BODICE RIPPER MAN

I had a birthday a few days ago and happily chose to spend it going to the touring Downton Abbey Exhibition that made its first stop here in Singapore. It was a ton of fun geeking out on sets, costumes, props, ephemera, and all things related to the series.  It was beautifully presented and historically informative, with lots of high tech whistles and bells. I started to envision this tune some time before going.

                                              Just a small sample of Downtonpalooza.

                                              Just a small sample of Downtonpalooza.

 

 I’m the kind of person who would rather go to the Downton Exhibition than to Nascar or a 49er’s game.  I really enjoy historical fiction, costume dramas, and any take on things in the past.   And I would generally rather go to a “chick flick” than to some manly “action adventure”.  These are qualities I used to keep somewhat hidden from the world (kept my Jane Austen in a plain brown wrapper.) Now I’m trying to be more up front about it.  Frankly, I think world could use a little less testosterone. 

 

This presented some challenges for me in writing this tune.  The very term “bodice ripper” suggests a woman being forced against her will. In it’s strictest sense, bodice ripper refers to the romance genre of fiction that was very popular in the 1970s.  They typically featured virgin women, pure as the driven snow, and the rapist-turned truelove hero was a common stock character.  Contemporary romance novels have come a long way since then. Feminism is alive and kicking butt in much of the historical fiction written today.  (For a good article on the subject, read this piece by Jessica Luther in the Atlantic.)

                                        True bodice rippers in the classic sense. 

                                        True bodice rippers in the classic sense. 

But I hope the listener understands that I don’t mean bodice ripper in this strictest sense. In fact, I’ve never read any of these novels. The term has come to be used in a much broader sense for any historical novel or drama (though some measure of romance and/or sex is seemingly required for anything to be called a bodice ripper.) 

As I was writing lyrics it began to nag at me that this might not be automatically understood. I began to worry a little about “what people might think”. Consequently, I wrote a “disclaimer” bridge that went like this~

 

I hope nobody judges me

For all my gothic fantasies

These silly dime store novelties

Are a harmless addiction,

Me rippin’ off a woman’s dress

Is just a load of PBS

Cu’s no no no cannot mean yes

In anything but fiction~

 

Thankfully, I came to my senses and the public service announcement wound up on the cutting room floor. The bridge stuck out like a sore thumb and robbed the song of its humor. I couldn’t go there. The song’s supposed to be kinda funny, or at least mildly amusing.

 

Unfortunately, when writing a humorous song you never really know if it’s funny until someone actually laughs at it. I’m throwing this out there untested, but keeping my fingers crossed.  I think it's more a smiler than a belly-laugher. The humor hinges upon incongruity; a somewhat swaggering manly bluster about a predilection that’s generally not perceived as manly at all. Consequently, I turned the letch-level up to eleven.  I trust the listener to know that I’m not really the old goat twisted up in petticoats that’s depicted. Anyone who knows me understands that I’ve been faithfully ripping on the same sweet bodice for more than 30 years.  That romance got written a long time ago. A great story but not really all that funny. Fiction was required for humor's sake.

         Rippin' on this same sweet bodice since the beginning of time (approximately)

         Rippin' on this same sweet bodice since the beginning of time (approximately)

And just so you know, I did dial it back a little. Some lyrics were too over the top to be included. The line about my codpiece got cut. You can thank me later.

                                                            I always insist on Twilfit~

                                                            I always insist on Twilfit~

 

 

 

 

HAW PAR VILLA

I tend to like stuff that’s related to kids and the culture of childhood. Consequently, I’m fond of amusements of all types: penny arcades, pinball parlors, roadside attractions, circuses, carnivals, fairs, and of course, amusement parks.

In my childhood., Los Angeles had a great variety of amusments; big parks like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, and seedy little two-bit carnivals like Crawford’s Corner and Streamland Park. And even though I was afraid of the scary stuff, I loved them all. I still find myself defending Disneyland to the naysayers. I remember how it fired up my imagination as a kid. 

