otherwise known as Vick

 

This is all completely true

That’s the way things go

The way things start is never how they finish

Thought you’d like to know

 

Now Vicky as it happened was a mystical master

with a bent for Psychology

And she knew from the minute she met him

Ricky didn’t know how to be

 

But she loved the size and the color of his aura,

loved the way they clicked in the sack

So she made it her life’s work to heal him, yeah

To bring old Ricky back

 

This is the truth!

That’s the way things go

The way things start is never how they finish

Don’t you know it’s the way things go

 

Now the irony of Vicky healing Ricky

Was that once Ricky knew how to be

He quit making movies and bought a farm

And started planting trees

 

He and Vicky had a baby named Venus,

They adopted another three

Tino, Gina, and Esmeralda

And they all learned how to be

From their mom and dad,

Some pretty good ways, such as

 

Be loving and kind to each other,

share what you have to spend,

make love not war, use solar power,

treat the earth as your mother and friend.

 

Yeah that’s the way to go, yeah.

That’s the way to go.

You start things right, you’ll have a good finish,

At least I hope that’s so

It’s the way things go

But you never know

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Sugar Mornings

the improvisor

Last week’s blog entry recounted the origin of the song “You Are The One” from my new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven. Readers continue to let me know they’re enjoying these song origin stories, so now I’ll tell the story of the instrumental ‘Sugar Mornings’, Track 7 on Lounge Act In Heaven.

When I was in my mid-thirties I made my one and only attempt to write my autobiography. I thought I should first write something about my parents’ lives to set the scene for my birth. Then I realized to do my folks justice I should write about their parents, too. But to understand my grandparents, the reader would need to know about their parents, my great grandparents, and how they got to America and California. When I found myself mired in a seventeen page description of life in a Jewish village in Poland in the 1870s, I gave up the autobiography and returned to fiction.

I feel a little bit this way about ‘Sugar Mornings’ because the life from which the music sprang is most of the story.

My parents were children and teenagers during the Great Depression. Thus though they were fast moving up from barely scraping by to middle class by the time I was born, they continued to live frugally and raised my siblings and me to be frugal, too. When each of us turned twelve, we were expected to earn our own money for things other than food, basic clothing, and the utility bills. My older sisters became zealous babysitters and I pulled weeds for neighbors and babysat, too.

To say that my parents were neurotic about money is a grand understatement. As a teenager, I was well aware that my parents were by then wealthy compared to most Americans, yet they pinched every penny and were painfully ungenerous to their progeny. This had a huge impact on my siblings and me and would shape the courses of our lives.

When I dropped out of college at nineteen, I reckoned the less money I needed in order to survive, the more time I would have to work on my stories and novels and songs. So for the next ten years I lived on next to nothing and could get everything I owned onto a Greyhound bus with me whenever I needed to pick up and move. Save for a couple idyllic years of living in communes in Santa Cruz, I rarely had an easy time making ends meet from week to week.

Then in 1978 Doubleday published my novel Inside Moves. And though the book was nearly remaindered (taken out of print) before publication day, Inside Moves had a big pre-publication paperback sale followed by a movie sale. (You can read the remarkable history of Inside Moves on the Inside Moves page of my web site.)

And so for the first time since dropping out of college I had so much money I didn’t have to worry about paying the rent and having enough money for groceries.

In 1979 I rented a little cottage in Santa Cruz and gave myself fulltime to writing and composing. Heaven. What’s more I fell in love with a woman who I fervently hoped would return the favor. And though she did not, my infatuation with her inspired several songs including ‘Sugar Mornings’.

The title came from a letter I wrote to a friend, the letter lost, the gist remembered. I call these mornings when I wake free of worry, sugar mornings, the sweetest mornings I’ve ever known.

I wrote lyrics for ‘Sugar Mornings’ at the time I composed the music, but after all these decades I only remember the first few lines. “Sugar mornings and midnight dreams, lying here by myself it seems, kinda crazy that you are there, faraway and…”

This past summer, the summer of 2019, forty years after composing ‘Sugar Mornings’, and just a few weeks after I brought out my album Dream of You, I was noodling around on the piano one evening and stumbled on the beginning of ‘Sugar Mornings’. I hadn’t played the piece in many years and might have let the tune sink back into the depths had not Marcia heard me playing and said, “I hope you’re going to put that on your next album.”

To which I replied, “I will if you’ll play a cello part.”

