...from the seas of melancholy, existential landscapes, shadowy corners,
green meadows and ironic vistas of my mind.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Remembering you Ketu
sure, we talked about Empire
saw the world through similar glasses
not rose-colored but clear as still water:
powers that be
"divide and conquer"
suppression of hope
instilling of fear
and all of it an illusion
created to lift up the gods of money and power
placing those gods on the altar out of reach for all
but the symbolic 1%
their aura surrounding the planet like a dirty sheen
like in the matrix, we talked as Neo & Morpheus
seeing the truth of it
needing to create a community
but still in search of the seeds that alreadyv
exist in the back streets & hidden forests
and meadows of this great land we call
we had such deep conversations
and although I remember the feeling of relief
to speak of this freely
other details of your visit are embedded more
in my being, from those four days:
your morning coffee, raisins & currants and maybe some toast
the "Ghetto plate": fresh red onion, tomato, avocado, basil
the deli rice and veggies at the QFC that looked promising
but had no flavor...a metaphor?
The meal at the Skagit co-op so delicious
We ate different foods
I quickly abandoned the meals I had planned for us
As your uniqueness manifested
I surrendered in respect for who you are
Who I have had the privilege to now know and call friend
Thrusday, March 17, 2011
The clouds are currently covering my snow-capped mountains - the ones I see out my window - calling mine
when they shine pink in the early morning sun, making me take a deep breath, like a small gasp, at
the magnitude of their beauty. Such a sharp contrast to the view I see on my smart phone when I wake
it up each morning - and my gasp is a different one - as the headlines scream at me about the world
descending into a chaos of madness. The juxtaposition of these two gasps creates a tension in my body.
One is an addiction, the other a soothing salve to treat my many scars and a few open wounds. How did
we get here, I wonder...and how do I find my way home?
"There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in," wrote Leonard Cohen. I've seen that
light. It's not the same as the light of a thousand suns that the gurus promise you'll see when you
surrender your life to them and practice their secret techniques and hand over your heart, soul and
money...what we do for love!
So when I tumbled down those six cement steps and hit the cement sidewalk and got another crack,
literally, in the ball of my femur, and the 911 guys loaded me into their truck and drove me to the
hospital where they peered beneath my skin and saw my broken bones and handed me to a surgeon who cut
me with a knife and gave me titanium and chrome parts...I wondered why it happened...once I was able
to wonder again.
There was the mean nurse in the ER who threatened me because I refused the shot she wanted to give me.
Tetanus mixed with pertussis. I said I was fine with the tetanus shot because of the wound on my hand
but did not want pertussis. Taken aback by my refusal, she raised her voice and said they only had the
combination and I once again said I would not accept it. She said that I could die if I didn't have it.
Her lips were pursed and even though she was tall, thin, blond and good looking, she transformed into
the church lady as she was describing my eventual death. I held my ground and three months later I am
still alive. Was that a test that I passed, to stand up for myself even in the most vulnerable position - on
a gurney, unable to walk or move, cut, bruised and broken but still in charge of my own body, my own life?
Then there was that phone call-the one that changed my life. Still in the ER, on the gurney, people all
around me were asking questions: insurance card? next of Kin? allergies? Sign this form and this one and
this one. So I stopped and took out my phone and called my friend Cameron who was working near the hospital.
I told him where I was and asked for help. He came right away with a pen and paper. I was still in the ER,
on the gurney, getting ready to be wheeled to an X-ray and MRI. Cameron wrote down everything I needed, then
took off and did it all, with a smile on his face.
So this feeling washed over me and it wasn't just the pain meds finally coming through the IV in my arm.
It was the unique feeling of being in my most vulnerable and helpless state and having the safety net of
friendship be there to hold me a few feet off the ground, not letting me hit the cement, which of course
I already did, literally...but not emotionally, because a few people would not let go of me.
