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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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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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Inside Moves Miracles

inside moves cover

Inside Moves Pharos Edition 

I began writing the novel that would become Inside Moves in 1974, when the United States was on the verge of withdrawing from Vietnam. I was twenty-five and living in a garage in Eugene, Oregon, buoyed by my first ever sale of a short story. My rent was thirty dollars a month, so nine hundred dollars from Cosmopolitan magazine for a fanciful tale about a female boxer was a vast fortune and gave me time to write two novels and several short stories before the cosmic largesse ran out.

The voice that spoke Inside Moves to me was that of a young American man wounded and disabled in Vietnam. My literary agent, the late great Dorothy Pittman, showed the manuscript to thirteen publishers over the course of two years. Several of the first twelve editors who read the book declared Inside Moves a narrative tour de force, yet felt the story was “an impossible sell.” Cripples and Vietnam were not considered commercially viable in those days.

Miracle #1: In 1977, Sherry Knox, a young editor at Doubleday, bought Inside Moves. My advance, minus Dorothy’s commission, was thirteen hundred and fifty dollars, which money lifted me out of dire poverty into functional poverty.

When I had rewritten the book to Sherry’s satisfaction, and my brother Steve came up with the stellar title to replace my original title, The Gimp, Doubleday decided to kill Inside Moves before publication—common practice for large publishers when the Sales Department decides not to support a book.

However, to minimally fulfill their contractual obligations, Doubleday listed the book at the back of their Spring catalogue with this briefest of descriptors: “Inside Moves: story of friendship between two men in San Francisco bar, basketball sub-plot.”

Miracle #2: As Inside Moves was about to vanish without a trace, an editor named Bill Contardi at the paperback house New American Library read the brief descriptor in the Doubleday catalogue and asked to see the manuscript. He loved the book, showed it to NAL editor-in-chief Elaine Koster, and she offered Doubleday 100,000 dollars for the paperback rights.

Miracle #3: When Dorothy called with news of the paperback offer, I was quite ill and in a very dark mood. Rather than rejoicing (I would get half of that 100 thousand dollars) I said, “Did they show it to other paperback houses? According to my contract, they’re supposed to.”

Dorothy said, “Dahlin (she was from Georgia), this is a mahvelous offer.”

And I said, “They were going to kill the book. They should at least show it to other paperback houses. Maybe there will be a bidding war.”

Dorothy reluctantly relayed my wishes to Doubleday. Moments later, some corporate honcho called to berate me for not taking this wonderful offer, and I explained to him that I knew very well Sales had intended to kill the book, and since I might never get another chance with a New York publisher, I wanted them to show Inside Moves to other paperback houses.

Miracle #4: So the honcho called Elaine Koster and asked for a few more days to consider her offer, and she countered with a take-it-or-leave-it offer of 150,000 dollars and the promise of a big bonus if a movie was made. Dorothy begged me to accept the offer, so I did.

Miracle #5: Two weeks later, Bob Evans, having recently produced Chinatown, The Godfather, and Love Story, optioned the book for Paramount Pictures. I was flown to Los Angeles to meet with Bob Evans in his mansion where he informed me he wanted me to rewrite the entire novel per his directions. He wanted to eliminate the Vietnam connection and not have so many disabled characters. I refused. He was not happy.

Bob Evans then hired Barry Levinson (before he became a famous director) and Valerie Curtin (then married to Barry) to write a screenplay based on the book. They changed the narrator from a man crippled in Vietnam to a failed suicide, but were otherwise faithful to the heart of the book, and Bob Evans subsequently dropped the project.

Miracle #6: In 1979, Dick Donner, fresh from directing Superman I (and before he made his Lethal Weapon movies), made the movie of Inside Moves with independent money. Beautifully filmed by László Kovács, the movie stars John Savage, David Morse (his first role) and Diana Scarwid, who earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance in Inside Moves.

