Monday, September 29, 2008

Rockin' Open Mike Night

It has been along time since I came away from an open mike night at the Folk Center feeling this good. A lot of good performers--a couple of duds--but this was the strongest evening in a long, long time.


Do sang her song about her health class that brought down the house. It was a lusty romp. A few kids were in the audience and she worried about the graphic language--but pushed through anyway. This is a pretty liberal crowd and, I think, for even those parents who might have found it objectionable, she answered pretty much every question a kid could come up with. I think some even took notes.

I followed Do with my song about the eco-system. I think I'm calling it "The Carbon Footprint Blues." Here is a sample of the lyrics:

Hummingbird hides while I hike the mountain pass

Hummingbird hides while I hike the mountain pass

He’s afraid to fly—he’d like to kick my ass.

Lizard reads the writin’ on the mountain slope

Lizard reads the writin’ on the mountain slope

Sets in the sun as he tri-i-ies to cope

Cause we’re trampin’, stampin’, leavin’ our footprints everywhere

We’re pollutin’, de-evolutin’, can’t drink the water or breath the air

Pissin’ off the birds and bees

Whoa! Mama Nature’s gonna bring us to our knees.

Yeah, I know. I need to record this stuff.

This 12-year-old girl and her younger brother took the stage. I sat expecting the usual cute kid kind of performance. Well, they ripped into this version of this Indigo Girls song. The little girl started singing and geez-o-pete she sang like a trouper. She had this beautiful, authoritative alto voice that blew everyone away. Then the boy broke into this guitar solo. They just set the house on fire.

Billy C sang his song about our grandfather and his chili--a really nice tune. It captures some of the essence of our grandfather. Billy C wasn't happy with the song afterwards--but I think it is pretty damn good. I just think it was one of those nights where one doesn't fully connest to the material. That, and maybe the song has to metamorph a little--but that just takes time.

Anyway, it was a good evening and really went by pretty fast.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Two Birds, One Dream

So in this dream, it was morning and I had to get to work and I knew I was running late. As I was going out to my car, I found myself in the driveway of my parent's house and my car was a station wagon and the back was opened up. There was a blanket on the lawn and I heard a cooing kind of sound. I knew it came from a bird and I feared that I had stepped on it. I pulled back a fold on the blanket to find this fat, gray bird that seemed to have trouble just standing up and walking. It had a pointy beak and an area where the feathers had been plucked out, which had ants and little spiders crawling around. I thought that it was kind of disgusting, but wondered what I could do to save the bird.

Another bird, tiny and almost as round as a ball, with a black head and wings and white body scurried across the lawn to me. Neither of these birds could fly, although they both had wings. I thought about putting them in cages, but didn't have any. So, I put them in my car and went off to work.

Somehow, I found myself in the back of my station wagon covered with blankets as it sped down the highway. I got out from under the blankets and saw that I had driven past the town where my school was and somehow ended up in San Diego. The station wagon stopped in front of a Mexican restaurant and I got out of the car. I tried to pick up the smaller bird, but it sprang up and fluttered its wings, turning out to be some strange sort of humming bird. The other bird allowed me to pick it up and tried a few times to poke its beak into my skin and suck up nectar, as if I was a flower. It tickled. I lifted the bird up to some hanging tree branches and it climbed up into the tree.

I got back into my car, hoping to still make it to work on time, but I couldn't remember which school I taught at. I drove myself to the freeway, where the bridges were to low for me to pass safely. I had to slow down and lean back to get through.

The freeway ended on a beach sidewalk and I had to drive around there for awhile.

Then I woke up.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Last Night's Dream

I had a wacky dream last night where I was part of team of doctors who were going to perform open heart surgery on a young woman whom seemed to be a former student of mine--although she was not recognizable as an actual student. The team of surgeons included Billy C and former teaching colleagues Bob, Tim, and Phill. Someone kept asking me if I was the anesthesiologist. I kept telling him that, no, I was going to assist in the actual surgery. As the student/patient was put under and as the head surgeon began cutting, I began to wonder if I could take it. Would I barf while operating? Or would I faint? Or would I pull through? Somewhere along the lint, the dream morphed into a surreal version of a European trip I took with Bob and another Tim that almost cost us our friendship.

I'm sure this was triggered by my friend Tim's recent triple bypass, the half sleeping pill I took last night, my general worrying about things, and maybe even something I ate.

I have no idea what any of it means though.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Re-Thinking Poetry

For awhile, I was into writing short forms of poetry: haiku, sijo, sonnets. I'm not sure that I ever mastered any of them, but they were good writing exercises. At a poetry workshop, the leader--himself a published poet whose work I liked--told me that I should try writing longer poems. Funny thing is that I used to write that sort of stuff all of the time and found that the restrictions of shorter forms required me to whittle away the luxury words and say it with less.

One thing the songwriting workshop showed me was that how some of those old classics like Under the Boardwalk, Up on the Roof, and Stand by Me really pack a lot into a structure that consists of two short verses, a bridge, followed by a final short verse--often just a repeat of the first verse. Sometimes you don't even get that third verse. And the imagery is usually so simple and direct, yet it resonates.

When Peter (the songwriting workshop leader) performed Up on the Roof for us one night, you could tell that the song had resonated with him. He sang with emotion and was practically weeping when he had finished.

Sure, these songs were written by people paid to generate hits, often working in an office building in teams, but something crept out of these song writers' imaginations or memories that gave the songs endurance over time.

The other day, playing Stand by Me at the uke circle was kind of a spiritual moment for me. There we were, just strumming, picking, with the lady singing in her deep, throaty warble. I felt I could have played that song for whole two hours and not get tired of it.

And this type of song grows with time, even though the words and music stay the same. It's kind of like William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience--except the innocence and experience are found in the same song. From a kid's point of view, the song is about the idealism of young friends or lovers. From an older woman's point of view, it's about how and why a relationship has weathered the tests of time--and it's a promise that, even when insurmountable problems close in, at least you can take comfort in those close to you.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Make A Horrible Noise

So at this past Sunday's uke circle, somebody whipped out "Stand by Me." This is another one of those early tunes that I think is pure poetry when done right. This older lady in the group took the vocal. She had this deep throaty voice--practically a tenor. When she finished, we just kept playing and Uke Forever did this sweet little solo and it was very quiet and meditative. I think we could have played that song for the whole two hours.

So I decided that I needed to learn the song in a key that fit my range.

So I get a version off chordie and take it to school so I can practice between classes like I always do. I'm having a little trouble with it because I'm working with tabs and I only sort of know how the song goes.

So, as I'm struggling and concentrating on the tabs and words in front of me, this loud, mooing kind of sound starts beside me and kind of startles me. I stop and turn to my right and one of my colleagues is standing there. She says, "I love this song," and continues this cow sound that sounds almost like singing only different. I tell her that I'm having trouble with it and let her sing while I play--thinking that maybe I'm o far off-key that I am causing her to sound bad but, no, she really does sing like a cow and is tone deaf to boot but apparently that doesn't bother her and she keeps singing while students who often stand around with me playing rhythm instruments kind of stop as if they have just witnessed some horrible accident and can't look away.

But I keep playing because I think maybe on some level that it is a noble effort and that, if not beautiful, it is at least sublime.