How do we juggle perspective? Does it require special gloves? Do they sell them at Marden’s? How do we keep from becoming smeared ash as a result of irreversible guilt?
Many of our lives are perfectly flipped pancakes.
I’ve been known to have a bad day here and there. Apparently they see it in my face. I don’t. I squeeze but my slimy eyeballs stay in their sockets. All I see is the fringe of a heavy brow. Little spider legs caress my eyelids. Once, as a hairdresser was dusting off little sharp hairs from the back of my neck, he said “I can take care of those for you”. I left before he could acquire the tweezers. I thought that was a bad day.
What’s a bad day?
An out of tune clarinet? A broken drumhead? A missed litter box?
I read this morning that a refugee wrapped his entire life savings in rubber and ate it before fleeing, to avoid theft. They had to surgically remove it in the Netherlands. He had $1800 dollars in his stomach. I swallowed a quarter once. It was terrible.
I don’t have advice on how to process all of the things happening in this world, other than to seriously try. Read books. Study history. Watch the news. Don’t watch the news. Get on a plane. Drive your car. March.
Sit for a long time in a foreign place and wonder what it feels like to be: that guy with the weird, greasy, velvet jacket. How did all of that grease get there? To be the lady with the flower dress. What’s her favorite kind of soup? To be that chickadee with the gum wrapper in it’s mouth. Why does a bird like gum? To be you, sitting around in a park. Watching. Listening. Feeling.
When you find the things that make you cringe, that make you numb, that take your breath- don’t run. Don’t hide. Marinate. Plan. Act.
Good luck, __________________________, juggler of perspective.
(your name here)
don’t eat too many.
don’t be afraid of ketchup.
wool is good
heavy, oversized blankets can make you feel safe
the velvety kind feel nice but don’t last long
people are like bananas with controllable ripeness. help others.
everything has a mustache. everyone has something to hide. keep wondering what’s beneath.
take some time to thank him for being him.
we are steve.
Sometimes you don’t have to understand a poem to enjoy it. We spend so much time in school tearing them apart, fishing for meaning, deconstructing them. Don’t spend your entire life deconstructing everything. It’s also good to take things at face value (moderation is good). Sometimes I write really stupid poems (look above) because I like the way certain words sound together or I like the way a combination of words might make you think.
Crab Rangoon. Tiger Woods.
Great poem. So much to think about.
Don’t dissect everything.
Tonight was our second football game. Football pep band is wicked. Our sound is huge but it disappears into the open night sky like a spooked barred owl. On top of that, it was in the low 40’s! You could practically follow streams of breath shooting from each horn. Sometimes I stand with my back against the chainlink fence and look back at the band under stadium lights. My eyes glance over each member and I think about how lucky we all are to know one another. I am blessed to play and teach music- to spend each and every day in sheer celebration. More than anything else, I hope that each of them find a life where they are surrounded by good people, doing what they really love.
Ah, the second year.
Throughout the first half of 2013, I spent most Mondays drinking coffee with my dear friend Chris Guthrie. We first met ten years ago at Capital University. He's the type of guy that you flock to immediately, like a tick latches onto a fawn. I am the parasite in this relationship.
We meet at the same coffee shop we frequented throughout college. Cup O' Joe. It was there that I forced myself to become a coffee drinker (my initial order was iced coffee with four shots of espresso).
It was also there that "Album of the Week" was born.
AOW was a highlight of 2013.
Chris and I have insatiable thirsts for more music. More practicing, performing, listening, writing. It’s never enough. That’s the thing about music.
In an effort to dig deeper, we decided to try listening to albums together, one per week. On Sundays we pick and throughout the week we talk. There are no other rules.
We typically pick albums that are relatively new to us, with a few exceptions.
*I moved the whole list to HERE*
These albums act as placeholders for memories, one week at time.
In September, I attended instrument rental night for the elementary schools within our district. I was excited to welcome all of the new instrumentalists into the family. Although I felt zapped from the first few weeks in a new position, I got there early to check out the scene.
There were piles of brand new instruments stacked against the far wall of the high school cafeteria. Clarinets, saxophones, flutes, trombones, snare drums, bell kits, cellos, violins, violas. Shiny new method books. Wire stands.
I was transported back to my initial band experience, as a sixth grade musician in Ohio. I can remember standing in our school cafeteria in the fall of 1996, filling a saxophone with breath for the very first time.