Sudden Cessation of Miracles: The company that owned the distribution rights to Inside Moves went bankrupt just as the film was being released in 1980, resulting in Inside Moves having an extremely limited theatrical run. And though the mass-market paperback of Inside Moves eventually sold 150 thousand copies, and I subsequently published four more works of fiction with four different publishers, all four books were abandoned by Sales prior to publication and I became persona non grata in the world of mainstream publishing.

Resumption of Miracles with Miracle #7: Thirty years after the original publication of Inside Moves, I got an email from the man in charge of preparing the DVD release of the movie Inside Moves for Lionsgate Entertainment. His name was Cliff Stephenson. At first I thought the email was a joke, but it was not. Shortly after I responded to Cliff’s inquiry, Cliff and an excellent cinematographer, David Chan, drove from Los Angeles to Mendocino to interview me about how the novel Inside Moves became a movie.

But more interesting to me than how Inside Moves came to be a film was the story of how this DVD project came about after the movie Inside Moves had been unavailable for nearly thirty years. Cliff told me that Dick Donner had long wanted to release Inside Moves (his favorite of his movies) in DVD, but was never able to untangle the corporate mess and discover who actually owned the film. When it was finally determined that the movie was owned by a British conglomerate, Lionsgate got the rights to bring out a DVD version of the movie.

Miracle #8: Initially, Lionsgate planned to find a serviceable VHS copy of Inside Moves, transfer that copy to DVD, and bring the movie out with no extras. However, Cliff’s wife worked for Lionsgate, knew of Cliff’s love of Donner’s films, and asked Cliff if he wanted to oversee the DVD project. He said he would love to helm the project, and when he saw the quality of the VHS copy they were going to use, he felt Donner would be outraged.

So Cliff undertook a search for a good 35-millimeter print of the movie, and one was eventually found in a vault in England—not a perfect print, but far better than any VHS copy. This film was transferred to DVD and Cliff convinced Lionsgate to let him create extra matter exploring how the movie went from book to screenplay to film.

As Cliff assembled this material, Lionsgate got more enthusiastic about the project, and on February 3, 2009, they released a snazzier product than originally planned—from which I earned not a penny. About fifteen minutes of my ninety-minute interview appears in the Extra Matter on the DVD of Inside Moves.

Miracle #9: A few months after Cliff came to interview me, I was walking on Big River Beach in Mendocino and bumped into Larry Bauman, owner with his wife Margie of Redwood Audio Books. I told him of the impending revival of the movie of Inside Moves and he said if I would make an audio version of the book, Redwood Audio would release it through Audible and other audio book sites. So I went into Peter Temple’s recording studio in Albion, had a great time reading aloud the novel I wrote when I was a young man, and the audio version of Inside Moves was born.

Miracle #10: Three years later, in 2012, I was minding my own business and writing yet another fabulous novel no publisher will touch with a ten-foot pole (I have eight such novels ready to go if you are a bold and prescient publisher), when I got an email from someone named Harry Kirchner. He said he was launching a line of books called Pharos Editions. The premise of Pharos Editions is to reissue long-out-of-print books that currently well-known authors feel deserve to be published anew. Once Harry secures the rights to publish such a book, the well-known author writes an introduction for that favorite book and lends his or her name to the reissue.

Harry’s email did not name which of my novels he was interested in, nor did he name the famous author involved, but during our first phone conversation he revealed that the marvelous Sherman Alexie was keen to have Inside Moves reissued and would write an introduction and have his name on the cover with mine.

So in 2013, Inside Moves, the novel, was born anew in a lovely quality paperback edition. Sherman’s intro is funny and flattering, though I wish he had written what he told an audience in Seattle at the launching of the Pharos line. He said his father gave him a paperback of Inside Moves when he, Sherman, was fifteen, and he has since read the book twenty times.

In the copy of Inside Moves he signed for me, Sherman wrote, “I am honored to be a part of the reissue. This book was formative in my life.”

