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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Leaves, Books, Memories

SK Waller in Fort Worth
Enjoying the hotel life

Getting back into the swing after my week in Fort Worth has been a bit of a struggle. Coming back home to housework, refilling prescriptions, taking care of business, and my usually placid day-to-day lifestyle hasn’t been easy. Okay, I admit it. I really enjoyed the hotel life. Really enjoyed it. I enjoyed working on music with Wade Johnson (who’s in the studio as I write this, recording one of the two songs we wrote together), and I loved going out to hear live music with him and his wife, Terri.  When I was younger I went out like this with friends every week of my life, but these days I’m lucky if I get out once a year. So here I am in my wing back chair with the cat beside me while a driveway full of leaves begs to be raked. Am I going to get up off my butt and do that though? No. Not today. And not tomorrow, either. Probably on Saturday, but it may wait until Sunday. Or next week. I can’t seem to bring myself back to writing, either, damn it. I spent Monday on the house thinking it would free me up to spend the rest of the week finishing Book 2, but it, like the leaves outside, waits. In the meantime—until I can locate my motivation—here are some photos of the night we went to The Railhouse to listen (and dance!) to A Band Of Brothers, a great group that played everything from country to R&B.

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With Wade and Lynette
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With Terri and Lynette (Don’t ask about the 13. I have no idea why I grabbed it; it was just our table number)
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With Wade Johnson, my music buddy since 1972
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A Woman Walks Into a Bar…

hotelbar

It has long been a secret desire of mine to spend my life living in a hotel. It doesn’t matter where, although the larger the city, the more appealing that life becomes. If money were no object, if family could re-adjust the values I planted in them about hearth and home, kith and kin, yeah, I could live indefinitely in a hotel. Sure, having your room cleaned, your laundry washed, and your bed made by someone else every day, not to mention the convenience of hotel restaurants, room service, reduced long-term rates and all that, makes it a sweet trade off for utility bills and fees we pay to “sit tight,” but there’s more to it than that. Hotel life isn’t for people with children, dependent elderly parents, or collectors of Hummel figurines, but it works for some people.

The thing I love best about spending any real time in a hotel (more than three or four days) is sitting in the bar late at night, say, an hour or two before last call. This is when you see every sort of human being, or at least those who can afford at least one night away from home. In the course of my life I’ve sat in a lot of hotel bars studying humanity as I sipped at my two glasses of white wine appearing, I like to imagine, to be someone who’s treating herself to a nightcap after a long day at some creative endeavor. If I’m not in a hotel for some cool reason (in London it was the recording business; in Venice, Florida and Vienna I was on film location; in Spokane I was featured in a film during a film festival), I’ll stretch the truth a tiny bit to give people what they’d really like to hear. Let’s face it. Hearing someone say, “I’m here on music business” is more exciting than saying, “I’m tagging along with my spouse who’s attending a conference.” But I never stretch the truth to an out-and-out lie. This week I have worked on music with Wade Johnson, a local musician, so that’s what I’ve said when asked. “I’m working on writing some songs with a local artist.” That I’m in an 4-star hotel leads people to believe this is some kind of big deal. Why not cap on that? What harm is it? Why do I do this? That’s easy. I live by the old show biz adage: “GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT.” So sue me.

It doesn’t matter in what city I’ve stayed, or what hotel. As long as they have a bar the clientele never changes. There’s the woman in the slinky dress sitting on the corner of the bar sipping a split of champagne. Is she a hooker? Hard to tell. There’s the older businessman, distracted, but eyeing the women from either the end of the bar or from a table while he tries to look important as he makes text after text. There’s the loudmouth who bellows about his room, the service, the price of the drinks, anything he can think of. Anything to be noticed by everyone else, who largely ignores him. He’s the one who pisses off the bartender, who angrily throws the empty beer bottles in the trash with a deafening clang while she impatiently watches the last fifteen minutes of her shift tick by on the clock. There’s the couple, usually sitting at a corner table kissing and nuzzling, preparing to go upstairs to their room for a night of wild monkey love. There’s the dad who slipped down to the bar for a beer (no glass) after his wife and kids finally fell alseep in their room. There’s the group of conventioneers complaining about the traffic and sweating themselves through glasses of Jim Beam and gobbling the overpriced burger plate while trying to outdo each with  how early their wake up calls are going to come in. And then there’s me, sitting at the bar, largely invisible, listening to the conversations and studying the human condition.

Yeah. That’s what I love about hotel life. It’s not about the room or the service or the little soaps, it’s about the people. Forget the gym, forget the pool, forget the spa. The bar is the only place you’ll encounter hotel humanity.

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Written and posted from the Sheraton Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX

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Over the Southern Border

fortworth

A week from Monday we’ll be going to Fort Worth, Texas for a few days. For Lynette it’s a business trip, but for me it’s a chance to get out of town to write, walk around downtown, linger in coffeehouses and pubs, or just sit on my arse and look out our hotel room window at the city below. Who knows?

We’ve made plans to get together with family who live in Dallas, and I have an old Ventura County friend, drummer/songwriter Wade Johnson, who lives next door in Arlington. We met back in 1972 when we were young, irrepressible musicians looking for our place in the Hollywood – Laurel Canyon scene. We’ll be getting together for dinner as a foursome one evening and then alone one afternoon to work on a song or two. The area has a booming music scene so I’m hoping to catch some live bands. I’m still researching that.

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With Wade at Band Tree V

Texas and Oklahoma have been locked in a feud forever I’m told, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Texas at different times in my life and I’ve always enjoyed it. I almost moved to Houston after spending a month there in the early 1970s. I liked it that much. I’ve also spent some time in Austin and liked it.  I’ve never been to Fort Worth or Dallas, though, except for passing through on the interstate, so this will be a new experience. As a native Californian I’m not involved in the feud. I can’t even say I understand it, but there you go.

Anyway, my next entry could very well be from Fort Worth.

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