I'm still in love with THAT sound.
It was beautiful to watch tiny hands fidgeting open silver clasps to reveal new friends. One little boy kissed his trumpet. Another girl jumped up and down, hugging her cello. How quickly we can forget these moments! The next day I asked our high school band to remember forever.
As I was walking across the parking lot to my car I wondered where they'd be in five years. I thought about the stories they'd accumulate between now and then: the times of joy, the times of despair, the desire to quit, the desire to improve, the rehearsals, the concerts, the accidents- the story of each musician and their instrument.
I hope that nothing ever scars that initial love of music.
While in Alaska, I was the live-in caretaker for a large church. I cleaned and maintained a church in exchange for rent. It was a hefty part time job, full of quirks. I lived in the attic apartment where the slanted ceilings regularly bruised my head. I'd roam the halls late at night with my guitar, singing in the sunday school rooms. I'd play the grand piano in the sanctuary, and listen to my voice bounce off the pews.
It was a snowy Friday night and there was a break in the storm which allowed me to shovel the bulk before freezing. You don't want it to freeze. Frozen snow on church steps means one of two things: a sore and grumpy caretaker or a sore and grumpy parishioner. I had a duty.
I was listening to Joe Purdy's album "You Can Tell Georgia" for the very first time and "Only Four Seasons" was up.
I could see my breath.
The snow glistening on a mountain across the bay.
The lights blinking on the airport runway.
And then THAT harmonica.
I threw the shovel into the pile and started running across town, falling every couple of steps.
I had to share it with someone.
So I found a friend and plugged it in.
I returned to frozen snow.
view from church steps on a snowless winter dusk
Short version: Read Michael Perry. Listen to Tim Eriksen. (specific recommendations in comments)
Within the course of a week, I had a rare opportunity to meet two of my heroes. I grew infatuated with each of them throughout a year in South Carolina- that first year teaching.
I am a sucker for old time mountain music. The sound of a swiss immigrant yodeling Appalachian love songs is enough to cause me to stop, drop and roll.
Here is Tim Eriksen singing in San Francisco in 2009.
Throughout the last six years I've marinated in THAT sound. Last week, I finally had the chance to hear him in person. He performed most of the material from Josh Billings' Voyage with trio de pumpkintown. Stephen Colbert played the Irish drum.
He is the favorite uncle of the shape note singing revival. I'll be attending the NE convention this fall, because of him. A Sacred Harp hymnal sits on my coffee table (opened to no. 410), because of him. I shaved my head bald and dress like a pirate, because of him.
The harmonies of the Sacred Harp scrape against the grain of conventional counterpoint. If Bach is the warm morning sun, slipping through the blinds, Sacred Harp is a penetrating wind howling through a moonlit bog.
I stumbled upon Michael Perry during a first date. She was a certified long term sub for a kindergarten teacher. We met for coffee on a Saturday at a bookshop. Bookshop dates mean showing up hours early to peruse. I found Michael Perry's Population 485 in the new release stack as I walked in. An hour later, my date arrived to find me distracted and covered in coffee.
Perry's books brought me into the life I was living as a young bachelor out on my own for the first time. The tired sounds of Seinfeld seasons 1-9 were replaced by the brewing of coffee, the pen on the paper, the feet in the grass.
I was thrilled to meet him in Delaware, OH on his book tour. I was second in line for the signing and my breath was mule-like, at best. All I could muster upon reaching him was: "Your work makes me feel alive. Thank you." I scanned his eyes for a grimace in reaction to my livestock breath, only to receive a smile and a twinkle. What a guy.
A bear doesn't waddle out of hibernation and run a half marathon- it lounges, it scratches and it yawns.
Every now and again, I pry myself out of a dream by straining to open my eyes. In the dream, I am battling a temporary blindness. My perception is covered in thick phlegm as I crawl and flail, trying to grab ahold of something tangible to hoist myself upon. Eventually I awake, run to the can and flop back into a fresh dream. (Think: riding horses through the Yukon Rockies with Teddy Roosevelt or sharing a piano bench with Ray Charles as we sing "Seven Spanish Angels" on the Johnny Cash Show.)
There's something about transition that mirrors these gooey eyed nightmares. I am here early to shake off that haze before starting a new job.