Miracle #11: As a result of connecting with Harry Kirchner regarding Inside Moves, Harry convinced Counterpoint Press to bring out a beautiful paperback edition of my collection of short stories Buddha In A Teacup in 2016.

Possible Miracle #12: I recently had an inquiry about the remake rights to Inside Moves. I do not own those rights, but a new movie of the book would be most appreciated by this author.

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Palmer Alaska

palmer alaska max

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” Henry David Thoreau

When Marcia and I got together eight years ago, we embarked on a fascinating process of making a studio album with the help of Peter Temple, the recording savant of Albion. I played guitar and piano and sang, Marcia wrote and arranged and played gorgeous cello parts for our original tunes, and the late great Amunka Davila supplied tasty percussion. The project took several months longer than I thought it would and used up most of the money I’d set aside for such creative endeavors.

We were happy with the results, the CD entitled When Light Is Your Garden, and when the manufacture of the album coincided with the birth of my books Buddha In A Teacup and Under the Table Books, we decided to go on a tour of the Northwest and see if we could sell some product and have fun while we were at it.

We gave concerts in bookstores, libraries, restaurants, and private homes from Mendocino to Lummi Island, our enthusiastic audiences ranging in size from three to sixty people. By the time we returned to Mendocino, our songs had changed dramatically, we had added some jazzy instrumentals to our repertoire, and we decided to make a second album entitled So Not Jazz. When that CD—more of a live affair—was finished, we gave one final concert together at Preston Hall in Mendocino, took our bows, and settled down to life without the stress of performing together.

Marcia returned to her classical music pursuits, and I embarked on a piano journey that has resulted in five CDs—43 short piano improvisations, Ceremonies, Incongroovity, nature of love, and Mystery Inventions (bass and piano duets)—with a sixth piano album in the works. That is the back-story, as they say in Hollywood.

So here I am with boxes of seven different CDs. No longer a giver of concerts, I nonetheless want to share my creations with the world. The contemporary course of action is to make little videos with the songs as soundtracks and post those videos on YouTube with links to download and streaming sites. I don’t know how to do any of that (I’m the president of the Advanced Techno Doofus Society) and I don’t have the money to pay someone to make little movies for me, though I have lots of good ideas. Our tunes are downloadable from iTunes and Amazon and CD Baby and other sites, but the challenge is convincing people to take a listen and possibly purchase the albums or individual songs.

My main course of action has been to try to get radio airplay. Not Internet airplay. Old-fashioned radio airplay. To that end, I have used the Interweb to search out the playlists of DJs all over America, and when I find one of those extremely rare people open to playing music by someone other than the hyper-famous, and that person spins music kin to ours, I send them a letter and a likely CD, wait a few weeks, follow up with a query, and monitor their playlists for a few months to see if he or she plays us.

In the past seven years I have sent my/our music to approximately three hundred DJs and music directors at dozens of itsy bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dot public radio stations. I have discovered that if a station runs Democracy Now! for their national news, they might possibly be home to DJs open to our music. If they play National Public Radio, forget about it. As for the larger commercial stations, only corporate product need apply.

So far, my hundreds of hours of research and courtship have garnered a handful of DJs across America who play our albums on a semi-regular basis, including Tom Cairns KHSU Arcata California, Jim Roettger WMRW Warren Vermont, Cindy Beaulé WFHB Bloomington Indiana, Peter Poses KRFC Fort Collins Colorado, and Carol Newman KMUN Astoria Oregon. Alas, our own KZYX grants us a spin only once every seven blue moons, which makes me sad, in a local sort of way, but such is life.

The recent good news is that in my ongoing quest for likely DJs, I found the playlists of a fellow in Palmer Alaska, population 5,900, home of the Alaska State Fair, and his musical choices gave me hope. I sent him my piano CD Incongroovity. Months went by. He fell off my list of playlists to check. Then last month I did my annual visitation of the last fifty DJs I’ve sent music to, and lo, Mike Chmielewski KVRF Palmer Alaska had played several cuts from Incongroovity! I sent him a thank you email and shipped him our other CDs. And verily he has been playing our music like crazy, and by that I mean two or three songs a day.

