Saturday, May 09, 2009

Gathering and Dispersing Energy

Recently I've had the good fortune to work on a number of website projects for some of my favorite musicians and artists.

This has always been a significant focus of my work and pretty much my favorite thing to do. It also happens to be work that does not come along frequently or predictably enough, but perhaps that's in the nature of working as an artist with artists... there is always a bit of flux.

My favorite site of late is the one I recently completed for bassist and composer James Singleton at

I don't think that James actually knows it, but I've been a big fan of his for the better part of 30 years. It was somewhere in the late 70's (right about the time I first moved to the Bay Area from Arizona to study for my "first career" as something of a clergy person). Much of the force that drove me in my "second career" engineering, producing, and promoting musical projects (and the musical element of non-musical projects) was influenced by the kind of things I was hearing from this amazing collection of free-ranging musicians from New Orleans. At the time I was renewing the love of jazz with which I had inititally been infected by the crazy old trombone player (featured performer with Kay Kyser's band) who served as my high school band (and jazz band) teacher. Finding the music of Astral Project at this time served to return me to those musical roots I had drifted away from and prepared me for the wide ranging awakening to the various dynamic intricasies of modern jazz that I was pretty much completely ignorant of. At that point in time, all I knew was that this was something that grabbed me, took control of my awareness and let me go longing for more.

I pretty much feel the same way now.

When James called me during the period when we both were trying to find a way to survive in the semi-apocalyptic environment of post-Katrina New Orleans, I jumped at the chance to work on his website.

On the evening following the afternoon when we first met (in the tiny bar of Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street) I shot video of a terrific small trio performance at d.b.a. (which I still have to relocate and edit... film at 11, as they say) and found myself emotionally bathing in the deep thumping bass lines juxtaposed to the pattering pound of James technique. James Singleton does not play the bass in a manner akin to that of anyone else I have ever seen or heard. James plays the whole instrument with his whole being. The result is a phenomenon that I have found it hard to explain until recently reading how James describes it himself as... "gathering and disbursing energy..."

There is really no better way to describe the experience (it would seem to be a shared experience between musicians and audience) than that phrase. Unfortunately, on this particular night at Snug, the energy being disbursed by James and the band was conflicting with the energy being disbursed by a couple of bully frat boys who had more interest in being loud mouthed assholes disbursing their own chaotic energy. When I was punched from behind by one of these cretins during a break in the set, I decided to call it a night and instead of spinning around and whacking the guy over the head with a pint glass, or stepping into the street and calling to the cop just down the sidewalk, I walked away, went home and wrote a poem about the experience. I can only attribute this atypical moment of sanity and creativity to the inspiration I received from that energy being gathered and disbursed so close to me in such a tiny space by James Singleton and friends.

Unfortunately, the inspiration of that evening didn't adequately break through to my consciousness in creating James' website. Rather quickly I discovered that I was completely without any kind of design ideas that I felt even came close to expressing what I felt needed to be expressed. What this led to was a complete creative stall and a long time in which James must have become convinced he was never going to see a website, at least not one created by me. The up side of this webber's block was that I spent large amounts of time listening to James' music over and over again, searching for a link into the material.

During all this time, James was ridiculously patient with me and when I finally got to working on the new designs he was helpful, attentive, understanding and gracious. In short, he was everything anyone ever wants in a client and more than one typically expects from a performer who one has followed from a distance over a long period of time.

For the time being, even though various circumstances prevent me from enjoying the humid night air of Frenchmen Street as the thumps, bumps, twitters and groans of James' music (and that of his various collaborators) wafts on the balmy breeze, I still have the opportunity to work on his site (this afternoon I just updated his schedule listings) and to drink in the music that I have come to know like a good friend.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explore it even a little bit. I also am grateful for James, his intelligence, his humor, his spirit, his music, and his friendship.

Monday, April 06, 2009

As Long As One and One is Two...

Yesterday was the anniversary of Jen and Andy's wedding last April 5 and the day brought back a whole flood of memories from that day, that weekend.

Some of those memories are images that remain in my mind as if they just happened, others are more like snapshots that I flip through in my mental memory book. Others are full flush emotional memories that draw up a visceral response from deep inside my being. These memories bring with them laughter, or tears, or laughter AND tears and when they arise I am forced to stop and sit with them for a while, because otherwise I can't even get on with my day.

I am also a very aurally oriented person (hence my business, and this blog). There a very few experiences that I have had in my life that aren't, on some level, connected to a memory of sound, usually music, and the depth of meaning that rises out of the pool of feelings and ideas that music and sound create for me.

I think that one of the reasons for this is that sound and music provide for me (and I believe for most people) a way of accessing thoughts, feelings, and experiences at a more rudimentary level, at a somewhat sub-conscious (perhaps even pre-conscious) level. This experience also sets a hook (there's a reason they call the supercharged line in any pop song "the hook") that can drag you deeper than you might otherwise be willing to, at least consciously, go. It also provides a different kind of hook on which to hang an image, an emotion, and/or a memory.

