What It All Means

I first encountered Bob Dylan in 1964 when I was asked to perform Blowin’ In The Wind at an Elks dinner in Ballard, California. I was a tender 12 at the time and I’d actually been asked to perform two songs that night. The other was If I Had A Hammer. I’d heard that song the year before on the popular TV show, Hootenanny! but I’d never heard Blowin’. I loved that show. I’d watched Sing Along With Mitch and played albums by Joe and Eddie, the Kingston TrioOdetta and many others since I was a kid so when Hootenanny! aired, I was hooked. It was in fact the popular single, Walk Right In by the Rooftop Singers that fired my obsession with the 12-string guitar so I guess you can say I’m a folkie from way back.

Someone pointed me to Bob Dylan so that I could learn Blowin’ In The Wind for that gig, but I think I learned it from the cover by Peter, Paul & Mary. I liked the song. I thought it was pretty, but it was the lyrics that grabbed me. It sounded like an anthem. It was saying something important, a message I’d heard many times before, but this time it was delivered in a way that was like a bullet in the brain. I had to find the original recording.

When I brought home The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and tore off the cellophane wrapping, I had no idea my life was about to change and that it would continue to change and evolve for the entire time I’d walk this planet. I think I’d been prepared, though. I think all of those folksingers before had been leading me up that path, some gently—the Kingston Trio, for instance—and some not so gently, like Odetta. On that afternoon Dylan became a lifelong mentor. Oh, he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t even know I exist, but his work affected me like it has affected so many other songwriters. It’s safe to say I don’t where the hell I’d be musically if he hadn’t happened. I don’t know where music would be.

This Photoshopped image, taken from Dylan’s 1965 Subterranean Homesick Blues video, has always pissed me off. How many people have I spoken to about Dylan whose first reaction was, “He can’t sing”? There are a lot of popular artists—always have been—who can’t sing. Most popular music through the years hasn’t been moored to an ability to croon like Sinatra or Caruso so why have these people assigned Dylan as their poster child?

Something else threatens them. It’s not that he can’t sing, it’s that they don’t understand what he’s singing about and why he sings like he does, and they don’t want to investigate, even passively, by simply listening. Taking time to understand anything is nothing but work for lazy thinkers. When they run into something they don’t get any deeper than the surface level, instead of exploring it, they attack it. They mock and ridicule because it’s easy. At a very young age I learned that when someone made fun of something or someone, they were only revealing their lack of curiosity. And if intelligence is anything, it’s curiosity. If they sat down, turned off their phones and listened to Dylan they’d discover he was performing rap back when their grandparents were dancing to the music of Motown, Surf, and the British Invasion.

This being said, I already know that many of you won’t take the time to listen to the video below. That’s ok. I’m not trying to make converts, I’m sharing something with the curious, the active thinkers, the people who like to understand things. Even those of you who stay might be tempted to stop listening when Dylan starts talking about Moby Dick, but I urge to you hang in there. It’s a trip worth taking and in true Dylan fashion, his voice with its unique rhythms and meters becomes almost hypnotic. Please, please, turn off the TV, silence your phone and get rid of possible distractions. This is not background, this is not passive listening. You will have to listen and think.

P.S. The title of this post will mean nothing to you unless you listen to the video.

Many thanks to Wade Johnson and Pat Flynn for introducing me to this.

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It’s Alright, Ma, It’s Life and Life Only

I’ve been rather absent from the world this week.  Outside of my morning rounds, I’ve stayed out of social media. I can’t say I’ve gotten a lot accomplished, but it feels as if I’ve been resting up or conserving my energies for something. I don’t think something bad looms ahead, though, because I feel extremely positive. So what have I been doing?

  1. I’ve watched the world go by outside my window and have felt no compunction to join in or entertain feelings of guilt for this passivity.
  2.  I’ve watched a fair amount of telly at night, mostly documentaries on a wide variety of subjects from English gardens to the history of China and Mongolia.
  3. I’ve slept, slept, and slept some more. I’ve allowed myself to nap anytime my brain needed to switch off. One morning I took a nap only one hour after my cup of coffee. One night I napped on and off until I finally settled into a deep sleep as the sun came up. Where sleeping and eating are concerned, I followed my body clock, not the one that sits on the bookshelf.
  4. I’ve spent a lot of time with the cats. Or maybe I should say they’ve spent a lot of time with me. I guess I can say I became one of them this week, and they seemed to like this, even tolerating each other to be near me.
  5. I’ve hardly answered my phone, texted only with Nettl, and avoided the internet, except to search things to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime, or to daydream on Realtor.Com.

