We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us

Some things never change, I suppose…

Here is a song for the Anthropocene Age: Kali is Here

We are as gods in our effect, if not in our awareness. A scary thought, to be sure, but ultimately a hopeful one, because the seeds of destruction and of creation are in our hands. We are Kali, with the power to make this planet into a garden, or a charnel house.

This isn’t a song anyone has wanted to hear, so far. It has never gotten me tipped. But the BART stations have allowed me to refine it a bit, and today I got the skeleton recorded.

The lyrics are below:

Kali is Here

Kali’s dancing feet tear the earth below her
Kali’s dancing feet churn he earth to mud
Her victory song drowns the scream of Gaia
Where is gentle Shiva to call her home?

Once we were young, dancing with Gaia
Once we bowed to make her hand rise higher
Opened our hands for summer’s bounty
Gave her what was due when winter came

But we forgot, summer came easy
Bent her pliant body further back
Took what was there, Gaia had plenty
Turned our backs when others did the same


Deaf to her pleas, said “we can’t hear you”
Wouldn’t see the horror in her eyes
But when she wept, we were transfigured
Licked her tears before they touched the ground


And as we danced, faster and faster
Crammed our mouths so full we couldn’t taste
Drinking her dry, fruit out of season
Trampling any voice that shouted “stop”


What have we gained, we who are living
We’re the arrow pointed at our chest
Why do we dance, where are we going
Can you see the face beneath our foot?

No Drum–No Problem!

If I’m ever in a strange city with no friends and no money, I’m going to start with a stretch of pavement and a hat.

I decided to busk last Saturday night. I was on my bike, and I hadn’t brought anything with me because I expected to go straight home. I even had to borrow a dollar bill from a coworker because I had exactly forty-six cents in cash on me and it is helpful when busking to let people know what’s expected of them. Am I a random nut who feels like music, or am I trying to make money? I think a blend of the two is the real answer to the question, but presentation is all. So I stuck my bike helmet on the floor, parked my bike behind me, and went to work.

It was a great practice session, and that was fine. I didn’t go home with nothing, but I didn’t make all that much. There aren’t many people in Montgomery Station on a Saturday evening, and I wanted to see what would happen as well as try out some songs I’m learning. I’ve decided that I’m getting in a bit of a rut, here. I’ve found some good places and decided what the “good” stations and times to be there are, as well as what songs draw the best tips. That’s useful information, but the combination of limiting playing spaces and limiting repertoire is a bit, well, limiting. Strictly from a monetary perspective, if I’m bored, I don’t get tipped–and I don’t deserve to be!

The lack of a drum is now becoming almost an advantage. There are very few songs in my current repertoire that can’t be done without it, and having the freedom to move makes me realize just how little I could move when I had that instrument tying up my hands. I had to split my attention between playing and singing. Now that I’ve accepted the slight diminishment of the soundspace I can occupy with just an unamplified voice, I’m no longer wearing myself out in half an hour. I played for about that long on Saturday without even a bottle of water. In fact, it was the lack of water that determined the length of my set. I also get to interact with the people passing by more. I wasn’t exactly hiding behind the drum, but I didn’t realize how much it could get between me and the rest of the world. Even when I go back to using it it isn’t going to be the largest part of my set.
I wonder a bit just how much instruments in general have this effect. I know I’m lucky beyond measure to have a voice that can do what mine does. I am in awe of the skill and talent of many of the people who come to open mics and draw beauty out of their instruments in a way I really can’t. We all have to do what we’re called to, and I am a singer, first and foremost. I have a friend who keeps telling me that I have to get an instrument. I keep telling her that I already have one. With the magic of Garage Band I can even sing against myself. No, what I need, if I need anything, is other singers and musicians. That will happen in its own time.

I’m feeling more ready every day to be off on my adventure. September really is the best time for this to happen, and I’m approaching the point where I’m truly ready to go. I’ve never really been in another country, a day or so in Canada when I was in my teens hardly counts. I want to be confused by the different money, and not know where I am, and so discover things I never would otherwise. This is one of the things I loved about sailing in tall ships. We’d get into port and there we would be; no transportation, and no idea where we were. We’d do some things in groups–we always managed to find the bars, for example, but I had some of my best times simply exploring, and getting the things I needed in an unfamiliar place. I’m more than ready to do that again.