When I moved to South Carolina after college, I had less than a week to orient myself with the unknown before teaching my first class. I spent months of that first year trying to figure out what happened.
One day, a few weeks in, a class of third graders bumped me over the edge. The verdict was still out on the mama's boy newb with a penchant for plaid. They decided to prod my patience. The little girl in the magenta dress hollered over our singing that class was "BORING". The avid nose picker with the Carolina Panthers jersey let me know that I looked "ESPECIALLY FAT TODAY". The boy in the back said "THIS BLOWS, LET'S GO TO GYM." and began to rise. It felt like a snowball to the face, packed with rocks of indifference, hurled by 28 little hands.
There's always a lot to learn.
While the PE teacher covered my class ("YAY"-boy in the back), I slithered to the administrative wing to hide: "I CAN'T DO THIS, IT'S TOO HARD". Lucky for me, teacher types are teacherly towards one another too. A counselor cradled me and explained how the first year is brutal. I was vulnerable after moving 600 miles from the state I had lived in since birth, from paying rent with my own paychecks and choosing life insurance beneficiaries to investing retirement money and paying property taxes through my car registration (I lived in an apartment complex!). I went from being 22 to 65 on a weekend.
What really burned was that I couldn't motivate a class of innocent youngins to get behind a Foo Fighters song- a song that had nearly caused me to drive into the ocean on my way to work that morning. Their 'apathy' spiraled through me like a Blue Fox Vibrax ripples through the flesh of a shiny silver salmon. I envisioned myself speeding north, windows down, Zeppelin blaring.
The last thing the counselor said as she patted me out the door was: "What you perceive as indifference is actually a yearning to learn. Teach them to care by sharing those experiences and feelings. You've skipped a step". I was back in the classroom minutes later with my pride in check and my guitar in hand.
We all walk the long road.
Six years later, it's a different scene. I'm grateful for the distance traveled since that first year, a result of the tremendous support I've received throughout my young career. I'm especially grateful for each of the musicians I've had the honor of working with- brothers and sisters of the craft.
The pool at my parent's house serves as a breeding and feeding ground for all sorts of beasts and insects.
Squirrels. Bunnies. Chipmunks. Frogs. Birds. Bugs.
Throughout the fall I monitored the growth of tadpoles from egg to frog. A few dozen made it. Their society was depleted by the elements: scorching sun, chilly nights, hungry sparrows. I even awoke one night to hear raccoons swimming and gobbling. I threw off the blankets, rushed outside and spooked them off with waving arms. As I fell back asleep, the swimming and gobbling commenced. Life is fragile.
Now there's a new batch. They are smaller, darker and developing much more slowly. While the raccoons aren't interested in this brood, the dragonfly nymphs are. It's an all you can eat buffet and larvae eat for free.
Everybody is interested in something: Seconds ago, I watched a dragonfly emerge and wiggle it's wings for the very first time, only to have them plucked and it's body consumed by a tiny bird. As the ants rushed in to take care of the wings, the bird flew into the light of the rising sun.
Now my coffee is cold and I lost my place in a book.
You have to listen to Rabih Abou-Khalil. You have to.
I'm young and can only vouch for two albums: The Cactus of Knowledge (larger ensemble with horn arrangements) and Il Sospiro (solo oud).
I wish there was a day when the Oud Owl delivered ouds to all the good little boys and girls.
I've always fantasized about how it must feel to be someone/something else. I wish we could connect ourselves via USB and trade for a few minutes. I speculate that our worlds would plop. What does Lebanese music sound like through Lebanese ears?
Our ears are born of vast lineage and evolution, as if they all lived and died for us to sit here and listen to tunes with a fresh cup of coffee in hand.
I once played music with an Iranian tar player. He's one of the best musicians I've ever met. One night over fresh Alaskan salmon and a chia seeds drink, we talked about music and culture for a few hours. We ended the night by sight reading some of each other's music. We were both in the mud. Sometimes I still pull out the photocopies and stare at them like old family portraits.
I just finished Suzuki's Nurtured by Love and am fascinated at how he describes the power of the mother tongue:
"Mother's often say to me, "I am tone-deaf," to explain that their child is the same. They think it is hereditary and that there is nothing they can do about it. But just as nightingales are not born tone-deaf, neither are human infants. On the contrary, a baby absorbs perfectly any out-of-tune pitch of its mother's lullabies. It has a marvelous ear. That's why the child will later sing in the same way."