So yes, maybe it happened because I needed to experience those two things: the power and self confidence
rise up in me, allowing me to take charge of my own body and make my own decisions and enough trust to
let myself be vulnerable and surrender, asking for help so I could witness the best part of being alive
on this planet-the kindness and generosity of the human spirit in the midst of the madness in this world.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Finished reading The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver...a novel about a novelist,
but so much more than that. I have to say epic as a historical novel. The main
character ends up working for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico during the
time they hosted Trotsky, then moves back to his country of birth (the good old USA)
and after publishing two amazing novels about Mexican History, Cortes and the
common man VS empire builders, he is investigated by J. Edgar Hoover and the
Committee as a communist and his career is ruined. There are pieces of our history
I did not know about that parallel todays issues. OK so that is the factual overview.
However, this book is exquisitely written, with delicious prose and savory insights
about the heart, and fear and politics and it was so difficult to put down when it
ended, because I wanted to live with the writer, Harrison, even though he is not real.
I wanted to be Violet, so I could spend so much time around his amazing spirit and insights.
Of course now I have to go read all her other books, so I can meet more of these people who
inhabit her pen. Inspired once again to actually journal every day and write down all the
things that go through my mind so many times a day, move me inside and are then gone, I
hope to write more often in this blog, even if it only inconsequential and mundane drivel.
It is my drivel and so represents some sort of residue that may be left from my life once
is its goneuntil the rains wash away the lead and ink or the Internet crashes and all words
in cyberspace are just electromagnetic static or maybe that when our sun explodes into a
supernova, a few tiny neutrinos can carry the message of my life billions of light years
through space and if I am ever reincarnated as a human or alien on a distant planet, those
neutrinos may pass though my body and tell me something ancient about myself: love over fear,
freedom over oppression, community over Empire.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Just My Opinion
No one really knows their children. We harbor a myth that the small person
we "raised" is who they really are. But the conditioning we consciously or
unconsciously inflict on them only gets thicker the longer they are
with us. Not until they leave do they ever have a chance to de-condition,
to let their own desires, impulses and curiosities take over, as they
maneuver through the landscapes and mine fields of experience on planet
earth discovering what truly attracts them, leading to their own unique
destiny. And if parents (I am including myself here) are lucky enough, smart
enough or distracted enough to stay out of the way and wise enough to keep the
the lines of communication open and positive, they may get to
witness the emergence of a uniquely free and very different, but authentic
person...and be privileged to get to know her.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
adjustable life policy
I held the old rubber stamp in my hand, thinking about its message:
"may be eligible for adjustable life policy." It was with
conscious intent that I entered the antique mall on South Calhoun Street
thinking I might find a clue, a tool to deconstruct my dysfunctions,
an inanimate guru, a manufactured shaman personalized to my psyche, placed in front
of me by the serendipitous flow of my intent--the intent I was bestowed pre-birth
not from the genetics of my ancestors but from the spirit piece of me
that inhabits the meat life after life, assembling clues, shedding pain,
restructuring experiences to fit new environments. So names and places change
but the pithy atmosphere surrounding them remains the same and I can catch a scent of
deja vu that keeps things magical--like smelling salts of the divine.
And this new me can remember where it left off ...caveat: because I will have been
stuffed into the womb of some dysfunctional woman, emerging clueless, I have to figure
out so much of it all over again for the first 25 to 35 years. Not
an efficient use of millennial time I must say. I will have to comment on this to the gods
if I ever reach their heaven in this two steps forward, one step back dance. So I hope I
am truly eligible for the occasional adjustable life policy.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
anything new under the sun?
It's all been said before. Is there a new way to say it?