             The train at Streamline Park, Pico Rivera. (One of amusement's ugly ducklings.) 

             The train at Streamline Park, Pico Rivera. (One of amusement's ugly ducklings.) 

But now, as an adult, it’s the shabby little carnivals I like best. The funkier the better. I like the vibe of that seedy underbelly. There’re no carnies at Disneyland. It’s strictly clean cut.

Here in Singapore, there’s a modern, sanitized, family-oriented amusement island called Sentosa. It has Universal Studios, Madame Tussauds, an aquarium, Adventure Cove Waterpark,  Dolphin Island, animal shows, insect kingdoms,  and way, way more. ..So I hear… I’ve never been. Why would I go there when I can go to Haw Par Villa?

                      Sentosa! A park so squeaky clean you can eat right off the sidewalk. 

                      Sentosa! A park so squeaky clean you can eat right off the sidewalk. 

Haw Par Villa is hands-down my favorite place in Singapore. It’s a theme park that was built in 1937 by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par – the Tiger Balm Boys. They made a fortune in ointment. Clearly men with vision.

                                              Come smell the Tiger Balm~

                                              Come smell the Tiger Balm~

The park is over 80 years old and much of it looks its age. It’s a mish-mash of statues and dioramas that feature scenes from Chinese mythology and folk tales. As a foreign visitor, I don’t begin to understand much of what’s depicted. But for me, that’s part of the fun. Basically I get to view it through the eyes of a child. And it hits a lot of buttons. It’s wonderful, colorful, fanciful, imaginative and beautiful on the one hand, and strange, morbid, violent, dark and grotesque on the other. It’s got that Grimm’s Fairy Tale vibe going for it. It’s difficult to sum it up. I just know it’s my kind of weird. And kids dig it too.

                                      Entrance to the Ten Courts of Hell

                                      Entrance to the Ten Courts of Hell

I read an interview with Jerry Garcia and David Grisman when they released their children’s record called Not For Kids Only. They spoke about not wanting to sanitize the old folk songs for modern ”family-friendly” ears. There’s a weirdness to those songs that they wanted to preserve. And Garcia spoke about a movie that had a deep, profound impact upon him as a child. That movie was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Garcia’s life long fascination of the bizarre came directly from viewing that film. (Here’s a video of Garcia talking about the movie.)

In a way, that’s how I feel about Haw Par Villa. I walk around the place feeling like I’m Jerry Garcia watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

This is Sabrina's brother Ben. After visiting us here in Singapore, he wrote a great article about  "Singapore's creepy wonderland"  for Collectors Weekly. You can read his piece here.

This is Sabrina's brother Ben. After visiting us here in Singapore, he wrote a great article about  "Singapore's creepy wonderland"  for Collectors Weekly. You can read his piece here.

 

This is the first time I’ve written a song with the express intent of making it a video. I’ve taken a lot of photos at HP Villa that I’ve wanted to share, so the song is a vehicle for doing that.  And I think the song really needs those visuals for it to work.  My skills as a lyricist come nowhere close to describing the place. It has to be seen to be believed.

                                        A picture's worth a thousand words.

                                        A picture's worth a thousand words.

I also want to add a little disclaimer. When I gawk and squawk about the weirdness of the place, I mean no cultural disrespect. In my heart of hearts I feel quite the opposite. And also, when crafting the melody and arrangement I tried to hint at an Asian sound.  My recording software features a lot of world instrument sounds, so I may have over indulged on the Chinese cheese a little. Some may view this as cultural appropriation.  Again, I mean no disrespect. I’m just playing with my toys. 

(and... oh fiddlestix! Another disclaimer is in order. While singing this "rough draft" demo, my dyslexic-trickster muse inspired me to sing "Har Paw" Villa throughout. It's HAW PAR! When I was a kid and pronounced it "Dickeyland" everyone thought it was cute. Not so cute anymore. I'll fix it eventually~)

                                                           (lyrics here)

WHERE CAN THE DARKNESS BE DROWNED?