She said she would play a cello part and that inspired me to learn ‘Sugar Mornings’ again. I do not read music, so everything I compose must be practiced many times to take hold and not be forgotten. After much hunting around and many dozens of run-throughs, I was able to play ‘Sugar Mornings’ again with confidence and élan.

Peter Temple came to my house to record the piano parts for Lounge Act In Heaven. We then gave those piano parts, including ‘Sugar Mornings’, to Gwyneth Moreland who came up with delightful accordion parts for all the songs. When her part for ‘Sugar Mornings’ was recorded and roughly mixed with my piano part, I gave the mix to Marcia and she composed her cello part. After we recorded Marcia’s cello part, Peter and I mixed the three parts, played the new mix for Marcia, she made suggestions, we refined the mix again, and so forth. Eventually we came up with the version of ‘Sugar Mornings’ you can hear on Lounge Act In Heaven, what one friend called “a sweet nostalgic soundtrack for the opening and ending credits of a classic French film yet to be made.”

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You Are The One

Portuguese Beach scale

Last week’s blog entry recounted the origin of “Light Song” and how I came up with the title for my new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven. Readers seem to be enjoying these song origin stories and I enjoy remembering how these songs came to be, so I thought I’d tell the story of the song ‘You Are The One’ which is Track 11 on Lounge Act In Heaven.

By the way, there is a stirring piano/accordion instrumental entitled ‘Lounge Act In Heaven’ on my CD Lounge Act In Heaven. Track 3.

So… in 1995 I moved from Sacramento to Berkeley and took possession of a large old house on Evelyn Avenue, the diminutive front yard featuring one of the tallest eucalyptus trees in Berkeley. Forty-five and recently divorced, I was excited about starting my life in a new place with clean air and cool summers. I was able to afford the rent on the old house because I signed the rental agreement in 1994, a year or so before rent control ended in Berkeley and rents skyrocketed. This was also at the very beginning of the Dot Com boom that would change Berkeley and the Bay Area forever and force most low-income artists in the Bay Area to move elsewhere. In other words, I snuck in shortly before I couldn’t have possibly snuck in.

I loved living in Berkeley for the first few of the eleven years I eventually lived there. There was no need for me to own a car, delicious ethnic cuisine abounded, and my creative juices were flowing again. I had stopped writing songs for my last several years in Sacramento and I surmise the songs had been mounting up all the while in my heart/brain/spirit because upon arriving in Berkeley many songs burst forth.

‘You Are the One’ was born as a bass line/chord progression played on the guitar. I loved the jazzy feel of the notes and chords, and after a few months of playing the sequence dozens of times every day, I could have lengthy conversations with my friends while playing the progression and never losing the beat. (My friends seemed to enjoy having a guitar soundtrack underpinning our conversations.)

Once the progression was second nature to me, I started singing wordlessly to the music. After some months of singing along using non-word vocal sounds, I had a melody I liked. The first actual words arrived at the end of a verse. “You are the one everybody wants to be with tonight.” I wasn’t sure what the words were referring to, but I liked how they sounded and I liked how they might mean all sorts of things.

One night in September I was sitting in my living room playing the progression and listening to a strong wind off San Francisco Bay blowing the thousands of leaves of the aforementioned gigantic eucalyptus tree in my front yard and I sang, “Listen to the wind as it blows through the trees, listen to her, listen to me.”

Intrigued, I got out pen and paper, wrote the line down—and the rest of the words quickly followed.

A few days later I got a call from an old friend asking me to come to Sacramento to perform in the annual Kerouac reading that would take place in early October. When I lived in Sacramento I participated in this annual homage to Jack Kerouac and his Beat cohorts several times. However, I was no longer interested in those writers, save for Philip Whalen, so I declined the invitation.

The next day that same friend called again and said, “We could really use you on the bill. I’ve kind of already put your name on the fliers and posters and T-shirts and in the press release and… you don’t have to read any Beat stuff if you don’t want to. Just do one of your stories and sing a song.”

Feeling a little nostalgic for my old stomping grounds, I agreed to perform.

When the gala day arrived, I borrowed a car and drove to Sacramento, arriving in the rain at an old warehouse where a hundred or so poets and artists and musicians were gathered to listen to a handful of latter day Beats read Kerouac and do some of their own stuff, too.

