Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

insomniaMaybe I spoke too soon about no longer being an insomniac. Maybe it’s something that’s become part of me, or at least has woven itself into the fabric of my life. I didn’t nap a lot during the day; just one nap in the afternoon after an amazing Easter dinner. And I had only one cup of coffee all day, and that was in the morning. No other caffeine drinks, either, just water. I have nothing bothering me, no worries or stress. So why in hell was I up until 5 am?

When I finally got to sleep, I had bad dreams. Well, bad dreams always go along with insomnia. For me, anyway. I think I finally fell into a good sleep somewhere around 7:00, only to wake up an hour and-a-half later. Looks like I’ll be fighting off the nap gremlins around 3:00 today, their usual time of appearance after a night like last night. Usually, I use my late nights for writing, but I’m still kind of beat after Friday night’s party and I wrote throughout the early evening. Maybe that’s the culprit. No! Don’t tell me I can’t write in the evenings anymore! I can’t write in the mornings because I have too much brain fog! No! Go away!

I know how this goes, though. I’ll feel like this until around 2:00 and then I’ll be chipper and wanting to do things. So I wait.

My friends and I had a great time at my party on Friday night. Just the usual silliness, but we haven’t gotten together like that since… when?… New Year’s Eve 2013? Really? Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve been uncharacteristically introverted—nah, I’ve been downright anti-social—for over a year now, so having my closest pals over to play was especially uplifting. Maybe I’m just still wound up from that. When I was a kid my mom had a hard time getting me settled down after I’d been to a birthday party. If she didn’t I’d fall into a tiredness that often left me with a fever. What the hell was that about?

We’ve entered the worst time of the year here in Oklahoma. The entire middle of this week will be spent with one eye on the western skies and the other on weather alerts. Stillwater is relatively safe due to its topography, but we’ve had a tornado or two fall within the city limits. We have no shelter at this house, and only one tiny closet to hide in if we have to (I won’t go to a public shelter because I can’t bring my pets), so if we got hit, it would be iffy for us. But I don’t really worry about these things anymore. I’ve been here long enough to become one of those stupid people who go outside to have a look-see when the sirens go off. Well, you know how it is, don’t you? Our sirens have to go off if a tornado of any size touches down anywhere in Payne County, and I’m not going to stuff myself into a tiny closet with three other adults, a dog, and two cats if the touchdown is 20 miles away. When we’re in a tornado warning, or even a watch, I keep my laptop set to this awesome page. Just the visual facts, no sensationalist weather anchors vying for ratings.

And it’s Monday. Hope you make yours a good one. As for me, it may require another pot of coffee… and a Benadryl tonight.

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Hindsight & Letting Go

Hindsight, they say, is 20-20, but I must have an astigmatism or something, because it takes me a long time to focus. One indication of this is popular music of different eras. Outside of the 1960s and the first half of the ’70s, I liked very little of what was popular at the time. These days, however, I’m able to turn back to the music of the 1980s and even some of the ’90 and like a lot of what I hear. For me, the same holds true—in reverse—where my own music is concerned.

My regular readers, those who have migrated with me from my old blog, know what I mean when I use the term, “The Big Dump of 2001.” For the rest of you, here’s a brief explanation: Through a scam enacted against me by a storage facility in Denver, in 2001 I lost nearly everything I owned. I wasn’t alone. both my mother and my eldest son lost their things as well. Family heirlooms, musical instruments, an entire collection of family photographs, correspondence dating back to the late 1800s, furniture, art, and nearly every piece of music and song I’d ever penned. It has taken me years to lose the hole in my gut this loss created and even now, late at night when I’m trying to sleep, the ghosts come back to torture me. Usually, I can philosophize it, but it’s not easy. Up until just this week, though, I counted my music as the greatest loss to me. I mourned that loss for years.

But the other day during rehearsal it occurred to me that this particular loss might actually be a blessing. Knowing I could never do it myself, the Universe cleaned my files, so to speak, tossing out all the stuff that wasn’t quite up to par. It became obvious to me that the songs I do remember are the good ones. When a fragment of one came back to me as I sat there, I realized that it, frankly, just wasn’t a good song. This gives me the unique opportunity to start building a really good body of work now that I’m more seasoned as a musician and better versed as a lyricist. Like stones in my pockets, the old stuff was holding me down. You know the kind of stuff I mean. Those songs, poems, stories, paintings, whatever, that you kind of cringe at whenever you come across it. The stuff that has a way of gently nipping at your confidence.

The newer songs I’ve written, those penned in the past five years, are really pretty good, if I say so myself. I have more creative muscle than I had when I was younger. I’m better at discerning good songs from bad, and I’m not afraid to be brutal with myself while I’m at it. And best of all, I won’t have all that old stuff for people to pick apart after I’m gone.

Toni Morrison Quote

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Behind the Lash and the Circles Blue

Joni Mitchell

It’s hard to describe the immensity of the influence Joni Mitchell’s music has had over both my music, my personal life, and even my artistic direction. I didn’t hear her until KNX-FM in LA played her song, The Priest one winter day in 1969. FM radio was still rather new in those days and it brought with it commercial-free, sophisticated music. Instead of pop singles, FM’s playlists were made up mostly of album cuts, introducing listeners to music not deemed “hit material” by AM stations. Once I discovered FM I never went back to AM. While I know that I’m not the only singer-songwriter who fell under Joni’s spell all those years ago, her music had a way of feeling personal. Simpatico. But then again, I wasn’t alone in this. Not by a long shot.

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I first heard her name when I was singing outside the fish and chips shop in Haight-Ashbury, playing my 12-string and trying to earn enough to buy some dinner. A guy stopped and listened to me for a while, then said to me, “You sound a lot like Joni Mitchell.” I wasn’t too happy to hear that; I’d worked very hard to develop a guitar and vocal style that would be all mine. When my stint in the Haight was over, I went back home to southern California. I’d forgotten the name, but not the comparison. When I finally heard her I realized I was in trouble. It was Joni’s upbeat songs that made my heart sink, as much as I liked them. The rhythms, the strumming, the chording… songs like Conversation and Chelsea Morning were enough like some of my own songs that I knew I was going to be thought of as an imitator rather than an innovator. I heard the comments from time-to-time, but I never really knew what to do about it.

But Joni was something beyond what I was. Exceptional, something else, indefinable. She is a Renaissance Woman of the highest order. Between Joni Mitchell and Anaïs Nin, the decade of my early twenties was a time of radical change, of recreating myself almost daily, of learning how to live artfully by treating my life as if it were my canvas. They taught me to run toward love, afraid of missing an experience rather than of being hurt. They taught me to express myself through anything I put my hand to, and they taught me to be unapologetic where my identity as an artist is concerned. What a pair of women to have as muses!

A year later I was living in Laurel Canyon, in a house where Joni had spent a great deal of time when Steven Stills lived in it around the time of Woodstock. We knew many of the same people, but we never met. We always just missed each other. The first time I heard her Blue album, I was sitting in a beanbag chair looking out at the city below late one night, headphones on. She’d gone far beyond where I was, musically. I no longer had to worry about being compared to her. (You can read an old blog entry I wrote about this period of my life by clicking here.) Encountering her music actually sent me in another direction, though, one that worked well for me through the following years.

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Joni painting by the pool at Shady Oak, the house I lived in not long after.

As I write this, Joni is in the hospital after having been found unconscious in her home in LA. I hope morning brings good news, but if not, we need not fear losing her, because the music and the poetry of both her work and her life will remain to inspire us for a long, long time.

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Visit Joni Mitchel.Com

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