         A song should be able to stand on it’s own without any further explanation. So I’ve been a little ambivalent about this blogging-about –the-songs thing. Is it really necessary? Well in this case, I kind of think it is. Because I don’t want anyone to worry about me.

                This is a dark song. One might assume that the writer would have to be in a pretty dismal place to come up with it. Upon hearing this you might think I’m mildy depressed; that I’ve fallen into some deep, Southeast-Asian, Brando-in-Apocalypse jungle funk. Not the case.

                                                      Brando in a jungle funk. 

                                                      Brando in a jungle funk. 

            I do like some dark stuff though, and I don’t just mean coffee and chocolate. For me it depends upon the form that the dark comes in. I’m not fond of murder mysteries, but I like murder ballads. I don’t care for Anne Rice’s vampires, but I love the gothic Bran Stoker Dracula. And I absolutely loathe the apocalyptic, dystopian sci-fi futuristic stuff. I much prefer my darkness rooted in the magic of the past; the stuff of myths, fairy tales, and the like. This musical character sketch is a stab  at fantasy. 

                                                             BIG sack 'o shadow.

                                                             BIG sack 'o shadow.

 

         I pinched the title of this song from a C. S. Lewis quote. The entire quote reads, “Where, except in the uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?” (from Letters to Malcolm.) Lewis basically answers his own question in the middle of asking it. I was drawn to the sound of the question without the answer, so I lifted the best bits. It’s called selective thievery.

C. S. Lewis asked, "Where, except in the uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?"

C. S. Lewis asked, "Where, except in the uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?"

             I tried to make the song more complex than pure good vs. evil. . Clearly the narrator has his own demons to contend with. They’re not just in the bag. And that gets to the heart of what this is about.

             It seems like many of us are somewhat overwhelmed by the sense that we are living in a dark time. I know I feel that way. And there’s this cumulative effect going on. Things seem to get stormier by the day, and with every new tweet of destruction I wish we could just throw Sauron’s cell phone into the Crack of Doom and be done with him. Deep down inside I’m aware of the faint impulse to want to kill the evil that he represents. In other words, what I perceive as the external shadow triggers my own internal shadow. This is the kind of thing that inspires Kathy Griffin to make poor artistic choices. It’s not who I wanna be, but it is who I am.

dulac_03.jpg

 

         The Dali Lama recently gave some advice on the subject. He suggested that we answer the contempt of others with “warm heartedness.”  I’m not there yet, and neither is the guy in this song. He makes no apologies for his murderous impulses. He doesn’t even want any help with doing the deed. He’s just asking for simple directions. Simple indeed.

               Meanwhile, I will try to follow the Dali Lama’s directions. I’m looking for some big ocean of warm-heartedness where we can put that shadow out if its misery. If you find that on Google Maps could you let me know?

                                                          ( lyrics here)

GHOST OF FAIRFAX

 

It’s been longer between song posts than I’d anticipated, mostly because I had vowed that my next post would be new music. It’s so much easier to dust off an old tune, especially when they’ve been engineered by first-rate knob twiddlers. While recording rough demos of new tunes at my desk in the Singapore Woodshed, I must admit I’m sheepish about posting the warts-and-all results.  So much of it turns into what I call “Halloween salad” – a mix so overly dressed in ear candy it makes me wanna puke. I hope to record better versions down the road. Meanwhile, as my brother Smitmon likes to say, “Nature in the raw is seldom mild.” 

 

When I sat down to write the Ghost of Fairfax, I thought it was going to be a song about the town. The Fairfax Festival took place a couple of weeks ago and I was seeing several posts about it on Facebook. This is a favorite time of year for me in Marin, the beginning of summer and the outdoor music season. I was experiencing epic FOMO. The Fairfax Festival induces an especially potent strain of homesickness.

Bolinas Road. Home to the original Sleeping Lady Cafe, River City and Caledonia Records. 