We four headliners drew straws and I was up first. I placed the not yet completely memorized lyrics to ‘You Are The One’ on a music stand in front of me and said to the wonderfully attentive audience, “This is a brand new song called ‘You Are The One,’ and for some reason I want to read the lyrics to you before I sing the song.”

Why this got a big laugh I don’t know, but it did, and then I launched into the progression and sang the song. And one verse in, a very good string bass player waiting in the wings started playing a groovy bass accompaniment and a couple gals in the audience joined in with high harmonies on the recurring line ‘You are the one everybody wants to be with tonight,’ and we brought the house down.

During the long intermission, I was approached by several people who said they loved the song, which was nice to hear, but even more interesting was that three of those people, two women and a man, each said they felt I was singing the song especially for them, though I didn’t know any of them. And because I had no solid notion of what the song was about, I was eager to learn what they felt the song was saying to them.

They all said essentially the same thing, which was that the song is a call to overcome our self-doubts and step into our full power so we may bring our gifts to the greater world.

I have subsequently performed ‘You Are The One’ for many audiences, and many people have confided that they felt the song was asking them to overcome their fears and doubts so they might bring their concealed talents to a larger audience.

th_whenlight-351

In 2008, Marcia and I made our first CD of songs together When Light Is Your Garden on which we recorded a slow ceremonial version of ‘You Are The One’. I love that version, especially Marcia’s cello solos, but I have always wanted to record a faster version with a great vocalist singing with me, and that’s what we did for the Lounge Act In Heaven version, Gwyneth Moreland singing with me and playing accordion. I also play lead guitar on the Lounge Act version, which was a big deal for me because… well, first I had to overcome my self-doubts and step into my power.

You Are the One

Listen to the wind as it blows through the trees.

Listen to her and listen to me.

Listen to your heart, and listen to your brain.

Listen to the sweet song of the rain.

Oh my darling, I know this is hard for you to hear,

But you are the one everybody wants to be with tonight

 

Listen to her and listen to me.

We can see what you can’t see.

We have felt your healing touch.

We have known your healing power.

And we believe this is your golden hour,

That you are the one everybody wants to be with tonight

 

Listen to your heart, listen to your brain.

Can you hear what they are saying?

Can you bear the knowledge that you were born

To bear the torch of hope?

Oh I know there’s a part of you that would rather live in secrecy,

But you are the one everybody wants to be with tonight.

 

Listen to the sweet song of the rain.

Listen to the howl of that old night train.

Listen to your feelings.

Listen to this song of our love for you.

You are the one everybody wants to be with tonight.

 

Listen to the wind as it blows through the trees.

Listen to her and listen to me.

Listen to your heart, and listen to your brain.

Listen to the sweet song of the rain.

Oh my darling, do not be afraid,

You are the one everybody wants to be with tonight

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honing: necessary delusion

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If you ever come to the little town of Carmeline Creek on the far northern coast of California and do more than stop for gas, you will almost surely find your way to Mona’s, the only café/bakery in town. And if you happen to spend the night in one of the town’s several inns or at the charming Carmeline Creek Hotel, you will undoubtedly hear about honing. And should you be in town on the evening of a honing happening, we urge you to attend. Admission is free and you may leave at any time during the event. No one will mind.

What, you may ask, is honing?

In physical terms, honing is the ground floor of a stately old brick and wood building three doors down from Mona’s, most of that ground floor a large high-ceilinged room. Some honing happenings employ stages of various sizes constructed somewhere in the large room, while at other honing events a stage does not figure into the production. Lighting is an event-by-event adventure.

In terms of personnel, honing is a collective of seven principals—four women and three men—and an ever-growing number of associates. The principals are Elisha Montoya, 53, Paul Windsor, 60, Ephraim Spinoza, 73, Tivona Descartes, 69, Terence Duval, 47, Adaugo Duval, 41, and Florence Duval, 75. Paul Windsor is the only American-born member of the collective. Elisha was born in Ireland, Ephraim in Spain, Tivona in Morocco, Adaugo in Nigeria, Terence and Florence in England.

Philosophically speaking, the honing folks are ever reformulating their philosophical guidelines. The one guideline that has not changed since the collective came into being two years ago is: we meet at least once a week for supper with the intention of catching up with each other.

On this warm summer night, honing is packed—fifty-six comfortable folding chairs arrayed in front of a small stage softly lit by three spotlights suspended from the high ceiling—two armchairs arrayed on the stage a few feet apart and facing the audience. Thirty-one locals and twenty-five out-of-town visitors are sitting in the folding chairs, ten locals and eight out-of-towners standing.

