Emergency Repairs

A damaged bodhran
Back From Ireland

This is how my bodhran came back from Ireland. Yes, we had a good time, and this would have happened eventually, but it is also going to be an adventure returning this instrument to playable condition. I asked around in Dublin as to bodhran repairs and was told that people generally replaced the drum. If this advice had come from a general music store I’d thank them politely and go looking for another opinion, but this had been a little traditional music store where you had to knock to be let in. The experience that followed was a conversation as much as a shopping expedition and the place was filled with traditional instruments of all descriptions, and nothing else. They only sold D and C tin whistles, as that was all session players needed, but no matter. They knew their business and I was out of options.

Closeup of the torn drumhead
An Extremely Temporary Repair

I was playing in a session in a Dublin pub when I stuck my beater through my bodhran head. I slapped cellophane tape over both sides and kept playing. I babied the drum the rest of the trip, but knew in my heart this was it. Back in the ‘90s there was a music store south of San Francisco run by a rennie who could get bodhrans reheaded. My bodhran lost her perfect milky white head, but her voice remained deep and perfect. I didn’t realize how rare that was, or had become, till I tried to get the head repaired the first time it tore. Cody’s was gone by that time. I was afraid of changing this drum’s voice. I’d replaced the head on a cheap bodhran to learn the skill of doing it and while the tone is good enough to make it a good backup drum, it isn’t what I wanted and so when I got home from this latest trip I put my broken drum away.

The back side of the patch in the first photo
A Failing Patch

I knew there was no point in patching the head again, as the skin was so rotten that even a patch with a huge overlap, using the old version of Barge cement (the kind that had enough volatile petroleum distillates to make your head spin, but bonds like a dream), but I was only delaying the inevitable.

A drum and a rim

On Monday I got brave. What’s the point in having a drum I can’t play? I’ve had a good goatskin lying around the front workroom for a few years now. I grabbed some tools and took the head off. That, of course, led to me having a good look at the state of the varnish.

Damaged varnish
Thirty Years of Busking

Knowing that I’d pay for it later, I grabbed a sander and some 220 discs and cleaned up the rim. I’ve had this drum since my teens, and I just didn’t want anyone else to do this job. I’d forgotten how beautiful the inlay work had been when the drum was new.

Sanded drum rim showing the inlay work
Sanded Rim

Four days later and I still hurt from the sanding job. I was hoping I’d bounce back faster, but this is the exact task that disabled me from my deckhand job. It’s worth it. I’ll post the actual reheading job when I get the rim refinished and the new head on.

Personal Myths

Dun Scaith, Skye
The Castle of Scathach on the Isle of Skye

We’ve always imagined what our future might look like, as individuals, and as a species. Whole genres of literature have been created out of our need to know what we might become. We need to explore our possibilities before we can create them. In the century before we ventured into space we took flight in our imagination, and the passion that was ignited in the hearts of people like Robert Goddard led them to do the work that led to the rockets that took us to  Moon

Looking at our own lives from different points of view can likewise be useful in understanding who we are, and where we want to go. You can make this journey in writing, or in song, You can likewise draw or paint it. It’s a valuable exercise, however you choose to do it, for it takes you deeper within, and can lead you places you had never imagined you would go. This is how mythic writing helped me travel to the lands of my ancestors.

Back in 2012, I was facing turning fifty. Born and raised in California, I’d never traveled off the continent of North America. The only other country I’d ever been to was Canada. In a country like the United States, this isn’t unusual. Most of us are hundreds of miles from the border of Canada or Mexico. In many of the larger Western states, it isn’t unusual to be a hundred miles or more from the border of the next state. I had always wanted to travel, but had never had the means to do much of it. I decided to make the means. I couldn’t justify taking from our living expenses, as I’d be going and my partner wouldn’t. So I turned to my music. I’d been a busker at the Renaissance Faire in my twenties and thirties. When the Black Point site had been lost, I’d given it up. I decided to try my luck in the transit stations. I discovered that I could make at least ten dollars an hour doing this, and Chris Guillebeau’s travel hacking course made me realize that airfare wasn’t the insurmountable obstacle I thought it was. I thought it might take me a year or two, but I was determined to go, so my days off became busking days. With some unexpected help from my father, I made that first trip, and the year after, a second one. I’m working on a third one now, and another project as well.