No gimmick, just coming from my power place(deep) shot out
to the world on a piercing arrow of words. A satisfying
shot--whether I hit or miss. It's the wind the arrow generates
that moves the air inside and out. That movement (that wind)
is enough to reveal my purpose for another day---to feel---to
look around in wonder---to absorb the pithy view in reverence
and appreciation. Does that make me a mystic? Mystical food is
that which nourishes my synapses so they stay in working order
and my vehicle can move toward the destination that is coded
in my genes---never consciously revealed to me---only a thrilling
hint that I am along for the ride simply to enjoy the view.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Position Statement as I contemplate my footprint
I was thinking: What footprint am I leaving on this planet?
Which plants have I crushed, or nourished? Am I creating a
garden in my wake, or devastation? It's the only thing I control,
this footprint. It can't come from a conceptual place that has
been conditioned by others. It has to come from under the layers
I am peeling away, from my heart's pure intent. I can't predict
what it will look like, because it doesn't conform to dogmas,
belief systems, or the black/white, right/wrong delineations of
this world. My first step is to be aware of my unique footprint,
then to be conscious in my decision-making and interactions so that
my footprint aligns with my inner intent. Then it can be said that
I am living the good life. What does that look like for me?
(it will look different for each person) It aligns with my
belief that the creative spirit runs through everyone and manifests
in unique expressions, and that providing opportunities and
encouragement for people to express their creativity in their
own way adds to the beauty, health and spirit of a community.
Freeing up the spirit and energy of creative endeavor without
focusing on the outcome or judging its value, has the potential
to manifest a Renaissance Footprint.
May 30, 2008
The lead singer of mewithoutYou, this Christian Emo-angst alternative
rock band, screamed out the lyrics: Im a living example of one
hundred percent the opposite of this! It went from the CD player's
headphones right into the layer of my being that exists in shadow
during most of my waking hours. So I put the quote on my Facebook
page. I resonated with it. Maybe it correlates to my ancestral
inheritance through my mothers side.
Frances Farmer's mother put her in Western State Mental Hospital
in Washington, because she would not do what she was told, being
strong willed and eccentric. Jessica Lange played Frances in the
movie. Watching it made me nervous. My great grandma Kate died in
Western State Hospital; put there by her children who passed her
from house to house in her later years until she was finally out
of sight of civilized society. It was a family secret I inherited
through the unconscious suppression of the dark places we were not
allowed to express.
Katherine Heft hated Conrath Shillreff, ever since her sister
decided to marry him. She thought he was arrogant and lazy.
Then her sister died, so her father (who still wanted the cows
and pigs and whatever else you got for a girl bride in 1800s Russia)
gave him Katherine instead, gaining livestock and losing a
bull-headed daughter. She bore nine children: five in Russia
and four more after they arrived in the Northwest Territories.
My Grandpa Henry was born in 1889, in Ritzville, just before
Washington became a state.
Katherine the Great of Russia imported the Hefts, the Schillreffs
and many other families from Germany, giving them land in the Volga
Valley in southwest Russia and the pledge that they would not have
to serve in the military. They were expert wheat growers and she
wanted them to be role models. But when Russias military needs
expanded, promises were not kept, and young landowners like
Conrath decided to immigrate to the new world rather than fight,
settling down in many wheat-growing communities across the
continent. As Kate suspected, Conrath had no desire to work
the land himself, but in the new world all immigrants, even
former serfs, were given land to work and he could not find
anyone to do his bidding.
Kate was more than Conrath bargained for and when he left her
and the children one winter in a shack in the woods with very
little food. She used her energy and innate street smarts to go
to court and have his land deeded to her name. Court records show
the land changing hands several times, back and forth, until,
finally, he won.
My Aunt Shirley found letters from relatives with rumors about
Kate's later life. She had a shack next to the railroad tracks
in Eastern Washington and would cook for the workers and sell them
liquor. The local ranchers and farmers labeled her a witch because
she could cure their animals with herbs.
She died alone in the mental hospital before I was born.
I obtained a few photos of her a year ago. It was like
looking in a mirror. Not the physical features, but what
was looking out of her eyes. She was a woman out of place,
out of time, juicing as much freedom as she could in a world
that was one hundred percent the opposite of her.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
I'm Reading Oracle Bones: A journey through time in China
by Peter Hessler.
