Posts Tagged ‘Stripes’

Hey Baby

Monday, March 26th, 2018

th_nighttrain-768

Petit point for Night Train cover by D.R. Wagner

“Listen to the wind as it blows through the trees, listen to her and listen to me, listen to your heart and listen to your brain, listen to the sweet song of the rain. Oh my darling, I know this is hard for you to hear, but you are the one everybody wants to be with tonight.” from Todd’s song You Are the One.

My recent article about singing to the seals at Big River Beach and remembering my first paying gigs as a musician elicited several fascinating comments, so I thought I’d write a little more about my music. By the way, we’ve disarmed the Comments feature on my blog, so if you’d like to communicate with me about my articles, please send me an email.

So…having supported myself in minimal style for a couple years as a singer/songwriter in my early twenties in Santa Cruz circa 1973, I moved to Menlo Park and got a job as a janitor and teacher’s aid at a day care center in Palo Alto for children of single working mothers. My girlfriend G and I had broken up in Santa Cruz, but G rejoined me in Menlo Park, and after a year of saving our pennies, we moved to Eugene, Oregon where we lived in a converted garage while G attended the university as a music major studying piano and composition. Shortly after we arrived in Eugene, I sold my first short story for what was a fortune to me in those days, nine hundred dollars, and that allowed me to focus entirely for some months on writing short stories and a novel.

My relationship with my girlfriend was not mutually supportive. Which is to say, until I had some effective psychotherapy when I was forty, I routinely partnered with women who disapproved of me and my life choices, yet depended on me to encourage and support them. Why did I do this? To summarize volumes of emotional history, I was programmed by my disapproving and punitive parents to partner with disapproving others, and I didn’t know how else to go about life.

Lest you think I exaggerate my malady, check this out. For the entirety of our three-year relationship, G was adamant, and frequently shouted adamantly at me, that I was using my singing and songwriting and the adulation they brought me as emotional crutches to feel okay about myself and if I really wanted to face the truth about who I was, I would get rid of my guitar. So after we’d been in Eugene a month, I sold my guitar.

Now as it happened, we also had a piano in that garage because G was studying music theory and composition and wanted a piano handy for theorizing and composing. Because I make music as reflexively as ducks swim, I frequently played her piano. I don’t read music, but I had been improvising on pianos since I was sixteen, so in the absence of a guitar, I played her piano several times a day. This drove G bonkers because she struggled to compose anything she liked, while I reeled off hours of groovy-sounding music with no conscious knowledge of music theory.

Nine months into our Eugene sojourn, G and I broke up for good and I moved to Medford, Oregon where I worked as a landscaper for two years. While living in Medford, I was contacted by my old high school chum Dan Nadaner who was a fan of my guitar playing and singing. He had written some rhyming verses for the soundtrack to a little film he made called Stripes and asked me to sing his verses in the manner of a country tune while accompanying myself on guitar. (Watch Stripes on my web site.)

To make that recording for Dan, I borrowed a small steel-string guitar and a little cassette recorder from my friend David Adee. Dan was pleased with how I sang his verses, and after making the recording I bought that guitar from David. Having gone two years without a guitar, songs began pouring out of me and I wrote several new tunes in the next few months. A year later, in 1977, I moved from Medford to Seattle, and while living a lonely life there, I wrote a nostalgic bluesy love song called Hey Baby.

In 1980, having had a large success with my first novel Inside Moves, I was attending a party in Sacramento, songs were being shared, and when the guitar came to me, I sang Hey Baby. When I finished the song there was much hooting and applause and a woman asked, “Who wrote that? Wasn’t that in a movie?”

I said, “No. It’s one of my songs.”

“Sounds famous,” she went on. “That’s like a song you hear in grocery stores, you know, the instrumental version of a classic.”

As of this writing, Hey Baby is not famous, but I never forgot what that woman said about the song, and her praise emboldened me to play Hey Baby when I gave readings at bookstores and cafés, and the song eventually became a mainstay of the one-man shows I performed for some years.

Fast forward to the first year of my first marriage, 1984. My wife introduced me to Rickie Lee Jones’s first album, which I enjoyed, but there was one song on that album I absolutely with every cell in my corpus loved—Night Train (not the blues standard, but Rickie’s song with that title.) After listening to her Night Train countless times, I wrote a novel entitled Night Train that sprang from dreams inspired by Rickie’s song.

In the novel, the down-and-nearly-out narrator Charlie is haunted by the one success he ever had, a hit song he wrote called Hey Baby upon which hinges everything that happens in that wild crazy chase love story.

I eventually published Night Train with Mercury House, a San Francisco publisher, and they took the book out-of-print shortly after publication. Thus few people ever heard of my Night Train, though the following review by Tom Nolan ran in the LA Times in 1986.

“In his fourth novel, Todd Walton, author of the critically praised Inside Moves and Louie & Women, delivers an unusual and gripping tale that begins like a hard-boiled crime story and becomes something resembling science fiction. Walton evokes a paranoid romanticism reminiscent of Craig Nova, Don DeLillo or Thomas Pynchon as he tracks the fate of Lily and Charlie, two down-and-out musicians on the run from an army of ‘very well-connected’ thugs out not just for blood but for spirit. Fleeing by car, foot, air, bicycle, train, covered wagon and dirigible, the two make their way with Lily’s baby from Sunset Boulevard to a mountain retreat in Oregon. Eluding all manner of physical and mental danger, Lily and Charlie take their final stand with a commune of utopian artists.