Bolinas Road. Home to the original Sleeping Lady Cafe, River City and Caledonia Records. 

 

In case you don’t know, I’m referring to Fairfax California. (Not the 20 other American towns named Fairfax). This is the cool one. The Fairfax where the Grateful Dead played softball with the Jefferson Airplane, and where you bought your records from Van Morrison’s dad. Yeah, that Fairfax.

 

Destination for bohemians of all stripes for well over a hundred years,  Fairfax was founded in 1865 by Lord Charles Snowdon Fairfax, tenth Baron of Cameron, Scotland. He named his estate Birds Nest Glen. Garden-variety hedonists from San Francisco have been visiting ever since. They used to chill their champagne in the creek. Who wouldn’t wanna party there???

          Bonnie Charlie of Birds Nest Glen. 

          Bonnie Charlie of Birds Nest Glen. 

 

Well, my Grandma Gertie for one. My family is from the more respectable neighboring town of San Anselmo. Fairfax had all the bars, all the music, all the fun! In quieter, more buttoned-down San Anselmo, folks stayed home to drank. (when they weren’t sneaking out to Matteucci’s.) And these small-town class distinctions are still very much alive today. So even as a little kid I loved Fairfax. It had the irresistible appeal of forbidden fruit and old time debauchery.

 

But what started as a song about Fairfax turned into a tribute to my late friend, Gordy Hall. In a town full of characters, Gordy was one of the greats. When I first met him he seemed straight out of a Zap Comic, a Furry Freak Brother brought to life. (But that’s an all too stereotypical, one-dimensional description.) He knew everybody in town and was beloved by the multitudes. He had a great handshake that started from high and behind, and swooped in like a red tailed hawk-- always genuinely happy to see you.

Gordy used to video the Festival Parade every year. You can still check his videos out at the library. 

Gordy used to video the Festival Parade every year. You can still check his videos out at the library. 

 

Truth be told, he was a man of many friends, and I wasn’t one of his closest. Our friendship was mostly centered around music. We went to shows together, jams, parties, and local bars. We took many road trips to Yosemite for the Strawberry Music Festival. But best of all I spent time with Gordy in his home, where I was frequently invited to come over and make music. Gordy was a human jukebox, and what he lacked in raw talent he mad up for in joyful enthusiasm.  Jamming with Gordy was always an exercise in free play. I was encouraged to play any tune, any instrument, any clam. He was everybody’s biggest fan. When you forgot the words to your own song, Gordy would tell you what they were.  He also got me a bunch of gigs. My best gig ever, (over 20 years of Sundays at Book Passage in Corte Madera) was thanks to Gordy. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who had anything unkind to say about the guy, with one small exception… there were a few who wished that he’d tune his guitar a smidge more carefully.  But I’d give anything to play with him now, in-or-out of tune. I miss him like the dickens.

                                I enjoyed a bunch of shows with Gordy at the Pavilion.

                                I enjoyed a bunch of shows with Gordy at the Pavilion.

 

There were others in that regular circle of jammers that followed Gordy into the great beyond soon after he left us. His dear friend Steven Balick. His lovely wife Brilla.  And if songwriting were not about “taking a small idea and making it smaller”, I would have included them also. They were very present when I wrote it and it brings me joy to remember them too.

                   The roadside Jerry memorial. My sentiments exactly.

                   The roadside Jerry memorial. My sentiments exactly.

 

And even though Fairfax will never be the same without Gordy and the Sleeping Lady, that vibrant, colorful community lives on. You should come visit. Go to the Bicycle Museum. Pay your respects at the Jerry Memorial. And by all means, go to Peri’s, or 19 Broadway, or Iron Springs, or any of the other watering holes and raise a glass to Gordy Hall. I’ll drink to that.                                                                          

                                                                      lyrics

BAREFOOT IN L.A.

