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Maple Sugar High

     After my delicious birthday breakfast at the Keene Valley Lodge, I continued my road trip through the Adirondacks. Along the way, I encountered Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and gorgeous green scenery. All of this helped my mood, but it was elevated to new heights when I stopped to buy something. No, I'm not talking about those little green stores that you see everywhere in Oregon and Washington these days. I'm talking about a New York State maple sugar shack.

     My sugar high was the result of something called honor. A big flag outside of the store declared that it was open, but no store owner could be found ... only another customer who told me that the store operated on the honor system. He paid for his purchase somehow and left the store.

     I peered around the dimly-lit shack. In one corner, there was a large metal contraption that must have been the syrup-distilling machine. (Obviously, I know nothing about how maple sugar is produced.) It was surrounded by a heap of boxes and bins. On the other side of the shack, in all its golden glory, stood a table filled with pure maple syrup, maple candy, and maple cream. I decided on a jar of maple syrup and a jar of maple cream (one for each of my daughters) and then looked around for where to deposit my cash. 

     There on the table, the owners had placed a notebook for logging your purchase, and a sign telling you where and how to pay. If paying by cash, you left your money in a basket. If your bills were "large," you were instructed to put them in a little safe that was just a small, locked box with a slot in it. If your choice was to pay with plastic, there were slips of paper for writing down your credit card number, and then you put those in the safe. 

     I went to put my cash in the basket and I noticed a pile of bills, with a $20 on top, right out in the open. And who knows how many other large bills were in that locked box. It was inspiring to know that someone had enough faith in humanity to trust people like that.

     So inspiring, in fact, that I've decided to follow their tradition and offer my new CD, Twisted, to anyone who wants it, on the honor system. If you'd like a copy, just comment below or email me c/o pacificbuffalo@gmail.com. I'll pop the CD in the mail and you can send me a check when you receive it. The price you pay is totally up to you. 

     Keep scrolling down for photos ...

     

Mirror Lake, in Lake Placid:

 

Somewhere near Saranac Lake:

 

Maple sugar store:

 

Sugar sugar:

 

The honor system:

 

 

 

Absolutely Adirondacks

The travelog continues ... with photos at the end.

     June 23: I drove from Latham, NY, the former home of Pete Seeger, to Plattsburgh, NY, the former home of Tim Robbins and Anthony Weiner. Tim Robbins wasn’t home, and Anthony Weiner was otherwise occupied (I won’t say how). But since I was in town, I decided to drop in on my sister Sue. Only kidding about dropping in. I was there for my nephew Dustin’s wedding.

     To hear Pete Seeger singing a really nice version of "Down By the Riverside," go to this link:

                 https://youtu.be/bYe-bLaqhhY

    June 25: Dustin married his high school sweetheart, Casey, in a beautiful and classic ceremony on the shores of Lake Champlain. It was a picture-perfect wedding for two of the nicest people you can imagine. And, the band was great. After spending quality time with family in Plattsburgh, it was time to be "on the road again."

    To listen to Willie Nelson singing "On the Road Again," go here:

                   https://youtu.be/NvwojnLeMH4 

     June 29: The day before my birthday, I drove about an hour southwest of Plattsburgh to arrive at my destination: the quaint town of Keene Valley, population 391. Keene Valley sits in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains, less than 20 miles from Lake Placid (home of the 1980 winter Olympics), so you can imagine the beautiful mountain views surrounding it. My reason for stopping there was simple. I needed some time to rest, reflect, and rejoice in the beauty that is the Adirondacks. It was my birthday present to myself. As it turned out, I was the only one staying the night in that nine-bedroom home. I felt like I was in “The Shining” as I wandered through the house that evening, peeking in at the other bedrooms, browsing through books about the High Peaks, and even stepping into the kitchen à la Shelley Duvall. 

   (The soundtrack for The Shining is really creepy.)

   June 30: When I awoke, I dressed for the possibility of black flies, grabbed my camera, and ventured out behind the house, where I discovered a garden path that led to the Ausable River, and then to a trail in the woods. It wasn’t as rustic as I’d expected, since I encountered someone’s tennis court back there, but at least I got to take pictures of flowers and inhale the fresh, pine-scented air. And there were no black flies! When I returned to the lodge, the owner had prepared a breakfast fit for a queen, all for little old me (including a fresh, homemade blueberry muffin with candle for my birthday). The lodge wasn't haunted after all.

 

    Here's Paul Simon, singing about his breakfast:

               https://youtu.be/fzs2MuDQ8k8

My sister Amy and I admiring the sunset on Lake Champlain (at Dustin's wedding): 

 

Resting my feet after dancing at the wedding:

 

 

Keene Valley Lodge:

 

Exploring the lodge at night:

 

There was a river path behind the lodge:

 

The path led to the banks of the Ausable River ... 

 

... where I found some pretty summer flowers: 

 

 

My birthday breakfast was served here:

 

More later, 

Lori

Absolutely Nothing

     Friends of mine (Kathy and Ray) have a travel blog. They also own a medium-sized camper that they’re living in this summer. During June and July, they’ve hauled that thing from Arizona through Utah, Idaho, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico (so far). Just about every day, either Kathy or Ray write an entertaining and informative blog post, complete with photos, of what they did the previous day. I don’t know how they find the time to do it while traveling, but they inspired me to try and do the same. 

     However, being inspired and actually doing something about it aren’t exactly the same thing. Yes, I traveled this summer, and yes, I took photos. That’s where the similarity ends, because I also spent a lot of time lounging around, eating, going to movies, writing a book, listening to music, and visiting relatives, and I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it.

     Rather than dragging a trailer around the country (a task I will thankfully leave to Kathy and Ray), I flew from Tucson to Albany, rented a car, and then spent time in Albany, Plattsburgh, Keene Valley, and Rochester (all in New York State)  before flying back to Tucson. Now that I’m back home, I’m going to try and document what I did, using some of the 478 photos that are sitting in my camera to jog my memory. Don’t worry, I won’t show you all 478 of them! After today, many of them will be resting peacefully in that special place where all bad photos go after they’ve been deleted.

     What does all of this have to do with Pacific Buffalo?  Well, as the song "War" says, "Absolutely nothing!"  (I'm still on vacation, after all.)

     To start you off, here are a few memories from Plattsburgh, New York:

Porter (my grandson, one year old), son of Katie and Lucas.  Porter likes to play with just about anything you put in front of him, including bowls and spoons:

 

Porter and his daddy, Lucas, in my sister's pool:

 

 

Lake Champlain, on the border between New York and Vermont:

 

 

My brother Ralph (visiting from Australia) and sister Sue (who lives in Plattsburgh, NY):

 

 

More tomorrow (I hope),

 

Lori        

More Than Luck

 

 

 

Ask Bob Dylan where his song ideas come from, and you’re likely to get his famous response, “I’m just a song and dance man.” But in his 2015 acceptance speech as Person of the Year at MusiCares, Dylan was forthcoming about his musical influences. You can read the full transcript of his talk here:

 

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-grammys-2015-transcript-of-bob-dylans-musicares-person-of-year-speech-20150207-story.html

 

Dylan has reportedly said of himself, “I’m no melodist,” but he knows a good song when he hears one. As a young man, he sought out and absorbed thousands of recordings of old folk songs and blues tunes, and learned to play them. He allowed the melodies and chord changes to percolate around inside of his head for a while until they were ready to pour out through his fingertips. The resulting brew was fresh and strong, blending old musical ideas with new lyrics and passions at just the right moment in time. I can listen to Bob Dylan any time of day, especially when I’m feeling scattered and in need of “grounding“ – no pun intended. (Seriously, Bob Dylan’s music once helped me get through a mild panic attack. I feel like I can depend on the guy to cut through the crap in life and take me to a place that’s real.)

 

Then there’s Paul McCartney, who woke up with the entire melody for “Yesterday” in his head. He just had to stumble out of bed and get to his piano to find out what the chords were.  Luckily for us, he wrote them down before he forgot them. The first three notes of the melody invoked in his mind the words “scrambled eggs”… until he brilliantly thought of changing the opening line to “yesterday…”.  And, as we all know, the rest was “over easy.”

 

The other day, my sister Sue asked me who inspired my song “Sweet Sixteen” (track 6 on “Twisted”). She thought it was a secret high school crush that I’d never told her about. I honestly replied that I had just made the whole thing up. I wish I had a more interesting story, but the way I write songs is probably more like the Paul McCartney method than the Bob Dylan method. Sometimes I wake up with – or drive around with -- a bit of a melody in my head, which I try to remember and write down. I try to match it up with some chords. Then, if I’m lucky, something about the chords or rhythm will evoke a line. Whatever rhymes with that line ends up scribbled in the margins. Pretty soon I’ve got a rough sketch, which more often than not has no basis in reality. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

On the other hand, it was passion that preceded melody when I wrote “More Than Luck” (track 2 on “Twisted”). “More Than Luck” was inspired by a political issue (girls’ and women’s rights to education). Somehow, my strong desire to write a song with a message transcended my usual songwriting blocks, and the lyrics, melody, and chords all coalesced. It helped that I took my song to a songwriter’s club where it was discussed and critiqued. From there, the lyrics were changed a tiny bit, resulting in a more vague, yet perhaps more universal theme encompassing anyone who is down on their luck and either needs to take action on their own, or to have someone in their corner if they cannot.

 

So that’s your episode of “Behind the Music” for today. Any questions?

 

 

 

 

 

The Soloist


 

     I’ve been working on a solo cd (“Twisted,” due out in November) for about two years now.  Looking back, I had no idea how tedious, detailed, humbling, and ultimately rewarding the road to Soloville would be.  Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • I’m still able to write songs.  Hopefully, that trend will continue.

  • I have a good ear (two, actually) that still work in spite of loud concerts.  They picked up on many little mistakes and nagged me mercilessly until I corrected them. 

  • I have a surprisingly good sense of rhythm for someone who can't do the jitterbug.  Who knew I could play drums?  Not me!  Luckily, I didn’t need much eye-hand coordination -- just that sense of rhythm and two fingers, since I played "drums" on a keyboard.

  • I’m an arranger!  And it’s so much easier to be one now that we have computers.

  • I have a greater appreciation for composers like Beethoven, who had to hear all the parts in their heads and then write out the scores by hand, without the benefit of modern technology, including the good old edit, undo, and delete keys (which I used a lot).

  • Likewise, I have a renewed appreciation for all recording artists, especially those who rent out a few hours of studio time and cut an album in a week.  

  • I really suck at singing a song and playing guitar all the way through on one take.  

  • Forget what they say about diamonds.  A RECORDING is forever.  Hence, multiple takes..  (I am more OCD than I’d realized.)

  • I hear other people’s recordings now with a new set of ears.  I hear all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the making of them.

  • I notice the BASS now.

  • I notice the DRUMS now, especially little touches like cymbals and fills. 

  • I hear when the piano drops out and comes back in, and I think about whether or not that was effective.

  • I pay attention to the names of the band members, not just the name of the band.

  • I'm more aware of my breathing, even when I’m not singing.  This is due to a book called "The Naked Voice" that I discovered on a shelf in a house I rented from an opera singer this summer.

  • I'm SO THANKFUL for all creative artists, including musicians, writers, dancers, actors, painters, and technicians behind the scenes, who have given me so much joy and inspiration.  They’ve added so much meaning and richness to my life.  What would my life be like without the pleasure I get from music, books, art, photography, and movies?  Those people feel like friends, since they’ve been in my home in the form of sound waves and words and pictures representing what’s inside of them.  The good, the bad, the beautiful, the real – whatever they want to express, they have shared with me, and I feel touched.  Thank you, artists everywhere.  Even if your work (like mine) isn’t perfect, I know you’ve tried to communicate truth to me, and I hear and see you.  In that way, we become one.

