Thursday, July 21, 2011

R.I.P. Lucian Freud

One of the great artists of the last 100 years. He disdained idealization, but he certainly never lacked expression. His imagery was unsparing, unrelenting, haunting. He lacked a filter - everything about his work was raw. He's a great inspiration to me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Young at Heart

Late Sunday night at the Fair, something shifted. It’s hard to describe. Something about the musicians’ relationship with the audience became deeper, truer, more raw and revealed. For instance: wild man accordionist Jason Webley spent most of the weekend playing raucous covers of bad 80s pop tunes called out at random from the audience. He is as much a comedian as a musician and he's hilarious. Late Sunday night, he started a set with his usual silly cheer, but then, apropos of nothing, he started telling these dark, personal stories about his recent unnerving encounters with strangers. He would find himself in irritating situations revolving around bad weather, cancelled flights, missed connections, that kind of thing. You know those days, right? There he'd be, bemoaning his fate, feeling like a victim. Right at that moment, the universe would conspire to put him next to someone who was truly a victim – a woman escaping a violent boyfriend, a man visiting his dying son. I think he was trying to say something about how we choose to perceive ourselves and our reality, but his tales were dark, unresolved and didn't conclude with some pat uplifting message. He interspersed these stories with quiet, sad, personal songs, the antithesis of the crazy, upbeat pop covers he had played all weekend. It was a palpable shift in tone and it happened in the middle of the set, and atleast 100 people sat listening, rapt, enthralled.

Later on, I passed an old hippie guy playing with some young guns in the path. I walked up expecting to hear folk music or Dead covers; instead he and his cohorts were playing deep, hypnotic dub, and playing it damn well. He sang in a soft, ragged, strangely compelling voice and his lyrics were angry, political, incisive. He had drawn a crowd that almost blocked the path and they were listening silently, deeply and intently. It stopped me in my tracks. I stood swaying with this crowd, breathing in rhythm, breathing a background harmony. It was eerie.

I got back to the meadow where Trashcan Joe and the Saloon Ensemble were tearing it up unamplified. I joined the crowd dancing in front of them and realized that we were all singing along in harmony. I heard the trumpet player do a lovely version of the Frank Sinatra song Young At Heart several times over the weekend and he pulled it out again that night. This time, the crowd sang behind him like we were his back-up Boswell Sisters. Close to 100 people, in tune, in time, and singing sweetly. I’d never heard anything quite like it.

And, there was my voice, shining out from the tribe, laying on complex jazz harmonies, a 6th here, a diminished 9th there. Because I can. Because that's what I do. Because that's who I am.

It’s hard to describe and I’m not sure what it meant, but that evening touched me deeply.

Young at Heart
Fairy tales can come true,
it can happen to you
If you're young at heart
For it's hard, you will find,
to be narrow of mind
If you're young at heart

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on it's way

Don't you know that it's worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart
For as rich as you are it's much better by far
To be young at heart

And if you should survive to 105
Look at all you'll derive out of being alive
Then here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart

And if you should survive to 105
Look at all you'll derive out of being alive
Then here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Finding My Camp

It was odd being Oregon Country Fair last weekend without Sequoia. He has more visibility in, and connection to, that world. He's still the big tall hippie boy from back in the day. He has a legitimacy that I never possessed. I was never quite groovy enough. I am now, and will always be, a skeptic at heart. Skepticism goes over like a fart in church in that crowd. It was an interesting challenge to to go up there without a community. I was on my own.

I arrived on Thursday, the day before the Fair started, and had to find my own place place to camp. I immediately gravitated to an area near Chela Mela meadow and set up my tent. Yes campers, for once in my life I didn't ask permission, I presumed. The tent hostess thought about getting miffed, but I laid on the charm and she backed down. I went back to the booth where I was to work and helped them set up. We were done by early afternoon and I had the rest of the day to myself. I wandered back to my camp and found a guy sitting in front of his tent just a few feet from mine. He was playing the weirdest looking guitar I've ever seen in my life. The body was constructed from a trash can with a resonator cone in the middle and a banjo neck attached. He played beautifully and got an amazingly pure tone out this trash can guitar. Stopped me in my tracks. Then I realized that he was playing the Fats Waller tune "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," a beautiful standard from the 20s. As you know campers, that stuff is right in my wheelhouse. As he was singing, I stepped right up and laid down a sweet, complex harmony to his melody. Never hesitated. I can do that now, I have those skills. I sounded good, if I do say so myself, which caught his attention. We talked for a while. Turns out, he was Trashcan Joe, leader of the best band I saw all weekend. Turns out I had pitched my tent in a musician's camp, alongside members of three bands: Trashcan Joe, a band called Saloon Ensemble and two back up musicians for a singer named Steven Miller (not Steve, Steven; different guy.)

Kismet? Karma? Fate?

I was never a very good hippie. Truth be told, I was never all that motivated to learn how to be a good hippie. I am highly motivated to learn how to be a good musician. I got to hang out with musicians all weekend, talk to them about bands and how they work, find out what turns them on and off. It was very, very cool to feel accepted own measely merits. I didn't play much with these guys because they were way out of my league. But I sang. I sang loud, I sang strong and, in singing, I felt right at home.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

And yet...

"It doesn't seem to matter how I live in the world, whether I'm kind or cruel, patient or demanding, ethical or dishonest. I continually encounter people who take advantage of others, who take what isn't theirs and make others pay."

It doesn't matter - except to me.

And that's the answer. It matters to me. I follow my own code of ethics, despite the fact that the world is unfair and filled with thieves and scoundrels. I try to live an ethical life in an unethical world. I follow my code of ethics because it is the right thing to do. To do otherwise would only make me unhappy. If I became one of the takers, no-one would suffer more than me.

I wish everyone held themselves to the same standard, but that's out of my control. This is who I am. This is how my mama raised me. Living an ethical life is not always easy. I strive to be my best self and fail more often than not. I rarely live up to my ideal. I'm getting better at accepting responsibility for those failures and trying to make amends, but the struggle never ends.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Get Tough or Die

When I was a little girl and would whine to my mother that something was not fair, she would usually reply "who told you life was fair?"

She knew whereof she spoke; that woman never caught a single break. And yet, she never gave up hope and she never lost her smile.

I often speak of her optimism, her indomitable good will, her undying belief in humanity's innate goodness despite repeated demonstrations to the contrary. I try to square that optimism with her pessimism. It never manifested as bitterness, only as fear. She always feared the worst, and why wouldn't she? She lived it so often.

It's such a cliche, but why do bad things happen to good people? Why do nice guys finish last? There's a bumper sticker saying that "Character Counts;" counts for what?

I keep thinking that integrity will be met with integrity, honesty with honesty, kindness with kindness, but experience has shown me otherwise. It doesn't seem to matter how I live in the world, whether I'm kind or cruel, patient or demanding, ethical or dishonest. I continually encounter people who take advantage of others, who take what isn't theirs and make others pay.

I'm still surprised by the takers; you'd think by now I'd be expecting them. Despite my mother's best efforts, I keep expecting the world to be fair, but it isn't.

It's long past time for me to get over it, long past time for me to get tough or die.