Posts Tagged ‘So Not Jazz’

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Todd and Abi

Abi and Todd photo by Marcia

In case you missed this widely disseminated news report from a few days ago, a woman in Arizona woke up speaking with a British accent, though she was born in the United States and has never been to England and doesn’t have British relatives. She went to bed with a blinding headache and woke up sounding British. Previously, the woman went to bed with blinding headaches and woke up sounding Irish and Australian. She has been diagnosed by actual licensed medical doctors as having Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS).

I know what you’re thinking. This is a spoof, a lampoon, a bit of silly whimsy. Yet this story was reported as fact in dozens of reputable newspapers and news outlets, several medical experts were interviewed about the woman’s condition, and these medical experts testified with straight faces that she manifested these foreign accents as the result of Foreign Accent Syndrome.

In less widely disseminated news, I have FAS. In spades. Two of our good friends, Marion and Abi, are from England. They were born in England and raised by English parents. Thus they are, in technical terms, totally English. When I’m around either one of them for more than, oh, thirty seconds, I begin to speak with a British accent. So convincing and authentic-sounding is my British accent that neither Marion nor Abi snickers when they hear me speaking in the manner of their native tongue, though they do occasionally snort.

Furthermore, my grammar becomes British when I speak with my incredibly real-seeming British accent, my sentences grow longer, and I feel eloquent and wise and…British.

I’ve had FAS since I was a wee tyke, the malady erupting, minus the headaches, hundreds of times in my long and checkered career as a human. Many years ago, I had a fling with a Serbian siren, and for the entire seven weeks we were involved, I spoke English with a Serbian accent so credible that the siren not only didn’t snicker or snort, on multiple occasions she gave me incredulous looks and said, “How do you do that? You sound exactly like my Uncle Boris.”

When I’m with Mexican people, I speak English with a Mexican accent. When I’m with French people, I speak English with a French accent. When I’m with Texans, I speak with a Texan’s drawl. When I’m with Jewish people from New York, I speak with a New York Jewish accent. I can’t help myself. I have FAS and I’m not ashamed to let the whole world know.

In seemingly unrelated news, my web site has undergone a transformation and I invite you to visit the new-look site and enjoy the goodies thereon. One new addition I think you’ll especially enjoy is on the Films page. Along with Bums At A Grave and Stripes, I am proud to present Kate Greenstreet’s videopoem The Magician, featuring my piano piece “The Magician” from my solo piano CD Ceremonies.

The Ceremonies CD and all our other CDs are available from my web site for a mere five dollars each, plus a flat rate shipping charge of six dollars, so order lots of CDs and books and cards to make that shipping charge seem like practically nothing. Or listen to “The Magician” on YouTube as often as you’d like.

Did I put “The Magician” on You Tube? No. All the tunes from my five piano CDs, and all the tunes from the two CDs I made with Marcia, So Not Jazz and When Light Is Your Garden, were posted on YouTube by CD Baby.

The individual drones from Marcia’s Cello Drones for Tuning and Improvisation are massively popular on YouTube. Thousands of people are hooked on her groovacious drones.

In more seemingly unrelated news, the stock market recently lost a whole bunch of value and subsequently gained back much of the value it lost. There are many theories about why the stock market went down, a favorite theory of silly people being that the Fed is going to raise interest rates. But if that were the cause of the decline, why did the market suddenly go back up? I’ll tell you why.

The stock market goes up and down based on the collective mindset of those who invest their money in the stock market, not on Fed interest rates. When the collective mindset becomes doubtful or fearful, the stock market goes down. When the collective mindset is optimistic, the stock market goes up. Since the big crash of 2008, most of the stocks, as in virtually all of them, have been bought and sold by the richest people in the world, otherwise known as the 1 per cent. Their collective mindset has been, “Everything is for us. We control the government. We get everything we want, including tax breaks and bailouts and loopholes and gobs of free money from the Fed.” Thus the stock market has gone up and up and up.

Recently, however, more and more not so wealthy people have been getting back into the market. Many of these newbies to the current historic market upswing are the same people who were ruined financially in 2008, and these newbies were also the investors most hurt by the recent downturn in the market, so much so that many of them left the market completely once again.

You see where I’m going with this? The collective mind of the 1% got adulterated by a bunch of not-so-confident investors, and the market went down. Now that those less than super-wealthy people have been chased out of the market, the collective mind is pure optimistic greed again.