I got, and am continuing to get, a lot more than experiences in the lands of my ancestors, though. My own journey is becoming clearer, and I’m writing more songs than I ever have in my life. One of the tools I used to create the trips is a mythic version of my travels. Placing my story in mythic time is something I’ve been doing for years. Here’s a portion of that ongoing tale:

It came into the Hero’s mind to travel to the land of her ancestors. She had little gold and fewer prospects, but she had sung in the streets in her youth and she still remembered the old songs. She picked up her drum and her basket and set herself to earn the money in the Caverns of Travel. The journey would be short, but the distance vast, and the price to fly across the Eastern Sea on metal wings was dear indeed. What would she do when she got there? Where would she stay? She knew no one, had never been so far from her home, but no matter. She began the task, and with a purse of gold her sire tossed into her basket, she was on her way much sooner than she had hoped to be. A shaft of sunlight came through the glass and fell across her as the metal bird touched the Land of Albion. She gave silent thanks, for she knew her feet had found the path at last.

In Albion she met the Druids of Anderida, friendly folk full of wisdom and hospitality. Together they sang around the great leaping fire and shared all that they had. There, before Arianrhod, the Hero shed her name and her former life and became a Bard.

The Hero become Bard had traveled to Albion to find her ancestors, but she had found the Land instead, and new connections to it, and to the folk who lived there. Her few songs became many, and many more, and she sang them into forms that would last well beyond her, if people found them worthy to do so. She sang of the wonderful, terrible, pivotal age she lived in, and created choruses memorable and easy to join in on because music creates connection, and spreads joy, and many voices were needed to change the doom that was rushing towards the folk of all lands. Her words likewise spoke of connection between the people, the Land, Sky, and Sea, the trees and the birds and all beings, for humanity had forgotten that all of us are one greater being, as a single human is likewise a collection of smaller beings joined together in the song of life, cooperating in the dance and nourishing each other. 

What would your life look like, told in mythic terms? How could you find the means of expressing the pattern of your life in this way? This is a tool that may or may not fit your hand and your inclinations, but it is there to be picked up if you feel so inclined. We are all the heroes of our own story. This is as it should be. If we just remember that every other person in the world has a life as rich and precious to them as our own, we can use this tool to grow wise, rather than insufferable.

You don’t have to have a plan to get to the future, but it helps to know where you want to go. I thought I was going to Scotland to get the song of Scathach. We had a great adventure together, but it was really Cerridwen I went there to see, and to Cerridwen I will return.

Broken Chain

I saw the last of the steam schooners die. It wasn’t dignified. She was tucked away out of sight while the repair tab mounted until her collapse was only a matter of time. After the people who should have been her guardians took the bits and pieces of her deemed to be worth saving,  she was murdered, cut and pulled apart by people who only saw her as something to be disposed of, a pile of toxic waste, a hazard to be abated.

Ships are built and held together by love. Sailors understand that their survival is directly dependent on the state their vessel is in, and know that the sea will find the flaws in their work, the lapses in their devotion to her. Lloyd’s of London can say what they will, a ship will always be “She.” My employer may sign my check, but when I was a deckhand, I worked for the ships, not the organization. Being separated from them, set to recordkeeping and other tasks far removed from the vessels has turned what was a vocation into a mere job.

This song is the essence of what I’ve learned from ships and the work I did aboard them. I will always be a sailor, though I can’t say whether or not I will ever be able to live and work aboard ship again. The bond between ship and sailor, and the way life changes me when I’m at sea is something that will always be with me. I hope that this awareness is something that will grow to encompass the whole world because it isn’t a bond that is limited to ships and sailors.