True, we are not being heard by a great many people, but our tunes are wafting out into the pristine Alaskan air, night and day, and for the likes of me this is mightily inspiring. Every artist wants to be seen and heard and appreciated by someone else. The thought that Marcia’s gorgeous cello solo floating atop my rhythm guitar on “Samba For Mooli” might cause someone doing the dishes to stop scrubbing for a moment and allow those dulcet tones to tickle their fancy is gigantically pleasing to me.

So I shout to Marcia when I discover we’ve had another play in Palmer, “Honey, we’re still going strong in Alaska.”

Todd and Marcia’s CDs are available from UnderTheTableBooks.com and are widely downloadable, too.

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A Person Here, A Person There

Blessed Brew Nolan Winkler

Blessed Brew  acrylic and crayon by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2013)

I keep forgetting and remembering and forgetting and remembering how things work in this universe for the likes of me, speaking of how best to go about sharing my writing and music with others. I think the reason I keep forgetting is that my ego keeps taking over to get us through certain parts of the process, but then years go by before my ego quiets down enough for the higher self to be heard. If that makes sense to you, we are kin.

Walking to and from the village provides me with an excellent vantage point for considering my role in the larger scheme of things, and not long ago while climbing the steep hill to home I solved a nagging emotional and strategic dilemma I’d been wrangling with for years—the solution provided by the juxtaposition of me walking up the hill while dozens of cars driven by versions of me zoomed by.

The dilemma I solved has to do with recent techno-digital changes that have radically altered the ways in which music and writing and visual art can be made available to the world, and how, as these technological changes have become more and more well-established, I have felt I should be availing myself of these new fangled modes of delivery in order to share my work with others. Note the word should. Aye, there’s the rub.

For instance, because it is now possible to write something, anything, a page of unedited doggerel or a reimagining of Goethe’s Faust without verbs, and upload said writing to any number of verbiage-spewing websites to sell or give away, that is what millions of people are doing and what many people tell me I should do with my writing. These same people say that once I have uploaded my novels and stories to these verbiage-spewing sites, I should join Facebook and tell my friends to tell their friends to Like my verbiage so people will download my writing to their pads or readers or phones. Why wait, they say, for some old-fashioned publisher to Like my verbiage? Just spew, digitize, upload, and hope to go viral.

These same people and other people, too, tell me I should record my music on Garage Band and upload everything I record, even junky noodling around, to a cloud thing connected to sites I should then constantly Twitter about so people will upstream my music and Like it and have their friends go to my Facebook Store to download my music on their iPods and add those tunes to their Pandora options request queue or something.

But for some reason I cannot bring myself to join Facebook or Twitter, or to learn how to use Garage Band or to learn how to digitize my verbiage. The thought of doing so fills me with the same dread I feel when I imagine trying to cross the Grand Canyon on a tight rope. Am I being irrational? That depends on your definition of rational. I do know that in order to make the recordings I want to make, I need Peter Temple to use his excellent microphones and expertise to record my piano in my living room. Maybe I have a personality disorder, but I consider my successful use of email a major accomplishment.

And as I was walking up the hill and feeling fine to be walking rather than piloting a hurtling mass of steel, I thought, What is the equivalent of walking when it comes to sharing my writing with others? Photocopies. What is the equivalent of walking when it comes to sharing my music with others? Making an album with Peter Temple at the controls and pressing a few hundred CDs.

Making three-dimensional artifacts is what I am comfortable and happy doing. If Universe wants to upload my creations to the global digital realm, she will send people with the requisite skills to do that for me. She has already done that for some of the things I’ve created, and she hasn’t yet sent anyone for other things I’ve made. So be it. In any case, I shall henceforth no longer be weighed down to the point of dysfunction by these damnable shoulds, and I will have goodies to share with people who want those goodies. What a relief.

