Giant (Stan Rogers Cover)

Happy Samhain, here’s a track for the beginning of the Dark Half of the year:

Giant (Stan Rogers Cover)

I’ve never seen a stone circle, but it’s one of the things I hope to do next summer. I dream of singing this song at some circle, perhaps Callanish, or wherever else seems right. Seems only fair, after all the times I’ve sung it, and all the images that have come to me while so doing. The finding of the proper place will be as much fun as the singing, if not more so.

I’ve sung this song a lot over the last few days, in BART stations, and last night at the Freight and Salvage. I even sang it today for Giants fans. After all, what else did I have that was even remotely related to baseball? People were so high from the parade that most of them didn’t really care, as long as it had a beat–if they noticed me at all, that is.

Playing in BART stations is proving to be quite rewarding, as long as money isn’t the yardstick. My voice is improving, and I’m building a repertoire that’s more interesting than just the stuff I used to do at Faire. Giant, for instance, is a Stan Rogers song and something that could never have been written in any other era but our own. If you’ve never heard him before, you are in for a treat–and you really should hear Giant from his lips, he does it better than I ever will.

Tonight, after all, is a night for ancestors, and Stan Rogers is definitely one of mine, musically speaking. He and all the others whose recordings played for me tirelessly till I got it right–or at least got all the notes in the right place, made me the singer and drummer that I am. I hope someday to be good enough to do that service for musicians as yet unborn, should my own songs stand the test of time. I might stand at the forefront now, carrying their tunes on my breath, but others have to take up the songs or they die. Even caught as they can be now, on magnetic tape or bits of code, songs have to be sung, not just listened to. The great gift of recorded music can be a curse as well, causing us to shut our mouths if we don’t believe that we measure up to what we hear. So I sing Stan Rogers, and Bert Jansch, and even Todd Rundgren on occasion, and use their perfectly preserved bests as inspirations and teachers, a way to get better than I am now. A way to hitch my wagon to a star, as my ancestors bade me do.

Freedom Is Only The Beginning


Freedom is a really dangerous concept. All true sources of power are. That’s why it’s so important to know where your own idea of freedom lies, and realize what pursuing it really means.

For me, this is an ongoing conversation. The answers are different every day, because the choices change. Asking the question keeps me awake, because it’s very easy to fall asleep, because plenty of people are always out there trying to sell us their idea of freedom, and get us to give them our time, energy–and money, in its pursuit.

So first, what is freedom to you? If you could do anything with your life, what would it be?

This isn’t an easy question, but it’s one of the most important ones you can ask. Without it, you are at the mercy of those who will define the boundaries of your life for you.

For example, I’ve been handed two very large chunks of freedom over the past year. First, I was handed back a large amount of my time in the form of an hours cut and a schedule change. Three whole days a week are now mine to pursue my dreams, and I can actually get up at a decent hour instead of having to be out of the house long before daylight. On top of that, I was handed most of the money to take the trip I’ve wanted to make for most of my life.

You’d think I had it made, no? Well, yes, but now I have to make it real. In order to do that, there are choices to make, questions to answer. For me, it’s where to go and when. What does my music want of me, and how do I turn that into a livelihood? Do I busk today, blog, or write music? What’s fit to record, and what’s the next step to the album? What shape does a life making music have?

Where in your life are you? Your choices are different at age twenty than they are at age fifty.

Having a mortgage, a family and a job is a very different situation than being twenty with a backpack and an instrument. Both have their advantages. Having a day job, and a growing livelihood at the same time, is a constant process of switching gears. A life as an employee is easy, just show up on time and do as you’re told. Creativity is possible, but it is exercised within narrow lines, in service to the organization one is part of. Being able to just take off and put your whole life into your dreams is scary, but can be the fast track. Knowing what you really want is the hard part.

If you found yourself free to do anything tomorrow, what would you do? Where would you start?

Truly, you are already free. We all are. We make choices every day, to go to work, to school, to do nothing at all. Why do you do what you do, and what parts of it are meaningful to you?

So freedom isn’t free. That has always been true, but the meaning of those words is fluid, and easily twisted. Fighting for freedom is certainly one of them, but if things have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of warfare, we have been asleep at the switch. I’m thinking more in terms of the person who has just won the lottery and quit their job. Many people daydream about that, and about what they’d do if it happened to them, but very, very few are ready for it when it happens to them.