I have a lot of teacher friends. People who’ve devoted the bulk of their lives to teaching, guiding, and most importantly, loving and caring for, young people. Right now many of these friends are extremely exhausted. These are primary, middle and high school teachers who are coming down to the wire, wrapping up another school year, letting go of their little lambs, sending them down the hall or out into the world. And in the coming days these teachers will get a little break from the classroom, recharge their batteries and tend to the care and feeding of their own education.

This is what it looks like on the last day of school, waiting for the bell to ring. 

This is what it looks like on the last day of school, waiting for the bell to ring. 

 I also have other teacher friends who won’t be taking any breaks. These are largely daycare workers, many of whom will face longer days as the sun spends more time in the sky. These year-round caregivers (and, YES, educators) routinely make-do with less: less money, less respect, less vacation, less nap time. I’ve worked as both public school teacher and daycare worker. These jobs are not as different as one might think.

But teacher or daycare worker, both are on the brink of a new day. The floodgates will open. School’s out. Let the high holy days of summer begin!

 

Even as a child, the only thing I loved more than going to school was NOT going to school.  I’ve always treasured the alternative education that summer provides. A different kind of learning; less structured, more self-directed. There was more creativity and play, more risk-taking, more boredom, and more time. So as an educator I was always out of step with the constant pressure to make summer shorter and the school year longer. I understand the concern over summer learning loss (AKA the “summer slide”) and the detrimental effect this especially has on children from low-income families. But I think that there are other ways to meet the needs of students without tacking on more school days and longer school hours. The negative side of a long summer is easily measured. The positive side, on the other hand, is immeasurable and seldom acknowledged. 

 

So summer, for me, has always been sacred ground. The song Barefoot in L.A. is my homage to the golden days of June, July and August. I lament the fact that kids don’t get to run as freely as they used to. But as adults we can do a lot more toward providing safe environments where kids can sow their wild oats. It starts with valuing play.

I’ve posted Barefoot in L.A. in the past on my YouTube channel. It was one of my first attempts at playing with music video. The music on the video is a home demo that I put together myself. The song download is a completely different version. It features the low-strung violin stylings of Tom Prasada Rao. Such a cool sound. Sometimes it almost sounds like an oboe to my ears. Drum master Jagoda is laying down the rhythm, and I'm frailing on the uke. 

As I write this from my Singapore hideaway, Sabrina is back in California for a taste of the first days of summer. And though it’s always summery hot here, it’s not quite the same. I’m looking forward to going home in August, when my summer will begin in earnest. Until then, I hope we all enjoy and appreciate this wonderful time of year. Now go outside and play~

DRIFTWOOD WAY

Out the train window between Edinburgh and Newcastle

Out the train window between Edinburgh and Newcastle

Once again, I’m writing from a train. This time if feels good to be heading home; to Sabrina, my bed, my pillows, my guitars. We’ve just left Edinburgh for London, where I catch my flight back to Singapore this evening. I’ve been gone about four weeks and I’m especially looking forward to brewing my own  Peets coffee again.

 

I come from provincial people. My Grandma Mac (Gertrude Cappuro) was born on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco and never left the state of California. My mom left California for the first time when she was 80 years old. I don’t remember my dad or his mom ever leaving California either.  We traveled by car from L.A. to San Francisco every summer. That was as far from home as we ever got.

Homebodies of NorCal: (seated) My grandma Gertrude Capurro, grandpa Alfred McKnew at the piano, and my mom Marijane McKnew standing to his right. Behind are best family friends, Fred, Velma and Jane Tavoni.   

Homebodies of NorCal: (seated) My grandma Gertrude Capurro, grandpa Alfred McKnew at the piano, and my mom Marijane McKnew standing to his right. Behind are best family friends, Fred, Velma and Jane Tavoni. 

 

I used to think that this was because my Dad had served in Okinawa in WWII. I figured that cured him of wanting to go anywhere. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that my parents lived from paycheck to paycheck. I’m certain now that they never really had the means to take us anywhere but up north to visit the grandparents. This serves as an ever-present reminder to me, what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to get out and see the world a little bit.