At 7:23, Elisha Montoya, a graceful woman with shoulder-length reddish brown hair, steps up onto the stage to polite applause. Wearing a pale blue dress and red sandals, Elisha gazes around at the many people looking at her and says, “Though this may evolve into something reminiscent of a play, we begin with Terence and Ephraim discussing necessary delusions, or as Ephraim prefers to say: the necessity of delusion.”

“Here we are,” says Ephraim Spinoza, stepping up onto the stage as Elisha steps down.

An imposing fellow with a mop of curly gray hair, Ephraim ponders the two armchairs for a moment and chooses the slightly larger one stage left.

Terence Duval, tall and broad-shouldered with short black hair, steps up onto the stage, settles into the armchair stage right, looks out at the audience and says, “A few weeks ago we had a spirited discussion about what motivates an artist to continue working on his or her creations when there is little or no support for that work from the greater world.”

“Or,” says Ephraim, “what empowers the artist to persist in creating a work of art that may take months or years to complete with no promise of any sort of external reward?”

“Paul suggested, and I agreed,” says Terence, nodding, “that most artists come to believe that the song or story or painting or play she is creating is important and valuable, not only to the artist, but to those who might hear the song or read the story or see the painting or watch the play. Without this belief, the artist will not continue?”

“I wonder if this belief embodies the difference between an artist and an artisan,” says Ephraim, pursing his lips. “Surely the potter doesn’t need to believe each bowl she makes is valuable and important. The process is important, surely, but not each individual artifact.”

“I think we digress too soon,” says Terence, his arching of an eyebrow eliciting laughter from the audience. “Let us finish elucidating our main thesis first.”

“Ah yes,” says Ephraim, nodding in agreement. “The necessary illusion.”

“Delusion,” says Terence, laughing.

“What’s the difference?” asks Ephraim, shrugging. “Illusion. Delusion. In either case, the artist is depending on an imagined truth to engender hope.”

“I don’t think so,” says Terence, shaking his head. “I think once we have poured hours of intention into a creation, that creation becomes our energetic equal, with a will and intention distinct from our own. And with even more work, the creation becomes our energetic master, which is when we come to fully believe our creation is endowed with special power. This is what I mean by the necessary delusion, a psychic momentum that enables the artist to keep going for however long it takes to finish the work.”

“Yet so many creations are never finished,” says Ephraim, sighing. “Is this because the delusion collapses?”

Terence gazes solemnly at Ephraim—the lights fading into darkness that reigns for a few minutes before the lights grow strong again.

Ephraim and Terence have been replaced by Tivona and Adaugo—Tivona sitting in the armchair stage left, Adaugo sitting in the armchair stage right. Tivona is wearing a brown suit, white shirt, and purple bowtie, and she has a glossy red rose in her short black hair. Adaugo is wearing a billowy white blouse and a long brown skirt, the many braids of her black hair strung with blue wooden beads.

Adaugo: I disagree with everything Terence and Ephraim said. When I make a song, I don’t think the song is more important or more valuable than anything else. A song wants to be born, that’s all. So it comes to me and says, “Hey you. Sing me. Sing me over and over again. Find my parts and put them together in different ways until you know how they go together. And then I will be born and I can live in the world.” I don’t think this is a delusion. I think this is how songs come into being.

Tivona: I agree with you. But I think if we are enmeshed in the egoistic notion that what we do is important to anyone but us, we require a belief system that supports the idea of a hierarchy of value. And it is from the womb of that hierarchic belief system that the idea of necessary delusions is born.

Adaugo: Oh I want everyone to be free from feeling that anyone is more important than anyone else.

fin

Speaking of songs being born, my brand new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven has just been released into the wild wild world and you can buy copies of the actual CD with neato artwork for just five dollars from my web site. Or you can download and stream the album from iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, qobuz, YouTube, or any of your favorite music sites.

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honing: the fourth

beach dance

On Christmas day in Carmeline Creek, a small town on the far north coast of California, Elisha Montoya, fifty-one, and her husband Paul Windsor, fifty-eight, make their annual walk around the town giving gifts to their friends: sturdy hot pads Elisha crocheted, jars of home-made apple sauce, and copies of Paul’s new holiday short story Naughty and Nice.