It is nonfiction but reads like a novel...China is so huge and its
history is so vast that any history written picks and chooses events
and famous people but many stories are never told. This is full of
stories (so far anyway) and people whose ancestry is mixed nomadic
Russian and Chinese etc. One of his English students from a tiny village
where nothing "important" ever happened for the last 3000 years
loved to learn English idioms especially with "questionable" meanings.
He would practice his English by coming up to the author and saying
in perfectly articulated English, "How is your premature ejaculation?"
There is one passage in the book that made me start to think about my
own history. The author talks about a man he met and meets for meals
"Galambos is an instinctive skeptic. He is suspicious of neatness,
regularity, plot; in his view, stories are often a facade for chaos.
This perspective may be genetic--Tatar DNA--or it may simply be what
happens when our own story doesn't make any sense. Apart from basic
details, his family history is unknown. He has no idea why his Kazak
grandmother lived in northeastern China, or why she left. He doesn't
know how she met the Tatar, or which route they took to the Urals."
I put the book down and started thinking about my "story" and how I
always used to think of it as linear, with some idea about where I
was headed. Then it changed over time to a sort of spiral, as I
seemed to come back in a circle to where I was before, but with a
bit more wisdom or a different perspective so I was at a higher
point in the spiral but the same point on a vertical line. But
that is still linear as it is following a line from a starting
point to some higher destination. Then I started to see it as
two steps forward, one step back, as a sort of dance where I
move and then trip and then pick myself up, a bit tattered but
smarter and farther along. Now I think more like Galambos, maybe
there is more chaos than order to my story. Unlike him, I have had
the opportunity to ask some parents and grandparents questions,
and know some of my history and can see some ancestral threads
moving thru the story, and in an effort to be free I attempt to
break those threads or move them from unconscious to conscious.
But I don't see my movement as linear anymore, or that I am going
to a certain destination. There are still some events that I want
to manifest, or goals that are loosely creative that I am moved,
internally, to accomplish, but I do not feel driven anymore and
am a bit more complacent about where I am. Is that age-related?
It is a sort of contentment but I also am aware of the chaotic
nature of world events and the changing illusion of stability
and security in all the aspects of life around me: jobs,
finances, friends, health. But still, inside that chaos,
I sense a calm (in the eye of the storm?). So is Galambos right?
Is the attempt to tell stories just a way for us to cover up the
fear of chaos? Trying to find some sort of order or meaning in
the connections of events to ourselves?
August 16, 2007
A2 Road Trip to see Teddy Thompson
Only slightly giddy I headed north to Ann Arbor last Sunday with
Linda driving her SUV and Teddy Thompson coming through the speakers.
The trip went really fast with all the talking and music. Once in Ann
Arbor we hit a Starbucks first and then a crystal shop where Linda
bought some polished petrified wood. We finally ended up in an Irish
Pub right next to the Ark complete with flies, a dirty floor and
average pub food. There was also an unusual smell in the place I
could not quite identify but it definitely wasnt a crisp clean smell.
I did ask the waitress about the term A2, which I only recently
discovered is Ann Arbors nickname. I wanted to know if it was
because Ann Arbor had two As. She said most people say A squared.
This bothered me because if it was A squared the 2 should be a
superscript and not a regular 2. But I decided not to bring that
up as the wait staff all seemed to be somewhat spaced out that
afternoon and I did not want to confuse them any further.
We then moved outdoors to the sidewalk tables so Linda could smoke
and we could just chill and enjoy the liberal ambiance of this great
town. The line in front of the Ark started growing as it got closer
to opening time but we did not have to compete because we had
assigned seats. Linda took this photo of me as I was going into
the Ark, and it was already apparent that I was trouble waiting
This was my first time in the actual Ark. Our road trip here in
January was for the Arks 30th Anniversary Folk Festival which was
held in the large concert hall on the University of Michigan campus.
