Black Bow Tie

I was looking for my black bow tie for a performance I have this weekend. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I throw things away sometimes, but don’t remember throwing away the black or red tie. Why would I have done that? Those can be handy things for the odd gig.

On the way I looked into a box that sits on a high shelf in the closet. I dug through that assorted stuff, which was kind of a mess, and didn’t see the ties. But I saw everything else.

And I suppose because of the space I’m in I started going through it all and looking at things. and I suppose because of the space I’m in I started seeing these things differently than I had before. Old greeting cards from people congratulating me on this and that, most of them either dead or I just don’t see or talk to anymore. Odd photos. Old program sheets from high school piano recitals and college recitals. A few letters people had written to me back in the day when people still did that. Including my mother.

And I suppose because of the space I’m in I ended up throwing away most of what was in there. I don’t need the paper to keep the memories that matter, or the things I am most thankful for. I throw things away sometimes when I don’t feel I need them anymore.

That one letter from my mother. Despite everything, it sounds pretty sincere. She wrote it when I graduated from college. A proud moment for moms, no doubt. She sounds sincere, and I have to choose whether to pour grace over it or not. If I don’t, does that mean I’m still holding on to judgments? Does it mean I have decided not to pretend certain things? How do you know the difference?

I believe her: she was proud of me because of the music. She even admits she wasn’t “always strong and supportive,” but she was a single mom back in the day, when they didn’t have all the social support stuff they do know, for whatever difference that might have made. We’ve never been emotionally or affectionately close, and that’s the leftovers of it. But, if nothing else, it was always the music that held us together in any way, and made her proud.

I decided to hold on to that letter, I guess because of the space I’m in.

And discovered some old music, and all the old vellum music manuscript paper I never used, still in perfect condition, which I must do something with…even if it’s just to put in some museum so people can look at how things were done before we had the internet and digital technology that both blessed and fucked up our lives.

I threw out most of what was in there. I suppose because of the space I’m in. And now I’m in even a weirder space than I was before. I’m moving through a time when I’m thinking about what my spirituality is, and what a spirituality of music really means. And I’ve learned a hell of a lot about letting go. Letting go of anxiety, bad memories, bad head-talk, negativity, judgment, obsessiveness. Letting go of things I can’t control. One of them being whether anyone reads this, or whether it matters because I’m certainly not selling anything (“Life is pain; anyone who says otherwise is selling something” — the Dread Pirate Roberts). And if someone reads it, it doesn’t matter anyway because I’m not selling anything. Not looking at the stats.

I’m just talking out loud because writing is a way for me to do that, and it does something for me. Yeah, sometimes I think maybe I’ve written something that might be helpful or thought-provoking for someone who might read it, but I’m not selling anything, so odds are not.

The space I’m in. No expectations of what is to come. No assumptions, no ambitions – other than making the music. Don’t need to “make a name for myself” or “claim my voice.” I just play music and sing, like I have since the day I was born. That was always enough for me. Just that. The perfect way for me to get through life. And maybe along the way show someone else how to do it who seems like they’re hungry for it, too. I’ll end up counting them on two hands. And that’s okay. Even one is a trip.

I haven’t found the black bow tie, so I guess I gave it to Goodwill or something. I sure as shit didn’t throw it in the trash. Guess I’ll have to borrow one for the concert.


i lay myself out

flatten into the bottom

melt into the good earth

which is my mother

releasing, relinquishing


as i came into this life

with nothing

and will go out with nothing

from ground to ground

element to element

spirit to spirit

energy to energy

everything is given

every worthy thing

so I am free, floating on the current that

takes me wherever it will

i was never saved

until i was

when it was time

for me to receive that baptism of surrender

to that which is greater

than me, than me

than me…

and so

whatever door is opened

before me

that will i pass through

and whichever is closed

i will forget

me walking, moving

with the energy loaned to me for a little while

along the path i know

a little and by little

carrying gratitude easy

lightly preciously

for the gift it is

in living the gift everything is

so as he sings

as we all sing…

Thank you for sunshine

Thank you for rain

Thank you for joy

Thank you for pain

It’s a beautiful day

It’s a beautiful day

Give Me A Home


how a three-chord ambient sound

repeating over and over

for a half hour or more at a time

can hold me –

Major mode largo

effexed for deep tone and soft transitions

moving like a quiet slow-rolling river

in no hurry to get anywhere

My soul to flow like that

So give me that home

where the mysteries roam

and the violins quietly play

where never is heard

a discouraging word

and my mind is not clouded all day


I see him standing on the sidewalk of the main drag. He has his music on, always. Always.

You can easily tell that he loves his music because he dances. He moves and he dances while waiting for the bus. He dances his walk. He takes six steps, bounces, turns, walks back and bounces some more. He’s grooving.

