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  • FIVE STORIES

    These five stories were written in one day at a recent writing class in June with Cheryl Strayed, author of “WILD”.
    They are enclosed verbatim with some added facts. Quotes above titles are by Cheryl.

    “As weird as you are, trust others are just as weird.
    KNOCKIN’ ON HEAVEN’S DOOR

     

    “Write about finding yourself doing something you thought you could never do.”
    SEQUIN ART

     

    You can win people over better with love, kindness, generosity, light & goodness rather than hate. Lose yourself in the questions & find the answers through your writing. You put yourself into your writing & it changes you. Writing will heal you.”

    QUEST FOR HUMAN COMPLETION

    “Write about animated objects or the ordinary miraculous.”

    ROCK STORIES

    “The deeper you go, the truer it gets.”

    JOURNEY TO MINNESOTA

    The first four of these stories are prompts Cheryl gave to us. The purpose of this fifth story is to share why I took this class with her. Too many times in life I have started things without finishing, projects still standing waiting for completion. One of these is visiting all fifty states in the country where I live. I have a play I started, a book for teachers, a memoir, works of poetry, songs in the air, etc… Cheryl inspired me to read her book “WILD” with this encouragement to be a writer: “Writing is hard for every last one of us. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They simply dig!”

  • Counting Stars By Candlelight

    The darkness of the hour brings us to the moment of the dawn of Terrapin. On Sunday there is a “ring of fire”, a solar eclipse of a new moon blocking the sun. Phil Lesh & friends gather together at Terrapin Crossroads for a night of free music. On Tuesday, there is a rare blackout in northern San Rafael, that is a Godsend to me and others to attend this night of free music. Patrons listen, artists draw, and workers are in sync, while the musicians, Phil Lesh, John Kadlecik and Jon Graboff are lifting the spirit of everyone in this great atmosphere. The night begins with a wine tasting. Around 9pm Phil & Company are playing in the bar and singing together on tunes we all find familiar. How sweet it is!
    They decide to play another night for free. I am driving through San Rafael listening to “Dark Star” and as soon as I reach the parking lot all the lights go out. It is an area-wide power blackout. I go inside as more candles are being lit. People wait patiently, and the crowd, as usual, is talkative. Someone mentions the crescent moon and bright star and I head out back to see. It’s a brilliant sky and there is a crescent moon in the northwest and a bright planet surrounded by the dim stars of dusk. To my left are glass windows looking into the Terrapin Crossroads dining room where there is a grand assortment of candlelit lights and to my right is the canal below the Yacht Club where the water is rippling. There is the din of the crowd inside but Terrapin Station the song comes to mind and I sing here quietly,
    “Inspiration move me brightly
    Light the song with sense and color
    Hold away despair
    More than this I will not ask
    Faced with mysteries dark and vast
    Statements just seem vain at last
    Some rise some fall some climb to get to Terrapin
    Counting stars by candlelight
    All are dim but one is bright
    The spiral light of Venus
    Rising first and shining best
    From the northwest corner
    Of a brand new crescent moon
    Crickets and cicadas sing
    A rare and differ’nt tune
    Terrapin Station
    In the shadow of the moon
    Terrapin station
    And I know we’ll be there soon
    Terrapin – I can’t figure out
    Terrapin – if it’s an end or the beginning
    Terrapin – but the train’s got its brakes on
    and the whistle is screaming – Terrapin”
    Standing in the reflection of the candlelight’s glow, Jill Lesh passes by me outdoors while I’m still eyeing the moon and listening to the ripple in the water. What a place this is!
    The power outage continues and the electric instruments and microphones are replaced with stools and acoustic guitars and a whole lot of big candles. As Venus sets in the sky the musicians take the stage. They are facing the unique challenge of singing in a garrulous crowd with the hope to be heard. People respond from their hearts and someone exclaims “Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, we get a candlelit acoustic performance.” How blessed we are. As Phil tunes up, the crowd quiets down and he encourages them to keep up their banter. “I haven’t started yet” he shouts.  When they do begin there’s clarity in the darkness.
    Picking their acoustic guitars and using their voices as instruments they give us a very special night. It is a quiet audience loving every minute here, and often joining in the chorus sing-along. The culmination of this seventy minute set is an incredible acoustic version of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” a song he wrote the night of the great Northeastern blackout in November of 1965, that I remember. Dylan, at the Chelsea Hotel with his pregnant wife, describes the events of that night he calls “the great freeze-out” in his gifted poetic way. Jill sits on the stairway listening to Phil play, Jon hum and John sing “Visions of Johanna” with conviction in the passion of what’s happening now.
    “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
    We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it……”
    The crowd reacts when he sings:
    “The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face
    Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.”
    John K. is like a genius who sparks, the way he plays his guitar mirroring the candlelight’s reflections, his angelic voice and sure-fire sound. JG plays great Johnny Cash and I love that we love the same songs. Phil is healthy, intuitive, full of the unexpected, without anticipation,  filling the void of spaces and empty nests with a timely prepared spontaneous tune lighting our hearts in the darkness with the sunshine of his love.

