Perpetual Motion

Life Is Good

I hardly know what to do with myself. Going from zero to 85 mph is amazing, but I may be driving the people around me (in both the real and virtual worlds) a bit crazy. You must remember that I’ve been battling Hashimoto’s Disease for the past 9 years, which left me, basically, a semi-invalid. Well, that’s how long it’s been since I was diagnosed. There were about 10 years before that when I went undiagnosed. But that’s a long sad song that mama don’t wanna sing no more. A few weeks ago I decided that this summer would be one of whipping this property into shape. That means.

  • Cutting back and shaping the overgrown Holly hedge that lines the south side of the house,
  • Cutting back three overgrown shrubs around the front porch,
  • Pruning and shaping the roof-tall bush thing against the NW corner,
  • Taming about a gazillion tufts of wild, crazy Monkey Grass (Liriope) all around the entire house and along the driveway as flowerbed borders,
  • The yearly purge of the Funky Flowerbed,
  • Shaping the ancient Honeysuckle vine on the backyard fence,
  • Ripping down the Virginia Creeper that took over the front porch and the English Ivy,
  • Lopping and pruning nine mature trees, and
  • Doing something with the flowerbed beneath the master bedroom bay.

Two weeks ago I started slowly, working on the bush thing, a boxwood, and some of the trees. Weekend before last I began tackling the Holly hedge and ended up with soreness and stiffness all over, and a wasp sting. Late last week I worked on some of the other trees and the Monkey Grass in the back yard. I even discovered a brick pad and flowerbed edging that had been hidden since who knows how long. I took the week off to recover and then set in last Saturday and Sunday with a vengeance. I guess I’m slowly getting myself in shape, because I did more in one weekend that I’ve done in all the time we’ve lived here. I still have a long way to go, but I have all summer and autumn. This summer isn’t about results; that will be next year when new plantings will have matured a bit and mature ones are back to snuff after their radical pruning. Now my biggest problem is getting rid of all the yard waste.

The Funky Flowerbed with wild, crazy Monkey Grass
The Funky Flowerbed with wild, crazy Monkey Grass

Turns out all this yard work is working wonders on my energy, my physical strength, my endurance, and my mood! I’d be out there right now, but it’s about 100º and I don’t wish to die of heat stroke, thank you very much. The secret to it all is just pacing myself, not an easy thing for me since I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of boundless energy. But I’m working on it. And I’m appreciating my dad a little more every day. I saw him slow down, although he didn’t do it gracefully until he was diagnosed with cancer and had to. Dear old Dad. I wish I had his Shredder-Bagger.

Outside of those above, I’m not posting any photos because I’d rather do that next year when I have some really good “after” shots to go with the “before” shots I’m taking as I go along. What next? It’s supposed to be 86 on Friday so I’ll take advantage by finishing the beds around the front porch (including the Funky Flowerbed). The Holly hedge will have to wait until the second half of the month when we’re expecting the temps to drop into the 80s. During these hot days I’ve been sprucing up the front porch and lightening up the inside of the house. Maybe next spring I’ll tackle painting the exterior. The way I’m going, I figure I’ll be in top form by then!

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I’ll Decide

Guilt

Maybe I’ve finally reached an age where I just can’t be bothered by shit anymore. Maybe I’ve finally reached that magical place where the opinions of people—even my own inner bitch—just don’t matter to me. And believe me, I tell my inner bitch to shut up all the time, although I never say it to people. With them, I just tune it out until I can walk away. See that vacuous little half-smile? That’s me thinking, “I really don’t care and I wish you’d just shut up now”

I didn’t use to be like this. I’d grown accustomed to the voices of guilt haranguing me about nearly everything I did. All those little nagging accusations: you can’t, you should, you shouldn’t, you must, you mustn’t, etc., etc. My biggest beef (pun intended) is the whole food obsession that plagues the country. Don’t eat meat, don’t eat gluten, don’t eat sugar, don’t drink, don’t, don’t, don’t. I’m over it! I quit! Look. I know I’ll never have the 105-pound figure I had until I was 30. That’s not even reasonable and what’s more, it would be damned unhealthy at my age. Sure, I’ve gained a little weight, but it stabilized years ago. I eat healthily enough, but I don’t obsess. I still fit into the jeans I bought 10 years ago.

Personally, I’m just sick and tired of all the labels. I don’t want to label myself by what I believe, eat, wear, drive, listen to, or whom I love. I’m a human and I eat food, not nutrients. I like food, my diet is balanced, I’m not gaining weight, so leave me the hell alone. Go eat your tofurkey and have a happy life. Why is what I eat any of your business, anyway? I’m tired of food being a religion with all its sects and denominations, and the ensuing arguments and pontificating that always arise. If I want ribs that’s my business and if I want that teaspoon of sugar in my coffee every morning that’s my business as well. And although I will never buy a fur, I claim the right to decide that for myself, not to be dictated to by someone toting a can of red spray paint in their backpack.