“Their odyssey is seedily realistic, wildly surrealistic, often erotic and only occasionally a bit precious. What seemed like a simple pursuit story has become an engaging parable of the responsibilities of creativity, the nature of self-worth, the redemptive power of love—perhaps the Meaning of Life itself. And the message, as Charlie reads it? ‘No matter how far down you get, you got to get up.’”

And now, thirty-three years gone by since Night Train was briefly available in a handful of bookstores, I love recalling the myriad threads that came together to make that book—Hey Baby a tune I wrote for my favorite singer in those days: Bonnie Raitt. And though I never got the tune to Bonnie, in my imaginings, her version of Hey Baby makes the song an instant classic, thereby fulfilling the long-ago prophecy of Hey Baby becoming a soundtrack for grocery shopping.

Night Train is available as a Kindle and iBook, and used copies of the hardback abound online.

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.”

Stripes

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

this song's for you site

This Song’s For You by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2015)

“The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” Pema Chödrön

A friend recently sent me a link to a short movie about a high school art teacher in St. Paul Minnesota whose students are recent arrivals from other countries, refugees from military conflicts. Many of the students barely speak English, so this teacher has devised fun and creative ways to explore color theory without needing much language for the learning.

Watching the film reminded me of another short art-related movie made by a friend of mine in 1976 called Stripes, about stripe patterns in paintings and life. Dan Nadaner, now a professor of art and a successful artist, made the three-minute long film in those pre-digital days while doing an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. For the soundtrack, he wrote a ditty about the stripes that appear in paintings by famous artists, and he asked me to play guitar and sing his lyrics in the way he imagined, a kind of slow-going country song.

I was twenty-six and living in Medford Oregon at the time, working as a landscaper. I had stopped writing and making music entirely for a reason that may sound ridiculous, but which made perfect sense given the accumulation of neuroses characterizing me in those days.

I took up the guitar at the age of twenty when I needed a more mobile instrument than a piano. Three years later I was making a large part of my minimal living playing guitar and singing in pubs and cafés in Santa Cruz, and it was during this time I entered into a relationship with a woman who was studying piano.

My relationship pattern at that time and for much of my life was to choose partners and friends who were openly hostile toward my music and writing. Why would an artist repeatedly get involved with people who despise his art? The short answer is that my parents were contemptuous of my music and writing and violently opposed to my pursuing those art forms as my life’s calling. Thus as a child and teenager I became habituated to abuse and disdain for what I was passionate about, and as I progressed into adulthood I repeatedly and unconsciously chose people reminiscent of my parents to be my mates and friends. This continued into middle age when I finally broke free of that debilitating pattern.

But before breaking free, I spent much of my life enmeshed with people who thrived on disparaging the likes of me, and one of those people was my girlfriend when I was twenty-four and twenty-five and making part of my living as a musician and selling the occasional short story. My girlfriend hated the relative ease with which I made music, and by the end of our relationship she had convinced me that my desire to entertain people with my music and stories was an emotional crutch. She preached at me incessantly that if I ever wanted to become a whole and genuine person, I needed to quit making music and stop writing.

So I gave up writing and music, she and I broke up, I went to work as a landscaper, and I didn’t play a note or write a word for one long year until Dan called me from New York and asked me to play guitar and sing the soundtrack for his movie Stripes.

I clearly remember telling Dan that I no longer played guitar or sang or wrote stories, and I remember Dan calmly suggesting this was a passing phase, that I was a good musician and he was sure I would do a fine job singing his ditty about stripes.

So I borrowed a guitar and played and sang the Stripes song into a cassette recorder and sent the tape to Dan, thinking it would be something he could use to clarify his vision of the soundtrack, but then he called and said, “That’s perfect.”

The next day I woke up with a new song forming and I barely got the words written down and the chords figured out before another song began to emerge. Then the floodgates opened, I purchased the borrowed guitar, wrote dozens of songs, started playing the piano again, and haven’t stopped playing since.

Shortly after I began making music again, I wrote the first short story I’d written in two years and immediately sold it for five hundred dollars. I know this sounds like a fairy tale, but it is entirely true. Dan asking me to play and sing for his movie, and his approval of what I created for him, lifted the curse and turned Toad into a functional writer and musician again.

“How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss

More than thirty years later, Dan sent me a DVD of Stripes, and when I watched the movie again after all these years, my gratitude to him was as big as the moon. The film is somewhat rosy now, having lain in a canister for three decades before being transferred to digital format, but I still find it a most beautiful creation. Our web meister Garth has posted Stripes on my web site so you can take a look. Just go to Underthetablebooks.com and click on Films.

Alas, my resumption of writing and making music way back when did not go hand in hand with an end to relationships with abusive people who hated my music and writing. That blessed day would not come until I was in my mid-fifties and I finally ended the last of those debilitating connections. What took me so long? I guess these kinds of transformations take time.