  • BORN TO RISE

    We’re in a room of a thousand eyes. Kaela and I are waiting in the front row to meet Lana Del Rey. She has just finished performing five songs from her new debut album, “Born To Die”, including the title cut, an orchestral arrangement of nostalgic art, that is the best song on her new album. She understands the concept that fits us: We were all born naked and no one gets out of here alive. Her songs strike a familiar chord wrapped in the common thread of our mortality. Lana is a truth seeker. Her energy is vibrant and alive. Her songs are sensuous as she is graceful.
            Haight Street in San Francisco is bustling with tourists and someone asks me this afternoon why there seems to be a lot of scantily-clad girls about. “Well, it hit nearly 70 degrees today and people dress for the weather here”. It’s February and winter hasn’t come yet, according to the bees, who produced a second honey harvest here; according to the winter flowers that haven’t bloomed yet; according to the birds still waiting to go; according to the sky’s lack of wet winter weather; and according to the garden plants still replenishing us with food. This global warming, or whatever you want to call these changing weather patterns, is not a good thing for the balance of nature. We are enjoying these gorgeous days though!
    Kaela is in San Francisco to work today and meets me on Haight Street, named after Henry Haight, a banker who donated land here to start an orphanage , and who was the uncle of the tenth Governor of California.  Kaela reminds me of what the neighborhood can be like, how she loved our Victorian apartment where we lived on Fillmore Street. For her and the other young kids growing up in the neighborhood, there were hard days too. “My brother’s bike got robbed over there. My little sister got lost at the Carousel in the park; and I was playing a game with a black girl across our street in a big cardboard box and some angry guy came by and kicked the box and split my head open.” In the nineteenth century when the orphanage flourished here, before it became a residential district, they shepherded over 3500 children giving housing to kids in need, and as many as 300 kids were housed in dormitory-style rooms on Haight Street, and some of these children were adopted, and those that stayed received training and job skills so when they left the orphanage at 17, they were also given seed money to start a trade, like carpentry or dressmaking. The orphanage moved to another part of San Francisco in the twentieth century and still serves children in need today.
    I heard about Lana Del Rey in an email last year and checked out her song “Video Games” and I understand its instant success. In “Born To Die” she touches a truth in us all and the mood swings like a pendulum of changes in a fountain of controversy. She is the latest buzz I tell my stepdaughter inviting her to meet her after hearing her for the first time. It is Kaela’s birthday yesterday and she lets a girl cut in front of us whose birthday is today. We’re at the bottom of the stairs at Amoeba Records waiting for Lana Del Rey. Listening to her sing live in a small room of records is a special treat and she sounds marvelous as she is elegant. I been doing vocal exercises recently by listening to vocal scales and she takes sound to a new level for me. She is a a colorful natural contralta, a  sultry voice of dark high wit.
    The full moon outdoors is on the other side of Venus and Uranus, visible in the sky tonight, so I brought my telescopic binoculars. “I’m so done with drugs,” Kaela announces after the show. “I’m ready to do something, run an office, do PR, interior designing, you know I can do almost anything,”like get us in the front row. She’s nearly the tallest, and sometimes the loudest, girl in the room. She can do, what takes me a month, in a day. She’s intuitive, not invulnerable, honest, not gullible.
    Suddenly the security guard asks “How did we get from the bottom to the top (of the stairs)? 300 different people standing behind us like her different songs, and the crowd gathered gives Lana Del Rey a warm welcome. Lana wants to have a picture taken with the birthday girl and they ask Kaela to take the picture with the girl’s camera. Lana Del Rey is shining, yet down-to-earth, cordial and attentive. I thank her for the live show, introduce myself and tell  her my musical beginnings were in New York at Bensalem, Fordham’s experimental college. “I went to Fordham University” Lana informs me. She studied metaphysics there. She has a genuine interest in choir-like music and writes all the songs on her album, with help of about seven friends. Besides philosophy, Lana is also interested in the literary arts and was once Arts Editor for her school newspaper. “How was it for you? ” she asks me.
      “It was a time of transformation. Bensalem was a unique experiment and experience that gave us complete academic freedom and opened up creative and innovative possibilities that took us beyond the classroom. A group of us students, inspired by the Grateful Dead, formed a musical acting troupe, and I wrote a play for this troupe ‘In Search Of The Candlemaker’ performed off-Broadway (in 1971). We later participated in a CBS-TV documentary, ‘Tomorrow’s People’.”
    So who is Lana Del Rey? According to Vogue, she chose this career name while in Miami, because it reminded her & her friends of the glamour of the seaside. Live, it’s her voice that mesmerizes us! She is not some vacuous party girl along for the ride, but an intelligent confident woman devoted to her work and to community service. For the past six years, she and her sister have been working as a grassroots homeless outreach, helping street people in New York get their identification and paperwork together to find jobs and transition back to normal life.
    I gesture to the sign behind us next to the Keep On Truckin’ poster and read out loud “Grateful Dead”, and we part smiling.