 

Road Trips

     

      June . . . my favorite month.  The month of my birth, of summer vacation, and of glorious road trips.  As a child, I did not have the luxury of going on road trips.  We did go to the beach about once a year, the kind of beach where your parents drive the car right up to the edge of the water, tightly wedged in a row next to all the other cars.  You sit there on the hard-packed sand on a tiny beach towel, inhaling exhaust fumes mixed with suntan oil, and you say to yourself, “Ahhh, nature” (while getting sand kicked in your face).  You love every minute of it and can't wait to go again next year.  But that wasn’t really a road trip.  I’d say it was more of a one-hour congested traffic commute across the U.S.-Canada border, sitting in the back seat of an old Ford, arguing with my brother and getting carsick.  But now that I’m older, have a job with summers off, and am allowed to sit in the front seat, road trips in June have become as natural as falling off a log.  (Actually, I’ve never fallen off a log, but I may try it this summer.)

     My first real road trip as an adult was in 1971, when I gave up a lucrative career as an angst-filled college student to pursue other interests (hitchhiking among them).   I had good intentions of taking the train across Canada.   A ticket from Toronto to Vancouver cost only $90, and you could get on and off as many times as you wanted to along the way.  I did buy the ticket and boarded the train in Toronto.  But then my intentions got even better.  I hit it off with two young women I’d met on the train and, before you could say, “How far is it to Winnipeg, eh?” we’d actually reached Winnipeg.  We took five seconds to think it over and decided to get out and hitchhike the rest of the way to Vancouver.

     To this day, it was one of the best (and quickest) decisions I’ve ever made.  We met some pretty amazing people on our journey from Manitoba to British Columbia, including one very hospitable guy in Calgary who let us stay in his apartment for the day while he was at work and cooked us a complete roast beef dinner when he returned.  He was probably so relieved that we hadn't taken off with all of his belongings that he temporarily lost his mind.   

     In those days, it seemed safe to hitchhike in Canada, especially with one or two traveling companions and a youthful sense of invincibility.  The Canadian government actually encouraged people to do their civic duty and pick up hitchhikers!  In fact, if I can trust my memory of 1971 (and that’s pretty iffy), they had erected billboards along the highways that said, “Pick up a hitchhiker.”  However, I do NOT recommend hitchhiking for any time after 1971.   For one thing, people who pick up hitchhikers nowadays probably don’t have good intentions.  Or, even if they do have good intentions, they probably only play Top 40s radio, which will make you want to hurl yourself out of the car onto the pavement at a very high speed.

     Another road trip I’ll never forget was when I drove a car with Prince all the way from Rochester, New York to Tucson, Arizona.  And before you think I’m talking about the artist formerly known as Prince, or Prince, the artist before he became known as the artist formerly known as Prince, or Will Smith (Fresh Prince of Bel Air) or maybe even Prince Albert in a can, let me set you straight.  Prince was my dog, and, together we made it more than 2,000 miles without a hitch (or hitchhiker).  The music I most clearly remember playing on that trip was a CD by Tom Petty.   It was a pretty good choice.  Tom’s driving beat and twangy voice kept me awake and alert, even while going through Oklahoma.

     If air travel counts as a road trip, my travel adventure to Hawaii last month ranks right up there among the best road trips ever.  I didn’t even consider hitchhiking there.  (No billboards in the ocean.)  Chuck and I were thrilled to attend his daughter Emily’s wedding on a tiny beach in Maui (without any cars or people, other than our small party of twelve).  We played an original song (“This Thing”) on our travel guitars after the ceremony, all of us standing together in the sand, with the powerful surf filling in as our drummer.   So now we can say that Pacific Buffalo had a Pacific beach gig, which received a standing ovation.

     Before the trip, I had made a playlist to listen to on the plane, and it included the soundtrack from the movie, “The Descendants” (set in Hawaii) to put me in the island mood.  Other tracks were by:

     Adele, Al Stewart, Alison Krauss, The Beatles, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Booker T. and the MG's, Bruce Hornsby, Calexico, Chuck Phillips, Corinne Bailey Rae, The Decemberists, Django Reinhardt, Doc Watson, Don and Victoria Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Jane Monheit, Jen Hajj, Judy Collins, Martin Denny, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, The Roches, Sergio Mendes, Sheryl Crow, The Shins, Simon and Garfunkel, Snowapple, The Soggy Bottom Boys, Stan Getz, Sting, The Sundays, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, and Wilco.

     Although that seems like a lot, I found myself gravitating toward the songs that were new to my list, and skipping the ones I'd heard over and over again.  Do you ever get tired of your music collection?  One of my goals this summer (besides going on more road trips) is to radically update my music collection by listening to music of many different genres -- classical, jazz, indie, vocal, alternative, funk, hip hop, Latin, world.  That in itself will be a trip.

     If you have any favorite music that you listen to while traveling, working, showering, or whatever it is you do to music, please chime in.  Meanwhile, stay safe this summer, and remember:  Life’s a Beach.

India Calling

 

     Lately, I get the sense that India wants me to come visit her.  I keep bumping into references to her everywhere I turn. 

     First, my friend Linda went to India.  I saw her photos of crowded streets, ancient buildings, goats, monkeys, the Ganges, and the Taj Mahal.  Even though Linda’s been to something like 99 countries, it looked like she was having a great time.

     Then our friend Jim (who wrote “The Going Away Blues” for our second CD, House of Glass) really did go away.  He went to India.  I saw photos of him at various temples and a video of him riding in a rickshaw through the streets of Old Delhi.  Hopefully, he’ll write a song about what it was like there.

     Next, I met a folksinger named Shanti (the Sanskrit word for “peace”) in the unlikely setting of a south Tucson high school hallway.  A teacher introduced us, mentioning that we both play folk music (a fact I had just shared with him the day before).  Shanti and I chatted and exchanged e-mail addresses. She told me she’d love to get together for a jam sometime, and I promised to come see her perform at the Tucson Folk Festival.   Good karma all around. 

     Just the other day, I picked up a favorite book at the library to re-read (“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett).  Although it’s set in the Amazon,  the main character happens to be one-half Indian, and while under the influence of an anti-malaria drug, she has vivid dreams of her childhood trips to India to visit her father. 

     The next thing you know, I’ll be going out for dinner at that new Indian restaurant down the road (Saffron), renting the movie “The Darjeeling Limited” (one of my favorites), and booking my flight to New Delhi.

     But the real kicker is that last night I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and read a few pages of another book I’m currently reading, “The Geography of Bliss,” by Eric Weiner.   And you guessed it.  He’s currently in India.  What are the chances?

     It wasn’t until I was deep into that chapter that all of the above India-references came together like tributaries emptying into the Ganges.  (I couldn’t resist that one.)  I suddenly felt that the universe was conspiring to tell me something.  Either I must go to India tomorrow, or I must listen to some sitar music right away.   I’m pretty sure that I might get fired if I go to India tomorrow, so I guess I’ll settle for some youTube sitar videos.

     In “The Geography of Bliss,” Mr. Weiner travels the world, interviewing people about happiness.  Much like me, he seems to be an open-minded skeptic.  When in India, he visits an ashram, sits in the presence of a guru, and comes away with mixed feelings.  He likes the message, but remains unconvinced. 

     Before leaving India, he meets with a gathering of locals and fellow travelers in a salon in Bangalore.  The address?  One Shanti Road. 

     The subject turns to gurus.  Weiner asks, “Can you be genuine and a fraud at the same time?”  The owner of the salon replies, “Apparently, you can.  This is India.”  Someone else says, “Everything in India is true, and its opposite is true also.”  A third person that Weiner talks to says that Indians look at life as a game.  You try your best and then accept whatever happens.  “Just let the universe decide.”  Weiner also quotes British philosopher Alan Watts:  “A genuine person is one who knows he is a big act and does it with complete zip.” 

     Weiner stays at One Shanti Road for a few more days, until he has to return home to America.  He leaves with mixed feelings, of course.  

     So my take-away from the book, and from all the India references that have been coming to me lately, is that my personal recipe for happiness is going to be to accept my life for the game that it is, to let the universe decide, and to do things with complete zip.  And that just might include a trip to India some day. 

That Time Again

      Oh-oh ... it's time to write my annual "Here are all the fun and exciting things we did this year" post, and I'm panicking, because I can't remember much about 2013.  It went by FAST ... much, much faster than 2012 did.  Not like those painfully SLOW years of my youth ... those agonizing years when I tried my best to make time go at warp speed.  I just couldn't wait for things like my birthday, or the first day of summer vacation, or the day I'd finally get to wear lipstick and nylons.  

     Nylons (for those of you born after Woodstock) were skinny little synthetic tubes which (like the internets) were quite popular, and which (unlike the internets) had stupid little seams down the back.  Young women, in a desperate attempt to look as unnatural as possible, would force their legs into these tubes each morning (making sure the seams were straight, of course).  Then they would fasten them to a garter belt (a scary contraption that resembled a ghostly, flattened octopus).  Yes, I actually looked forward to the joy of parading around in those sausage casings all day long, until bedtime, when at last it was time to peel them off and throw them away -- because, by then, they invariably had gotten a run in them.  (A "run," for those of you born after Woodstock, was like getting a scratch on a vinyl record -- one you didn't put there on purpose.)

     Back then, I did a lot of clock-watching, especially at work, wishing I had the power to make the hands of time spin faster.  And who wouldn't watch the clock with the job titles that I held: Commemorative Coin-Counter, Catalog Card Typist, Babysitter, Shelf-Duster, and Shirt-Ironer.  (That last one was in exchange for rent.)  So it's really no wonder that I was in a mad rush to grow up and get on with my REAL life.

    And here I sit, having resorted to Facebook to remind me of what I did during the year 2013.  Well, it turns out I did some pretty exciting things, such as publishing an eBook, meeting Ted Danson, and going to the Grand Canyon.  But, as I've come to learn, it's actually the little moments in life, the ones you don't read about on Facebook, that are the most meaningful.  Like the time my sister Sue and I ran around my mother's house a few weeks before moving day, taking photos of 84-year old doorknobs and light fixtures and mailbox slots that we'd grown up with and were sure to miss.  Or the time one of my daughters called and we talked for almost an hour.  Or that night that Chuck and I toasted our first wedding anniversary with my great-grandmother's wine glasses.  My REAL life.

     I've also spent a lot of time (maybe too much time) with my iPad this year, but it has inspired me to read and write more, and it's been great for that amazing invention, FaceTime.  I can see and chat with my brother in Australia, or my daughters in New York, for free.  And I've figured out how to use my iPad as a music stand, instead of loose sheets of paper.  I was really glad I had it recently, when the wind kicked up while I was performing, and my lyrics remained right there in front of me instead of flying off to the California coast.  Yes, I'd be lost without my iPad lyric pages  They're the only thing keeping me from being mistaken for a deer in the headlights when I'm onstage.

     Speaking of music, 2013 was the year that I finally finished writing a song I've been working on for a few years now (and will be recording next year).  AND, Chuck just released his newest solo CD, The Art of Travel, which will be available on CDBaby in a week or so.

     And just before year end, Chuck and I enjoyed a getaway weekend in the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico), where we felt like two little kids in a candy store, enjoying the artisan community of Silver City, the hot springs and culinary delights of quirky Truth or Consequences, and the birding adventures of Bosque del Apache national wildlife refuge.  It was a good end to a pretty good year. 

     Now that we're back home, it's time to get the studio cranked up and work on some new musical projects that we have in mind for 2014 -- which will be here before we know it.  Time sure does fly when you're living your REAL life.

     Happy New Year, everyone!

Smash Hit

     For those of you following "The Evolution of a Song," and holding your breath to hear the conclusion, I'm here to tell you that the end is near.  "My Name is Romeo" has been selected as a finalist in the Amateur Songwriter Contest hosted by PAWSitively CATS.  I'll be performing the song this Tuesday night at La Cocina restaurant, as part of a fundraiser for a no-kill cat shelter. The event starts at 5:00 p.m. and will include food, beverages, bands, comic acts, and the song competition.  I'll be on stage at about 7:30, and Chuck Phillips will accompany me on 12-string guitar.  La Cocina is a unique, outdoor venue with a warm, Tucson vibe.  Hope to see you there! 