He smiles almost constantly. And he gestures to the traffic. He’ll pull the rope for a trucker. He’ll hold out his phone toward drivers at the intersection, as if he’s showing everyone, or encouraging them to listen to how cool it is. Occasionally he’ll pump his arms into the air above his head – some kind of victory move, some kind of superpower he feels in his bones.

He waves at anyone, everyone, randomly, as if knowing that doing so is not only just the thing you do, but also how you pass on the love. And as he does so, he dances, moves, constantly. This kid has a motor inside of him.

I have no idea how old he is. He works at Albertson’s as a “courtesy clerk” – the company’s pretty name for a grunt that bags groceries, collects carts, and keeps the entrances cleaned up. You’d think this kid had volunteered for it. He moves with purpose, and knows his job. He is usually smiling while he works, his eyes wide open and active. He has no fear of eye contact. If he happens to catch your eye, he’ll say “Hi,” or “Hello,” and accompany that with a signature wave. He seems to pick people out as they walk through the parking lot. “Hi!” he’ll shout from the next parking aisle, even if you didn’t see him there.

Later, you’ll be driving through the downtown core and see him standing on the corner, doing his thing. He wears a backpack but sometimes takes it off and lets it sit while he jives. Obviously, he has no scruples, no social filters, no apparent shame or shyness, no reservations. He never accosts, never assaults, disrupts, or disturbs. He does not scream at anyone or talk to himself. If you happen to walk by him, you’ll hear him singing. And he’ll address you: “Hey! How you doing? Yeah, man, yeah!” Like, daring you to join him in the dance.

He’s just wide open and all out, all out loud. He is living out loud.

Would you hazard any guesses as to what’s wrong with him? Would you feel compelled to play analyst? Would you, without reflection, jump into that seat?

Not me. I watch him. I’m aware that he’s weird. Odd. Abnormal. Non-conformist. Maybe he’s even got a diagnosis, although I seriously doubt he gives a shit.

Frankly, a part of me wishes I was just like him, but I’m not. So I’ll keep watching. And cheer him on behind the wheel. And be thankful there are folks like him. Grooving to his beat, easing on down the road.

Easing on down the road, and not, like me, carrying some heavy load.

Culmination of Collaboration

Rub a dub, three men in a recording studio, where the talk is like the music itself, which

is in play and in flux and is a form of communication underscored by a form of communion of which astrophysicists speak after sitting at a black board for months to work the terms of a black hole until it all finally falls into its proper actuation, with

the nominal and phenomenal exception that we don’t know where we’re going while floating in this tonal tub, but we’re working it all the same, as

phraseologies and currents of frequency bounce off three pairs of ears, of oars in the water, processed

through three separate brains in real time and sometimes you struggle to say what you’re thinking next, but

we all hear with more than our physiognomy and it always works one way or the other in real time,

four-quarter time, syncopated and synchronized in that shared space of rolling signal flow, now

then again the air is punctuated by the emotional high of a sequence that comes together, a trio of voiced rejoicing, the sound coalesced into fruition, the kind of which you never saw coming and therefore is all the sweeter for the fruit.

You happy? You good? I’m so good, we’re all so fine with it, we’re all so very fine. This is music, not as determination or even destination, but soley the process of getting somewhere by good intention and faith the size of a semitone. If the whole world knew that kind of magic, why…

it would feel like we could all say adios to war.

Four naked children dancing by Johan Teyler (1648-1709). Original from The Rijksmuseum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. by Rijksmuseum is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Why You’ll Never See Me in TV Ads

Apparently, marketing strategies aren’t built with the capacity to identify and classify the singularities of the individuals to whom they market.

My shaving supply vendor is entirely unaware that my pate is smooth as an eight ball. I could, of course, opt out of the marketing emails, but gosh, why would I do that? This is entertaining.

First, the shampoo ads. Then, the conditioner ads. After that, the hair gel ads. All specially formulated to work together for fabulous hair because, well, they’re all sold by the same company.

Myself, I’ve never known a man who used conditioner, although I have met a few teenagers who would apply copious amounts of gel – usually about a week’s worth – to give their young manes (and young names) that special sex appeal.

(They also used obnoxious body sprays, the odor of which was worse than the smell of a boy’s locker room.)

I get these ads regularly and have a good chuckle when they show up. Three bald guys walk into a salon and the stylist says, “Um.”

But then came the face products. You see, you’re supposed to use the specially formulated exfoliating facial scrub, followed by the special face toner (a revelation), and finish with the special face lotion.

All this time I’ve been using nothing but soap! SOAP! Little wonder my three-score face resembles the tree bark of a 50-year-old cottonwood.

I jest. But, seriously folks, it’s enough to get me questioning my own hygiene. Should I be taking better care? Shouldn’t I respect myself more? I should strive to be a better steward of the only body I will ever have.