 

It wasn’t until I started high school that I became aware of wanting to travel. The Let’s Go Europe, backpacking-on-a-shoestring thing was in full swing. I read about it and talked to people who had been, and started saving for it. My first trip out of state was to Colorado, my second trip landed me in Paris (1976). Despite camping in the Bois de Boulogne for 4 weeks, I found that I was burning through my nest egg way too quickly, so I headed east toward cheaper adventures. I traveled overland through Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to India. When I reached Varanasi I hunkered down and stayed for 6 months (leaving once to go to Nepal to renew my visa).  I stayed in India until I ran out of money. My parent’s had a yard sale in L.A. to help pay my ticket home. Altogether, I was gone for about 9 months. It was enough to feel bit by the travel bug for life.

Varanasi, February 1978. Max from Sweden, me, Raj Bhan Singh (sitar instructor at Benares Hindu University) 

Varanasi, February 1978. Max from Sweden, me, Raj Bhan Singh (sitar instructor at Benares Hindu University) 

Meanwhile, around the time I was off on this overland jaunt, Sabrina was having travel adventures of her own. When we met she had recently wrapped up working on a NOAA ship for two years, taking core samples in the icy waters between Seattle and Alaska. So she had this wanderlust thing too, and it was one of the things we immediately connected about when we met. We’ve been ready to go at the drop of a hat ever since. Our current life in Singapore is the result of always wanting to live overseas for a time.

Rowing the boss around the lake, Pokhara, Nepal, 1985. (honeymooners)

Rowing the boss around the lake, Pokhara, Nepal, 1985. (honeymooners)

But we are also people who enjoy putting down roots. We so look forward to returning to our home and family in California. And we realize that this addiction for planes, trains and automobiles is not everyone’s cup of tea. I have some dear friends who have little to no desire to leave home, despite having the means to do so. And I don’t chalk this up to living in the Golden State (a great place to never leave, IMHO.)  Though I don’t entirely understand this way of thinking, I do respect it. I especially enjoy those local village characters who know everybody, are seen often, and really have no desire to be anywhere else.

 

Which brings me to this song, Driftwood Way. It’s about a guy whose roots keep him from going anyplace else. He loves his home. He could never leave. And he’s mostly okay with that, though it’s clearly a mixed bag as he sits by the fire. This tune has kind of a retro-folk sound to my ears. It sounds a little to me like it could have come out of Greenwich Village in the 60s. But it’s another one recorded with Tom Prasada Rao in Texas, (in this present century.)

 

To wrap up I want to circle back around to what a privilege it is to have these travel opportunities. It’s something that I’m constantly aware of, but some things really drive it home. Sabrina’s work in Singapore has her traveling home to California about 4 times a year. We can’t really afford to fly Cabana Boy home that often, so I go twice a year. When I get left behind in Singapore, sometimes I go on a shorter, cheaper, jaunt in Asia. About a year ago I was able to return to Varanasi to reconnect with that first exotic trip abroad in my youth.

Return to Varanasi, 2016

Return to Varanasi, 2016

 

On this recent trip, I met a young man by the river and we chatted often over the 10 days I was there. He was what’s often referred to as a “tout”; someone who makes his living hitting on tourists to act as a guide and take them to various shops where he makes a commission. He came from a small village about 40 kilometers away. His would go home once every couple of weeks to visit his family and share his earnings. His family didn’t really approve of his lifestyle, and a lot of burned out tourists treated him poorly, but he enjoyed the hustle and was just trying to make an honest buck on his own terms.

My friend by the river. 

My friend by the river. 

 

But what I remember most about him was his curiosity about my travel experience. He had never been on an airplane, and had only trained out of the state of Uttar Pradesh a couple of times in his life. He asked about what they fed me on the plane. (I didn’t have the heart to call it crap) if I drank alcohol on the plane (a resounding YES, which delighted him), and how BIG was the plane? (about from here to that cow way over there.) It was clearly not his Driftwood Way-like  roots that prevented him from flying. So we both wished he’d get to go on a plane one day.  We’re probably both gonna wish that for a long, long time. That conversation really stuck with me. I try to never take it for granted.