What do you need to do in order to bring your life in line with your awareness?

What are your goals? What can you do right now? This year? Where do you want to be in ten years? Is it possible to pursue your freedom within an existing organization, or do you need to strike out on your own? Can you build this life beside your existing job and pursue it after retirement?

It took me from last summer to now to make a dent in any of these questions. I had to be flat on my back for a couple of weeks before I was forced to consider them seriously. I had begun the process, done some basic things like acquired a good mic and created a place to work, and then suddenly I was unable to do anything at all. I choose to view this as a blessing, the chain of events that put me on the road I’m on now. I hope you choose an easier way to put yourself on your own path, if you aren’t already walking it.

If you are walking this path, where are you? How did you get there? Where are you going from here?

If you aren’t, do the questions above have any meaning for you? What questions would you ask? What are your answers?

You need to read this. No, really. This is the sort of post that says what I’d hope my country stands for.

Stone of Destiny

As we get increasingly closer to election day and conversations become more political, I hear more of my friends and acquaintances trying to opt out of these discussions.

“My vote doesn’t count,” they will say.

“There’s not really a difference between the candidates.”

“I’m not political.”

It does — there is — you should be!

“We believe in a nation under God, a nation indivisible, a nation united, a nation with justice and liberty for all. And for that to happen, we’re going to have to have a new president that will commit to getting America working again; that will commit to a strong military; that will commit to a nation under God that recognizes that we the American people were given our rights not by government, but by God himself.”

—Mitt Romney – campaign speech September 9th, 2012

I’m sure that’s all very moving to the more…

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That Perfect Crystalline Moment

We’re all chasing it–the perfect expression of our passion. In art it might be the perfect sentence that expresses that thought completely, the perfect piece of sculpture, the tune that recreates the moment when the song was born. These things can’t be created on command, but the fertile ground on which they grow can be prepared.

The ways this is done are completely different for each of us. That is why they can’t be taught, and that is why the one constant piece of advice we are given in all creative endeavours is to put in the time, to practice often and intensely. Only by doing that can we teach ourselves what our methods are, and only in that way can they evolve over time. Consistency comes from this. The muse is balanced on a knife edge, and we can only take fire from her hands if we develop the skill to stand on that edge with her.

What is your craft and how do you practice it? It doesn’t have to be music, or writing or art. It could be cooking, gardening, or anything that ignites that fire of creation within you. We all have something we love, whether we have discovered it or not. We all practice our passion in some way. This question can be asked anywhere–and it leads to one of my most useful tools. All of us spend a lot of time somewhere where our minds are not necessarily fully engaged. A friend of mine calls this his “sanctuary time.” For me, this time is spent walking, bicycling, or on the bus. You won’t see me with headphones jammed in my ears or a phone in my hand. In fact, you won’t be able to tell me from any of the people packed around me on transit, or walking down the street. Sometimes you might see me with a notebook or iPod in hand, but that just means that some of that time has paid off and I’m putting down the fruits of my labors. Where is your sanctuary time?

A bus is the perfect place to ask yourself questions. If you can block out the constant chatter of cell phones and mp3 players, it’s a place where we’re the most alone. Everyone wants to be somewhere else, and they’re concentrating on anything but the people around them. The interaction between strangers is at a minimum, though those few occasions can also be very fertile. It’s a good time to take a deep breath–or several–and see how it changes you. No one will notice, I do it all the time. For me, it slows me down, cools me to operating temperature. It is a perfect complement to my meditation practice. The focus and concentration I am working on in solitude means nothing if it can’t be created anywhere, anytime. If you can’t block out or otherwise smooth out what’s around you, that’s okay. Believe me, it’s an ongoing practice for me too! Put some background on that mp3 player. Space music, classical, or nature sounds might work for you. What allows you to access the silence within in the midst of chaos?

Transit used to be a little slice of hell for me. I ride at rush hour and it’s always crowded, noisy, and unpleasant. But the fact that I rarely if ever sit down means that I can’t fall into a book as I used to. The fact that there’s always someone who wants to have a loud phone conversation or turn their iPod up to maximum volume makes it the perfect laboratory for bringing practice out into the world. Since I don’t have a car, I am essentially trapped on transit, but many of us feel just as trapped in a car. I invite you to find the places you’re trapped in and see if you can reclaim that time in some way and put it to use. Reclaiming my time and putting it in service to my music is an ongoing process. Since I made the choice to pursue it I’ve been a lot happier. The things that used to drive me nuts still do, but it’s easier to shift my focus back to what really matters because I have something beyond the daily grind.  