As one very rich person told me long ago, “When the market crashes, the smart money is already out of there.”

Or, as was the case in 2008, when the market crashes, “We will have the government we control bail us out and make everybody else pay for our greedy gambling.” And that is what the Obama administration did. They gave trillions of dollars to the thieves who ruined the lives of millions of people and then they did nothing for those millions of regular folk who were so badly hurt by the folks who are once again stealing trillions annually from the national coffers.

By the way, I wrote all that about the stock market with an indignant British accent, which made me feel certain I knew what I was talking about. But now, writing with an apologetic Brooklyn accent, I opine, “How should I know? Do I look like a stock analyst? With these shoes? Don’t make me laugh.”

Palmer Alaska

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

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.

Precious Dream

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Marcia and Stella at the Mendocino Coast Hospital

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2012)

Last night I had a precious dream,

dreamt I woke into the dawn,

walked out of my little cottage,

found a newspaper on the lawn

When I picked up that morning tribune,

and it opened to the very front page,

the headlines they told me

it was the dawning of a brand new age

Several years ago, I wrote the song Precious Dream, and three years ago when Marcia and I recorded So Not Jazz, our CD of cello/piano/guitar/vocal duets we included the song on the album. A few months after the CD was released, a DJ in Astoria, Oregon used Precious Dream as her theme song for several weeks, and that about sums up the commercial life of the song.

I wrote Precious Dream to elucidate my hopes for the world and human society, and I like to think of the tune as a campaign song in search of a candidate. I have yet to find such a candidate, though the Greens come closest to embodying the gist of my reverie; and since we are about to find out who our next President is and how far to the right of the mythic center our Congress and state houses will be, I thought this would be a good time to share the lyrics with you.

Yeah, the rich folks had all decided

to share their money with the poor

The movie that most influenced my thinking about the human world when I was a little boy was The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone. Marcia and I recently watched that old movie again and I loved it as much as I did when I was a child. The most powerful scene in the entire film for me was (and still is) when Robin takes Maid Marion to meet a group of poor people who have been savaged by the amoral rich. Robin is helping these people with money and food he steals from wealthy villains, feeding and sheltering and protecting these innocents who have nowhere else to turn for safety and sustenance. Meeting the victims of the rapacious overlords, Maid Marion has one of those great cinematic aha moments wherein she really gets that her life of privilege and luxury is built entirely on the backs of the poor.

I was an avid archer from age six to twelve, and many of the countless arrows I let fly in those years were loosed while imagining I was Robin Hood stealing from the rich so my band of merry men and I could give to the poor.

 and the leaders had disbanded all the armies,

not another dollar spent on war

Another hugely important movie in my life was King of Hearts, a gorgeous bittersweet movie that came out in 1966 when I was seventeen and the war in Vietnam was escalating. As my age peers and I lived in daily terror of being drafted to fight in that senseless war, along came this sexy, sad, funny movie about a soldier, played with comic innocence by Alan Bates, who ultimately chooses to hide away among the officially insane rather than spend another minute aiding and abetting the senseless slaughter of and by the so-called sane people of the world.

Let us never forget that the lion’s share of the income taxes we pay go to fund the creation and deployment of deadly armies and weaponry, money that might otherwise be used to make the world into a life-affirming utopia.

 and they’d stopped building prisons,

put that money in our schools and neighborhoods

Many comprehensive studies have proven conclusively that the healthier and safer and better-educated people are, the less likely they are to commit crimes. So why do we spend so little on vitalizing our communities and truly educating our children, while spending so many billions building prisons and locking people up for crimes committed out of economic necessity? Our justice and prison systems are nothing less than ongoing crimes against humanity.

and instead of making bombs and guns and things we do not need

we were all of us working for the greater good

Frank Capra was in love with the idea of people working for the greater good, an archaic-sounding concept involving people subsuming their selfish tendencies in order to help others—the greater community—and through helping others finding happiness and meaning. It’s A Wonderful Life, You Can’t Take It With You, and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington tug at our heartstrings, I believe, because they resonate with our inherent nature, which is to share what we have with others.