     Although "My Name is Romeo" only took me an hour to write, I had faith that it would be selected.  in fact, on the day that the announcement was supposed to be made, I checked my email often, fully expecting to get one saying, "You've been selected ..." -- and I was really surprised when I went to bed that night without having received said email.  The next morning, though, there was the "You've been selected" email waiting in my inbox, having been sent at 11:45 p.m. the previous night.  My faith in music judges was restored.

     Don't misunderstand me.  I'm not expecting to win.  I know that I'm a relative novice at this and that there will be some stiff competition.  But even though "My Name is Romeo" is just a simple song about a cat, with no deep meaning, it has been well-liked by folks who've heard it (okay, one of them is my daughter) and I think it's kind of sweet.  And sometimes sweetness is all it takes to make something into a classic.  I'll give you one example:  Oreos.  

     Do you have a favorite song, childhood or otherwise, that fits that description?  Perhaps it's one that you associate with more innocent times, with a pet, with a happy day, or with a powerful emotion.  One of my favorites is "Dear Santa."  In the early 1960s, my father wrote a song about Santa Claus and world peace.  I believe that Santa Claus was probably a bit more popular than world peace at the time, but both were in a decline.  He tried in vain to get it published.  It wasn't easy.  I remember our trip to New York City, where he must have tried to break in to the business.  I can imagine him showing his handwritten sheet music to some record company's assistant, being told to come back tomorrow or that someone would get back to him.  He never got that break, but he did return home with a souvenir -- a printed copy of the New York Post (or was it the Daily News?) with the headline, "Bonati's 'Dear Santa' a Smash Hit in New York!"  Of course, he bought it as a joke, at a store that prints fake headlines to order.  

     I wonder if Tucson has a store like that?

 

 

Searching for Sugar Man

     I went searching for a good video at the library the other day and came home with Searching for Sugar Man, the true story of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter from Detroit who was famous and didn't even know it.

     My desire to be blown away was more than satisfied.  I found the inspiration I must have been seeking in the amazing story of this humble, awkward man and his music that helped end Apartheid.  Not only that, but in the "extras" you'll learn what a labor of love this movie was for the director, who (after funding was pulled) finished it himself on his laptop.  

     I definitely recommend picking up a copy of this movie at your local library and watching it, if only for the very cool sound track and Detroit footage.  Long live Rodriguez!

 

The Evolution of a Song, Part 4 (The Final Frontier)

(Go back and read Parts 1 - 3 to get caught up, then read Part 4.  Or not.)

Saturday, August 31, continued:

10:00 a.m.:  We’re in our little home studio, the “Prickly Brick,” aptly named since it’s made of brick and there are several prickly pear cacti outside, not to mention that I can get quite prickly during recording sessions.  But this one’s going smoothly.  Chuck asks me to strum a few bars so he can get a feel for the tempo.  Then, using a computer, a piano keyboard, and a software program called Logic that turns his keyboard into a multi-instrument recording studio, he lays down a drum track.  Next, he puts a microphone in front of me, hands me the headphones, and I record the guitar part while listening to the drums.  We listen.  Not too bad, but it could be better.  We delete it and try again (and again).  The third time it seems to work, so we keep it.  Then I record a vocal track over the guitar and drums (still listening through headphones).  The headphones help me to hear everything, but, more importantly, they make me feel like I’m starring in an episode of “Behind the Music.”  After the vocal track is done, Chuck adds a light electric piano track.  It’s a nice touch.  He also tries adding bass and tambourine (using the keyboard again), but we decide to keep it simple, even deleting the drums.  We end up with a spare but earnest recording with just three tracks:  guitar, voice, and piano.  After all, this is for a cat shelter contest, not a Grammy! 

Sunday, September 1:  I wake early, go to the studio, and discover that Chuck’s already turned everything on.  I listen to the song once, knowing that the day after recording I usually wonder what I was thinking, delete everything, and start over.  But this time (maybe because the stakes aren’t that high) I decide that it’s pretty cool as is.  I wonder about a few of the lyrics and I hear a few chords that may be out of tune, but we’re busy today so we decide we’ll tweak things tomorrow.

Monday, September 2:  I go for a walk at sunrise, shower, and then face the music, literally.  I listen again, and yesterday's instincts were right.  A word or two should be changed, which means re-recording the vocal track, and the guitar part needs work.  Chuck gets the studio ready while I warm up my fingers. 

     I re-do the guitar part from start to finish in one take (which never happens) and now it’s on to the vocal.  I sing it through three times for practice.  Although it’s still morning, I feel ready.  I record the vocal track once, and I manage to get through it without any major bloopers.  We listen all the way through, and I don’t think I want to mess with it.   After all, I’ve heard worse on American Idol (during the early part of the season).  I’m satisfied that I gave it my best shot.

     Chuck mixes the song so that the tracks are balanced.  I now have the finished song, “My Name is Romeo,” on a flash drive.  Amazing! 

     There’s one more step:  I need to copyright it, just in case.  After stealing my ideas from John Denver, Mark Knopfler, Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Robert Frost, and some guy named William, I sure don’t want Justin Bieber to get ahold of it. 

September 2:  I log on to the U.S. Copyright Office website and upload the song (and then submit it to the contest).  So, Justin Bieber, if you’re reading this, you’re out of luck.  You can’t steal my song. 

On second thought, Justin – please steal my song!  Knowing that someone else wants to sing it would be all the prize I need.  But if you get nominated for a Grammy, I'm going straight to the tabloids!

September 15:  Still not satisfied, I just spent four hours in the studio.  I added harmony, strings, and some other strange sounds to the song.  I hope you like it. 

     You can hear and download the song by clicking on the Music link on our menu.  

     The contest deadline isn’t until October 1, and winners will be notified on October 14, so I have a long wait ahead of me.  But regardless of the outcome, this has been a fun challenge, and an interesting “tail” to tell. 

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The Evolution of a Song, Part 3

The Evolution of a Song, Part 3

(In Parts 1 and 2, I explained that I’m writing a song for a local contest, and I shared the first few steps of the songwriting process.  Part 3 continues the story, but it isn't the end.  You'll have to wait until Part 4 for that, and you will be rewarded with a link to the song!)

Saturday, August 31 (continued):

8:35 a.m.:  Time to come up with some words to go with that major/minor movement.  Major is kind of hopeful, while minor sounds sad, so I might write about the poignant life of a homeless cat living on the streets.  I pick up my pencil and I write:

Been livin' on the streets
Long as I can remember
From January
Straight through to December
It's a tough life for a feline
So I decided to make a beeline
To this lady at the shelter
Thought my face would melt her
 

     I add “furry” before face, because I love using alliteration (lots of letters that line up with lovely little similar sounds). 

     OK, now I have a story.  I try singing these words with the chords as a backdrop, and a melody bubbles to the surface.  It works.  I’d better write it down before I forget how it goes.  I slowly pluck out my melody on the guitar and write down the tune, note by note.    

     Then, back to the story line.  What will happen to poor Romeo next?  I pick up my pencil and the words come.  I write: 

Well, she wanted to keep me, but
She had so many others
We were one big family of
Four-legged sisters and brothers

     I pause, and change “big” to “huge.”  I turn the paper over and immediately I know that I want to say something about how cats always get “fixed” at the shelter.   But what rhymes with fixed?  Nixed?  Or maybe there’s another word … spayed?  neutered?  I start penciling words in the margin, a technique I learned in a songwriting class.  I jot down the word “tutored,” then cross it off.  Cats aren’t tutored.  Or are they?  They are taught certain things, like how to use a litter box.  What’s that called?  House-training.  OK, I guess I have another line:

We were house-trained and tutored
We all got neutered
 

     But the rhythm isn’t right.  Oh, how about “We all got spayed and neutered.”  Yeah, that fits.  Now I write more words in the margins.  I write “rough,” because that’s life in a shelter.  Then I write “stuff,” and several other words that I might keep or toss. 

8:42 a.m.:  Now my song has a chorus and two verses.  I probably should add a third verse.  A line from a Robert Frost poem comes to me, about a cat that pads around on little cat feet.  Why not steal that line, too?  Robert Frost sure isn’t around to complain.  I keep writing.

8:54 a.m.:  I’ve got a general idea of a song now.  An intro, three verses, and a chorus.  Let me try playing the whole thing from start to finish on the guitar.

8:57 a.m.:  It works!  I’m excited.  I think I’ve got a winner!

9:00 a.m.:  I tell Chuck, and he immediately says, “Let’s turn the studio on and we can record it.”  That’s one thing I love about Chuck.  He’s very supportive and he makes me feel like a real musician.  And he doesn’t even like cats!

In Part 4, you'll read about the recording process, and I'll post a link to the song.

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The Evolution of a Song, Part 2

The Evolution of a Song, Part 2

 

(In Part 1, I explained that I’m writing a song for a local contest to benefit a no-kill cat shelter.  Part 2 gives you a sneak peek at the process I used to write this song in one hour.)

 

Saturday, August 31

 

8:00 a.m.:  I’m enjoying my morning cup of coffee out on the patio, thankful for a little down time, and I remember the contest.  I admit, performing at a cat shelter isn’t quite my idea of stardom.  But it IS for a good cause, I tell myself, and besides – here’s the real motivation – humorous songs are encouraged, and I do enjoy writing funny songs.  I go inside, get some notebook paper and a pencil, and resume my spot at the patio table, one eye on the hummingbird feeder and the other eye on the lookout for my neighbor’s hundreds of cats.  Well, not hundreds, but enough to make me wish somebody across town would adopt them.  With my third eye, I concentrate on the essence of being a homeless cat.

 

8:07 a.m.:  I begin to hear something like a mantra inside my head.  “Cat … bat … fat … hat,” it drones.  Too boring.  The mantra changes to “claws … paws … jaws … gauze.”  Ouch!  How about a nicer cat?  “Fur … her … purr … sir.”  Nicer, but not even a little bit funny (or interesting).  Maybe a melody will inspire me.  I go inside and grab my guitar.

 

8:10 a.m.:  Out on the patio again, I strum a few chords.  That seems to unleash the John Denver in me, because I start to dwell on that line, "Country roads – take me home.”  Hmmm.  Take me home.  This leads me to another mantra:  “home …  comb … dome … roam.”  Well, cats do roam, especially Tom cats.  How about a Tom cat named Romeo?  And maybe Juliet?  What rhymes with Juliet?  Pet!  Now maybe I’m getting somewhere. 

 

8:18 a.m:  I admit to myself that Romeo and Juliet has been done before.  There’s the 1964 single “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” by the Reflections.  Then there’s the 1980 hit song “Romeo and Juliet” by Mark Knopfler.  Not to mention the song “Love Story” (about some characters named, predictably, Romeo and Juliet), written by Taylor Swift, probably before she reached puberty.  Come to think of it, wasn’t there a play or something by some English guy named William?  But never mind.  My song will be about a cat, so I don’t think I’ll have to worry about anyone suing me for copyright infringement.  At least not that William guy.

 

8:20 a.m.:  I've got a little start -- four words, to be exact.  Romeo, home, Juliet, and pet.  Where will they lead me?  I start strumming a few chords while singing, “My name is Romeo, take me home.”  I stick with G and A chords, because they’re easy and in my range.  The next thing I know, I’m singing these four lines, which sound like they could become a chorus:

My name is Romeo
Lookin’ for my Juliet
Won’t ya take me home
I would make a very good pet

 

I write these lines down on my paper, sing them again, and then change the word “good” to “fine,” because it sounds more like something a proud little cat might say.    

 

OK, what’s next?  I start thinking of other things having to do with cats, like cat food, treats, and … yes, litter.  That would be funny, as long as I don’t get too graphic about it.  And now, what rhymes with litter?  Ah … “bitter.”  A cat that wouldn’t be bitter if you would just adopt him, already.  My little guy is starting to have a personality.