To that end, I went into ZO, Mendocino’s finest and only copy shop, and consulted with Ian, the maven of duplication, about making an elegant comb-bound photocopy edition of my novella Oasis Tales of the Conjuror (with illustrations by the author) to get a sense of how much such copies would cost me, which would help me figure out how much to sell them for via my web site and P.O. Box. The copies will be extravagantly signed and numbered, which will add to their inestimable value. I should have done this when I finished writing the book a few years ago, but I got so derailed by those aforementioned shoulds, that the handful of people I know will want the book have had to wait all this time for my higher self to wrest control of the steering wheel.

Speaking of happy, this AVA article is my 250th for the esteemed journal, and I know I would not have written any of these epistles if they did not first appear in newsprint before I load them onto my web site blog. That said, no one has ever offered me money, serious money, to write for an online publication, and I suppose if someone offered me more than a pittance, I might be tempted, whereas I have gladly written thousands of articles and stories for pittances for three-dimensional publications. What’s my problem? Why can’t I get with the times? I dunno.

The title for this article, A Person Here, A Person There, came from my dear friend Max Greenstreet. During a recent email exchange, I told Max about the occasional outbursts of web site orders for my obscure little book Open Body: Creating Your Own Yoga. These orders come from Australia, New Zealand, Finland, England, Sweden, Canada, and even sometimes America, a person here, a person there, as Max put it, wanting to buy Open Body from me despite the international postage being twice what I sell the book for.

The reason for these occasional outbursts of interest in Open Body is a perfect case in point about how best to go about sharing my writing and music. To make a long story short, some fifteen years ago, after a number of friends asked me for guidance in dealing with their chronic aches and pains, I made a little book about how I deal with the pain and stiffness that have accompanied me since I was a teenager. I made ten photocopies of the little tome, called it Open Body: Creating Your Own Yoga and gave the copies to friends as Christmas presents. One of the friends showed the booklet to a literary agent who contacted me and said if I would double the number of words, she would try to find a publisher for the little tome.

I expanded the book, appended inspiring figure drawings by my friend Vance Lawry, and the agent sold the book to Avon for ten thousand dollars, six for me, four for Vance. I was stunned by this turn of events, never having published a book of non-fiction and knowing little about the formal practice of yoga. Then, as with all the books I’ve ever published with big New York publishers, the villains in Sales got a whiff of the project and decided to kill the book. Open Body was remaindered—taken out-of-print—three months before it was published, and I was given the opportunity to purchase a few boxes of the book for a dollar each, which easily beat the cost of photocopying. Thus despite the premature death of Open Body, I ended up with a neato artifact at no cost to me beyond the emotional anguish of dealing with corporate morons who have made of our culture a wasteland.

Now here’s the fun part. Before the Sales cretins at Avon aborted Open Body, the young Avon editor who bought the book in the first place, sent the manuscript to Donna Farhi, a world-renowned yogini and yoga teacher, and she loved the book and gave us a rave blurb that appears on the book. And to this day, Donna reads from Open Body at workshops she gives in New Zealand and Australia and around the world for yoga teachers and zealous yoga practitioners, which readings result in occasional inquiries from people who want to buy new and signed copies of the book from me rather than used copies for pennies from online booksellers. A person here, a person there. Donna is also a fan of my piano CDs and frequently plays them at her workshops, so I occasionally sell a few of those to her followers in the form of actual CDs or as…downloads!

Having escaped once again from those terrible shoulds, I will soon be sending out notices of the photocopy publication of Oasis Tales of the Conjurer and the arrival of my new piano CD Incongroovity, featuring the groovacious song Real Good Joe. If you would like to be on my mailing list, please email me at my web site or send a note to P.O. Box 366, Mendocino, CA 95460. What fun!