 Yes, they’d stopped clear-cutting the forests

and killing all the animals,

stopped dumping poison in the ground and the rivers and the sea,

When I was thirteen I went on a high Sierra backpack trip with two good friends and our three fathers to the Cathedral Lakes out of Tuolumne Meadows. On our second night at Upper Cathedral Lake, we shared that holy place with a big troop of Boy Scouts who made their camp on the opposite side of the lake from us. The scouts had a huge bonfire, though wood was scarce, and they even chopped down some small living trees (highly illegal) to fuel their fire. When we woke the next morning, we discovered that the scouts had festooned the trees and bushes and granite all around the lake with toilet paper; and when they hiked away they left garbage everywhere.

We spent that day and the next cleaning up the enormous mess as best we could and wondering what could possibly have inspired those young men to wreak such havoc on that pristine place. Fifty years later, I still sometimes think of that sickening mess as I read of manufacturers dumping poison into rivers to save a few dollars and when I study the latest reports on the ongoing meltdowns at Fukushima nuclear power plant and the resultant poisoning of the Pacific Ocean. What happened to these people to render them so drastically and ruinously disconnected from the very source of our lives? Such behavior is not natural. Someone or something is teaching human beings to poison our own nests.

the cars ran clean, trains ran smooth and fast, the air was clear,

food and shelter, health-care guaranteed

I have friends in Canada and Ireland and England and Denmark and Germany who have been emboldened to start interesting businesses and launch new careers and undertake exciting creative projects largely because they live in countries that provide free and excellent healthcare for their citizens. As long as we don’t have free and excellent healthcare in America, we are not a free people.

and the movies were about fascinating people

with real problems, you know, the real stuff

and our heroes were bright and generous,

pioneers of truth and love

My brother just sent me the last words of advice Kurt Vonnegut wrote for an audience: “And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one. I’m out of here.”

 When I woke up, my heart was pounding,

and I prayed my dream had all come true,

but I knew as well as you do

that that’s really up to me and you

Yes, we have it in our power to change the way we live

we have it in our power to take no more than we give

we have it in our power to love instead of hate

we have it in our power to make these changes

before it’s all too late

If you would like to hear Precious Dream in its entirety (absolutely gratis) with Marcia’s gorgeous cello and my guitar and mellifluous tenor, go to UnderTheTableBooks.com and click on Listen. If you enjoy the song, we hope you will share the link with your friends.

Practice(ing)

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2012)

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Sylvia Plath

Marcia and I were walking on Big River Beach yesterday, the wet sand firm underfoot—Big River swollen and muddy from the recent deluge, a light rain falling.

As we reveled in the windy wet, free from our various indoor practices, our conversation ran from gossip to silence to politics to silence to memoir to silence to what we might have for supper. And at some point Marcia asked me about a speaking engagement I’ve accepted, a keynote address at a writers’ conference, the dreaded topic—The Creative Process—chosen for me by the conference planners. I say dreaded because I think most of what I’ve ever read about the so-called creative process is hogwash, and I fear that anything I might add to the dreaded subject would be hogwash, too.

Long ago I worked in a day care center overseeing a mob of little kids. The day care center was located ten minutes from Stanford University and we were forever being visited by earnest graduate students writing theses about educational techniques, educational philosophies, educational processes, and God knows what else pertaining to mobs of little kids. Having no degree of any kind, let alone a degree in Small Child Management, I found it highly amusing to be the frequent recipient of attention from these humorless academics, some of whom, I’ll wager, went on to author textbooks for aspiring nursery school teachers, kindergarten teachers, and other Small Child Management educators. Could it be that information gathered from interviews with me conducted by these earnest humorless people helped shape curricula for early childhood education in America? I hope so, but I doubt it.

One day as I was supervising my mob of kiddies in our outdoor playground, a woman named Stella, a doctoral candidate at Stanford, stood beside me, clipboard in hand, asking questions about my supervisory process, a process I had theretofore never tried to elucidate to anyone.

Stella: I note at this time that all the children seem to be safely and happily occupied. I have recorded a current population distribution of one group of five children, two groups of three, four dyads, and three solitary individuals. Would you say this is a typical distribution of the total?

Todd: Um…well, certainly not atypical.

Stella: Would you characterize these as established groups or new and/or developing configurations?

Todd: The configurations are ever changing, though girls tend to hang out with girls, and boys with boys, especially among four and five-year olds. Two and three-year olds tend to be more gender polyrhythmic, if you know what I mean.