 

8:30 a.m.:  Now I need some different chords for a verse.  I don’t want the whole song to consist of just two chords (G and A), although I’d stand a much better chance of being able to play it without mistakes!  But there’s a chord progression in Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” that I like, where the chords gradually move down the neck of the guitar, alternating from major to minor (A, C#m, G, Bm), and I try that out for size.  It’s good, but I don’t want to steal both theme AND melody, so I make some changes.  I try A, C#m, D, E … ahh, that’s more like it.  And that E chord kind of makes me want to move on to another minor chord, so I follow it with an F#m, and then E, D, A, and back to E.  If you don’t know music, don’t worry -- I’ll post a link to the song, eventually -- if I ever finish it. 

 

Be sure to read Part 3, to be posted later this week, for the dramatic conclusion!

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The Evolution of a Song, Part 1

I thought you might like to peek over my shoulder as I write, record, and submit a song to a contest, and hopefully WIN!

Background:  About 3 years ago, I joined a local songwriter’s group.  It’s a great way to meet other songwriters, share songwriting tips, get feedback, and practice performing in public.  We usually meet in private homes or offices, taking turns playing our songs for each other.  After each song, we comment on each others’ work.  I like the opportunity to get up in front of people who are just as nervous as I am, knowing that I can count on an appreciative audience despite my untrained voice and less than masterful guitar playing.  Lately, the group has been performing once a month at a local venue (Monterey Court) – an actual gig with a real audience. 

Wednesday, Aug. 28:  I just got an email from Ron P., a member of the songwriter’s group, letting us know about a contest in October to benefit a local no-kill cat shelter.  The song has to be about cats, and humor is encouraged.  I think this is right up my alley (pun intended).  There will be ten finalists, each of whom will get to perform their song live at the cat shelter.  Token prizes will be awarded to the first, second, and third-place winners.  I think I’ll work on it this weekend.

Saturday, August 31:  I wrote and recorded the song!  The next installment of this blog will be a detailed journal of the songwriting process, from start to finish.  Wish me luck!

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Trip to Birdland

     I’ve just returned from a week-long stay in New York (the city and the state), where I was on my own, missing Chuck, who couldn’t travel with me this time, but feeling a bit like Mary Tyler Moore when she threw her hat into the sky.  While there, I saw enough and did enough for a year's worth of blogging.  But for now, I'll stick to just one of the musical highlights of my trip.

     I stayed two nights in the East Village, at my cousin Gina's one-bedroom third floor walk-up.  The place is neat, but crammed full of interesting stuff, including a piano, a cat, self-portraits, a lemon tree grown from seed, old vinyl classical records, and several shelves of books about acting.  I once wrote a poem about Gina’s apartment.*  I slept on a mattress in the living room, next to the lemon tree, with the windows open to the sounds of the city.  It was delightful.

     On my first morning there, I rose early and walked a few blocks to a coffee shop.  While enjoying a melt-in-your-mouth cheese brioche and the best latte I've ever had (at Madman Espresso on E. 14th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues), I picked up the entertainment section of the Wall Street Journal that happened to be lying on the counter.  Now mind you, I’ve never read the Wall Street Journal, but that morning I was glad I did.  My eyes fell on a tiny paragraph that said, "Birdland, Joey DeFrancesco, August 17, 8:30."  I'd heard of Joey DeFrancesco and knew he was a jazz organist (specializing in the Hammond B-3).  I decided on the spot to buy two tickets for the show that night.  If my cousin couldn't go, I'd go alone.  I wanted very badly to experience Birdland, and besides, I was married to a man whose favorite instrument is the Hammond B-3.  How could I pass up this chance to make him insanely jealous?!

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      I continued to walk around the city all day and came home with a sore ankle.  It didn’t matter, I told myself.  I was still going to Birdland, and Gina (a bit reluctantly, after a long day at work) said she’d go with me.  We went, and I loved it.  You walk in, and it’s like walking into one of those dimly lit nightclub scenes in the movies, where everyone’s sitting at small cloth-covered tables, having drinks and watching the stage.  We got there just in time to be seated before Joey came on stage with his backing band, the City Rhythm Orchestra.  The show was mind-blowingly great.  I recorded one tune with my phone, barely able to sit still enough to hold the camera steady.  I noticed that others in the room were also bobbing and nodding to the infectious beat.  It was probably the best live music I’ve heard in decades.  When the set ended, Joey thanked everyone for coming and I thought the show was over.  My ankle was swollen and so painful that I didn’t think I could walk out of there, but I managed to get to my feet.  It was then that I learned that this was just intermission and there was another set, but it was too late.  Now that I was standing, my ankle hurt so much that I knew I had to get home and ice it.

     We managed to snag a cab outside and in no time I had an ice pack on my ankle.  I took some Advil PM and fell right to sleep.  At 8 a.m., I took another one, and then a third one at 11:00 a.m.  Finally, my ankle felt better and I decided to go uptown again for some fun and adventures.  Around noon, I started to feel a bit strange.  It wasn’t until I returned that evening and read the Advil PM label that I realized that Advil PM has something in it to make you sleepy.  No wonder I was floating around Manhattan that day.  But all was well, I didn’t die and I did enjoy myself. 

     Here’s the link to the Birdland recording I made:  http://youtu.be/J2CXRKqvosw

     * Here’s the poem I wrote about Gina’s apartment in 2002:

Three Rooms

Her home’s a kind of holy place
a tiny shrine to life
it smells of spices and rose petals
three rooms behind a small brown door
two cats, some goldfish, and a snail
Beethoven, books, and art
a lot of little notes and such
and don’t forget the Indar tea
a cozy nook, it suits her well
a place to gather strength
to stretch and grow and celebrate
the dance that is within her soul.

 

 

Trying to Find the Words

Buffalo at Grand Canyon Natl. Park    

     In case you were wondering what happened to me, I ran out of words.  It's as simple as that.  After making my New Year's resolution in January, and being very diligent about it week after week, I ran out of words in May and I had to take time off to go look for more.  While out scouting for words, here's what else I've been up to:

     - wondering who reads this blog, and why

     - wrapping up my August to May school year (for my day job)

     - traveling to Rochester to surprise my daughter at her wedding shower

     - hiking and birdwatching in the Chiricahua Mountains (southeast Arizona)

     - meeting a nice lady named Karla or Carla who liked our music (are you out there, Karla or Carla?)

     - going to the north rim of the Grand Canyon

     - more hiking and birdwatching

     - a little practicing of guitar and vocals (but not nearly enough)

     - going back to work for the summer, but with a flexible schedule (nothing could be finer)

     - developing what I think might be asthma.

     While doing all of the above, I didn't collect too many words, but I did add to my bird list.  I did a lot of looking, listening, and just being, which was totally awesome.  It's as if I stepped into a wordless vacuum, and now that I'm back into my routine, I expect that some words will come rushing back in any day now. 

     As for the asthma, it's still a mystery, but one I hope to solve soon.  I've noticed it for about two months.  There seems to be a pattern.  I start coughing at about 7 p.m., it gradually gets worse, and then it stops when I go to bed.  It didn't happen while I was in the Chiricahua Mountains, but it happened at the Grand Canyon.  It seems to happen most often when I'm sitting in my red living room chair, drinking a glass of wine.  So I guess the answer is to move to the couch.  :)  I think I will try that tonight.

     But first ... I just remembered a website that might be of help in my quest for words.  It's  splasho.com/upgoer5/, and it gives a list of the 1,000 most commonly used words in the English language.  Actually, it's the "ten hundred" most commonly used words, because the word "thousand" isn't on the list.  If you want to know how many of the words you use are uncommon, just type something into their website, and you will immediately see your uncommon words highlighted, with suggested common word substitutions.  It's a very handy tool to have in your back pocket in case you notice that people are looking at you with puzzled expressions.      

     I just typed what I've written so far into their website and I learned that I have used 48 uncommon words!  Aren't you impressed?  Then I perused the list of the common words and I discovered a fascinating (they suggest the word "strange") fact!  The two longest words of the top ten hundred are: 

     CONVERSATION and

     RELATIONSHIP. 

     I find that totally STRANGE!  I think I'd better get started on sprinkling my everyday conversations with the words "conversation" and "relationship" from now on, so as to appear more intellectual (but not too brainy).  If people start staring at me with puzzled expressions, I'll just tell them that they are "strange."  I'm sure that will strengthen our relationship.

    

Rx for the World: A Walk in the Woods

            In case anyone is keeping track, I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks.  It’s not that there hasn’t been a lot to talk about.  Between gun control, gay marriage, three wonderful concerts (Arlo Guthrie, Dick Dale, and John Jorgenson), and ongoing owl antics in my back yard, there was more than enough blog fodder to go around.  But then something took the wind out of my sails.  A couple of guys decided to blow up the Boston Marathon.  Once again, the world didn’t make any sense. 

      I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.  Where does this idea – the idea that violence can relieve anger, teach someone a lesson, or fix things -- come from?  I will never understand.

      Instead of trying to make sense of something so utterly insane, I decided to give myself a mental health day today, and Chuck and I took a hike in Catalina State Park.   We took the Birding Trail.  A ladder-backed woodpecker was there to greet us as we entered the trail, and a vermilion flycatcher sat perched in a tree as we left.  In between, we saw a curve-billed thrasher, goldfinches, mistletoe, and various lizards.  And nests.  The nests made me feel something I hadn’t been feeling in a while – hope.  Life goes on. 

     Here is a heavily edited photo that I took today of the vermilion flycatcher:

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      I’ll post some other photos of my hike soon.  In the meantime, you may want to click on our Music link and listen to Vertical Horizon, which was inspired a few years back by another walk in the woods, and by the beautiful vermilion flycatcher.   

    

Surf King

     Close your eyes and imagine a tall, fit, good-looking Middle-Eastern man with long, gleaming hair pulled back into a silky pony tail.  He’s the picture of health and confidence as he walks on stage.  When he speaks into the microphone, his voice is a low growl.  A hush comes over the crowd.  Then he starts to play. 

     He is left-handed, but his guitar is strung for a right-hander.  His left hand strikes, plucks, and bounces on the strings, pausing frequently between beats to lash out sideways before meeting up with the strings again.  The fingers of his right hand move so fast you can’t keep up.  They’re just a blur while they jump around from fret to fret, string to string, each note distinct and yet part of a moving sheet of sound.  The music is other-worldly, hypnotic, and wild.  And yet, it’s fresh, loud, and in your face, like getting hit with a wave.  Just when you think you know where those fingers are going to end up next, his right arm pivots around, and now he’s playing the notes upside down.   

     He pauses between songs to purr deeply into the microphone.  “We sound like crap,” he jokes, asking the sound man to “give it more of an edge.”  He gets the crowd singing along to “House of the Rising Sun” with the simple statement, “You know how it goes.”  There’s a commanding presence, and at the same time, an intimacy, with the audience.  He’s played with the best and influenced the rest, including Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and the whole heavy metal scene.   He advises people to wear earplugs to his concerts.  The man is a pro, and he knows it.  Got the picture?

     Okay.  How many of you were envisioning a 75-year-old Lebanese/Polish guy named Dick Dale?  Well, if you were, maybe you were at Tucson's Club Congress last night.  I was there, and as far as I’m concerned, Dick Dale is still King of the Surf Guitar. 

     Dick Dale (whose birth name is Richard Monsour) was born in Boston, where he learned to play the tarabaki drums while his uncle played the oud and his other relatives belly-danced.  After moving to southern California at age 17, he took up surfing, and before very long he'd invented a brand new music genre -- surf music -- to emulate the sound of the waves he rode.  The combination of exotic scales, distortion, loud amplification, and pounding drums gave his songs a wet, wavy, and exciting feel.

     Dick Dale may have created a wild sound, but he's actually a clean-living citizen who doesn't smoke or eat red meat, and he says he's never used alcohol or drugs.  He's even an environmental activist.  What’s not to love about this man?  I’m so glad I stumbled upon his show last night.  What a legendary artist!    