The Ark is very small: outdoor tables and chairs on the floor in front
of a raised stage and behind them an aisle and then about 8 rows of
terraced theatre-type seats. They were selling popcorn, micro brews
and spring water in the other room. We bought two waters and two
popcorns. Teddy was opening for Mindy Smith, who I had never heard.
Teddy was on Conan last week and Letterman a few weeks ago playing
a song from his new CD. This new one is actually a CD of Teddy
covering older country tunes. I love his voice and presence no
matter what he sings ever since I saw him on the Leonard Cohen movie,
Im Your Man. I recently read that he also sang one of his original
songs on the soundtrack of Brokeback Mountain. As we were listening
to him sing with just his guitar and voice and no other accompaniment,
I felt injected with the emotional energy he was emanating. I told
Linda later, on the drive home, that listening to him sing was like
foreplay in that there was this pithy sexy atmosphere that surrounded
him and flowed out in a wide aura that just slowly sucked you in and
got you all excited. Well, me anyway.
He only talked a few times during this set, but his self-effacing
style and British accent were endearing. The crowd loved him when he
finally spoke, after the third song, and said, Im Teddy Thompson
from the UK, home of country music. I have to say I was extremely
happy when he sang a trio of songs from his previous CD, Separate
Ways, which is my favorite. Everyone loved it when he sang the line,
being happys easy when youre dumb.
In case you dont know who Teddy is, he was born 31 years ago on a
Sufi hippie commune in the UK to famous folk singers, Richard and
Linda Thompson. In fact just a few weeks ago, his fathers latest
CD was featured in the Whatzup CD review section. But Teddy does
not ride any coattails as his voice and performances are stunning
in their own right. After his opening act he invited us to come buy
a CD back in the room with the popcorn during intermission and he
would sign it. Not really being a country fan I was initially not
going to buy the CD, but after hearing him sing and then knowing
I would get to check out his vibe up close and personal, I got in
line. Hed only brought 30 CDs to this gig but I got one. I was
totally smitten when he looked up and asked my name so he could
write it on the CD, but more than that he actually looked at me
with that kind of look that gets right inside your aura and you
can tell hes a very genuine person. So I just blurted out, Do
you mind if my friend takes my picture with you? Without hesitating
he said, Sure. So I walked behind the table and Teddy put his arm
around me and Linda snapped a photo. I look only slightly high and
deranged and Teddy was leaning into me like an old drinking buddy.
After the break Mindy Smith came on stage and by the time she
finished her second song I really wanted to just leave and drive
home. It was a Sunday night with over two hours of driving to get
back to the Fort and I was starting to squirm in my seat but did
not want to pressure Linda into leaving if she was enjoying the
show. It wasnt that Mindy didnt have a pretty voiceshe did.
It wasnt that the music was bad, she played a decent rhythm guitar
and her partner had a great deep rich sound coming from his guitar.
But I couldnt connect with her emotionally. She had a flat affect
and it felt like her confidence was only a persona not coming from
her heart. Plus she retuned her guitar between every song. After
four songs I could not stand it anymore and leaned over to Linda
and said, So what do you think? And she said, I think we could
leave early. I was ecstatic, and while Mindy retuned her guitar
once again, we slipped out the door and got on the road. I was home
Check out Teddy at www.teddythompson.com
May 26, 2007
Vanity Fair essay entry
Last September I saw an ad in Vanity Fair for an essay contest. It looked interesting, so I wrote
an essay and sent it in. The three winners are in this month's magazine (not me) so now I can finally
put my essay here in my blog. They asked us to define our national reality. To be more specific:
In a country defined by video games, reality TV, and virtual
friendships, with a White House that has perfected the art of politics as public relations,
what is reality to Americans today?
And did we ever have a grasp of it?