Ever since the late Sixties I’ve lived with these inner and outer voices nagging me. First it was meat. All the hippies went on a crusade to make the world vegetarian. Then it was breakfast. Remember the oat bran craze of the 1980s? Then it was fats and dairy and white four and blah, blah, blah. More recently it’s gluten and sugar and literally everything. This food obsession reverberates from a myriad of haranguing voices on the internet telling everyone what to and what not to eat. And precious few of these voices belong to actual nutritional experts. They belong to people who are so insecure with themselves, they need to bring as many sheep into their fold as will make them feel validated. To all of them and the voices they’ve planted in my brain I say, SHUT THE FUCK UP! I’m putting this teaspoon of sugar in my coffee. I’m eating this bacon. I’m ordering the dessert.

And I’m wearing my Crocs, too.

The real issue is balance, of course. We’re surrounded by extremes and extremists on all sides. How about a little common sense? It’s a hell of a lot easier than reading every freaking label on every single item in the supermarket. No one gets out alive anyway, and life is meant to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, we live in a society where enjoyment is now defined by how exciting something is, how loud it can be, how big we can make it, and by how much adrenaline can be released. I’m too old for that shite. For me, enjoyment is about the gentle pleasing of each of the senses and the company of like-minded friends and family. So you and your selfie chums go make duck lips, strike the chicken arm pose, strive for the thigh gap and the 6-pack abs, and go deaf in your boom cars. My friends and I shall be sitting here enjoying wine and these yummy bacon-wrapped shrimp.

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Working On The Chops

singing

When I decided to start performing again, it wasn’t getting back my guitar chops that daunted me. It wasn’t even the thought of being in front of people again, although I’d been driven from performing by crippling stage fright umpteen years ago. It was getting my voice back that scared the bejebus out of me. I mean, I’m 63. Older people’s voices get warbly, their vibrato so wide you could drive a truck through it, right? Controlling vibrato is easy, I told myself. The real problem was regaining the flexibility and range that I used to have.

At my younger peak I had a huge range and I could leap from my lower register to my higher one with ease; I was once described as a vocal acrobat and I wrote songs to spotlight that. Because my range has gotten lower, I know that reaching some of those high notes is going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible. The last time I attempted to sing for people was only a couple of months ago, and I embarrassed myself so badly I decided that was it. I was going to get it all back. Granted, I attempted a song that was way too hard, especially without any warm-up and I’d had a bit of wine, but I’m used to wowing people, and that attempt nearly crushed me. That’s when I got serious. My voice was the one thing I’d always had unshakable confidence in, and I wasn’t going to take this crap. So I started practicing with my also long-lost single-mindedness.

It wasn’t easy at first. I was used to singing being an effortless joy and suddenly it was a lot of work. It brought no joy and I had no guarantee that my voice would ever be what it was before, or even close. My pitch was still spot on, but my range was limited, my endurance next-to-nothing, and my breath was shallow. Most people don’t realize that the human body is a musical instrument and that “playing” it correctly is hard work. Some even relate it to a sport (I know I certainly do) for which one needs to be in shape in order to use it correctly.

Thanks to my wife, Lynette, who is a professional voice teacher, I’ve learned all sorts of techniques to help me get my voice back in shape. Fifteen years of eavesdropping on her lessons has helped so much. I mean really, how good can it get? I remember back when I was younger and actively performing, I really wanted to take lessons, but couldn’t afford to. Now I get them for free. Is that cool, or what! Of course, I knew that she’s a fantastic teacher, but it just never dawned on me that I could tap her well of knowledge and experience for myself. The thing is, we’ve never had a formal lesson; everything I’ve learned from her has been acquired from overhearing her instruction. Only recently have I begun singing for her and asking for advice. It’s been an organic process, which is the best way for me to learn anything. Formal lessons just aren’t my thing.

The result of this is that not only does my voice have an added depth—not just in the ability to hit lower notes, but in quality—it also is regaining its flexibility. Yesterday in the car Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run came on the radio. I’ve always had a hard time singing along with Paul; he can get up really high without going into falsetto and his range is amazing. As I sang along, I applied one of the support techniques Lynette taught me and I got right up there with him without any warm-up at all. Wow. I couldn’t do that when I was 30! I’ve always considered Paul to be a bit unsung where his voice is concerned. No one sang Long Tall Sally like he did. And remember the long ending of Hey Jude? Amazing voice. Being able to sing the melody with him and not automatically go for the harmony was fun. It also was a shot-in-the-arm. All of this practice is really paying off!

I’ve discovered that the garage is the best place for me to practice, because I can open up and just belt it out when I need to. The house just doesn’t have the acoustics. Where practicing in the house is like singing in a studio, doing so in the garage is like singing in a concert hall.

My next purchase is going to have to be one of those stand up oscillating fans; the garage is getting hotter the deeper we get into summer. I’ve already added it to my list of Must-Haves that I intend to get in a couple of weeks when I order my recording gear. Speaking of which, if you’re so moved, please visit my Indiegogo crowdfunding page. Although this particular campaign ends on July 1st, donations will still be welcomed for the next campaign, which is to get a small amp and to cover the costs of CD manufacturing. Also, you might like to subscribe to my mailing list (check the side bar) so that you’ll know when my CD is released and when I’ll be performing. You might even want to host a house concert for your friends and family. It’s fun!