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marcia playing

Marcia Practicing photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“There are two sentences inscribed upon the Delphic Oracle… ‘Know thyself’ and ‘Nothing too much’—and upon these all other precepts depend.” Plutarch

The Mendocino Music Festival is upon us once again, and that means several things to me now that I’ve lived in Mendocino for eight years. The village will be cloaked in fog for many days of the festival, a majestic white tent will stand upon the headlands across the street from Dick’s, my darling wife Marcia, who has played in the festival orchestra for all the twenty-seven years the festival has been going, will practice her cello even more diligently than she usually does, the village population will be peppered with sophisticated classical musicians from urban areas who have come here to play in the festival orchestra, there will not be enough Mendelssohn on the program for my taste (I love Mendelssohn), and there will be so much fantastic music to hear, both classical and otherwise, that it will be impossible to attend but a small fraction of the musical delights on offer.

On the day of the festival’s opening night concert, I walk to town in fulgent sunshine and wonder if this brilliant clarity will attend the concert tonight or whether the fog, hearing the orchestral strains emanating from the majestic tent, will swiftly come hither and blanket the headlands.

At the corner of Highway One and Little Lake Road, my path converges with that of a young white man with long blond Rasta locks, a bulging knapsack on his back, and two enormous dogs on rope leashes. As we wait together for the light to turn green so we might be among the living when we reach the village side of the highway, I say to the young man, “How you doing?”

“Not good,” he says angrily. “This fucking place doesn’t have a laundromat, so poor people can’t wash their clothes. Fucking elitist enclave.”

“Well, the problem as I understand it is that the village has a chronic water shortage and laundromats use an enormous…”

“Bullshit,” he says, as we embark on our journey across the five lines. “I lived here twelve years ago. I know all about this place. They just don’t want any poor people around here. In Israel they have laundromats that use hardly any water. They could get some of those. But they won’t.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling the need to apologize for having a washer and a dryer and a good well that, knock on wood, has yet to go dry this year.

“And try hitchhiking with two big dogs,” says the young man, scowling at me. “Not easy.”

We part ways and I think to myself that the absence of a laundromat in the village is certainly unfortunate but also understandable economically and environmentally, while hitchhiking with two enormous dogs seems to be this man’s choice and not something imposed upon him by a cruel and unjust society. Then again, maybe he needs those dogs in order to feel safe in this cruel and unjust society, and from his point of view he doesn’t really have a choice about hitchhiking with giant dogs or not. Indeed, when I lived in Berkeley, I knew several women who owned large dogs for the express purpose of feeling safe when they went walking anywhere, and not just at night: anywhere any time.

“If you arrive early, you’re neurotic; if you arrive on time, you’re compulsive; if you arrive late, you’re hostile.” Kay Hannah

After I shave away my three-day beard, I exchange paint-stained shirt and trousers for much cleaner clothing, load Marcia’s cello into the trunk of our car, and chauffer Marcia and our delightful neighbor Marion Crombie, viola, down to the festival tent for the long awaited opening night concert. Both gals look beautiful and full of equipoise in comfortable but elegant black attire, and they both express quiet optimism that the concert, despite the absence of anything by Mendelssohn, will be a good one. Verdi, Prokoffief, and Rachmaninoff are on the menu, and the sun, miraculously, is still shining brightly as I navigate the crowded lanes of the village, the air vibrating with the collective excitement that composes the prelude to the orchestral miracle we are about to witness.

I was going to bring along my little silver transistor radio so I could listen to the Giants game before the concert and during the lengthy intermission, but I chose to leave the tiny thing behind so as not to appear gauche and insensitive and possibly more interested in baseball than in my wife’s life work. Tim Lincecum is pitching tonight, and the dramatic arc of Monsieur Lincecum’s career especially intrigues me. After a stellar first few years, the wunderkind has fallen on hard times and is now in the throes of trying to reinvent himself as someone with a fastball in the low nineties instead of a fastball in the high nineties.