I'm not necessarily advocating Suzuki method. I have mixed feelings about pushing very young children towards prodigy when they've yet to roll in autumn leaves, build forts out of quilts and folding chairs and dress their cats in doll attire. Suzuki wasn't advocating for this either, but it does happen. His aim was to supplement childhood with musical performance. I can definitely get behind that.
Blend it with a cup and a half of Fred Rogers' "Mister Rogers Talks With Parents", and you may have a delicious casserole in your oven:
"I don't believe that children can develop in a healthy way unless they feel that they have value apart from anything that they own or any skill that they learn. They need to feel they enhance the life of someone else, that they are needed. Who, better than parents, can let them know that?" (or teachers!)
Although my mother tongue is old honky tonk and Bob Seger, I'll continue stewing in the sound of Rabih's oud, hoping to come out the other end with a quarter tone twinge. Listen to him shred here (with Sonny Fortune SCREAMING later on): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysxv8dc4ru4
Here is Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble playing one of his compositions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAic5B57J9Y
Once upon a time, I was a camp counselor.
I laid the foundation of my career and life throughout my summers at that camp, under a canopy of ash, maple and buckeye. In kayaks and canoes. Through creek walks and fire building. Most of the counselors had grown up at that camp. Their bones were hand carved out of local sandstone. My roommate (dear friend) had grown there too and encouraged me to join them.
As it is with all of these little bits, I could spend the rest of my life rattling on about this. There are real writers who wake up every morning, put on the gloves and lasso down the good ones for us. I recall and relate, like a taxidermist. I'll skip to the end for now.
Our last summer there felt as if it had gained weight from training to close. Many of us were at the end of our counselorships. We had graduated college. We were moving. We were getting jobs. Families. Marriages. Pet ownership. We knew it was goodbye.
At the end of each week we'd send the kids off with a ceremonial camp fire. We'd chant a song in a low key as we climbed the hillside towards the fire ring. Once settled in by rank and file, we'd stare at one another across a gargantuan fire and reflect upon our week.
Flames dancing, moon glowing, children laughing.
We had decided as counselors that we'd all leave something important behind in that last fire of the year. There it would burn to ash and enter the earth. I decided on a CD.
Throughout that year in college I was mostly listening to John Coltrane's quartet with Elvin, McCoy and Jimmy. It got to the point where I could hear Coltrane in grocery store commotion or oncoming traffic. "THOSE SQUEAKY BREAKS ARE THE SAME PITCH THAT MCCOY STARTS HIS SOLO TO VILLA ON!" Cues iPod. Nobody cares.
I loved them all but MY album was Live at Birdland. It's not the kind of album you just throw on for little tea parties. It requires a towel, a firm chair and a supportive pair of shoes. It flosses your ribs with your spine, like a plumber maneuvering a toilet snake. Elvin Jones sounds like an aggravated bull moose. McCoy Tyner sounds like a kangaroo in a room packed with Steinways. Jimmy Garrison seems to be playing a semi truck or a musk oxen, or both. It's a hurricane of perfection. By the end of 'Afro Blue' you'll be hiding under the couch. I guarantee it. WHAT?!
It's through listening to Coltrane's cadenza at the end of 'I Want to Talk About You' that you realize you've found something worth hanging onto forever and ever (amen). He's everywhere all at once, and we're the guests of honor. You can't leave a listen to this album with casual indifference. It's time to live deep because John Coltrane says so with every single note.
So I tossed it in the flames. I stood over the fire and watched it fade. The plastic melted into toxic goo. I vowed to take this absence seriously. I also vowed to never throw plastic into fire again.
At the very end of last month I finally picked up another copy of Live At Birdland. It's a rush to experience such a meaningful album so many years later, with differences galore (same hair cut). Tonight I'm thinking of all of those years at that beloved camp. Where were you seven years ago? What about those times helped nurture you into who you are now? How many haircuts have you had since? I've had 14.
In honor of growing another year older, I'd like to take a glimpse at what some other folks were doing during their 27th year (note: none of these folks were sitting around squirting aerosol cheese into their mouths and watching reruns of I Love Lucy):
-Michael Jordan's Chicago bulls won the first of their many NBA Finals. Jordan was the MVP.