This year’s walk is especially poignant for them because this is the first Christmas since they married seven years ago that Elisha’s children Conor and Alexandra are not with them, both living in Ireland now—Conor twenty-two, Alexandra nineteen.

Elisha, who is half-Irish and half-Spanish, misses her children more than she ever imagined she would, and Paul misses them, too, though his missing them is conflated with his concern for how deeply sad Elisha is about her kids living on the other side of the world; and he blames himself a little for their leaving because he knows they were emboldened to go by their mother having a loving husband.

The last stop on their Christmas ramble is the home of Ephraim Spinoza and Tivona Descartes, very recent transplants from Switzerland.

“Come in, come in,” says Tivona, greeting Elisha and Paul on the front porch of the stately old brick and wood building she and Ephraim took possession of just three weeks ago. “Get warm by the fire.”

Tivona is sixty-seven, Moroccan, raised in France, her black hair cut short, her figure girlish, her eyes brilliantly blue. She leads Elisha and Paul through the empty downstairs space—a single large room with a very high ceiling—and up a long flight of stairs to a two-bedroom apartment where a fire is blazing in the living room hearth and Ephraim is in the kitchen cooking—Bill Evans playing on the stereo.

“Here you are,” says Ephraim, seventy-one, Spanish, with an impressive mop of gray curly hair. “I’ll open the wine.”

“Looks like you’ve lived here forever,” says Paul, gazing around the cheerful room.

“We found everything at the secondhand store,” says Tivona, taking their coats. “Now the only question is what to do with the big empty space downstairs.”

“Why do anything with it?” asks Elisha, joining Paul by the fire. “It’s lovely empty.”

“Did Paul tell you about our dream?” asks Tivona, hanging up their coats in the hall closet.

“Your quest for a magnificent seven?” says Elisha, arching an eyebrow. “He did.”

“We have not yet appended magnificent to the seven,” says Ephraim, laughing. “Or any adjective for that matter.”

“I think you are the fourth,” says Tivona, gazing at Elisha. “I love the way you think and speak.”

“I thought she was the fourth the first time we met her at Mona’s,” says Ephraim, nodding in agreement. “I was only waiting for you to think so, too.”

“Which only leaves three more to find,” says Tivona, going to the kitchen to open a bottle of wine.

“I smell garam masala and garlic and tomatos and onions,” says Elisha, standing beside Ephraim at the stove.

“A lentil stew,” says Ephraim, stirring the mélange in a large iron pot. “Inspired by the stew you served at Mona’s a few days ago. Was that your recipe?”

“My mother’s,” says Elisha, lifting the lid from a pot of jasmine rice. “Forgive me. My café habit. I’m terrible.”

“You are a great cook,” says Ephraim, speaking Spanish to her. “You may lift our lids whenever you desire.”

“Gracias,” says Elisha, Ephraim’s Spanish bringing tears to her eyes. “I don’t often hear Spanish as my mother spoke it.”

“The mother tongue,” says Ephraim, offering Elisha a taste of the stew. “They say there is nothing more profound to our senses than our mother’s voice.”

During supper, in answer to Elisha’s question about where and when Tivona and Ephraim met, Tivona says, “Paris. I was thirty-seven, so… thirty years ago. I was a lecturer in Archaeology at the Sorbonne, Ephraim was a professor there in Spanish Literature. We met at a party given by a mutual friend. And we fell in love at first sight, only he had a wife and I had a husband, so…”

“So,” says Ephraim, taking up the tale, “we were in love but would not pursue each other because neither of us was inclined to adultery. We did occasionally have lunch together in a café near the university, but spoke only of academic things and never revealed our feelings for each other, at least not in words.”

“And then seven months after we first met,” says Tivona, her eyes sparkling in the candlelight, “I came home one evening and my husband Jerome told me he had fallen in love with someone else and wanted a divorce. I was quite surprised because I had no inkling he was having an affair. Fortunately we had no children and I was ready for a change, so I agreed, and then I asked him who he had fallen in love with and he said Margot Espinosa, Ephraim’s wife.”

“Yes,” says Ephraim, swirling his wine. “Margot was confessing to me at the very moment Jerome was telling Tivona.”

“So then how long was it before you got together?” asks Paul, who was married twice before he married Elisha, both marriages ending when he learned his wives were having affairs.

“A year,” says Ephraim, gazing fondly at Tivona. “Our lunch dates became more personal and less academic, but we both wanted to be completely free from our previous mates before we embarked on a relationship. We didn’t discuss this, but we knew this was what we both wanted.”