Finding every parking place within three blocks of the festival tent taken, I commandeer a space near the post office and traipse from there through the lovely flower-infested grounds of the MacCallum House and down the walkway that begins behind the Mendocino Hotel and pops out on Main Street across from the fabulous festival tent. Seeing I have nearly a half-hour before the music begins, I wander down to the trail across the street from Out of This World and traverse the headlands to the cliff’s edge from where I look down on the shining water, the surface of the sea as calm as a lake on a windless day. Intoxicated by the glorious scene, I fall into a reverie about Felix Mendelssohn and Tim Lincecum and Sergei Prokofiev and Madison Bumgarner and Jimi Hendrix and Sergei Rachmaninoff, geniuses all.

Fortunately my reverie concludes in time for me to join the tail end of the pre-concert melee outside the grandiloquent tent where I bump into Sam Edwards who kindly invites me to join him in a glass of wine, his treat, but I demur because of my deathly allergy to alcohol. We discover we both have complimentary tickets for seats in the nosebleed section courtesy of our partners who play in the festival orchestra, and upon comparing our tickets we find that my seat is directly in front of Sam’s.

“See you in there,” I say, as the bell clangs to summon the masses to find their seats.

With a few minutes remaining before the trouble begins, as Mark Twain liked to say about his public appearances, I wander down the aisle to the epicenter of the tent to say hello to Peter Temple, our local sonic master manning the bridge of his audio Enterprise, so to speak, riding the soundboard controlling the microphones suspended above the stage where a hundred and twenty-some musicians are vigorously sawing and tooting and banging away on their instruments to ready themselves for the exciting adventure they are about to embark upon.

When I inform Peter that I have been assigned a seat way in the back, he taps the chair beside him and says, “Sit here,” and so I do—best seat in the house. Am I lucky or what? I have a clear view of Marcia in her seat next to Stephen Harrison, our superb Principal cellist, and I have plenty of room to stretch my legs and wiggle in my seat as much as I want while the music plays. Yes, I’m lucky, but I suppose I made choices along the way that made such luck possible. Do we make our own luck? Is luck really luck or the manifestation of karma?

The lights dim. Allan Pollack enters from the wings. The crowd erupts in applause. Allan steps up onto the podium, faces the audience, smiles radiantly, and bows. I’ve seen Allan conduct the Music Festival orchestra and the Symphony of the Redwoods orchestra dozens of times, and I always have the same three thoughts whenever I watch him conduct: 1. What a cool guy 2. He reminds me of Groucho Marx in the best sort of way 3. How does he manage to get all those people with their separate egos and divergent inclinations to perform so harmoniously and with such unanimity of feeling?

“A man has only one way of being immortal on this earth: he has to forget he is a mortal.” Jean Giraudoux

The concert a smashing success, the pianist James D’Leon triumphant over the monumental Rachmaninoff, Marcia and Marion in a celebratory mood, we arrive home to the news that Tim Lincecum just pitched the first no-hitter of his illustrious career, and I unashamedly burst into tears, having been cracked wide open by the metaphysical music and feeling Tim’s historic victory as a resurrection, both his and mine, however inexplicable that feeling is—proof of the interconnectedness of all things, the orchestra in that tent on the headlands supplying the quantum physical musical soundtrack to Tim’s remarkable achievement.

I find a video on the interweb that shows the final pitches of all twenty-seven outs recorded in Tim’s phenomenal game, including thirteen strikeouts and three great plays at Third Base by Pablo Sandoval and a truly miraculous diving catch by Hunter Pence in Right Field. I watch the twenty-seven outs twice and cry each time Buster Posey grabs Tim in a bear hug the split second after the last fly ball settles into Gregor Blanco’s glove, the ever stoic Lincecum breaking into the fabulous grin of a man who has finally conquered his greatest enemy—self-doubt.