-Neil Young recorded and released his fourth album: Harvest (my favorite).
-Ernest Hemingway published The Sun Also Rises.
-Abraham Lincoln received his law license and moved to Springfield to start practicing (bassoon).
-Ray Charles had his first hit with "I Got a Woman".
-Michael Jackson co-wrote "We Are The World". Thriller was already a few years behind him. His refrigerator contained less than 3 cans of aerosol cheese.
-Tiger Woods won the Masters, The US Open, was the PGA player of the year and the leading money winner.
-Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson and a whole slew of other young artists died.
-Annie Dillard wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
-Henry David Thoreau built a cabin at Walden Pond where he'd chase groundhogs for recreational purposes.
-Rich Uncle Pennybags built 6 hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place only to lose it all at St. Charles.
Every time that yogurt commercial plays, set to Andrew Bird's 'Orpheo Looks Back' off of 'Break It Yourself', my spine crumbles like a saltine into a bowl of turkey chili. (see it here, if needed:YOGURT)
It's an Andrew Bird thing, not a yogurt thing.
I do like yogurt though.
I saw Andrew Bird Live at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis in September. With only a sliver of hesitation, I can say that it was the best concert I've ever been to. (I've seen a lot of great concerts. If you were to surprise me with a list, I might grow flush and embarrass myself for having played favorites. So for now I'll measure it to a sliver and get on with it.)
They ended the concert with this sort of impassioned, nostalgic drone captured through their magical loop stations. The entire experience was frozen for our exit. The tweeters were still twirling. The tubes were still glowing. But the band was gone, back on the bus eating meatloaf and playing Settlers Of Catan.
I couldn't move.
Maybe the good concerts never end.
As soon as the band left the stage, the crowd hit their feet and flooded the exits. I felt like yelling for them to stop, 'If you don't leave, we can ride this out forever, here in the Murat!' I felt ready to commit to a life in that drone. For a moment I was like a lunar moth caught motionless in a spider's web. Only this lunar moth flew right in, "why not!"
That's only a sliver as to why it was such a remarkable concert.
When the companion album "Hands Of Glory" came out, I found the loop at the end of "Beyond The Valley Of The Three White Horses". If you're interested, it's here (the loop eases in somewhere around 3 mins. G-F#-E-D): Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses.
I'm reading a dissertation about Charlie Banacos' pedagogy of jazz. I'll probably have some more to say about it in a later post. But I felt an immediate need to share what he said when grilled about his 'philosophy of education':
"There is no method! Upon hearing each student, I immediately have a method that will work for that particular student and no other. But there are certain techniques of musical composition that all modern musicians need to know and be able to use, either in pre- composed settings or spontaneously. I might even use some written exercises with more than one student, but explain them in a totally different way for each student. This is completely spontaneous and based on intuition, which to me seems like a fusion of knowledge and love and devotion to each student’s needs at that particular time."
What a way to put it!!
I've always been fascinated with philosophy of education- both the subject as a whole and 'designing my own'. Throughout this fascination I've read a lot of philosophies and in comparison to this one, they all seem way off. They sound a bit too much like fishing. Students aren't fish. That's an enormous problem in education.
Master teachers don't cast lines into a lake and sit ashore reading paperback horror novels and eating egg salad sandwiches as they wait for bites. They go to students individually. They nurture and sustain individual relationships with each and every student through trust and mutual respect. There isn't a general method outside of this that sums it all up in a neat and tidy little package. We can describe our high standards, our relevance and our abilities but it's all nonsense if we aren't looking at our classes through the eyes of each student.
I ache to teach music.
An evening walk makes all the difference. Today was a rough day, filled with the temptation to steep in a pool of tepid negativity. I didn't want to walk, I wanted to lay in bed early with a belly full of food and a bitter heart watching another old episode of the Office for the 16th time.
I went. It was cold.
I spent most of this walk listening to Joe Purdy's album This American. I like to couple it with Canyon Joe and You Can Tell Georgia, to keep the peace. I almost think that they could start a prisoner reform program based on taking walks with iPod's- it makes the biggest difference. Thoreau said it better: it's here if you'd like it.
It's worth noting that for the going to get good, you have to keep going. You have to settle in a bit. Get your barrings, have a little lunch and a nap. It's like everything. So if you're going to try it, walk long and often.