I often ask a question that I’m going to ask you now: What would the world look like if everyone was doing what they were meant to do? What if our true work was the coin we used to measure success? That’s impossible, I hear you say. Who would clean the toilets? Who would take out the trash? What if we all did so, I say. What if we all took turns doing what needed to be done? What if we stopped trying to avoid those jobs and just got them out of the way? What if we all left a public restroom or a fast food restaurant table cleaner than we found it? What if we all generated little or no trash? San Francisco’s composting program and the new practice of charging for disposable shopping bags are steps towards this. There are people out there whose passion is to make us a trash-free society. There are people who make their living selling composting toilets. My point is, anything can be your fire. It is the way you add value to your existence, and to the world around you. What if more of us asked the questions that would change the shape of the world around us?

So what is your passion? What would you do with your life if you weren’t having to spend so much time making a living? How can you carve out a little time for it right now, and if you’re already doing so, what strategies are working for you? I really want to know. Because I want to live in that world, where we’re all doing what we love. It all starts with me–and you.

The Best Problem To Have

What is your dream? What would you do if suddenly, it was placed in your hands? I really want to know, because that’s what just happened to me. I really want you to think about these questions, because I’ve done so so often in the past, and perhaps the simple act of doing that opens space for it to happen–and I would love to see your dreams come true too.

What would the world look like if everyone was living their dreams? It would certainly be a different place–but how so? What would disappear? What would appear? Maybe if we share our stories with each other, we’ll build something larger than we can envision right now, as those questions hang in the air between us.

I am going to Ireland. Not two years from now, but this summer. I had a $4000 check dropped in my bowl last week. The first thing I had to ask myself was, ‘is this cheating?’ I didn’t earn it, after all. I soon realized, as I thought about it, that if I hadn’t earned it when it happened, I was sure going to. With the major obstacles removed, a dream becomes a responsibility, something that has to be lived up to. All those things I’d thought were so far in the future are happening now. Instead of two years to plan and accomplish, I have mere months.
What a *wonderful* problem to have!
Once I’d opened that envelope I couldn’t think clearly enough to give a good performance any more. I wasn’t getting tipped, and I didn’t deserve to be, frankly. So I packed up my gear and went around the corner to my credit union and used that check to open a new savings account. Might as well start with what passed for a responsible act, I thought. Then I went back to the BART station and played till I ran out of water.
Everything is happening faster. I took another look at my album songlists and realized that with all that BART station practice, I’m much closer to recording at least one of them than I thought. I don’t want to leave on this trip till that’s done. I also have to earn that last $871.00. An album will do that a lot quicker than the BART station will–and will allow me to submit my music to places that won’t take a single track seriously.
Then there are the mechanics. Where, when, how, what to pack, who to visit, etc. The coffee table is strewn with travel guides and maps. The library is quite accommodating when it comes to such things. If you live near Dublin, or the Isle of Skye, or have heard of Swinton Castle, I would love to hear from you. If you’ve been to an OBOD Summer camp, what was it like? These questions are just the beginning, believe me.



It isn’t fall without a harvest of some kind. This year I am blessed. Tomatoes and peppers in the back yard, my busking, which is a harvest of all those years of practice and skill building that I didn’t realize I was doing. My favorite harvest of all is the crush, though. It is something my dad has done since before I can really remember, and it has accordingly been woven into my life, part of the cycle of the seasons. There have been years without it, but even then, I always think of the grapes in August and September.

At its best, it starts early, early in the morning. Accordingly, we had to get up at the crack of oh-dark-thirty. Of course, if I hadn’t left my wallet and 5# of meat at work, we could have slept in a bit longer, but it did add to the experience I suppose. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge heading for Novato before dawn. We saw the full moon in darkness crossing the Bay Bridge, and tendrils of fog were added to the experience on her more famous sister. It was one of those perfect mornings where the marine layer is low on the water, but the skies are largely clear above. One of those mornings that persuades people to move to San Francisco where they learn what is, to them, the awful truth, that it is indeed cold and gray here most of the time.