"From here to that cow way over there..."

"From here to that cow way over there..."

STILL MY GUITAR

Right now we're enjoying that magical feeling of being on a train. This is a high speed roller, not a clickity-clacker, heading towards Vienna after leaving Prague. There are mustard fields and wooded hillsides, a lot of trees in blossom and quiet looking villages.

The food has been great, and the beer even greater.  But I’ve also been fasting. Not a food fast. I’m on a guitar fast, and it really makes me uneasy. I’m starving for some string cheese. 

 Usually when I go somewhere, I always take an instrument. If I don’t feel like lugging a guitar, I at least schlepp a little uke. But on this trip we were committed to traveling light. I mean really light. I’ll be gone 4 weeks with a carry on bag and a computer bag.  And it’s been great so far, except for the guitar cravings.

Little Vanna posing with the teeny-tiny Samsonite. 

Little Vanna posing with the teeny-tiny Samsonite. 

 While traveling with an instrument, the truth is I hardly ever play it.  So much time and energy goes into being out and about that I rarely feel the urge to work on a song or play for hours. But I underestimated the value of checking in with the strings and making a joyous noise, even if it’s just for a few minutes. It’s like making a phone call back home. It’s kind of grounding that way.

This song I’m posting for download is called Still My Guitar. I wrote it for my beloved Alvarez Yairi, which sits patiently waiting for me back home in the Bay Area. I kept it at the Singapore love nest for a while, but I began to worry about the effects of heat and humidity, so I took her home last Christmas for safe keeping. I have a utilitarian beater waiting for me when I get back to Singapore in another couple of weeks, and I will be thrilled to see her. But she’s not my main squeeze.

Sabrina surprised me with the Alvarez after watching me drool over it at Bananas At Large in San Rafael (back when it was still on the corner of 4th and Lincoln.) That was about 35 years ago. They’ve both been with me ever since. I know a good thing…

 For several years after that Sabrina worked for Acoustic Guitar Magazine in our hometown of San Anselmo. At that time I got to play a lot of amazing, one-of-a-kind handmade acoustics. But I never did play anything that drove me to replace her. We are just plain happy together.

So the song speaks to that loyalty and longevity. When I wrote the song I tried to give it an element of surprise;  to make the first verse sound like I was talking about a woman. But the title is one big spoiler alert. (So is blogging. )

This is another one recorded with Tom Prasada Rao at the Tofu Bar in Richardson, Texas. Instead of a bass, we used a twelve string. (Which, if I recall, was a trick learned from Drum Master Jagoda.) I love that sound. The Wilbury-esque slide guitar was added later by my dear friend Paul Robinson.

May everyone be so lucky as to find a guitar they can love deeply and never let go of.  Some players find several.  Who am I to judge?

From the Museum of Musical Instruments in Vienna. 

From the Museum of Musical Instruments in Vienna. 

THE CLOSER YOU ARE

            One of the perks of being a cabana boy is that I get to provide poolside service anywhere the boss happens to be. Right now Sabrina is attending a conference in Vienna, so I am duty bound to tag along. Today she’s at the conference, so I am blah blah blogging in a park recovering from my museum hangover. It’s a beautiful day and I can smell both sausage and flowers,  which go surprisingly well together. They say "danke schoen" here, so I have this wicked Wayne Newton ear worm I can't seem to get rid of.

If I may ask a personal question...

Would you dance with this guy?        

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        Don’t let the facial hair fool you. This is the Gene Kelly of the Blue Danube himself. Pretty bohemian looking for a waltzer, don’t you think? My favorite version of his greatest waltz hit is “The Danube Isn’t Blue, It’s Green” by the legendary Spike Jones and his City Slickers. I had some of his stuff on 78s when I was a kid, and I’m still a big fan. All wild, cartoonish parodies; Weird Al meets Bugs Bunny. Here’s another takeoff, The Black and Blue Danube from Spike’s TV show. Great stuff.