Stella: (makes a note) We’ll come back to gender aggregates, but for now I’m curious to know what specific actions you took to precipitate this particular distribution of individuals and groups, and if you employed any specific techniques for settling the children into these successful play actions?

Todd: Are you serious?

Stella: Yes. I have noted zero incidents of crying, fighting, or moping in the entire population for over fifteen minutes now, which defines these play actions and this particular population distribution as successful.

Todd: Could you repeat the question?

Stella: (reading) What techniques did you employ for settling the children into these successful play actions?

Todd: Let me think about that for a minute. (shouting across the playground at a five-year-old boy about to destroy a sand castle just completed by a four-year-old girl) Don’t do it, Lance.

Stella: Wow. (flips to a new page) Would you characterize that as a tone-based warning or a content-based warning?

Todd: Both. And now if you’ll excuse me, Megan is about to slug Bianca and I would like to intervene before their play action becomes highly unsuccessful.

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” Yogi Berra

I want to be helpful to people who aspire to write, so I will try to come up with an inspiring keynote address—because inspiration can sometimes get the ball rolling—though in truth there is no “the creative process.” Each of us has to roll our own ball our own way, and that’s all there is to it: rolling your own creative ball. I use rolling to mean doing, acting, working—everything else is just talking about rolling, which is not the same as rolling, believe you me.

“It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.” W.H. Auden

Thirteen years ago I published The Writer’s Path, a book of my original writing exercises, and before the silly publisher took the book out-of-print, The Writer’s Path sold ten thousand copies with never a penny spent to promote that most helpful tome. Excellent used copies of The Writer’s Path can be found on the interweb for mere pennies plus the dreaded shipping charge.

I designed each exercise in the book to be a non-analytical way to practice a particular aspect of the writing process (not to be confused with the creative process.) For instance, many writers (as in most writers) have big trouble rewriting their initial drafts. Among the many underlying causes of this big trouble are: 1) rewriting skills are developed through thousands of hours of practice, and very few people are willing to work so hard for so little in return 2) rewriting is all about change, and most people are deathly afraid of change 3) rewriting reveals the inadequacies of the original drafts, and such revelations, especially for beginning writers, can be huge bummers.

So I came up with a series of exercises involving the swift creation and destruction and re-creation and re-destruction and re-creation of lines of words, intuitive processes that obviate fear and short-circuit analytical thinking—the great enemy of spontaneous word flow—to give writers invigorating rewriting workouts.

Writing, drawing, and playing music are muscular activities as well as mental processes, and I have no doubt that all original stories, pictures, and songs result from synergetic collaborations of our physical muscles with our cerebral muscles, along with valuable input from unseen agents of the unknowable, if you believe, as I do, in such fantastic nonsense.

“The world is a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” Sean O’Casey

When at nineteen I embarked on a vagabond’s life and could not take a piano with me, I bought a guitar in the sprawling mercado of Guadalajara and taught myself how to play. A year later, having spent a good thousand hours developing a thumb-dominant style of picking and strumming, I stood on a sidewalk in Toronto, strumming and singing. And lo a miracle befell me. Yea verily, dozens of smiling Canadians threw coins and paper money into my dilapidated cardboard guitar case and thenceforth I was a professional musician. Not long after that initial sprinkle of heavenly largesse, I bought a much better guitar and for a time made a minimalist living as a troubadour.

Eventually my piano regained supremacy in my musical life and my guitar became (and remains) a sometimes friend. Two years ago, Marcia and I produced two groovacious CDs of instrumentals and songs featuring guitar and cello (When Light Is Your Garden and So Not Jazz), though of late my focus is on piano improvisations and Marcia is happily immersed in various classical music pursuits. But I digress.  

What I set out to say was that I became a highly functional guitarist through thousands of hours of practice, and I always—this is key—used a thumb pick (on my right thumb) when I played the guitar. And then a few years ago I made a startling discovery, which was that unless my right thumb was actively involved in the playing of a tune, I (this body brain spirit consortium) had no idea where to put the fingers of my left hand to make the chords for any of the songs I knew. That is to say, my right thumb, for all intents and purposes, is the only part of me that really knows how to play my songs.