      Here’s a link to a short video I took of his first song last night:

     http://www.youtube.com/embed/cnrXSYeiPIA

    Now for another surf song, click on our Music link and listen to Pacific Buffalo's own Chuck Phillips performing his original surf song, "Old Man in the Surf"!

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A Brief Visit

     Last night, around 5:00 p.m., Prickly Brick Studio was honored by a visit from an iconic Easter celebrity who flew in from parts unknown.  He greeted us warmly, right after landing.  Apparently, he had traveled alone, and it’s no wonder -- he had some odd social habits.  After staring intently at us for several minutes, his head swiveled abruptly and he seemed to ignore us, peering sharply to his left instead.  Maybe he’s shy, we thought.  Or looking for a date.  (So soon after arriving?)  Or could it be that there’s a language barrier?  We made some feeble attempts to speak to him in his native language, and it worked. We had his attention again.  In fact, he actually winked at me. 

      Have I totally confused you?  Were you thinking “Easter Bunny,”  or maybe even Elvis, but now you aren’t so sure?  Well, thanks to my trusty camera, I have a picture of that sexy wink, and here it is:

 

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     Yes, it’s the Easter Owl

     Actually, he’s a Great Horned Owl, and, like many musicians, he’s nocturnal.  He has a loud, low vocal range.  We could use him in our studio to sing harmony, and he probably wouldn’t even need a microphone.  But unfortunately, he had another gig, and he didn’t stick around long enough for us to record him.

     I like owls.  Somewhere along the line, I started collecting little owl figurines and other owl paraphernalia.  I now own about thirty owls of varying shapes and sizes, including owls made of brass, wood, clay, paper, cloth, and plastic.  They’re black, white, yellow, brown, turquoise, and even hot pink.  Some are international, having flown here from Mexico, West Germany, Japan,  and Peru.  I have one carved wooden owl (with intricately curling feathers) that’s an exact copy of one belonging to a co-worker, a gift to her from her father.  She was shocked to see mine when she came for a visit, as was I to learn that my owl had a twin.  I also have a Beanie Baby owl, an owl tape dispenser, and owl stationery.  So I was gratified that the Easter Owl took time out of his busy schedule last night to drop by.  Maybe he’d heard of my collection and was hoping to stay for a family dinner.

      In his honor, I looked up “owls” on Youtube and discovered a great little indie band from Minneapolis named The Owls.  I love their harmonies.  Here they are singing, appropriately, “Afternoon Song”: 

http://www.youtube.com/embed/UtwmJA9qFMM

     May your week be filled with musical visits from our wise, feathered friends.

Picture This

     My teenage years were played out in the shadow of Eastman Kodak.  If I walked to the end of my block and looked west, across the Genesee River, I could see Kodak Park, an imposing manufacturing complex where my mother worked the second shift.  Kodak Park sounds nice and green, doesn’t it?  The kind of place you’d want to take the kids for a picnic and a Kodak moment?  But calling it a park is like calling the House of Representatives representative.  Kodak Park is actually a large collection of rectangular brick buildings, smoke stacks, and parking lots.  Its bleak architecture with ever-present white plume of smoke resembles a giant Instamatic camera whose flashbulb has just exploded.  

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     But inside the buildings, magic was taking place.  Little bits of celluloid were being transformed into color print memories.  Living just across the river from Memory Lane, I was “exposed” to photography during my formative years.  Consequently, as Paul Simon sings in his hit song Kodachrome, "I love to take a photograph."   (Forgive me, but when else will I have the chance to compare myself to Paul Simon?) 

     You probably know where this is going.  I will soon connect the dots between photography and music, and end up with a list of songs about cameras.  But first, in honor of the dearly departed Kodachrome slide, let's talk about color, music, and Sir Isaac Newton. 

     Legend has it that poor Isaac Newton got hit on the head by a falling apple, which must have jarred something loose in his brain, which is why he was able to develop the theory of gravity.  But actually, he was quite smart before that, and he made an interesting connection between color and music.  At the age of 23, while quarantined in a dark bedroom to avoid catching the plague, he noticed a tiny beam of light coming through a hole in his window.  Using a glass prism, he bent the light to make a rainbow of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo.  He then combined the ribbons of light together again by using a second prism, turning the colors back into one white beam.  In this way, he proved that light is made up of colors, and that it isn’t just pure white as others before him had assumed.

     Young Newton drew a chart of the six rainbow colors, adding a seventh color (violet) by combining the first (red) with the sixth (indigo) in order to blend the arc together into a continuous circle.  Then (and here’s the musical connection), he labeled his seven-color wheel with the letters A through G, because he wanted them to match the seven notes of the western musical scale!   Somehow, he had intuitively sensed a relationship between color and music.  If any of this sounds familiar, that’s probably because, a few weeks ago, before I knew anything about Newton’s color wheel, I blogged to you about this very same thing.  (Forgive me, but when else will I have the chance to compare myself to Isaac Newton?)

     Here is Newton's illustration of the Color Wheel.  Note that the sections are unevenly spaced, corresponding to the way that the notes on the musical scale are arranged (a full step between A and B, a half step between B and C, etc.):

     In music, there is another type of circular chart.  It’s called the Circle of Fifths.  To me, Newton’s color wheel is akin to the Circle of Fifths.  Both charts are arrangements of vibration frequencies, and both indicate which frequencies complement each other.  I’m not sure what all of this means.  Maybe I should go sit under an apple tree so that I can figure it out.  But here is the Circle of Fifths:

     I do think that we are all a little bit like prisms.  We absorb what’s out there already, be it light, sound, or some other form of energy, and we focus it and arrange it for a little while.  Sooner or later, it all turns back into energy.  But isn’t it beautiful while it’s around!

 

     

And now for that list of Songs About Photography.  It’s a short list.  In my opinion, very few good songs have been written on this subject.  I guess maybe it isn’t very romantic, or cool.  You can’t really profess your undying love, rock out, or sing the blues when there’s a camera hanging from your neck.  But I did find a few nice tunes -- seven, to be exact. 

     I swear I didn't plan on choosing seven!  But here they are, the full spectrum.  Maybe Sir Isaac Newton was whispering in my ear.  

     (Be sure to click the YouTube links to see and hear my favorite versions.  You may need to click "open content in new window" to get the links to work.)  

     Easter Parade – by Irving Berlin (The photographers will snap us, and you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure…)  http://youtu.be/deNxPO8ce4g  Not what you're expecting.  It's Sarah Vaughn and Billy Eckstine.

     Fountain of Sorrow – by Jackson Browne (Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer, I was taken by a photograph of you…) http://youtu.be/gwngpzlN2_s  Live and heartfelt -- of course.

     Picture Book – by The Kinks (Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago…) http://youtu.be/jg3oDSyBBi8  Old footage, slightly out of sync, but vintage Kinks. 

     Photograph – by Ringo Starr (All I got is a photograph and I realize you’re not coming back anymore…) http://youtu.be/Ptctz_rnkJ8  From the Concert for George.

     Peg – by Steely Dan (And when you smile for a camera, I know I’ll love you better…) http://youtu.be/IshE5Xt4J6M  Bass line only!  For Steely Dan fans, this is a must see.

     Kamera – by Wilco (I need a camera to my eye…) http://youtu.be/f7gb926Si7I  Live version.

     And, of course:

     Kodachrome – Paul Simon (I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph…) http://youtu.be/wZpaNJqF4po  Lots of great images.

Sunday Toast

     Today, Pacific Buffalo celebrated St. Patrick's Day with some serious recording in our studio, along with a few serious beers (and some Australian wine).  And although we didn't find any four-leaf clovers, see any leprechauns, or find any pots of gold, we did enjoy a pot of Lori's homemade lentil soup when we were finished.  (To see our new photos from today, go to the "Photos" section of this website.)

     St. Patrick would be happy to know that one of the songs we recorded today is titled "More Than Luck."  So keep your fingers crossed that he sends us some luck of the Irish when we release our next CD.  The other song that we worked on today, “By the Nile,” has absolutely nothing to do with Ireland, but the word NILE is in IRELAND.  We think St. Patty should send us some extra luck for noticing that.

     Speaking of luck, I had another lucky brush with celebrity yesterday.  Well, actually, it was planned, but I couldn’t think of any other way to transition to my next topic, which was Tucson’s 2nd Annual Youth and Peace Conference.  It was there that I got to hear the keynote speaker, Alejandro Chavez, speak about his grandfather, human rights activist Cesar Chavez.   I also got to take a cute photo of the littlest drummer boy at the conference:

 Little_Drummer_Boy_resized.jpg

     Alejandro Chavez was only six years old when his teacher showed him a picture of his grandfather in a California newspaper and asked him if he knew who the man was.  Alejandro said no.  “Are you sure?” his teacher asked.  “Doesn’t he remind you of anyone?”  “Well,” Alejandro replied, “he looks a little like my tata.”  Little Alejandro had no idea that his grandpa was one of the great leaders of the nonviolence movement, right up there with Gandhi and King.  The marches and rallies that the family went to were fun for Alejandro, because he got to see his cousins and play with them.  It wasn’t until much later that he decided to follow in his tata’s footsteps.  He now works full time as a community activist, and I admire the fact that he is carrying on his grandfather’s legacy of nonviolence.

     Among the many songs about peace that I could mention, here’s one that I think every political and religious leader in the world should take to heart:  “Peace Be Upon Us,” by Sheryl Crow. 

http://www.youtube.com/embed/9Ck3e_m2plU?rel=0

     She addresses her song to “all the sinners and saints,” “all you creatures of faith,” and “all you shepherds and sheep.”  She sings about finding joy in “the smallest things” and “trying to reach the light.”  After singing the chorus, “peace be upon us,” there’s a beautiful Arabic verse which, translated, means “peace be upon you.” 

     So, today I’ll raise a glass of Irish beer to St. Patrick, a glass of Argentinian wine to the new Pope Francis, and a glass of California spring water to Cesar Chavez.  And my toast will be, “Peace be upon us.” 

Salty Tears and a Sea Star

     After this week, I need a good cry, and then a swim in the ocean. 

     On Sunday, a man was shot and killed near the high school where I work.  On Tuesday, the school was placed in “lockdown” while a real-life drama unfolded in a classroom above me.  I sat in the dark with two colleagues while we pondered what might be happening, and what we’d do if someone came in to shoot us.  Thankfully, after half an hour, the drama was over and nobody was hurt, but one of our seniors was arrested and taken to jail, charged with the Sunday night murder.   On Wednesday, and then again on Friday, two more Tucsonans were shot dead. 

      On Friday night, I watched four back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey, the Masterpiece series that’s part history, part soap opera, all excellent.  As I sat through its wonderfully acted scenes dealing with the horrors of World War I, and listened to its evocative sound track, I shed some tears and thought about the perils of war, and of life on our American city streets.  

      On Saturday, I beat the doldrums by attending the Tucson Festival of Books.  There I met actor/activist Ted Danson, who’s recently published Oceana, a book about ocean conservation.  Tall, white-haired Ted, looking both casual and debonair in frayed jeans, brown corduroy jacket, and scarf, graciously accepted our business card as I said hi and plugged Chuck’s environmental ocean song (“Old Man in the Surf”).  Looking at the card, Ted kindly said, “Pacific Buffalo – that’s COOL,” with a little laugh.  Those words from a "sea star" were just the lift I needed. 

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      On Saturday night, I learned that my mom’s move to an apartment has become a reality.  In May, she’ll leave the house that we all moved into 50 years ago.  I knew this was coming, and I totally support her decision, but it’s still a big change, and I immediately felt nostalgic about the house.  I decided to cheer myself up by watching a video about how the U.S. tax code is rigged in favor of the richest 1/10th of  one percent.  http://vimeo.com/35039196  Needless to say, this didn’t work to cheer me up, but it did make me mad enough to consider writing a follow-up to our song, “Wall Street Windows.”