A gaggle of attractive ladies stops a guy on the street to gush, “Ooh, excuse us, sir, but may we have a snapshot of your countenance?! It just radiates!”

And that’s a better joke than the last one.

I’d Rather Be In Sydney

It’s an absolutely beautiful day out here in the North American Pacific Northwest.

Rain is softly falling. It had snowed the 24 hours before, leaving a soft, wet cover of white on everything. Then the temperature moderated a bit and the rains have been falling since early morning. It is cold, of course, but not quite as cold as it has been the last week or so. The entire continent has been laboring under an apparently unusual series of winter storms.

As the rain falls it warms the snows previously fallen, and turns them to a semi-transparent state somewhere between snow and rain and ice. Somehow the cold air is colder than it must otherwise have been because it is now so blatently wet, cutting through the layers of fabric we wear to the pores of the skin, causing us to feel that going outside at all is a heartless thing to be doing – something akin to Shackleton and his crew shuffling across the antantarctic. Fortunately for us, winter’s outings are limited to short walks from the door to the car, or from the door to the garbage bin just a few feet away. Or from the door to the edge of the deck where we can watch the dog fetch the things we throw, hoping the dog will get it over with sooner rather than later – and get its piss and shit over with as expeditiously as possible to boot.

The sky is as white as the ground, which white is disappearing fast under the gentle influence of the cold, cold rain, inhospitable to man and beast alike. Everywhere now is a slush, a mush. The birds, hunkered, have nothing to say about it.

Come to think of it, though the thermometer says 40 degrees Farenheit, my entire countenance and frame says rather minus 12, or thereabouts, with humidity at 152 percent. Or something.

It’s an absolutely beautiful day.

Super Nova

His name is Nova. It really is.

I have never met anyone named Nova, boy or girl.

He is small compared to the other kids in his class. He is frighteningly articulate for his age. He knows things that I don’t know. Who is this kid? I’m told he reads far above his age level. Clearly, he’s being trained at home by intelligent, proactive parents. Or, he carries more than the usual amount of extra-terrestrial DNA.

When he wants your attention he doesn’t raise his hand, like everyone else. He says, “Um, excuse me? Um, excuse me?” He can be very persistent, but never raises his voice. Yes, he’s being schooled.

And he likes it. It makes him feel strong and very, very powerful. Is this parental compensation strategy? Is this how they help him feel not so little, not so less-than?

“Today, we’re going to do something different,” I start out. “Today you’re not going to use loops for creating a music mix. Other people created that stuff. Today you’re going to start learning how to create your own music from scratch.”

“Um, excuse me? Um, Excuse me?”

“Yes, Nova.”

“Um, I would prefer to use the loops today.”

“We’re not going to use the loops today. We’re going to learn how to start making our own music.”

Nova looks down at his pad, or possibly the table, or possibly nothing, and his face tightens, constricts. He looks pissed. It happens.

Then, the tears start. Ope, he’s not angry. He’s sad, possibly mad-sad because he can’t have his way. But this is, after all, extended learning time. He knows the ropes.

Then he mumbles something.

“What’s that, Nova? I can’t hear you?” says the high school helper sitting next to him. I lean in.

“I don’t think I can do this,” he says. His voice is quivering.

Oh, of course. Sometimes I forget. He’s afraid. He’s scared stiff. I’ve hit that nerve. I’ve seen that before, too, but mostly in teenagers who say, “I’m bored,” or, “I don’t feel so good.”

Nova may be a high-level reader and he may know stuff, but he’s a kid. He’s a little kid, and kids can feel vulnerable at the drop of a hat, especially if they have superpowers. Kryptonite is real shit.

I came right alongside of him and said, “What’s your name?”

He looks up at me as if possibly I just lost my marbles. “Nova,” he says.

“That’s right. Do you know what it means?”

“Yes. It’s the explosion of a star.”

“Well, that’s part of it, yes. They gave the name Nova to that kind of thing. But do you know what Nova means? Nova comes from the Latin,” I say.

I get out my smart dictionary.

“Latin is a dead language,” he proclaims. He knows stuff.

I show it to him: Mid 19th century (originally denoting a newly discovered or newly visible star or nebula): from Latin, feminine of novus ‘new’.

“Your name means New.”

He’s looking at it, then at me. Apparently, no one told him.

“Today you’ll know the real meaning of your name. You’re going to make music that is new because it’s yours, not anyone else’s. It will be something that no one else on the planet has ever done.”

I show him how to get started. I tell him to turn on his metronome (he knew what that was before anyone else in the room).

“Listen to it,” I say. “Listen real close. Now punch this chord.” He does. “Now this one.” He does.

Within a minute he’s punching chords to the beat, which he understands. Which we’ve clapped a hundred times. I hit the record button. After eight bars I press stop.

“Okay, go to your track window.” He knows how to do that.

“Play it,” I say. He does.

