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.