I’ll bet you already have a taste of it. Your family, perhaps your home and the work that you do may well have this quality to it. We all can have that kind of bond with the land we live in if we choose to look for it. This kind of love can hold a nation together, and a species, if we can avoid falling into its toxic mimic of patriotism and xenophobia. A ship at sea is a whole world. Can we learn to love and care for our whole world? I think we can. And I think we will.

Blood Red Roses

Amazing just how tiring standing in front of a mic laying down tracks can be. No, it’s not an album yet, but it will be soon. Blood Red Roses is the title track, and it kind of encapsulates the album. You know who your mother was, and your grandmother, but how about your great-grandmother? How about female ancestors from farther back? Why is this? Why does the line of blood go through the father alone? These are things we don’t often think about, let alone talk about, and when we do, the conversations usually generate more heat and noise than light.

This song takes the long view. It goes all the way from the Paleolithic to the present. It just struck me one day that the earliest sculptures of humans yet found are of women–and they are faceless. When we finally saw our planet–the organism we are all part of, it, too, is of course faceless. We will never truly know what those first artists were thinking, but for me, living at the time when we first saw our planet as a whole, those two images are linked. Were the carvers thinking of deity? Of all women? Or something else entirely? Those images are all found in Eurasia, another fact the significance of which we don’t know and may never know. The mystery is a gift in and of itself. We are not all-knowing, and right now, I think we can use a reminder of that fact. It might make us think before we act, and see what we can learn in the process. That’s what humans do, after all, when we’re at our best.

This song started life as a sea chantey, also called Blood Red Roses.

The next track on the album is also a pan-European story, that comes to us by way of Wales. It’s the tale of Blodeuedd, and I posted it here.

Next time: Moving forward in time our next stop is the ballad of Tam Lin.

Rewilding My Life

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My hands are filthy and I reek of redwood.

I found out about the Rewild Your Life 30 Day Challenge today, and decided to go for it.

Being in the middle of the city as I was at the time, finding a tree to spend 30 minutes of quality time under was definitely the first challenge.
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I ended up going up–literally. I spent half an hour in a small redwood on the grounds of the Oakland Marriott. Being in the middle of a fenced lawn next to a loading dock, they probably didn’t feel they needed to buzz the branches off below the first four feet or so. I was glad I’d dressed in muted colors today, even though I’d had no idea I’d be climbing in the corporate forest today.

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I took a quick look around, grabbed a branch, swung my feet up onto another and disappeared into the tree. Pulling my busking basket through with me was cumbersome, but possible, and I tied it to a branch about ten feet off the ground. I guess there was a reason I had all those ribbons and bits of leather hanging off the sides besides the Renaissance Faire look. Climbing in a skirt was a skill that came back to me in an instant.

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It was like going back to college. I used to climb trees all the time back then. I even lived in one for a time. Why did I stop? It was just as delicious now as it was then to be sitting on a branch, completely alone in the heart of the city. No one looks up, and no one looks for people in trees. Secure among the branches I played my tinwhistle, just as I’d done back then. Then I closed my eyes and felt the tree move with the wind.

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Meanwhile, the birds went about their business and so did the people. The layers of wildness and civilization were clear to see. They were there all along, of course, but we have to stop and settle to see them. As I stood up on the branch, preparing to descend, I saw a birds nest on one of the limbs. It was long empty, but nice to see that another creature had taken advantage of the shelter of the redwoods to do what was needful.

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If you want to join the challenge, or just see what other people have done, follow the link at the top of the post. Look for the hashtags

#rewildyourlife
#wearewildness

 

The Song Of Life Sings Through Us

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Mount Tamalpais was dripping last Sunday. We went up between the rainstorms, through fog so thick the drive was frightening, but the walk through cool silence was something absorbed through the very pores of our bodies. The grass that was gray last time is now disappearing under a growing layer of green. What is left is turning golden brown.

Rock Springs is running. I filled three half gallon jars and together we sang our thanks to the music of the running water.

We know what feels good. We know what we need to do. The song of life sings through us. We turn towards life.  All we need to do is follow that turning in all that we do.