“Then finally we did get together,” says Tivona, her eyes full of tears, “and eleven months later our daughter Simone was born. Our only child. She lives in San Francisco now, which made our decision to move here much easier.”

“What does Simone do?” asks Paul, loving the romance of their story.

“She is a film editor,” says Ephraim, smiling as he thinks of their daughter.

“And a fine musician,” says Tivona, proudly. “She plays the guitar and sings.”

   ∆

“So you are one and two, Paul is three, and I am the fourth of the seven people your dream told you to find,” says Elisha, sitting with Paul on a small sofa facing the fire and enjoying after-supper tea. “What happens when you find the seventh?”

“We don’t know,” says Ephraim, sitting in a grand old armchair. “Maybe the mystery of what to do with the room downstairs will be solved when we find the seventh or the seventh find us, but maybe not. Meanwhile, we are trusting the dream and living the days as they come.”

“What if I said I don’t want to be one of your seven?” asks Elisha, speaking to Tivona who is sitting on a big pillow near the fire.

“I don’t think it matters,” says Tivona, shaking her head. “In the dream Ephraim says, ‘Our first visitor will be one of the seven,’ and I say, ‘And you and I are two of the seven.’ And he says, ‘Leaving four to find.’ But nothing is said about any of the seven belonging to us or belonging to a collective or that any of the seven is required to do anything or even acknowledge they are one of the seven. I think it must be more about recognizing them and their recognizing us.”

“For that matter, we don’t even know if the seven are all people.” Ephraim shrugs. “They might be the four of us and a dog and a cat and a beautiful parrot, like the parrot in our dream. So perhaps the purpose of finding the seven is a way to focus our awareness as we settle into our new lives here.”

“I feel the seven are people,” says Paul, sounding quite certain. “Though I realize the dream is yours and not mine.”

“Maybe it is your dream,” says Tivona, dancing into the kitchen.

“Maybe you will find the other three,” says Ephraim, following Tivona. “And now we are going to have a special sherry we brought all the way from Zurich.”

“A Christmas tradition,” says Tivona, clapping her hands four times. “A most delicious elixir.”

“How will we recognize the fifth, sixth, and seventh?” asks Elisha, lifting Paul’s hand to her lips.

“A certain je ne sais quoi,” says Paul, shivering as Elisha kisses the back of his hand.

“A delightful aliveness,” says Ephraim, pulling the cork from a tall green bottle.

“A pleasing complexity,” says Tivona, setting four small crystal goblets on the counter. “An ineffable sparkle.”

“I feel those things about so many people,” says Elisha, laughing.

“Then it shouldn’t take you long to find them,” says Ephraim, pouring the dark red sherry.

Fin

Breaking News! My brand new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven has just come out. You can buy copies of the CD with all the marvelous artwork for just five dollars from my web site (think Solstice/Xmas/Hanukkah gifts), or you can download and stream the album from Apple Music, CD Baby, Amazon, qobuz, YouTube, or any of your favorite music sites. I’m very excited to be sharing this collection of twelve new songs. If you give them a listen and like what you hear, please tell your music-loving friends.

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only connect

Mary Munich

photo Mary On the Piano by Robert Smith

In my dream I am playing a beautiful black grand piano in a large restaurant, all the tables full, many of the diners listening to me. I am playing a piece entitled Love’s Body, a passionate fast-moving improvisation from my forthcoming CD lounge act in heaven. I am ecstatic as I play, the experience so moving to me, I weep as I play.

I finish the song with a lovely run of notes from low to high.

A few people applaud politely.

The elegantly dressed young man and young woman at the table nearest to me do not applaud. They seem perplexed and embarrassed by my performance.

Now a man at the back of the room rises from a table he’s sharing with three other people. He has long gray hair and a long gray beard and black-framed glasses and a big paunch. He applauds strenuously and shouts, “Bravo, bravo, bravo!”

I bow in his direction, happy to know I connected with someone out there.

 

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Light Song

back cover

here there are no endings

only tides of change

here the path goes ever wending

through forests born of rain

 

there’s a shadow of a raven

gliding over fields of stone

life and light have found each other

we are none of us alone

 

come with me and join the dancing

add your voice to evening’s song

find a place to watch the turning

of the day to night and dawn

 

give yourself to silent wonder

shout your feelings to the sky

bless this chance to share the gift of life

never mind the reasons why