People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball.” Sandy Koufax

Marcia’s mother Opal is ninety-three and still drives her car all over Santa Rosa where she lives in her own apartment in a commodious retirement community. Two years ago, Opal took up pocket billiards, otherwise known as pool, playing twice a week with friends in the billiards room across the hall from the ping-pong room. When Marcia and I go to visit Opal, we play three or four games of pool with her every night, Marcia and Opal teamed up against Todd, their dyad getting two turns for every one of mine, which makes for a fairly even contest.

What I find most inspiring about Opal learning to play pool so late in life is that every time we play with her, she not only plays better than when we last played, she plays much better.

Art Rant

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Books

Rae’s eyes were red and swollen. They sat on the couch side by side, in silence, waiting for the doctor.” from Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott

The silence of the eyes rings true, and the eyes being side-by-side seems plausible, but how in heck did those eyes get onto that couch without Rae?

I was thirteen and had devoured a thousand books before I discovered the first typo of my reading career, an error that struck me as a scandalous affront to the artistry of writing. I was an insatiable reader, and wanting to be a professional writer I did not skim, but read every word. And when I found passages that wowed me, I copied their lines longhand to teach my sinews the feel of great writing.

“The pallor of hunger suited Kim very well as he stood, tall and slim, in his sad-coloured, sweeping robes, one hand on his rosary and the other in the attitude of benediction, faithfully copied from the lama. An English observer might have said that he looked rather like the young saint of a stained-glass window, whereas he was but a growing lad faint with emptiness.” from Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Nowadays I am surprised if I read a book from a corporate press and don’t find grammatical errors galore with typos sprinkled throughout. I was recently told I must read the stories of Jhumpa Lahiri, a current darling of the New York literati, a writer with myriad awards to her credit, including a Pulitzer. I dutifully ordered her most revered collection of short stories, and after wading through several introductory pages of praiseful blurbs from influential magazines and newspapers—the word miraculous appearing in several of the blurbs—I entered a grammatical minefield that rendered her half-baked stories unreadable for the likes of me.

I complained of Ms. Lahiri’s failings to Marcia, my wife who is so patient with me when I rant about the decline and fall of our culture. Marcia calmly considered my condemnation of the writer and said, “Maybe you just don’t like her style.”

Indeed. Clunky composition featuring profligate use of the word “it”, pronoun confusion, place confusion, time confusion, inadequate descriptions of people and places, and lame depictions of action do add up to a particular style, but who needs it? And why would reviewers describe such stuff as miraculous? In two words: culture collapse.

Jhumpa Lahiri and Anne Lamott and countless other contemporary authors contracted by the corporate presses should be ashamed to publish books that have not been thoroughly and thoughtfully edited. Why aren’t they ashamed? You tell me.

Radio

“It’s not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on.” Marilyn Monroe

In 1966 I was lead singer in a rock band of sixteen-year-old boys. By our third rehearsal we knew we were fantastic and would soon be opening at the Fillmore for our favorite bands Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service. After much deliberation, we settled on the name Joy Ride, though I was never certain if we were The Joy Ride or simply Joy Ride.

This was long before the advent of cassette tape recorders (now obsolete) so we recorded our loud songs on an Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder and sent the one-of-a-kind tapes to Warner Brothers and Columbia Records so we would be discovered and made famous and have beautiful wonderful girlfriends who wanted to have sex with us day and night while maintaining their brilliance and creativity and innocence.

We had one gig before (The) Joy Ride broke up. The gig was a battle of four bands in a cavernous high school gymnasium. We were awesome, yet we lost the battle. The only possible explanation for our defeat was that the airheads didn’t get where we were coming from. Our one stalwart groupie said we reminded her of Jimi Hendrix and The Byrds rolled into one. No wonder we knew we were fantastic.

Embittered by our rejection by the airheads, I joined forces with a guitar player and wrote eleven amazing songs. We recorded our masterworks on that same reel-to-reel tape recorder and sent the tape to A&M Records because a friend of ours had a friend who knew someone’s friend’s cousin or uncle who worked there. Maybe the tape got lost in the mail, but more likely the record company airheads just didn’t get where we were coming from. In any case…

Fast-forward forty-five years. Having just produced two new CDs, I have been questing for likely DJs at likely radio stations to send our music to, my goal being to send forth a hundred packets, each containing our CDs and a heartfelt handwritten letter aimed at a specific DJ. So not Jazz is my collaboration with the aforementioned patient wife Marcia, her exquisite cello improvisations elevating our jazzy instrumentals and songs into the sublime, while 43 short Piano Improvisations is my solo adventure in musical haiku.