Is changing our ways really so hard? We’ve done it so many times in the last two centuries. All we need to do is what we always have, to grow towards a better life. The only difference this time is that we have to take into account the consequences of our actions on the whole planet, not just ourselves. Now that we know that we’re all connected, we can see that that’s in our best interests, can’t we?

Even in my neighborhood, where people tag any open expanse of clean wall and throw trash around with gay abandon I see the changes beginning. There were three houses with roosters on my morning commute last year. Now I hear crowing from at least five. More bicycles share the road with me than ever before, even if a lot of the drivers still treat stop signs as decorations. They slow down, take a look, and roll on through. There were always some gardens in place of lawns in a lot of the yards, but slowly, slowly more of them are appearing.

Think what it could be like. What if we made clean air, clean water, clean earth a priority? What if we opened our streams and creeks to the sky and kept them clean? What if we expected the water in them to be clean enough to drink, and it was tested regularly to make sure this was so, just as our municipal water supply is now? What if we could plant things in our gardens, knowing that the soil was clean because that is as basic a thing in a house for sale or rent as a good foundation and working plumbing? What if apartments came with garden plots, not parking spots? And public transportation was clean, safe, pleasant, and ran 24/7? If public transit was a real priority, we could all enjoy a quick, direct ride to wherever we were going, and be able to use our digital devices safely and sanely. We could read instead of sit in traffic. What if cars were a public utility? Each neighborhood has a lot, and you rent them by the hour?

Crazy? I don’t think so. I’m living this life as far as is possible without public support, and while it could be better, it isn’t half bad even as it is. My problems are mostly financial, not infrastructural. I’m not saying that everyone has to live the same life, and I’m not trying to pry your hands off your steering wheel or make you shiver in the dark. What I’m trying to do is spread some ideas and blend them with others so we can make changes in the way we live while we still have some quality of life. I’m trying to show how we can have a better life than we do now.

If we all walked more, we’d be healthier. If we drove only when we really needed to instead of all the time, our streets would be safer in so many ways. The streets of Oakland are dangerous mainly because there are so few people using them, and we don’t know our neighbors. What would it be like if there was always someone on the street, if we could put names to faces? Don’t you think that if people doing crappy things were easily identified, and if we all spoke up when we saw bad things happen, that we’d all be safer? Our neighborhoods aren’t really ours, have you noticed that? Do you know what’s around the block and down the street? Do you know who lives there? If you have a neighborhood park, have you been there? Do you feel safe there? Is there a decent grocery store, restaurant, coffeehouse, or other stores close enough to walk to? Do you know the bus routes around you and where they go? Do you feel safe on them?  If only a few of these things are true, do you really feel a part of where you live, or is it just a place to sleep and keep your stuff? Is it truly a place you can call home? Is this really how we want to live?

What do you know about your food? Have you ever looked into the eyes of the animals your food comes from? Does that last sentence sound scary and weird to you? If you’re vegetarian, and more power to you if you are, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph because I’m talking to the omnivores now. I invite you to look into those eyes. Our collective health depends on it, and it can be a very powerful and empowering experience. When I had chickens (and when I have them again) it was very comforting to eat an egg breakfast while our hens scratched contentedly in the yard outside our kitchen window. We knew without a doubt that our breakfast came from birds that were having happy lives. The bargain between us was sound–they gave us eggs, we gave them food and shelter and a pleasant place to live. It isn’t necessary to keep the chickens or the cattle yourself. What if it were possible to walk around the corner and buy eggs and milk from a neighbor or a neighborhood farm and see up close how those animals were treated? And if you eat the whole animal, is it really better to see it only as an anonymous bit of flesh in a styrofoam tray? Is it safer to have no idea whatsoever where it came from and what kind of life it led?