For now, I have a lot of work left to do. Aside from properly planning and making the requisite reservations, I need as much repertoire as I can cram in my head. I need the old album online, and hopefully the new album as well. I need to decideĀ  what gear I still need, and which drum to take.

I’d be happy to take my smaller drum, but it hasn’t got much of a voice. It was a cheapio I picked up from a friend who wasn’t happy with it. I thought I could lower the tone with oil, it was as dry as a bone, but that didn’t work. I also couldn’t get my hand behind the crossbars, so I moved them out. That helped, but the tone is still much too high. It may be the depth of the frame, or it may be just the drumhead. In any case, the next step is reheading it. That is a job I’ve only done once, on the drum I’m currently playing. It did make a cheap drum sound much better, but I’d hate to waste a goatskin on a drum that wasn’t worth it.

Add another project to the list…

Only Steal From The Best

We’re all having to do more with less right now. The fat times are behind us, and we are all having to hone our craft. What does this have to do with stealing? It depends on your point of view, as so many things do.

The old Tales, read closely, are all about point of view. Is it Deirdre’s fault the men of Ulster fought a bloody battle, or is it theirs? Who raises the sword? Who causes it to be raised? Did Medb cause the Men of Connaught to be strayed and destroyed because she was female, or is that just the way many a cattle raid turns out? As my grandmother said, “It depends on whose ox is being gored.” The place of gender in Irish culture, and the culture itself was changing in that time, and the versions of the Tales we have reflect that.

I was listening to the radio last Sunday and a wonderful segment came on. It was about a book called “Steal Like An Artist,” by a man named Austin Kleon. The segment can be heard here. Through the miracle of ereading, I was once again able to download the book to my iPod from the public library before the show was even over. We live in such magical times! I have tools now that I could only dream of when I first started busking.

Kleon’s point was that we are all the product of our influences. We all create based on the work of others. Without the Tales written down over a thousand years ago by people whose faces I will never see, whose names I will never know, I wouldn’t have the stories of Deirdriu and Blodeuwedd to draw on. Without the recordings of Steeleye Span, Capercaillie, and many others to draw on, I wouldn’t have had voices, patiently playing the same tune over and over while I sang along until my voice could do the same things theirs could. If we surround ourselves with the best that our culture has to offer, we, too, will be able to offer our best in return.

Stealing is both a bright line and a slippery term. To take someone else’s work and claim it as my own, that is stealing. To admit that my work is built on the work of others, that is homage and the simple truth. Retelling the old Tales, for example, is a long and venerable tradition. They need to be fit to the spirit of the age they are told in if they are to have their true power. The versions we have, after all, are the Tale as told at that moment in time, not a timeless perfect version to be held up as the Definitive Work. It is the work of the storyteller and the scholar to read the older versions and understand the context in which they were told in order to grasp the essence of the Tale, to separate the nut from the husk. Morgan Llywelyn, to give but one example, does this beautifully. To read her novels is to be led to the heart of the Tale, and back to the source of it, if, like me, you don’t ever want the story to end. Give someone the passion for knowledge, as she does, and you light a fire in the head. Who knows where that will lead?

To bring it even closer to home, I am listening to an album right now, called The Dance Goes On, by a duo called Blanche Rowen and Michael Gulston. I fully intend to learn a number of songs from it simply because they’re already half in my head and won’t let me be until I learn the rest of them. I urge you to give them a listen and then run, do not walk, to buy your own copy. You see, I want to learn how to light such a fire in others as they have lit in me. I’m listening to it now, and have been since I got it. I know that my first album, limited as its circulation was, did that in at least a few people. I replaced a few tapes for people who played them to death and get occasional requests for a CD of it to this day. To me, that’s the highest compliment I could receive, and it brings the fire home to hopefully make the next recording even better.

Songs don’t live unless they’re sung. They live on the breath, and in the moment they are heard. I hope to leave this world knowing that my songs are on the lips of others, and so I too give life to the songs of others. But I credit, and I buy recordings, so the artists can continue to make music. To me, that’s the bright line. Besides, it’s so embarrassing to be caught.

We are so rich, in this beautiful and terrible age we live in. We have the wisdom of the ages at our fingertips, and such power that we can destroy ourselves. If we do not truly step into our power and the responsibility that goes with it, we may not have a next generation to gift our wisdom to. The chain of beauty may truly be broken. What a wonderful time to be alive! What a chance to make the art that may play a part in bringing us though this time into the next age! It truly does all depend on your point of view.