Whilst pursuing those rare DJs who might be open to music from the likes of us, I have visited over a hundred public radio station web sites and scrutinized several hundred DJ profiles and play lists. As of this writing, I have sent out sixty-seven packets and gained three DJ fans: one in Fort Collins, Colorado, one in Worcester, Massachusetts, and one in Astoria, Oregon. They have each played a tune or two of ours, and promise to play more. We are, in a word, thrilled.

As a result of my copious research, I have learned that if a radio station is an NPR (National Public Radio) affiliate and airs All Things Considered, they will probably be a kind of public radio Clear Channel with canned programming and zero interest in independent artists. But if a station airs Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, there is a fair chance they will harbor one or more zany, curious, eclectic programmers. And then there are the entirely student-run college stations. I do not intend to approach any of these stations until our hip-hop metal reggae album Dread Metal YoYo is ready for release.

Movies and Plays

“Television has raised writing to a new low.” Samuel Goldwyn

John Simon is the author of my favorite one-sentence film review. In response to the movie Tommy, he wrote in Esquire, “Anyone who has anything good to say about this movie has nothing to say to me.” I feel this way about nearly all the American movies I’ve seen in the last thirty years, and that is because I have not been programmed to digest contemporary theatrical offerings.

Contemporary movies and theatre in America are now entirely conflated with television, the essence of which is physical and psychic violence, emotional superficiality, sexism, the deification of morons, verbal abuse disguised as humor, and non-stop brainwashing. Because I ceased watching television in 1969, the programming of my brain has not kept pace with the changing cultural mores. Thus contemporary American plays and movies, even those purported to be brilliant and deep and meaningful, almost always strike me as trivial and/or toxic.

I remember the precise moment I decided to forego television for the rest of my life. I was nineteen and on the verge of dropping out of college—academia antithetical to the likes of me. I was wandering the halls of my dorm looking for someone to accompany me on a late night stroll when I came to a lounge wherein a dozen young men and women were watching television. As I stood in the lounge doorway and watched the watchers, I was struck by the realization that these promising young people, four of them my best friends, were being lobotomized by the rays emanating from the television, their faces fixed in helpless idiocy.

Over the last thirty years, I have attended some two hundred plays in theatres large and small in New York and Los Angeles and Seattle and Sacramento and Berkeley and San Francisco, and most recently Mendocino, and I cannot bring to mind a single contemporary play written by an American that I believed in for more than a moment or two. Of the few hundred American movies I’ve seen since 1980, I can think of a handful I would call good, only a few great. Thank goodness we have access to foreign films (I consider the British foreign) so I do not entirely starve for good movies, though I am frequently hungry.

I am certain (having been privileged to read such manuscripts) that fine plays, books, and screenplays are still being written in America, but they are not, as a rule, produced or published or widely disseminated. And, yes, I have on rare occasions over the last forty years watched television, usually at the request of friends urging me to sample shows they say are fabulous, only to have my sense of the ongoing devolution confirmed.

Renaissance

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Pablo Picasso

If you so desire, you can overcome the televisionization of your psyche and revitalize your aesthetic taste buds. Having worked with many teenage and adult writers who were initially incapable of writing original stories with non-stereotypical characters and natural-sounding dialogue, and knowing the causes of their dysfunction to be television, corporate fiction, and contemporary American movies, I found that if I could convince my charges to eliminate these influences from their lives, creative rebirth was a virtual certainty. For teenagers, such rebirths may occur within weeks of their ceasing to imbibe the media opiates. For adults, such rejuvenation may take months. And I suppose the modern variants of television, iPads, cell phones, YouTube, etc. should be included in the list of influences to be minimized.

Our brains, in much the same way as ecosystems, will regenerate once persistent toxics and stresses are removed, and once you end your addiction to the opiates of the masses you will be astonished by the dramatic shift in your perceptions. However, there is the strong possibility you will feel left out of the cultural discourse about celebrities and the latest movies and books you can’t remember shortly after you ingest them, and you may feel isolated and lonely and desperate in the absence of all that you have become accustomed to. Fear not. Falling off the wagon is but a click of the On button and a badly written bestseller away.

[Todd reads books written by dead or very old or unknown authors and watches foreign films (and the occasional teen flick) in Mendocino.]