         When I wrote about Gravedigger’s Boy, I mentioned my love of composing in ¾ time and waltzing too. What better place to share a waltz than Vienna? Of course, the Viennese waltz is a lot faster and way out of my league. I prefer the big, slow, Titanic-nautical-roll. It suits my body type. Besides, I don’t have the duds to dance like an Austrian.

         So this waltz I’m posting is called The Closer You Are. I wrote it a while ago while Cabana Boss was off on a work trip. Sometimes we travel together and sometimes we travel separately. We give each other room to move around that way. So I was missing her when this song popped out. And the bridge, “Sometimes we fight…” is just a big fat lie.

        This tune is a lot different from the Americana style downloads I’ve posted so far. It was recorded with Tom Prasada Rao at his Tofu Bar in Richardson, Texas several years back. At the time I was writing more singer/songwriter type stuff. I got hung up on the post production (developed a bad case of self-produced paralysis) and never commited these tunes to CD. So I plan to share a lot of them in their not-quite-finished-in-my-mind form. “Nature in the raw is seldom mild.”

         I love all the players on this cut. Tom PR played that vibe-y tremolo electric guitar. Cary Cooper sang the background vocals. Jagoda played drums. And my Browngrass brother Bill Kahler played the sax solo. You should grab your sweetie and dance to this one. 

MY NEW LEMONADE STAND

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              Once I made a lemonade stand. I painted the signs and my mom helped me make the lemonade. As will happen, I pretty much drank it all myself.  When I set up shop out at the curb it was dead as a door nail;  no foot traffic, no cars coming to a screeching halt. My mom came out and bought a glass. That was my only sale. This prepared me for the folk business.

              It was fun anyway. Painting the signs. Making the product with Mom. Doing commerce with my one loyal customer. Watching the cars go by... drinkin’... and that was enough. So I’ll never be Minutemaid.

          Today I’m opening a new lemonade stand. It’s called setting free the songs dot com. The only difference is this time I’m not trying to sell anything. It’s more like a lemonade soup kitchen for parched ears.

              These days I’m writing my little tunes while living in Singapore. My wife Sabrina took a job here and I tagged along as full time Cabana Boy. There’s no question of doing any music business here. It’s pretty much pop only. There are no venues for the kind of folksy, lyric-heavy, story-driven stuff I do. They'd look at me like Farmer John just stepped out of his time machine.

               But oddly enough, that’s been very freeing. I get to woodshed and work on craft. My Cabana Boy workload is a actually quite light. So my mind is off-leash, taking the long walk in the tropical heat. I'm thinking of new stuff to say, so I'm building a place to say it.

              Consequently I’ve had sort of a Jedi mind shift regarding this website stuff. My old website was a dead letter office. I avoided it like the plague, because the pretense of doing business and the charade of sounding professional didn't resonate with me. It felt inauthentic. . Now that I'm in a situation where business isn't an option, a website becomes something I wanna make. Like painting the signs and squeezing the lemons, just building it has been fun. And I'm exited about building a home to put my stuff in, instead of just pouring it down the Facebook hole. 

                    So here's what I plan to do here. First, I'm giving away the tunes from my first two records. You can freely download them from these links (Sweet River Grace, Gravedigger's Boy). Having lived with these songs for a while, I used them as jumping off points for blogging, so there is a short blog attached to each of the songs (if you're into this reading thing.) From here I plan to post once or twice a week with quick sketches of new tunes and lots of older unreleased stuff as well. Any music will be available for download, no strings attached. I am removing my major stumbling block -- the burden of perfection. I just wanna share this stuff warts-and-all, with the understanding that I may record a better "definitive version" down the road. If you want to know when I post stuff, sign up here. If you hear anything you like, help yourself. If it's not your cup 'o tea, no problem. There's a 24 hour Jiffy Mart right up the street. Go buy yourself some Minutemaid.