We met up in Novato and drove to Windsor. The vineyard was beautiful–they all are, but this one was something special:


We picked merlot, and we had a lot of people this year wanting to have the whole experience. With ten people, we picked 400 lbs. in less than 45 minutes. The fruit was beautiful, sweet and small and perfect:


Since there was really so little work to do, I took a moment to talk to the vines. Muin, the vine, has an ogham correspondence. Some see it as the bramble, others the vine. Having grown up in the Bay Area, I see it in both plants. Muin is the path of the voice, the strength of it to unite as the vine and the bramble climb on the backs of other things to reach the light. Whether that be a trellis, a tree, or an idea, the principle is the same. Muin has a dark side, however. Beautiful words are not necessarily true, and a vine can strangle that which supports it. Wine brings misery as well as joy if its power is not respected and understood.

I didn’t have much time, and frankly, these vines were singing only one song, of joy and completion. They were focused on fruit, twinkling purple and green in my mind, one soaring note of fulfillment. I was busy too, it was all too soon time to leave, to tell the rest of the story, to set the table and the equipment, to coax people into the harvest dance. Come, take off your shoes, wash your feet and feel the grapes between your toes. Just like Lucille Ball, it only feels icky for a moment, till you remember what your ancestors knew. Wine is magic, the god is trampled beneath your feet and rises stronger than before. Plunge your hands into the bin, pick out the stems until the must is soft with grape skins and seeds. Let it rest, and next year we will feast and drink what this year was fruit soaking in the summer sunlight. Or some other year. By now my dad has been doing this so long that there’s always quite a selection. To me, that is the taste of home.


The Quality of Attention

Last week, a performer in his introduction made the following observation. Very loosely quoted: A good listener makes space for the one listened to. And some people take shameless advantage of that.

His words caught my ear. They were so perfectly true, you could tell by the audience reaction that he’d hit on something in all of us. They mingled with ones I’d heard before, so many times, of singers angered by the lack of audience attention. As if they were owed something. It always made me smile at Faire, and I admit it, laugh a bit. As the singer in the street, I have always felt that I earn the attention I receive. It is a gift given on both sides.

I play for the joy of it. When I lost my joy, I stopped singing. I’m more grateful than I can say that it found its way back to me. When I’m in the zone, I’m inside the song. I get to be all those people, and get to live their story. I get to hear myself doing what I am beginning to really believe I was born to do. What could be finer?

Attention is the most precious thing we can grant anyone. It is literally the moments of one’s life, which are finite and the only things that truly belong to each one of us. Attention and the present moment is the only place in which we can accomplish anything, whether it be learning a skill, making a point, cooking a meal–or listening to a performer. It can’t be forced, though of course it can be faked, and often is. Our minds are our own, and we carve out space for ourselves however we have to. Our eyes may be on the stage, but our minds may be a million miles away, planning our next vacation, reliving our latest triumph or disappointment, or just zoning out.

There’s an electricity to the sharing of a moment. It can’t be forced. Standing in that street, it is sometimes tempting to demand attention, but even when we appear to get our way, the energy of the exchange is altered irrevocably. I remember when we used to laugh backstage at Faire when we were sternly instructed to be quiet in this or that area so as not to upstage This show or That person. We complied, of course, but we knew when it was a reasonable request and when it was the sacrifice of that electric exchange for ego. The really popular shows somehow never made requests like these. Their haybales were always packed. The performer and the listener are joined. The giver and the gift become one when that moment happens. If you’ve read this far, you are giving that gift to me, and I hope I am returning fair value.

When I’m busking, attention is my teacher. At Faire I could attract a whole circle of people who told me exactly how far a comfortable listening distance was, what songs had the most impact, and which ones attracted the largest crowd. No, those last two pieces of information are not necessarily related. I have had very small audiences at times, and while it might have seemed that no one was listening, once or twice there has been one person who came up after with tears in their eyes and dropped a twenty in my bowl. A few weeks ago, a guy with a handful of Street Sheets searched every pocket he had till he found a dollar for me. And then there are the people who just watch me with that look of attention in their eyes, and smile, and walk off after I’m done. That’s as much a tip as money is.

Then there are those whose eyes I never see. Because you never know who is listening and what they are hearing.