“Listen to what you did.”

“That sounds good, Nova!” says the high school helper. She’s not blowing smoke. It really does.

“Okay, now, now choose a beat loop that fits your piano part.” Reward time, but with a kick.

I walk away. He knows how to do loops. When I return after checking on other students, I see that Nova has six other tracks added. He looks up at me.

“Okay, I’m done,” he says. In that way that kids do when they are ready to show you what they’ve accomplished. He hits play. There it is.

“That’s your music, Nova. That’s new music and it’s yours. Way to go.”

I tell him he should save it. He knows how to do that. This is the title he gives it: Supernova.

Dragon slayed.

Blues in See Major

What does it mean to share a history that never became a relationship?

How many different kinds of relationship do I have? Can I have? Will I accept?

What does it mean to share a history that once may have been a relationship that then came to an end? Does it live on somewhere in the universe, without sight or touch or sound? Does it dissipate like a dying star?

There really is no common core, as it were, to the experience of growing into adulthood (functional, cellular) with those other people, beyond the shared experience of circumstance and incidence in our bewildered youth. As to ask, whose am I? Who loves me? And how?

There is no common core beyond the absolute certainty of materialism in the vacuum of anything else of soul, the perceived artifice of greeting cards that said to our eyes what was never said to our ears. We never heard that song. Not once.

She gave me a crafter’s photo gram consisting more of décor than of photo, of a history that belongs to her but not to me. They just aren’t my people, cellular pathways notwithstanding. Her way of seeing it and mine do not harmonize.

Function, function. Must all be reduced to function? What is enacted and spoken and accomplished? A clear-running brook may be a pretty thing to a dying man in the desert, but a pretty thing will not save him.

Function is not enough for me checking out groceries at the market. There is a human being there, deeper wider higher and unknown who plays a function for me, whom I must look in the eye and acknowledge. Function, function. Must all be reduced to function?

If the children sense I don’t like them, each one – heed them, each one – then all my knowledge and skill is for naught.

I ask again: am I a brother if no one found me as a brother? One whom they saw, and claimed, and knew? Is a chair a chair if no one is sitting there?

No, we never found each other, did not know how, now do not care to. This is how it is: sometimes, if you never did, you never will.

I am not a brother except to those to whom I am one, who choose me as one. I would, if I could, make a brother and sister out of everyone I see.

Because no one in my youth made one of me.

And sing them all to sleep in tears of heartbroken gratitude.

Jazz in Two or Three keys

Photo by Caleb Oquendo

I’m high from getting all the stuff done that I had wanted to get done, so I roll down the window to take in the tempered breeze seeming to herald spring’s approach and me all randy, so I stroll down Isaacs like a high school idiot cruising up Division on a Friday or Saturday night back in the day, turned up my ingratio-tunes, old school classic chassy romantic fantastical sing-alongs, and roll in at a con-store to pick up an iced frap in a bottle and chug that like it’s a beer, not caring about the caffeine against personal policy at 6:30 pm because I still have a few hours and miles to go. Living it up – me, as close as I get these days. On the edge Me. Needing to bust out like I’m all full of piss and hope and youthful energy. This is me on President’s Day, which I in no way observe, but it’s a Monday, a free one, and I’m on my way to choral society rehearsal where an old woman my mom’s age (but more alive and gregarious as hell and really needing to get out of the house where she’s been dutifully caring for her husband with cancer) talks me up non-stop for 15 or 20 because she recognized me from before and neither of us had been singing in the group for 7 or 8 years now, and are now delightfully met, along with the 4 or 5 others I had known in other contexts; then one of the old choir veteran tenors, head full of snow white hair and snow white beard to match, comes up to my seat, bends over with his hands on his knees, and conspiratorily says, “Now, back in the old days…” and he emphasizes “old” and I, like the silly smartass I can be for fun in social situations says, “You mean the Jurassic? the Paleolithic?” and he smiles and says he’d sung next to met at the high school gym when the choir was known by a different name and I says, “I don’t remember singing there, when was this?” and he says, “In the early 80’s” and I says, “Couldn’t have been me, I was just out of high school and into college,” and he looks at me, and there’s that delicious pause, you know what I mean, where the penny drops, then grinning in his teeth because he’s mistook me for someone older (I’m 60, he’s 85 and apparently neither of us likes acting our age much) he goes, “Well, hell, thanks a lot,” and turns to walk away and I laugh because of course this is a punch line, me laughing like a hyena or gleeful witch like I do in these social moments when I can entertain myself with a raucous cackle for the sheer fun and joy of that particular human activity – secretely figuring that a lot of folks forgot somewhere that laughing is a better music for the soul and world both than whining and bitching, them that dropped their selfless joy somewhere along the way of getting caught up in who the next prez is going to be and never bothering to go looking for it.

Photo by Luis Quintero