So today I plan to practice some more; I like to practice about two hours every day, especially now that I’m hearing real progress. At this rate I may even be able to dust off a few of my songs I thought were going to be impossible.

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Irons In The Creative Fire

House Concert

Lately, I’ve had a l lot proverbial irons in the fire, mentally. Preparing to set out on the road that I thought I’d abandoned so many years ago has left me feeling a bit uncertain about what’s out there waiting for me. Indy music and musicians aren’t anything new, house concerts aren’t new, and self-produced recordings aren’t new. I was doing all that 30 years ago and others were doing it generations, centuries, ages before I came along. Well, except for the recordings. But, for the sake of keeping it manageable and personal, I’ll stick to drawing comparisons from my own lifespan, which is daunting enough.

In the 1960s, at least in southern California where I’m from, playing in the living rooms of both friends and strangers was a way of life for most of us just starting out. These impromptu evenings created opportunities for what is today called networking. I’d be invited to someone else’s house the following weekend where I’d meet other people, and so forth. There was never any money exchanged, of course, but there was food and drink, and the hope that some chance encounter might lead to my being “discovered” by someone who knew someone in Hollywood who might invite me to perform at their house in the Hills, in Malibu, or in Laurel Canyon. This is exactly what happened that led me to Peter Tork‘s house in the Canyon. This also happened—or almost happened—in San Francisco where a chance performance landed me an invitation to take my guitar to a party at Bob Weir‘s house in Mill Valley. Unfortunately, this never materialized due to circumstances beyond my control. In California, anything is possible, and the degrees of separation are much less than they might be elsewhere.

It was only later in the early 1980s that I attended my first organized house concert. In 1983 I joined Songmakers after hearing about it on Howard and Roz Larman’s show, Folkscene on KPFK. Through their mailed newsletter I learned that musicians still were performing in people’s homes and it excited me. My very first house concert experience was somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, where I saw Golden Bough. I was hooked on the experience and wondered how I could get on “the circuit”. The one thing these performers had that I didn’t have, however, was an album to promote and back then that was no easy thing to manifest. Home recordings sounded homemade and studio time was expensive. I’d been down that route when in 1981 I recorded a four-song demo at Goldmine Recording Studios in Ventura. I did manage a few house concerts, but without an album to sell, I made barely enough to pay for the gas it took to get to and from the venues. And I never made any contacts that might prove beneficial in the future. It was the 80s after all and folk music wasn’t exactly popular at the time with either agents or record labels, much less the general public.

I eventually recorded an album, Veil Between The Worlds, on a borrowed Yamaha Portastudio—an 8-track job that used metallic cassette tapes—and sold a good number of copies at coffeehouses, folk festivals, and local concerts-in-the-park gigs. None of these provided the intimate atmosphere I was looking for, though. Conveying my lyrics is important to me, and competing with bean grinders, kids on jungle gyms, and beer guzzling lawn-sitters was debilitating. My songs have never been background music material. Of the gigs I played during this last gasp of mine, playing the arts centers was the most satisfying. These were real concerts with proper stages in nice sized rooms created for concerts, and audiences sitting in organized rows. I sang and spoke, they listened, and we connected. My last formal performance was at the old Thousand Oaks Arts Center, where I was stunned and delighted to receive a real standing ovation. Not like those today that are given as a matter of course, a standing ovation was a rare and unexpected gift to a performer.

Back then, performing house concerts was easy. No PA system and no fancy lighting, but these days some folks seem to want to bring Carnegie Hall into the living room. Now, if the room is large, sure, you need a suitable sound system, but most living rooms don’t require it. And lights? I prefer the setting to look like a private evening in a friend’s cozy home. I like to look right into the faces of my audience and to connect with them as individuals. I’m quite certain that performers who prefer stage lighting connect with their audiences just fine, but everyone’s different.

As I prepare for my “comeback” house concert in October, I find I have to keep reminding myself not to be sucked into the bigger is better vortex. It’s a constant struggle. In my online research I see amazing photos of house concerts with colored gel floodlights and pin spotlights and I think, wow, that would be cool. Then I think about it and decide that low room lighting using existing table lamps and candles is what I really want. I do have an antique floor lamp that I want to place in the corner, draped, behind me, but that’s all. And sound… the temptation to use a small Acoustic amp and and vocal mic is strong. If I can swing buying the amp by then, I’ll use it. If not, I’ll be just as happy.

The other thing on my mind is making my album this summer. I’d like to keep it basic—just me and my guitar with minimal overdubbing of harmonies—but then there are the blues songs that beg for a lead guitarist and a backup vocalist, and the desire to orchestrate a particular ballad. It’s a lot to consider and these irons in the fire of my creativity are getting hotter and hotter. The trick will be to keep things simple, and that’s never been easy for me in anything I do.

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