In essence, outside of doing some laundry and changing the bed linens, I’ve done absolutely nothing and it was everything I dreamed it could be. But today marks the end of this freeform existence. Tonight I’m making dinner for the guys and me, tomorrow is our little New Year’s Eve Not-A-Party party, and on Sunday evening Nettl returns from New York. On Monday, we’re taking down the holiday decorations, and then life returns to normal on Tuesday.

I’m glad I was able to eventually turn off the voice of the Guiltmaster in my head. It took a couple of days, but I finally succeeded. That alone gave me the vacation I needed; I didn’t realize how much it dominated both my conscious and unconscious thoughts every single hour of my life. It’s an ongoing battle, but as long as I gain new footing and new strengths, I know I’m winning.

And so here we are at the cusp of a new year. Instead of tritely wishing you a Happy New Year, I’ll wish you the ability to make it what you’d like it to be. None of us are victims unless we choose to be, we create our own realities depending on what we expect and feel we deserve. I have good feelings about 2017 despite all the naysayers and Gloomy Gusses. Trump will be inaugurated, some people will continue to abuse each other, and ageing celebrities will continue to die. I’m not focusing on these things as I enter the new year, though, because I also know the sun will continue to rise each morning, some people will go on loving and helping each other, tomorrow’s poets and thinkers will continue to be born, and  that I will continue to write and sing and dance. It is dark ages, after all, from which golden ages spring.

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You Might Be Cool, But…

You’ll never be as cool as…

Brian Jones wearing earrings on his lapels
…Brian Jones wearing earrings on his lapels,
donovan-posing-with-jennifer-juniper
…Donovan posing with Jennifer Juniper,
dylan-playing-chess-in-woodstock
…Bob Dylan playing chess in Woodstock,
jimi-brushing-his-fro
…Jimi Hendrix brushing his fro,
jimi-hendrix-drinking-wine-on-this-bed
…Or drinking wine on his Boho bed,
john-lennon-not-knowing-where-the-fook-he-is
…John Lennon not knowing where the fook he is,
john-not-caring-that-his-flys-open
…Or swaggering along not caring that his fly is open,
keith-richards-doing-a-fan-dance
…Keith Richards doing a fan dance,
paul-george-taking-a-stroll-through-the-park
…Paul McCartney and George Harrison strolling through the park,
pre-glam-bowie
…Pre-Glam Bowie,
robert-plants-arse
…Robert Plant’s arse,
salvador-dali-trying-to-look-one-third-his-actual-age
…Salvador Dali trying to look one-third his actual age,
the-strawberry-alarm-clock-striking-the-chicken-arm-pose
…The Strawberry Alarm Clock striking the ‘Chicken Arm’ pose,
this-chick-period
…This chick. Period.
this-collection-of-trousers
…This collection of trousers,

 

whoevers-wearing-this-coat-and-hat
…And whoever’s wearing this coat and hat.
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Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye

cohenAs if everything else hasn’t gone bollocks up this year, yet another ill wind has blown in carrying the news of Leonard Cohen’s passing. I know he was 82 and I know he’s given his entire life to our enrichment, but damn. Now? This is like an aftershock that comes after a devastating earthquake. Although it’s impossible to imagine this world (especially now) without his presence, I know it’ll be all right—as long as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or some other Master of the Pen doesn’t decide to follow after him.

Forget I said that. Nix, nix, nix.

Cohen has been an active part in my career as a folk musician. I performed his “Since You Asked” in my very first gig and quickly added “Suzanne” and “Sisters of Mercy” to my repertoire. I wanted to do “Chelsea Hotel,” but it didn’t sound right sung by a girl of 19 at the time. I regret that decision now. I should have just sung it and let the audience shoot sideways glances at each other. That was a long time ago, though. I may learn it now. What the hell? I’ve played it safe for too long.

As a Facebook friend commented on Tuesday after the election returns came in, “Looks like David Bowie WAS holding the fabric of the universe together, after all.” With Leonard Cohen gone, the entire time/space continuum may very well evaporate.

leonard
Farewell, dear bard.
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