      This week, I managed to experience shock, sadness, relief, nostalgia, and anger.  That could be why I slept eleven hours last night, having a bizarre dream that both of my parents had quit their jobs and decided to work in a liquor store.  Maybe they’ll let me fill in for them some time.

      Or maybe I just needed to write all of this down in order to see that I could surf these waves of emotion and still be okay -- although a good swim in the ocean would sure be nice.  Since I live in Tucson, I’ll have to settle for a relaxing song like “Beyond the Sea,” while meditating about Ted Danson and chanting the mantra, “Cheers!”

Old Song, New Season

     Suddenly, it's March. 

     Growing up in Buffalo, I was taught at an early age that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Well, maybe it did in tropical paradises like Omaha or Butte, but not so in Buffalo.  More often than not, when March finally made it to Buffalo, it came in like a lion, went out like a lion, and then hung around on the front porch, blocking April's entry until at least mid-May.

     That's why my mood changes to positively ecstatic when I see that spring is just around the corner (that is, when I can actually see around that corner, when my glasses aren't all fogged up, when I'm not blinded by a blizzard).  This change of season makes me start to adjust some of my habits.  I walk more, smile more, and complain less.  (Well, maybe not that last one).  I switch to open-toed shoes, and I start thinking about road trips.  So, to celebrate the approach of spring, and to appease the angry god of March, the lion's share of this week's blog will be devoted to CHANGE.

     Sensing a definite change in the weather yesterday, and telling myself that "a change would do you good" (wise counsel from Sheryl Crow in her 1996 hit song, "A Change"), I took to the sidewalks and dirt paths in my neighborhood, wearing my walking shoes and carrying my trusty cell phone, earphones, and water bottle.  One of the first songs I listened to on my four-mile trek was Adele's "Chasing Pavements," which was precisely what I was doing.  Luckily, Adele wasn't raised in Buffalo, or she might have written "Shoveling Driveways" instead.

     Coincidentally (or maybe not, as last week's blog explored), several of the next songs in my queue had to do with -- you guessed it -- change.  Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game," Tracy Chapman's "Change," and Bruce Hornsby's "Gonna Be Some Changes Made" all seemed to be conspiring to provide me with today's topic, and they succeeded.  But what I didn't expect was that they would lead me on a journey through time, back to the year 1400 B.C.  Talk about your changes!

     This time travel episode occurred because I got to wondering as I wandered, asking myself some pretty interesting questions, such as:   Is "change" a common theme in songwriting?  What's the oldest song ever written about change?  What's the oldest song ever written about anything?  And finally:  Are we there yet? 

     As soon as I got home, I Googled “oldest song” and learned that the oldest song that we know of was recorded about 3,400 years ago, but it might be much older than that.  It was inscribed in cuneiform on clay tablets, it included both lyrics and harmony, and it came with instructions on how to play the lute accompaniment (a sort of tablature).  This ancient Syrian song is thought to be a plaintive hymn about infertility, devoted to the goddess of orchards, Nikkal.  The world's first song was a bluesy hymn?  Lord have mercy!

     That also answered my question concerning the oldest song about change, because I have to assume that the singer of that old Syrian tune was hoping for some very obvious changes approximately nine months later.  But if you're looking for a quicker fix than that, how about listening to some of the following songs about change?

     Waiting On the World to Change, by John Mayer

     Change the World, by Eric Clapton

     Landslide, by Stevie Nicks

     Changes, by David Bowie

     A Change, by Sheryl Crow

     Change, by Tracy Chapman

     Gonna Be Some Changes Made, by Bruce Hornsby

     A Change Is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke

     Sunrise, Sunset (from Fiddler on the Roof, by Bock and Harnick)

     The Circle Game, by Joni Mitchell

     Things Have Changed, by Bob Dylan

     The Waters of March, by Antonio Carlos Jobim

     Chances are, you were expecting "The Times They Are A-Changin'" by Bob Dylan, but I wanted to change things up!  And that last one -- well, no list of songs about change would be complete without The Waters of March.  I highly recommend it for keeping Old Man Winter at bay, and for appeasing an angry lion. 

     Here are a few lines from The Waters of March to lighten your step today, just in case you're out there chasing pavements:

     Afloat, adrift,
     A flight, a wing,
     A hawk, a quail,
     The promise of spring
     And the riverbank talks
     of the waters of March,
     It's the promise of life
     It's the joy in your heart.
Spring_Flower.jpg

Gathered From Coincidence

This week I experienced one of those surreal moments when something that I was thinking about popped out of the radio, at the exact second that I was thinking it.  It’s a phenomenon called “synchronicity.”  Carl Jung philosophized about it, Sting wrote a song about it, and now I’m going to blog about it.  Here’s what happened: 

 

I was driving towards downtown Tucson, with my radio tuned to NPR, as it often is.  The program was about the art of calligraphy.  A woman was saying that the practice of doing calligraphy (from the Greek kallos meaning “beauty” and graphe meaning “writing”) can actually lower people’s stress levels.  I should take up calligraphy, I thought.  That driver behind me should take up calligraphy, too.  But wait – there’s more to this story. 

 

I was on my way to my job as a school psychologist in a large urban high school.  Being a workaholic – er -- devoted employee, I admit that I sometimes think about my job while driving to work.  So when I heard the woman say that calligraphy can reduce stress, I thought I might want to hang a calligraphy poster on my office door at work.  That way, the little punks – er -- angels coming to my office for testing or counseling might not feel so bad about having to have their heads shrunk.

 

I already have something hanging on my office door.  It’s a print of the famous Picasso painting, Hands with Bouquet.  I love its simplicity, its positive image, and its childlike quality.  (Picasso once said that it took him a lifetime to learn to paint like a child.)  Recently, a teenage girl with Down Syndrome walked by my door and took an interest in the picture.  I used this teachable moment to tell her that it was a painting by a famous artist named Picasso.  The next time she came to see me, she looked at the print and said, “artist.”  The painting had made an impression, and I think Picasso would have been very pleased.

 picasso-hands-with-bouquet_resized.jpg

Anyway, back to what I was saying about synchronicity.  I was driving along, thinking about where I might be able to find a calligraphy poster, and how it would look next to my Picasso print.  I thought more about Picasso.  I thought about how he was from Spain.  I thought about how most of the students at my school speak Spanish.  I had almost forgotten that I was listening to the radio (or, for that matter, driving), when I was shocked back into reality by hearing the word “Picasso” coming from my radio.  My ears perked up.  The woman was saying, “Picasso said that if he were born Chinese, he would have been a calligrapher.”  Wow.  Picasso and calligraphy, together in my mind, and simultaneously together in HER mind, too.  I love when that happens!

 

Someone once said to me, “There are no coincidences.”  Being somewhat of a skeptic, I didn’t believe her.  But now I just don’t know.  Since my experience the other day, I have learned just enough about synchronicity to be dangerous.  I’ve learned that Carl Jung believed that there are no coincidences.  He believed that we all share a subconscious collective memory, having something to do with relativity theory and quantum physics.  At least that’s what it says in Wikipedia.  All I know is that somehow my brain made a connection between calligraphy and Picasso, and there really WAS a connection all along.  So maybe my brain is really intuitive, or else it was just dumb luck.

 

I think my next song will be called “Calligraphy.”  It will be graceful.  It will be simple.  It will be childlike.  And most of all, it will be relaxing.  Something everyone will want to listen to while driving to their stressful jobs.

 

P.S.  Sting was interested in Carl Jung.  Here are the lyrics to Sting’s song, “Synchronicity”:

With one breath, with one flow
You will know
Synchronicity

A sleep trance, a dream dance
A shared romance
Synchronicity

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Yet nothing is invincible

If we share this nightmare
Then we can dream
Spiritus mundi

If you act, as you think
The missing link
Synchronicity

We know you, they know me
Extrasensory
Synchronicity

A star fall, a phone call
It joins all
Synchronicity

It's so deep, it's so wide
Your inside
Synchronicity

Effect without a cause
Sub-atomic laws, scientific pause

Synchronicity …

Motorcycle Madness

Last Tuesday night, both Chuck and I dreamed we were riding motorcycles.  In my dream, I was making my way precariously along a ribbon of highway, heading north from the southern states, when my chopper stalled somewhere in central Pennsylvania.  I tried everything to get it to start, turning and twisting the knobs this way and that, but nothing worked.  Suddenly, I realized that all I had to do was jump on the kickstart gizmo.*  So, after standing up, and setting my foot squarely on the gizmo,* I gave it all I had.  And then I woke up. 

In Chuck's dream, he was much cooler than I was.  His bike also wasn't running, but he simply pushed the "start" button.   Some people are just born mechanics.

I shouldn't be surprised that I dreamed of motorcycles -- they're in my blood.  Here's a 1930 photo of my Grandpa Luigi, on what I believe to be a 1916 Indian Powerplus (with sidecar):

 Motorcycle_Edited_resized.jpg

I've seen this photo many times over the years, but I just noticed something amazing.  My uncle Joe (the baby in the sidecar, and future bebop saxophone player of some reknown) is holding his right hand exactly like he would someday hold his prized sax.  Rather than being "Born to Be Wild," I guess he was "Born to Be Bop."

And speaking of music, I think there ought to be a special Grammy award for the category "Motorcycle Music."  Motorcycle music has never really been taken seriously, although if one digs deep enough (as I did today), one will find several lists of "favorite motorycle songs" on the internet.  So I guess they're at least as popular as some of the tunes that made it to the Grammys this year.  

Instead of doing any number of more useful things today, I've put together the following very eclectic list of songs about motorcycles for your listening pleasure.  Some are popular, some obscure, and some downright weird:

Born to Be Wild -- Steppenwolf (of course)

Midnight Rider -- The Allman Brothers

Leader of the Pack -- The Shangri-las

Motorcycle Cowboy -- Merle Haggard

New Sensations -- Lou Reed (oddly enough, he mentions riding to Pennsylvania!)

Unknown Legend -- Neil Young

The Motorcycle Song -- Arlo Guthrie (I don't want a pickle, just want to ride on my motor-sickle)  

Born to Run -- Bruce Springsteen

1952 Vincent Black Lightning -- Richard Thompson

Roll Me Away -- Bob Seger

Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots -- The Cheers 

Eye of the Hurricane -- David Wilcox

Highway in the Wind -- Arlo Guthrie

Wanted Dead or Alive - Bon Jovi (worth watching the video for the 80s hairstyles alone)

Good or bad, all motorcycle music seems to be based on themes of freedom, the road, running away, or the appropriate clothing to wear while running away.  Most of the songs are written and performed by men, and there's usually a driving beat and lots of metal.  But some of the songs were actually a lot more gentle and sensitive than I expected.  Every one of them was full of emotion.  Biker music is not for the faint of heart.

I've only just begun to scratch the leather surface of motorcycle music.  Six hours on a Saturday is just not enough time to explore it all.  But I did enjoy listening to some familiar and unfamiliar music today, and it may have inspired a new song, one about my Grandpa Luigi.  I hope you'll listen to a few of these songs on youtube, and send me your favorites, too. 

After all this listening, I wish I owned a motorcycle.  It's a gorgeous day for a ride, and I'd love to feel the wind in my hair.  Guess I'll just have to let the music take me there.

*thingie

Do You See What I See?

Laurie Rubin is a 33-year old opera singer who has been blind from birth.  She has interesting things to say about color.  Not only does she dream in color, but she experiences color when awake, through her senses.  Lemons smell yellow, snow feels white, and the key of B-flat is brown, because it reminds her of chocolate.  I had to laugh when I heard this, because I, too, sometimes imagine keys in certain colors.  I picture the key of A as yellow.  C is orange.  Maybe that’s because of the vitamins.  But D is green for some reason, and G is red!  I can’t blame that on vitamins.  