Our vegetables and grains are no better. While I’m not expecting anyone to raise all their own food, I think we can get most of it a lot closer to home, and I think we’d be better off for doing it. We’d use a lot less energy and we’d have a much safer and more reliable food supply. It’s the difference between having terminals off a mainframe computer as opposed to a lot of laptops. We’ve chosen the latter for years because of the independence and reliability such a diffused system provides, and because it gives us all so many choices. There are other examples, the quality and variety of craft beer as opposed to big brewing is to many of us a definite improvement. If you buy your vegetables and other foods from local producers, you have a real person to go to in case of trouble and you can go and see how your food is being produced.

This is all very up close and personal, and probably downright scary to some. I’ve avoided getting into specifics on this blog, just as most businesses have. We prefer to talk in generalities like energy independence and food security. The problem is, apart from a few of us who know we are hungry for such things, no one is moved to make any changes. There are no specifics to sink our teeth into, no specific actions to take other than buying a different brand of garbage bag or getting a steel cup. Changing our light bulbs and buying cars that get better mileage are pretty much non actions. We’ve been doing these things for years and what has changed? Only the labels in the grocery stores and the brand names on the cars. Public transportation in my area has actually gotten worse, and we’re still driving to work one to a car.

So here are a few of my ideas. I’m offering them as a starting point, based on the actions I’ve already taken and the ones I’d like to see us take as a city, a state, a nation, and a world. I know yours are different, and only by blending our different ideas and doing our own experiments with change will we come to a place where we’re all served, where all humans have food, shelter and clothing, and all beings have food, shelter, and a decent place in the web of life to live. We all deserve better than we have right now–what do YOU want to see changed?

I took a bottle of Rock Springs water with me when I busked this week. That’s something I haven’t been able to do since December. It was as always, water from the heart of the earth, cool, refreshing–and clean.

Busking in Ireland

Busking on Grafton Street

 
This is partly inspired by a recent post by Nimue Brown, which had some excellent points to make about the quality of the audience and its effect on a performance, but mainly it’s about the fact that I’ve just come off Grafton Street in Dublin, having barely made the price of a pint. I’m in Farrington’s now, a place that serves Irish craft beers and good food. And has free wireless. It may be the last chance I ever get to be here, so I’m taking it. 
 
I’ve played Grafton Street the last two days, as well as a pretty amazing session in a pub on Monday night. Both days on the street I’ve done a whole lot better monetarily, but really, no time spent on the street is ever wasted. 
 
It never depends on your audience. I always, always look in the mirror first. The reason I did crap today was that I broke one of my cardinal rules. I played for tips. I did not play for the love of it, and I deserved to make shite. Yet I did catch ears. It’s funny, people on the street often don’t want to be caught listening, at least at first. It’s kind of like hooking a salmon. Let them stand off to the side if they like, and keep feeding them beauty. They’ll often come around. Sometimes all you get is a tip, sometimes you get conversation. Sometimes even a chance to pass on a bit of knowledge. 
 
Audiences and performers are two halves of a whole. The ancient Irish knew that. There was a blessing on the teller of the tale, who told it fully and completely, and on those who listened completely, to the end. This was, and is, how the knowledge moves forward in time. 
 
I played at Emain Macha earlier this week. I stood up there completely alone and played “The Pangs of Macha” to the land it was tied to, the sky, and the sea surrounding the island of Ireland. It was good, but it wasn’t enough. When a gaggle of kids and parents came up to the hill, I asked them if they wanted to hear the story of the hill. It seemed no one heard me, and I was willing to let it go. They didn’t come there to hear me. I offered an opportunity, no more, no less.  But one man in that group heard me. He wanted to hear the tale and he spoke right up, made the kids sit down and listen. 
 
After I was done, the kids got up and kept rolling down the hill. But some of the adults thanked me. They got it. I also found out that rolling down the hill was a tradition, later when I no longer had the chance. All I knew at the time was when I saw fathers and their children rolling down Emain Macha, laughing their joy, that the curse was over at last. I didn’t need to catch every ear, after all, only the ones who needed to hear the story. If busking hadn’t made me fearless, I, an American, would never have dared to approach a group of Irish people and offer to tell them their history. The very idea! 
 