This essay originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2010

What’s In A Name?

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

(This essay was written for The Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2010)

“Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

As I answer the ringing phone, I am distracted by my cat chasing his tail and do not hear the brief telltale silence presaging a stranger seeking money. “Hello. This is Doralinda Kayamunga of the NRA calling for Mr. Tom Walsmar.” I hang up, though in retrospect I wish I’d thought to ask Doralinda how she got Tom from Todd and Walsmar from Walton.

My childhood friends delighted in calling me Toad Walnut, and did so with such frequency that their teasing ceased to rankle. Please note: their playful distortion of my name was intentional, whereas the thousand and one subsequent manglings of Todd and Walton result, as far as I can tell, from endemic mass idiocy. I have been called Tom, Toby, Tad, Ted, Tony, Don, Rod, and Scott hundreds of times in my life, usually in combination with Watson, Walters, Weldon, Waldon, Walsmar, Wilson, Welton, Waters, Waldo, and most recently Watton.

For goodness sake, my name is not Jascha Heifetz or Ubaldo Jimenez or Ilgaukus Christianoosman. In England, Walton is as common as Smith. My surname derives from Walled Town, and in medieval England nearly all towns were walled towns. In those long ago days, a person might be known as Roderick of Walled Town or Sylvia of Walled Town, and over the ensuing centuries, William of Walled Town became Bill Walton of UCLA and the Portland Trailblazers.

I’m sure that you, at one time or another, have had your name and/or names misread and mis-said, but I have yet to meet anyone with a name as simple and straightforward as mine who experiences such persistent moniker mishandling. My wife, Marcia Sloane, her first name frequently spelled Marsha by even her close friends, and her last name often presented minus the E at the end, posits that the very simplicity of Todd Walton is the cause of people mistaking my name (s) for others. She has yet to convincingly explain why simplicity breeds confusion, and in support of my theory of rampant idiocy I remind her that when she recently gave a talk at the Unitarian, both the Beacon and the Advocate referred to her as Marika Solace.

Perhaps the most egregious distortion of my first name came in 1967 at the outset of my first year of college at brand new UC Santa Cruz. Dazed and confused, I dutifully followed the orders in my freshman orientation packet and went to consult with the advisor assigned to me, a nationally renowned sociologist I shall not name. This mean little man would soon be locally renowned as a middle-aged sex fiend preying on gullible undergrad females. To that end, he made sure only females landed on his list of advisees. So why was I on his list? Because some administrative dweeb transcribed my name Todi, and this horny old fart took the misspelling to be an Italian (or possibly Finnish) girl’s name. Needless to say, he was extremely displeased when a sweaty boy and not some svelte female darkened his door. After a brief and icky meeting, he grimly suggested I find other counsel. Todi, indeed.

“And we were angry and poor and happy, 
and proud of seeing our names in print.
” G.K. Chesterton

When I published my first novel Inside Moves, I did what all first-time authors do; I visited myriad bookstores to see if they were carrying my book. In several of these stores, my book was shelved in the hobby section, the resident geniuses having read the title as Inside Movies. When the book and subsequent film provided me with a brief stint of notoriety, I was asked to provide congratulatory blurbs for other books. And on the back cover of one of these books I was Tod Wilson, author of Night Moves. On another, I was John Walters, author of Forbidden Pulses, my second novel being Forgotten Impulses. What a woild!

“Proper names are poetry in the raw.  Like all poetry they are untranslatable.”  W.H. Auden

In 1973 my mother offered me her doddering and essentially worthless Ford LTD so I could move with my girlfriend and our paltry earthly possessions from Palo Alto, California to Eugene, Oregon. We got as far as Sacramento when the old car began to shimmy like my sister Kate. By some miracle, we managed to pull into a wheel alignment garage moments before the car could shake into pieces. As it happened, we had just enough cash to fix our coach, but the mechanic said he was booked solid for three days.

And so, resigned to crashing on a friends’ floor for the duration, I despondently signed the estimate sheet. But when the mechanic saw my signature, his eyes widened and he blurted, “Walton? You’re a Walton? Walton’s mountain? John Boy. The Waltons. That’s our favorite show in the whole world. That show…that show is the story of our life. You’re a Walton?”