I possess many of these types of hooks with regard to the event of the year last year. Because all of the music for the wedding was selected for and played on iPods, the choices that were made for the tunes were very personal and loaded with connection.

A line from Jennifer's pick for her song stated, "This is the first day of my life. I swear I was born right in the doorway." A line from Andy's pick declared "I will follow you into the dark." On this day when they faced each other across an unknown divide they spoke to each other first, through the words in their songs.

For me, the moment I was most looking forward to as the wedding approached was the "father daughter dance." The chance to, one last time, stand with my baby girl's feet on top of my feet and whirl her around to the music like we were the only ones there. It was a moment that was loaded with old memories and new hopes and dreams. It was a melancholy rememberance of the fact that my little girl was "all grown up" and that another man would be walking with her into the next part of her life. It was also loaded with all the hopes, and dreams, and fears I have about the future: her future, their future, my future, our future... ALL our futures.

My selection for the dance was a song by Paul Simon that I have held close to my heart ever since the first time I heard it. It is filled with the typically Simonesque imagery; slightly strange pictures that hold power not only for their poignancy but also for the fact that they are unique. My favorite one of these comes in the first verse when the father declares his dedication to his daughter by stating that he will "stand guard like a postcard of a golden retriever." It's a way of saying... I will ALWAYS watch out for you and I will never give up, but it makes the claim in a strange and approachable way.

That line is the perfect example of Paul Simon song writing at its best. The first time you hear it, it sets you back. "What the hell does that mean!?" I'll stand guard like a postcard? A postcard doesn't stand guard! But a golden retriever might. And what could be more steadfast than a PICTURE of a golden retriever? There's not even a blink there... no movement... no flinching, or drooling, or excited ball chasing. Just watching.It's a verbal image that drops deeper and deeper into odd and amusing memories and triggers the longer you spend time with it (and I've spent a lot of time with it).

That's why we listen to music. That's why we listen to (and tell) stories. That's where they get their power. Like a deep lake or a great ocean, the great songs, symphonies, stories, and dramas derive their immense power for holding us and changing us from what's below the surface. You have to stop and wait. You have to dive deeply into them and stay down there a while. You have to let them settle under your skin.

As Simon says in another part of the song, "trust your intuition... it's just like goin' fishin..."

That's what music is about.

"There could never be a father loved his daughter more than I love you."

Monday, March 30, 2009

We Always Need The Leaning...

A little over a week ago, I received a re-release of the album Sunday Afternoon by Ken Medema.

Something like 25 years ago I had the chance to shoot the album cover photo and do the album graphic design for this album and it's always been one of my favorites. The album as a whole presents a collection of lovely variations on a theme, beginning with the title song, which sets the scene for a soft afternoon of settled listening and then segues to a collection of classic hymns and original tunes that feel like John Wesley meets Stephen Sondheim. There is both an old school Broadway show tune feel to the tune. Lead Kindly Light, for instance, feels like it belongs deep inside scene from A Little Night Music, perhaps just before... or after... Send In The Clowns.

You can pick up the album (a remastered edition taken directly from one of the original vinyl albums) at

Yesterday, while do a bit of much needed, highly overdue, spring cleaning, I had the chance to re-listen to this album from so long ago. It was a pleasantly peaceful experience, filled with softness, a bit of nostalgia, and the memory of lying on the living room floor, my head beneath the piano, as Ken originally played these tunes for restful times with family and friends.

Then came There's A Turning, a song that flat out stopped me in my sweeping tracks, picked me up and carried me to the computer to play and replay the tune as I listened to what it had to say and what it meant, all these many years later.

It, like most of the rest of the album, definitely possesses a mid-80s feel, with Roland-style electric piano, synthesized strings, and a trippy little vibrato effect, but the sound works its purpose in the almost magical telling of the real inside the magic (or is that the magic inside the real?).

This is a song that could not be more perfect for the present reality of worldwide meltdown. An appropriate lament, and acknowledgment, of the disaster we face after our collective blindfolded meander through the Land of George and our acceptance of the largesse (even by those who pretended not accept it) that we were able to glean from false prosperity and ignorant hope.

Castles in the sand, washed away by the rolling tide

Once upon a time we rode the waves
And now they're too rough to ride

Once our walking was swift and sure
But now the guideposts are gone

Roads are ending
No signs to read to tell us how to go on.

The album ends with a reprise of the title song combined with a lovely soft rendition of I Need Thee Every Hour. It folds itself back in like a flower closing at the dusk of a spring day with that same Sondheim-like lyricality that began the album. There is a definite sense that the what and who we need in every hour is something and someone more imminent than the distant savior of a time gone by.

The feelings will not last, 'cause Monday's comin soon.
How can I hold on... after Sunday's gone?

Help me to hold on... to Sunday Afternoon.

This is the gospel of Lent; our very specific Lent. The gospel of wilderness meander. The gospel of letting go.

We ALWAYS need the leaning... but in The Turning... We Need It More.

As they say...We're all in it together.