The session was another gift from the street. The man on the street, as it were, showed his worth again. I asked for directions near the bus station and he saw the bodhran on my back and pointed me not only to Grafton Street, but to O’Donoghue’s, and the Monday night session. On the way down, I told myself that if they didn’t like what I was doing, I knew the way back to the hostel. I’d already been given the brush-off in Inverness, I was prepared to get the same here, but I was going to try, at least. 
 
Tommy was in the back with a guitar and he was welcoming from the start. His mates, who arrived later, were the same. I was a little rusty and uncertain at first, but they made me welcome and I was soon in the swing of things. The other American there, who had a fiddle and was invited to play, wouldn’t, till almost the end. These guys really wanted the Americans to jump in. The pub was full of us and they did the best they could to even get people to sing choruses, which they wouldn’t. We have lost our voices, sticking plugs in our ears and being intimidated by skill instead of inspired by it. 
 
That night was magic for me. Yes, the happiness of the audience was part of it, as well as the easy acceptance of the regulars, but it was busking that made it possible. Tommy told me, when I was first called on to sing, that I wouldn’t get silence, just to jump in. I hadn’t expected it. I didn’t even want it. I wanted to catch ears, and catch them I did. I don’t even remember what I sang first, but the second tune was General Guinness, and it got me a free pint of same. I didn’t pay for drinks the rest of the night. And we got the other American to take out her fiddle in the end. You could tell she was thrilled and so was I. I hope she got hooked. We all can and should make our own music. 
 
And I am going to finish this pint and see if Temple Bar is kinder than Grafton Street was. I will not be playing for tips this time

A Different Rape Fantasy

Ballads were–and are–more than just entertainment. There’s a lot of cultural information packed in there too, in rhymed, easy to remember stories that told people who they were. Only some of these things apply to us here and now, but in making the distinction for ourselves, we see the shape of our particular culture and our times. We can see some of how we became who we are, and so the power of a ballad as a teacher remains.

Eppie Morrie has been on my mind a lot lately, a touchstone, particularly after the latest debacle in Texas. I think Wendy Davis and Eppie Morrie are kindred spirits. Both stood up for themselves in what looked like a hopeless situation and both won their battles. Both set an example for the women of their culture–Wendy Davis set an example *with* the women of her culture. Times have changed indeed!

Here’s the version of the ballad that I do:

EPPIE MORRIE

Eppie Morrie was faced with the prospect of rape in quite a different way than we are today, but many of the basics are the same. While women aren’t generally abducted on horseback by some guy and all his friends, getting passed around at a drunken party by people you thought were your friends isn’t all that far off as far as your chances of getting away go. At least Eppie Morrie got a ring first. Faced with the prospect of being bound to this oaf for life, Eppie Morrie manages to fight him off for the entire night. In the morning, still a virgin, she demands to be given a horse and sent home.

The ballad raises (and lowers) the whole idea of abduction, forced marriage, and rape to a battle and a battle the woman can win at! It may not be everyday reality, but it sure does help to see the story playing out like that once in a while. There’s a reason we don’t hear much about this in real life. If a woman avoids a rape, she usually doesn’t say anything about it. It’s a guaranteed hassle and if anyone is going to pay for the attempted crime it’s usually her. Eppie Morrie’s ordeal at least took place pretty much in public, and within cultural boundaries.

You know, I’ll bet there were men up there in that gallery the night of that filibuster. In the news I saw a lot of women in blue shirts going into the Texas Senate this morning, indicating that they were in support of abortion restrictions, just as there were men wearing orange, the color of the “other” side. While this issue is being framed solely in terms of womens’ rights versus the rights of the unborn, with men as oppressors and certain death on both sides, there are a lot of nuances that can’t be heard for all the shouting. To look at the Texas Senate, we really haven’t come very far since Child collected his ballads. Or is it just that it’s damned hard to turn the clock back, and this whole debacle is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting “La la la I can’t hear you!” Time will tell, I suppose, but I’m betting on the latter.

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

Chorus:
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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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”

Chorus

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 decide  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…