Maybe I should blame my mom.  She took me to see the movie Fantasia, that psychedelic light show starring Mickey Mouse, when I was about six years old.  Or maybe it’s because I play guitar.  Guitar chords make certain physical shapes and have vibrations.  Those shapes and vibes could give each chord a colorful personality of its own.  Probably, it’s just my brain’s way of getting more bang for the buck out of a song.  But I don’t always see those pretty chord-colors.  It just happens when I try and think about it.  Most of the time I just like the way chords sound. 

As an experiment, I made a list today of the major and minor musical keys from A through G-sharp (24 altogether).  I’m not counting special chords like major sevenths.  Just your basic A, A minor, B-flat, B-flat minor, and so on.  I then assigned a color to each key.  It was all just a mental exercise.  I didn’t reach for my guitar because I didn’t really want my hands involved.  I didn’t want the physical sensation of shaping my fingers a certain way, or even the vibration, to influence my color choices. 

I just sat here at my desk and pictured the chord as I would strum it on my guitar, and then I tried to hear the chord in my mind.  After you’ve played a chord like G a bunch of times, you get a pretty good sense of what that chord sounds like.  Then, I tried to see the sound of the chord.  Sometimes, a big, bold, primary color would immediately pop into my mind’s eye.  Or, one color would come to me first, but then another would be the obvious choice.  Eventually, I’d assigned a color to each one of the chords on my list – a sonic box of Crayolas! 

Next, I'm going to go listen to some songs with my eyes closed and see if my list checks out.  And I'm going to ask myself:  Why do we "see" sound at all?  Did this ability to picture what we hear develop as a survival mechanism, or is it just a happy accident?  And always, the age-old question:  Do we all see the same colors?  When you look at the sky, is it the same blue that I see, or are you really seeing red but calling it blue?  And what do colors look like to a blind person?  Will we ever be able to know what each other sees? 

Let us know what YOU see when you listen to music.  Do you associate certain musical keys -- or songs -- with certain colors?  And no, I’m not talking about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, although that’s probably a project that requires the 64-crayon box. 

Reminder:  Through February, we're offering our CD, Earth Tones, for just $4 (that's half price) through cdbaby.  Just go to www.cdbaby.com/cd/pacificbuffalo3 to order it.  Or, if you live in the Tucson area, meet me for coffee and I'll personally hand you a FREE copy!

HAL Replacing Beyoncé for Super Bowl Halftime Show?

Tweet Your Children Well

I joined Twitter about three years ago, but I'm not much of a tweeter.  I tweeted ONCE, and then I stopped because, frankly, I felt foolish.  I didn't understand how Twitter worked.  I was afraid I'd accidentally post something really embarrassing.  Some little one-liner that I'd never be able to delete.  I'd become known forever as that poor woman who tried sending her husband a sweet little email and accidentally tweeted it to Bill Clinton.  Not that I haven't already been embarrassing myself on a daily basis in other ways, but for some reason Twitter just seemed so daunting.  

But the other day, while doing some important research on facebook, I noticed that more and more people are using # symbols in their comments.  I started wondering about these strange # symbols.  To me, they were always called "pound signs," but that's really giving away my age.  Now I guess they're hashtags.  Anyway, I figured they must have something to do with Twitter, so I gave Twitter a second look.  Before I knew it, I'd updated my Twitter page and started FOLLOWING people. 

It sounds really obsessive, doesn't it?  I'm not just their friend, I'm actually stalking them.  Yes, as of today, I'm officially stalking my cousin Gina, my two daughters, the Dalai Lama, Conan O'Brien, President Obama, and a few others.  These choices were kind of random.  If you can find a theme there, please let me know.

And now I'd like to thank my newest stalkee David Crosby for giving me an idea for today's blog post.  Yes, THAT David Crosby.  David Crosby of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of the Byrds, and of Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Anyway, Croz, as he's known to his friends -- and I now count myself among them -- tweeted something about gun control, and I tweeted back.  Who knows if he'll ever read it -- in fact, it might not even be him -- but I thought I'd use it today.  Whether you are for or against gun control, I think you may agree with me -- the tweet was "Teach your children well."  In other words, whatever we decide to do, let's think of future generations.  So thanks, Croz, for being my pal on Twitter.  Who knows?  Maybe someday you'll write a song using my tweet.

You can find me on Twitter @LoriBonati -- not sure yet how to do the whole looking up thing. 

50 Ways to Say Something Memorable

It's January, which means a fresh start for many of us.  And Pacific Buffalo will not be left in the dust.  I (Lori) have decided to get a roaring start on the new year by resolving to post at least one blog entry per week!  And I'm doing so without the help of performance-enhancing drugs, I might add.  I said I MIGHT add, because actually, I must confess to drinking a cup of coffee this morning.  But I didn't call it fat!  (Inside joke in case you saw the Lance Armstrong interview.) 

This week's subject, due to its proximity to the birthday of the great orator Martin Luther King Jr., is MEMORABLE QUOTATIONS.  What's your favorite memorable quotation, and why?   

Here's one by Dr. King:  "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."

Now the onus is on you.  Without the help of performance enhancing drugs (we'll make an exception for coffee),  please send me a Memorable Quotation (as many as you like).  My goal is to receive 2,013 of them, but I'll be happy with 50.  I'll also post your Memorable Quotations on our facebook page.

There, this week's job is done.  If you don't see a new blog entry by this time next week, feel free to nag me.  But do it with a Memorable Quotation!

Soldier With a Trumpet

A boy without a father ... a young man in his twenties ... a soldier with a trumpet ... a twist of fate.  These are some of the lyrics I've put into my newest song.  I should really list my father as cowriter.  It's a true story, and it happened to him.  Let's let him tell it:

... "The 1st Sgt. sent me to town for some supplies, and while there I spotted a trumpet in a hock shop, for $20.  Bought it and took it back to camp, where I started tooting in the barracks.  The Commander came thru and heard the horn..and asked me if I could play 'Taps.'  I did, and he said I would be blowing the horn at the lieutenant's funeral, since he fell out of a plane.  I told him that I was scheduled to move out in the A.M. with my outfit, and he said, 'Not you.'  My company left...for Normandy...and I tooted at the cemetery."

Reading this vignette in my father's 1980s journal inspired me to write a song about it.  It just boggles my mind to think about the long, continuous thread, woven through time, that began when he first picked up a cornet at the age of six, in 1924, through his Army days in the 1940s, onward to his marriage to my mother, the birth of his five children, his journal, and his passing, and finally to my attempting to capture all of this in one song. 

The lyrics have been written, but I'm still struggling with the melody and chords.  I think I've finally settled on the key of A-minor (after several other keys just didn't work for me).  It now also includes the F major 7th chord (I LOVE major 7th chords) as well as E suspended 4th (another fave).  I was happy to learn last evening that one of my favorite Carole King songs (It's Too Late) also is in A-minor (actually, A-minor seventh) and includes both the F major 7th and E suspended 4th.  As Chuck says, though, "there are only just so many chord progressions."  But I'm happy to know that I'm on the right track.

Hopefully, the song will be finished before 2014 -- 90 years after my Grandpa Luigi brought home a cornet, handed it to my father, and told him, "Suona" ("Play") -- which he did, by ear. 

 

The Challenge: A Blog By Any Other Name

After a long siesta, I (Lori) am back, determined to "blog" more often. 

I've never liked the word "blog" -- have you?  Come to think of it, it might just be one of the top ten most unattractive sounding words in the English language.  Yep, to my mind, it's right up there with "belch" and "pulchritude."  Maybe that's why I've stayed away from this blog for so long. 

I know that "blog" is short for "web log," but I refuse to accept a word like "blog" just because some guy thought "web log" was too difficult to spell or too un-cool to say out loud.  It was probably the same dufus* who invented the word "biopic" (which doesn't rhyme with myopic). 

     * I do like the word "dufus."

I just looked up the origin of the word "log" in the dictionary.  According to Webster, if you're talking about "log" as in "tree limb," the origin is Norwegian (from "lag" meaning "fallen tree").  If, on the other hand, you're referring to a recording of events, the origin is Greek ("logos" meaning "word, reason, speech, or account").   I do think "log" is a fine word, but it doesn't quite do it for me.  A good blog should be intelligent, rational, maybe a little irrational, interesting, lively, interactive, cerebral, visceral, opinionated, and funny.  In short, I'm looking for the ideal candidate for President.  But I'll settle for a new word for "blog."  You've gotta start somewhere, no?

So if you or I can think of a new word for it, maybe I'll be inspired to jabber on about topics of interest to you and me more often.  Please join me in my quest.  Ideally, the word should be fairly short, but sound really cool and attractive.  Maybe it'll include a soft consonant, a smooth vowel, and a dipthong or two.  

But it's much harder than I thought.  After wracking my brain for a couple of hours now, all I've managed to come up with are "Wordleaves," "Intellitree," and (cringe) "iCandy."  I need all the help I can get!  In the meantime (sigh) I guess I'll just blog.

Take Our Pie Song Quiz

Quick!  Think of a song with the word "Pie" in it. Got it? Write it down. 

Now award yourself the following points:

     1 point:   if the word "pie" is in the title

     2 points:  if the pie is edible 

     3 points:  if you said American Pie, Honey Pie,  or Country Pie

     4 points:  if it's not about pie at all -- the pie is just a metaphor

     5 points:  if the song is really about the number "pi"

     6 points:  if it's one of the 122 songs I found when I googled "songs about pie" (including Cold Stringy Pie, Whisky and Pie, Pie in the Sky, Jambalaya, and The Pi Song)

     7 points:  if you're actually still counting up your points right now.

If your score is less than 4, I recommend that you click on the links at the end of this blog and get your pie on. If your score is 4-27, go have a piece of pie.  And if your score is 28, you cheated!

I'm pretty sure that I'm writing about American pie because I just watched the final game of the 2011 World Series -- what better American pastime is there?  Earlier this week, I participated in another great American pastime, the Benefit Show.  Yes, I was honored to be part of a fund-raiser for Occupy (or should I say Occu-pie?) Tucson.  I figure anything that helps get the word out to people that lots of other people are MAD AS HELL -- and are willing to stand up, even get arrested, for being MAD AS HELL about the current insanity is a worthy cause.  So I made a small contribution to the cause by performing a few protest songs.   

I'd written these songs (Wall Street Windows, American Dreamer, and Inspiration) in 2009, and they turned out to be timed just right for the current wave of political frustration sweeping the nation.  It was gratifying to know that my "voice" has been heard, and that whether people agree with me or not, I have a venue.  That's what America's supposed to be about, right?  

For me, I'm glad that the Occu-pie Wall Street movement has begun to take hold.  OK, I'll say it ... it's "a la mode."  

Now for those links:

American Pie by Don McLean (live)

Honey Pie by the Beatles (gypsy jazz version)

Country Pie by Bob Dylan (live)

Enjoy,

Lori

Gettin' Down and Dirty

This week's outdoor project was supposed to be about keeping the dust down, keeping it out of the house, keeping it under control.  It turned out to be a lesson in the importance of dirt and of being grounded.

In Tucson, it's hot and dusty in the summer.  Since I stopped watering my lawn, it's turned into my own private version of Lawrence of Arabia (with a big brown dog named Prince playing the part of a camel).  A layer of fine, sandy silt had settled onto floors, tables, counter tops; it clung to the TV screen; I even found it on light bulbs and magazines.  I had to do something, but I wasn't going to pave paradise.  I may have rocks in my head, but I decided to build a brick path and surround it with gravel. 

My small experiment taught me that I may not be a mason, but I have a child's love of playing in the dirt.  And I was reminded that, as with songwriting, if you have even the tiniest pebble of an idea, if you give it time to percolate, it can turn into a gem. 

I stood in the middle of my yard and just stared at it.  The longer I stared, the more I realized that the basic building blocks were right in front of me, literally.  There was a curved wall of bricks that the former owners had built against the side of the house ... about 60 bricks in all.  The curved enclosure held nothing but dirt -- a lot of it -- which Prince the dog liked to lay in because it was cool.  I admit that I should have thought of this years ago (I guess my percolator is the slow kind) but it suddenly hit me:  Why not dismantle the damn dirt bed and use the bricks to build an attractive walking path?  So what if I'd never laid a brick in my life.  I was motivated.  Out with dirt, in with order and neatness!  And while I'm at it, why not add a little twist?  After sketching a bit, I came up with a winding path that I later realized looked like a rattlesnake.  There was one puzzle to be solved -- the middle looked like a Rubic's cube and had a square opening that needed filling.  I hoped I might find a tile some day to fit in the space, but what were the chances of that?  If not, I could just fill it up with stones.