I thought a lot about performance tonight. I rarely experience performance anxiety anymore but I can remember what it felt like in the earlier days. I'd waddle to and fro backstage, gulping down bottles of water and panting, gasping, pleading for more oxygen. In those days the concerns were all outward. What would they think!? What am I going to do when I have to pee during the bridge of the first song?
Instead of taking the time to trim it to the trunk, I'd panic on the branches- running them to the ends and back like a lost neuron zipping about the brain- networking and smooching synapse after synapse (is this what they do?).
Finally I'd stumble to the stage and squeeze the fear out as if the audience was nothing but a big bucket full of mildewy sponges set to absorb my mess. It always felt like I could smell their breath while they sat there staring at me, waiting for me to play the first note.
And then the 'music' came- with all that fear, all that anxiety.
They say that when you are butchering a turkey, you want to make it quick and sneaky like a thief in the night. Otherwise the turkey dumps adrenaline into it's blood and the meat ends up tasting like peppered plastic on a popsicle stick. Same concept here.
And then there's Bob Dylan playing at Royal Albert Hall. Road worn, beaten down, criticized to oblivion. Or so it might seem. Yet he shuffles out to an enormous crowd, entirely alone using a Martin guitar and a rusty harmonica to pull everyone close enough to feel his heart beating in his chest. His projection is entirely musical and truly personal. It's intimate.
I've felt this too. After you feel it once, it's all over. Performance changes from a fun but nervous little show for sleepy parents into something great big and heavy. To go from applying bandaids to conducting surgery! But dealing not with organs or tissue but the unseen. This is what music education is all about.
I can almost sense what it felt like to be Dylan that night. The waffle fry metal of the mic brushing my lips as I spit out every 'TO' on Tambourine Man. Feeling the groove of a familiar, out of the box G chord against my chilled fingers. Listening as each lyric drifts off stage and out into the abyss.
To cast a silence upon a rowdy bunch with a single note and a turn of phrase- that's why.
Every couple of months I crank this back up and settle in for a good time. A few years ago I went to the camp MMW puts on in New York and it's still actively working me over like a blacksmith works over a piece of molten iron. It was an incredible investment.
Anyways- this is the ultimate bait for me. Once John Medeski slides over to his piano and starts playing that narwhal riff in the basement of his grand piano, I'm in for the long haul. I can't turn it off. One riff is enough to keep me glued for the full 8 minutes:
I love country music. It's in my veins- some of my oldest blood cells are steeped in G chords and over rosined fiddles.
My grandpa had a really great mustache. He was fit and tanned like a brown leather belt. He seldom wore a shirt. He had tattoos from the war- the faded green kind that men his age seem to have. There was "mother", his signature, a pair of dice and probably an eagle somewhere.
Grandpa used to call me "fang wang" because of my two lonely front teeth as a toddler. He built me my first "guitar" when I was little and he'd say things like "fang wang, go git yur gitty, gitty guitar!"
My Grandma has wild, wavy hair. She was clawed by a bear as a young girl and has a hand that is still a bit twisted 70 some years later. She's fiercely devout. As kids we could crack open a Bible and read a random verse to have her spout off the exact location while casually going about her business. They had 9 kids, the third one was my mom.
Mom and I would drive up from our house every Monday to visit with the family. We'd listen to music with the windows down, drinking chocolate malt milkshakes and waving our hands to our favorite lines as we zipped across the country. My knees were always skinned, my face freckly and my curiosity endless.
There was always fried chicken, jo-jo's, heaps of macaroni salad, coleslaw and cold can's of pop in the fridge. The country music was always so loud that it was hard to talk. When Grandpa would go to the can, someone would turn it down until another favorite came on.
Don't think twice about it, he liked the good stuff.
Merle, Johnny, Willie, Kris, Hank, Patsy, Waylon.
Tonight I was listening to 'Funny How Time Slips Away' by Willie Nelson (LISTEN HERE) and was sucked into a time portal by that opening, organ-melting pedal steel. The first time I heard a deep wash of pedal steel dripping in reverb, I nearly dropped my jo-jo straight into my kool-aid. I can remember being overwhelmed by it even as a little one.
I don't think I could play pedal steel. Every time I would set the steel bar on the strings and pick a chord, I'd jump up and hoot like a barred owl at the moon.