  • THUNDER IN THE SOUND!

      BOB DYLAN’S NEVERENDING TOUR

    “Thunder on the mountain, rollin’ like a drum
    Gonna sleep over there, that’s where the music coming from
    I don’t need any guide, I already know the way
    Remember this, I’m your servant both night and day.”

     Bob Dylan and his band return to the seaside town of Monterey and fill the Fairgrounds with a sold-out seated crowd. Dylan’s music, rather than showmanship, always surprises how good he and his band are, and knowing his songs by heart, that part of him is always open, searching the air with old melodies, new revelations, singing vintage songs with a fresh breath, igniting sounds, as the watchman passes, as new & familiar phrases flow through our ears, and the world nearby seems like “The Truman Show”.

    I feel privileged to be on the balcony of the hotel where I’m staying, directly behind the Fairgrounds stage, about four hours before the show, when Dylan’s band does a sound check and they do the best and loudest version of “All Along The Watchtower” I have ever heard. Maybe because this is where Jimi Hendrix once performed that song it seems so electric, thundering hot, the music on fire, and the loud fire engines that are going by during this song drill seem to add exuberance to the musical mix. I call my daughter on the phone to let her listen in. This is the first song she wanted to learn when she got a guitar. I am amazed at the length and strength of the song and grateful to hear it as it’s not performed in tonight’s set.

    When Bob Dylan is introduced about three hours later, a booming voice, with a long red carpet welcome, sounds like thunder coming from the sky. Bob takes the stage and the crowd is pleased when he opens with “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35” and “To Ramona” seems like a new song but really is an old one they were rehearsing this day. Everything he sings, no matter its age, sounds fresh and new in a familiar melody. He is in tune with his current audience. He recites his poetry in songs that are honest as the day and night are long. He sings to us about lessons in history.  Like the song, “The Battle Of New Orleans”, recorded by Johnny Horton, and written by Jimmie Driftwood, a high school principal who got students interested in learning history by communicating his lessons through music. It encouraged my interest in history then and when I heard this song on “American Bandstand” I started listening to rock ‘n roll. Dylan has songs like that to teach us from the lessons of life around us, and tonight he performs “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll”, a true story that happened in Baltimore in the early sixties. The New York Times calls this song “almost journalistic”.  Suddenly, as Bob is singing “sailed through the air”, an airplane  appears in the twilight sky without a sound, like a bolt of lightning before the thunder,  comes flying through, making a landing so close it seems the runway is a layer of air over our heads, but Dylan continues in a staccato beat and the lyrics communicate a lesson to us like one from Proverbs. The band continues with a rocking “Cold Irons Bound”.  Bob Dylan, the poet and bard, has always been a Biblical spiritual individual, from the early days at the beginning of the sixties decade to now. He humbly continues to share his talent with us. “Every Grain Of Sand” touches the hearts of the people here, and then the band lights up the place with “Highway 61 Revisited”, a song he’s been revisiting a long time, and we’re really pleased that he does “Shelter From The Storm” tonight and then “Thunder On The Mountain”. A giant shadow of Bob appears on the back screen and the crowd is lifted to its feet as the chords of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” rock the grounds under a full moonlit sky. Bob plays the harp to frame his taunting lyrics of Mr. Jones to close the show, and everyone is rocking to the beat. The final encore comes with his new “Together Through Life” song, “Jolene”, then, like a rocket ignited, with the spotlight on the crowd, the parting pleaser, “Like A Rolling Stone”.