Constructing the path ended up being a journey to my childhood.  Every time I knelt down in the soft brown dirt (which I had soaked with a hose and which now looked like muddy coffee grounds), I was transported back to afternoons in Buffalo when my brother and I used to dig for worms and tried to dig our way to China (when we weren't sliding into home plate).  Lining the bricks up just right, and leveling them, reminded me of stories about my great uncle, "Eagle Eye" Frank, who earned that name by his ability to lay railroad tracks in a straight line.  Sifting and sweeping cinnamon-colored sand between the bricks reminded me of holidays when I helped my mom to dust pecan cookies with confectioner's sugar and to decorate cut-out cookies with red and green sprinkles.   I was loving gettin' dirty!

It all started coming together, almost cosmically.  The sand I used was called Diamond Infield Mix -- the same stuff they use for baseball diamonds.  The path looked like a snake -- a diamondback.  Then I remembered a small, square ceramic tile that my brother had given me when he first moved to Arizona.  It was a Native American design in earth tones, with a bright white jackrabbit on it.  It fit perfectly in the square space in the middle of the path, right in the middle of the snake, in a diamond position.  It was as if the snake really had a rabbit inside of it -- a snake with a rabbit soul.  When I cleaned the sand off of the tile, it almost blinded me, its clean white glinting like a diamond in the midday sun.   

I wondered why I had come up with the snake and rabbit motif.  Was it a subconscious expression of something?  Passive/aggressive tendencies?  Conflicted?  Or just in tune with nature?  Who knows.  All I know is that I'm comforted by the fact that I can look out of my bedroom window and see that within the body of the snake there lies a sparkling symbol of energy, fertility, and peace.

My final step in the project is adding stones on either side of the path.  You know -- something for the snake to slither against.  So I chose smooth gray stones from the nearby Salt River.  I think they will calm the snake, and I know they will calm my bare feet.

Working outside with my hands, in the dirt, with all of these bricks and diamonds and infield sand, has grounded me.  I feel more peaceful and I am sleeping better.  I think I've discovered a new form of therapy.  I'm calling it Gettin' Down and Dirty. 

Rehab for Dummies

Some of you may know that I (Lori) just had some minor surgery.  No big deal, and I'm fine.  But it does require that I spend a couple of days of rehab inside.  No, not the kind Amy Winehouse vowed never to go to.  My kind of rehab is way more fun than that.  So far, it consists of the following 6-step program:

1.  Read.  (I read about 50 pages of Ann Patchett's novel "Truth and Beauty," a memoir about her friendship with poet Lucy Grealy -- I can't put it down.)

2.  Relax.  (I took a long, luxurious bath -- ok, I could put the book down.)

3.  Sing.  (I practiced the first two verses and one chorus of my new song, Soldier and Trumpet -- it's sort of a salute to my dad as well as a commentary about the various battlefields we encounter in life.)

4.  Practice.  I played the first twelve measures of Pachelbel's Canon in D.  The first time through it wasn't even recognizable, so I decided to slow it down to about one note per second.  That improved things.  Now I could tell it was music.  After playing it five times I finally got up to half-speed, with only a few F naturals.  I'll work on that.

5.  Eat.  I made myself a banana orange pineapple vanilla ice cream smoothie and drank it in less time than it took to hold the "smoothie" button in. 

6.  Write.  I decided to blog about my rehab experience.  I thought about the word "rehab," and looked it up in the dictionary.

By the way, the word "rehab" is not in the dictionary.  However, "rehabilitation" is in the dictionary.  Did you know that "rehabilitation" comes from "habilitare," the Latin word for "habilitate," which comes from the Latin word for "able," which has to do with ability or skill, and comes from the Latin "habere" which means "to have" or "to hold"?  So I guess rehabilitation means to repossess ability or "get smart."  I think I should write a book, "Rehab for Dummies Who Want to Get Smart." 

Now back to step 1.

 

From Blog to Blahg and Back

Hi, this is Lori (the Buffalo part of PB).  What started last year as an earnest attempt to blog regularly ended up in the doldrums, temporarily.  But I'm back!  Beginning a new project (our last CD) was an adrenaline rush, but post-production sent me into the "blah" phase.  Sort of like post-partum depression.  No airplay, not too many gigs, no instant stardom.  (Not that I expected this.)  But not to worry.  I'm working on a new song, and hope to be practicing and blogging again with a vengeance. 

This year, I entered two songs in a songwriting contest, and applied to play at the Tucson Folk Festival.  Neither of those came through, but the folk festival was amazing.  I attended two workshops (voice and songwriting), both worthwhile.  The one on voice was given by Beth Fitchet Wood.  What a nice person, with a beautiful, clear voice, a talented family, some great CDs, and she's very hip -- she knew Jackson Browne back in the day, and it was her voice used to promote his early songs to record companies!  Then I was blown away by the very cool local duo Cinder Bridge (keyboard/vocals and drums), along with other fine musicians.  How inspiring, and a wakeup call for me to practice, practice, practice. 

Aside from music, I'm also into photography and will be working this summer on a book of photos I took in Mexico.  (My day job is in a school and I have the summer off -- sweet!)  I just entered two photos in Ron Howard's Imagin8tion contest (stay tuned for more info on that).  So whether it's blahging, blogging, or just blathering -- about music, photography, or turnips -- I'll try to think of something interesting to announce or spout off about every few days. 

Happiness,

Lori

Time for Kindness

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., we will strive to be more kind and peaceful today and every day.  Here's a short little video that sums up our feelings about the events in Tucson and the world:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctE1DozmKx4

"The Shining" vs. Open Mic

The Movie, The Shining:  Scary.  Fun.  Gets better every time.  Has words written backwards in lipstick.

Open Mic:  Scary.  Fun.  Gets better every time.  Has words that are sometimes forgotten, but never lip-synched.

Although comparisons between The Shining and open mic performances can be made, last night's open mic at Cafe Tremolo was more like It's a Wonderful Life.  Surrounded by good people, I felt very rich, indeed.  There was no tip jar to be seen, but plenty of good will to go around.  The place was packed, and people really connected.  Best open mic I've ever experienced.

The music of the evening included blues, Americana, jazz, rock, and impassioned folk.  A couple of virtuoso jazz guitarists (Peter and Troy) warmed up the crowd.  Next up was an older guy from West Virginia who kind of looked like Santa Claus in a cowboy hat.  He sang some good country honky-tonk and accompanied himself on electric guitar, backed up by Oscar Fuentes on sax.

Then the guitarists were back, with Matt Pirc (Peter's son) on drums.  Matt is a college student carrying 26 credits, double majoring in philosophy and music, I think.  He's a genius on those drums.

We were up next, with Chuck back on keyboards after a long hiatus.  He surprised some of our fellow musicians, who thought he was only a guitar player.  Despite my nerves before going on, I'm always relaxed once I open my mouth.  It helped that I was up there with two very talented veteran musicians, Chuck on keyboards and Pat Caulley on electric bass.

We were followed by blues singer "J.R." Rodriguez, just back from a few weeks off.  J.R. is usually a solo act, accompanying himself on guitar, but last night when he learned that Oscar (now on electric guitar) and Pat (still on electric bass) were up for jamming, he decided to just sing.  Chuck joined them on drums to complete the supergroup.  I especially liked their version of Stormy Monday.

A couple of other acts followed, one a young guy who had brought about eight of his friends to listen, and one good blues guitarist from Phoenix, who was the spitting image of Ralph Fiennes, if Ralph Fiennes had a ponytail and played guitar. This guy took on the daunting task of playing Hendrix, and did it very well.

Last on the bill was our new friend, Pete Covitz, who ended the evening on a high note by playing three originals that we liked a lot.  He's a good guitarist and he sings with a straightforward style that reminds me a lot of Bruce Springsteen.  Just before he began to play, Chuck asked Pete if his songs were originals.  Pete paused for a split-second and then replied, "Everything I do is original."  He doesn't hesitate to interact with the audience, stopping a couple of bars into one song to say, "Oh, I forgot, I wrote this one, too," and interrupting himself during another one to say, "This part actually happened."  I didn't catch all the words to his third song, "Someone should make a movie of my life," but I hope I hear it again because I want to know what that was all about.

So if you get a chance, come out to Tucson's Cafe Tremolo on a Sunday night for open mic.  The cast of characters never disappoints!

Radio Daze

During my recent trip down memory lane, I must have picked up some strong radio vibes, because old radios are on my mind today.   

Do you remember those gigantic floor-model tube radios of the 1930s?  My parents had one, probably made of mahogany.  I can clearly remember sitting on the floor with my head up against the huge, booming speaker (yes, it only had one) so I could listen to Mom's favorite radio station.  I guess that was my version of headphones.  (Mom and I also watched American Bandstand together, but I'll save that story for another day.)

I'd love to know what ever happened to that old console.  It gave me hours of enjoyment.  Years later, I stumbled upon one at a flea market or garage sale (I've forgotten the details), had it refinished, and brought out the rippled oak grain.  It worked just fine and was a beautiful piece of furniture.  Then I moved and gave it to my brother-in-law, who still owns it.  Every time I visit him, I gaze upon it longingly.  But it does look great in his modern loft.

As I got older, I graduated to smaller radios.  My transistor radio was my constant companion to and from school in my teens, and sat on the window sill while I washed dishes (my nightly chore back then).  I can't say much for the sound quality, though!

Then there was the night in the 60s when my brother called to me from his room, "Hey, Lori, you've got to  hear this!"  He was listening to his transistor radio, which was playing the Beatles, "Love Me Do."  It was the first time I heard of the Beatles.

I also have a vivid memory of listening to "She's a Woman" by the Beatles on my grandmother's bedside powder blue clock radio.  (Now there's an image for you.)  One Sunday afternoon, while the rest of the family shouted and hollered to a Buffalo Bills football game, I had retreated to Nanny's bedroom for some quality time with WKBW (Buffalo's only rock-and-roll station back then).

Hugh Masekela once said that the first time he heard music on the radio, he thought the musician was actually inside of the radio, and he decided that some day HE would get inside of the radio.  And he did!

I'd love to hear about YOUR radio days.  I think I'll turn on my radio now (the more modern version, live streaming from my computer).  But don't worry, I won't put my head next to the speaker. 

Time Travelin' -- The Final Frontier

     Well, here I am at Camp Granada -- er -- Catalina -- a lovely outpost just north of Tucson, Arizona.  The sun is shining, the cacti are prickling, the mountains are rising majestically out of the land as if they have something to say about it all.  And here I sit, wondering what I have to say about songwriting. ... (click below to read more)

More Time Travelin'

Time Travelin'

Happy Birthday, John Lennon

CD Progress

9/12/10:  The gestation period's over.  Tomorrow a master copy of our new CD, House of  Glass, will leave our nest and fly to our disc manufacturer.  Soon, hundreds of little "houses of glass" will be running around looking for their new owners.  We just finished the final cover design this week.  This turned out to be very challenging but rewarding in the end.  For packaging, we opted to go green this time with a "digipak."  (Hope you like the final product, our labor of love.)

 

9/24/10:  After seeing the proofs of our CD artwork, we decided to make a few teensy, weensy changes.  In other words, it took about four hours of agonizingly painful work using our new graphics program that we don't really understand.  We're musicians, not computer geeks!  But somehow we managed to have something that we like even better than before.  Luckily, our CD manufacturer, Oasis, is very understanding and allows one resubmission at no extra cost!  So, all we lost was a week of production time.  (And we gained a few new gray hairs!) 

 

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