We all have an abundance of musical triggers from throughout our lives. I could write a book about the little things that have caused me to spill coffee, drive on the rumble strip, trip up stairs, etc. Maybe it's the way Bob Dylan sharply spits the words "TO" in the Royal Albert Hall rendition of Tambourine Man or when BB King crushes Eric Clapton in their guitar battle on Three O' Clock Blues with his first note. Maybe it's when Ray Charles quotes 'Mama's Little Baby' in his saxophone battle with Billy Mitchell on Soul Brothers or when Ralph Stanley squeezes out that high harmony above his target note to slide back into it throughout 'White Dove'.
Or the way Jimmy Page kicks off Since I've Been Loving You at The Song Remains the Same concert (especially that little squeak that pops off his pick on the kick off, ohhhh buddy). Or when the snare drum kicks into full crack mode at the end of I Can't Dance. Or the way Jimmy Smith comes out of playing in double time on The Preacher off of Live at Club Baby Grand. Or how Tim Eriksen always lets the B rest against the C on his bajo sexto throughout Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming. Or Edgar Meyer's last four notes on Chris Thile's You Deserve Flowers. Or how Henryk Szeryng nearly grinds his bow on the opening of Bach's Sonata #1 while everyone else eases into it like a goose into a thawed pond.
Or the way...
Today I read a book by Frederick Buechner called 'Telling Secrets'. Without going into detail about the book, I'd like to share a quote about the ocean that gets at part of what I was trying to write about in my last post.
"Our house looks out on the Atlantic Ocean, and after so many years of living in the Vermont mountains, which let you see only as far as they want you to see, there is something that wonderfully feeds the spirit in the sheer horizontalness of it. It lets you see as far as the eye can travel- as if there is nothing you have to do, nothing you have to be, more than simply travel with your eyes over the endless waters..."
28 January 2013: I just returned from a two week trip out and about (oot and aboot). Alaska and California. I spent a lot of time around the ocean. Nearly all of my post college life has been spent living within 4 miles of an ocean. But until I graduated from college, I spent my entire life residing in Ohio. There's a big lake, but it's not even salted.
It is roasted in garlic.
The ocean really scares me. I've yet to have a comfortable experience with it. It continues to exist well beyond my comprehension. When I graduated, I left Ohio and lived for a year in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (the Michael Jordan year). I lived four miles from the Atlantic Ocean and made a point of visiting it almost every day. It was my first year teaching and my first year alone. I was constantly tired and constantly sick (both because of my 650 students and because I accidentally used fabric softener instead of laundry detergent for the entire year). I found the only trick to avoid fatigue was to rush to the ocean following school. I'd sit in a camping chair, drink coffee and write in my journal. Sometimes I would fall asleep. But every time- I was scared. Maybe I was scared that a rogue wave would swallow me whole, carry me to the black depths of the sea where I would be dissected by a family of squid and served on a bed of a kelp. They'd probably read my journal back to me in their silly squid voices, laughing at my thoughts and feelings. Typical squid behavior.
In Alaska I lived in the 3rd floor attic apartment of a church (churchkeep). I could see the ocean from every window in my apartment. It was absolutely incredible. That ocean was way scarier than the other ocean. There were frequent storms of enormous proportions- they'd thrash and crash all about our island. ahh.
I couldn't get enough of it.
On this recent trip, my friend and I drove from Oakland to Santa Cruz and stopped at some sublime views. Road trips are all about stopping at those places where everyone in the car makes a noise in gut reaction to beauty. We stopped a few times, sat in the sand and stared.
We also played my favorite Pacific beach game: find beach debris and throw it at other beach debris.
My heart trembled as if it were an entirely new experience.
In a way every time IS a new experience.
I scooped huge handfuls of damp sand and sifted the grains to my feet. I wondered about each grain as it fell to the beach.
I've always thought about the waves as a gift from the other side. I used to pretend that someone sitting in Africa was shooting me the waves in South Carolina. (brothers of the waves- perfect title for a terrible novel. nanowrimo 2013?) It's beyond my comprehension. It's a shadow of the infinite- a galaxy we can almost fathom- lapping at our feet.
I can't get enough of it.
Toledo is the kind of city where you sit in a gas station parking lot and realize you don't know a single person named Oscar.
And sometimes your beard falls off right before it gets cold and windy.
Sometimes things work that way. But remember: the beard will grow back and there are thousands of people named Oscar.