I had never seen The Waltons, but I’d heard of the popular television show and been called John Boy by countless cretins, so I vaguely knew what this fellow was talking about. I also knew that the creator of The Waltons was named something like Hammer, and the stories were based on his family’s history. However, since Hammer lacked the grace and elegance of Walton, he decided…

“I gotta tell my wife,” said the mechanic, nodding hopefully. “Could you…if we did your car this afternoon could you hang around so my wife can meet you?”

“Sure,” I said, struck by the happy realization that for the first time in my life there might be some advantage to being named Walton.

And though I felt compelled to explain to these good people that I was no relation to the fictional characters they worshiped, they would hear none of my disclaimers. I was a deity to them, and all because I hadn’t followed the lead of many of my cohorts and changed my name to Rainbow River or Jade Sarong.

The mechanic’s wife presented us with a special pumpkin pie “just like the Walton’s have for Thanksgiving supper.” She spoke of the Waltons in the present tense, for they were very much alive to her.

This blessed nonsense culminated in the mechanic donating all parts and labor to our exodus from the golden state. Then he fervently shook my hand and declared that meeting me was one of the best things that had ever happened to him. Yet neither the mechanic nor his wife seemed stupid or deranged. Indeed, they struck me as intelligent and resourceful people, their only shortcoming the inability to distinguish a television show from what they imagined to be a docudrama set in the Deep South about people related to me.

When I asked if I might know their last name, the mechanic said, “Oh, it’s a common old name where we come from.”

“Still,” I said, having finally surrendered my fate to the largesse of satirical angels, “I’d love to know your last name?”

“Knuckles,” said the mechanic and his wife, speaking as one.

“Knuckles?” I echoed. “I’ve never heard of anyone named Knuckles.”

“Dime a dozen where we come from,” said the mechanic’s wife. “And every last one a cousin.”

“Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names.” Japanese Proverb

That is, if the name left is actually your name.

Marcia and I just took possession of our two new CDs. The first, So not Jazz, features Marcia on cello and yours truly on guitar and piano. The second, 43 short Piano Improvisations, is just that: forty-three musical haiku. Our wonderful UPS delivery person brought the myriad boxes to our door, and as we gaily opened them to make sure the CDs were, indeed, ours and not those of a Fresno Reggae ensemble (which happened the last time we made a CD) I noticed the boxes were addressed to Todd Watton and Marcia Sloane. Oh, well. Just a silly typo. Todd Watton. No problem.

Yes, problem. A few days after we sent out the first batch of our CDs, my brother, a highly adept computer and Interweb person, emailed me to report that all forty-three of my piano improvisations and all nine of my collaborations with Marcia were showing up on iTunes and several other digital download sites under the purview of Todd Watton. Web crawling logarithms were gobbling the misnomer and spreading it hither and yon throughout cyber space, and good luck replacing that leading T in Watton with the L we so very much wanted to be there instead.

We contacted the manufacturer and they promised to do what they could to rectify the situation. We are moderately hopeful the erroneous moniker will be thoroughly expunged from the electronic highways and biways, but we won’t hold our breaths. Fortunately, I subscribe to the philosophy that the occurrences composing so-called reality are not random, but only seem random because we lack sufficient data to explain why the occurrences are occurring. In honor of this philosophy, I have coined the word confluencidental, and I hope one day this grandiloquent word will be granted entry into the Oxford English Dictionary and possibly into the yet-to-be-established Buckminster Fuller Hall of Fame. But again, I digress.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William the Spear Shaker

Ultimately, when my body dissolves into the mother of all molecular whirlpools and my life essence goes wherever life essences go, my names will only live as long as it takes for the people who remember me to die, for the books I’ve published to turn to dust or flame, and for the recordings I’ve made to become unplayable. Thereafter, Todd Walton (or Tom Walsmar or Toby Watson or Todi Watton) will only be remembered if things he or she made—songs, poems, stories—take on lives of such vibrancy that future generations will feel compelled to keep those creations alive. And should such miracles transpire, the names attached to those creations will surely be irrelevant.

I once met a guy who claimed to have written a famous song stolen from him by the person who got famous and rich for writing the song. I have no doubt this guy honestly believed he’d written the famous song the other person got the credit and money for writing. But I never liked that song, so I didn’t really care one way or the other.

Todd and Marcia’s new CDs and songs are available for sampling and purchase at UnderTheTableBooks.com.