Not being religious, it seems incongruous that I would pray to anything. Lately,
however, Ive felt the need to create a physical icon of sorts on which to bestow
power so that when I touch it or even look at it I am snapped into a magical present
tense moment where I tune into my personal, authentic reality with its inconsistencies
of youthful optimism and existential crises, fierce independence and tribal contentment.
Those dichotemies move through me moment to moment as I experience the sensory overload
of living in the new America. I need a way out...or maybe a way in. Why? Because the most
potent force in the world today--juxtaposing the phantom false gods of American society
and its religion of fear--is the power of my connection to those in my immediate world
that I have come to trust.
Touching my powerful icon wakes me up from a long Rumpelstiltskin slumber where good and evil,
right and wrong, black and white, were easy to differentiate and I believed in public figure
heroes and the power of recycling. I could keep my children safe and a doctors first priority
was my health and well-being. All my neighbors were sane and normal behind closed doors. I
could work at the same company for 30 years and then trust that retirement and social security
would support me for the rest of my days. I could actually save the whales.
I awake to a world where power, money, greed, and narcissism have risen like cream to the top
of the jar and what was once hidden in the dark underbelly of society (that I could deny or
ignore by claiming ignorance) is totally accessible. I am free to indulge in a feast of human
flaws for entertainment, become numb to images of violence, and read about the corruption of
sports heroes, politicians, religious leaders and neighborhood teachers. I hear my leaders
tell me that I should trust them to protect me. With my new found clarity, I cannot. There
are many Americans like me. So how did we get here? I got here by using the enemy of the
Lords of Spin: the Internet. No one owns information anymore.
The Internet has both ruined and saved me. Innocence is lost and will never come back because
I can read and see everything. But the chance to connect with kindred spirits through blogs,
email and, yes...even reality TV, is the stuff that takes me out of the ethnocentrism of American
life, as modeled by our one-nation-under-God leaders, and lets me see that I am not alone in
my perceptions. There are actually others out there who think like I do. But is that enough?
The cyber world, a palimpsest of spin, shows only glimpses of our previous existence. My icon
is the only connection to it. Even dictionary definitions of icon convey the dilemna of today's
reality. An icon can be either a sacred image or a stylized image displayed on a microcomputer
screen. Just as I can assign any icon I want to parts of the cyber reality, I can use virtual
information to polarize and categorize people so that I may judge them and dislike them and
use them as scapegoats, blamed for a wide range of personal and societal problems: Its the
religious right, those red states, the Bush dynasty, the oil companies, the blindness of
patriotism, the Moral Majority, the John Birchers, the United Fruit Company, Joe McCarthy,
Hitler, and Genghis Khan who are to blame. Its their fault we are not living in a peaceful
Utopia. Its the Islamic Terrorists, the waffling Liberals, the Godless, the Gays, the Hippies,
the disrespect of authority, the Unions, the Welfare State, the Communists, Joan of Arc, the
heretics, and all those who defy the status quo who are keeping us from living in a safe, secure,
Just like Neo in The Matrix, as I surf the internet I see illusion and reality shifting as
the Empire creates its own version of reality. It is so powerful that the only way to survive
is to go underground and create my own. So I make my icon. I decide what will be sacred.
Looking around me I see local people going to New Orleans to clean up and rebuild homes for
everyday Americans whose lives were touched by tragedy. I see firemen and rescue workers at
Ground Zero thinking nothing of their own safety as they serve the people who are standing
right in front of them. No one checks to see if a person is one of thousands on the terrorist
watch list before they offer a helping hand. It is the practical religion of proximity and humanity
that my icon shows me.
In my reality people don't care what religion the corner grocery store clerk practices if she
is pleasant and helpful. Republicans and Democrats work side by side in offices and don't
see each other as demons. Polarities blur in the face of humanity. Small tribes of humans
band together for support out of necessity. Under the facade of America's world image as
the new aggressor, real Americans are differentiating themselves from the Empire's propaganda
to create a grassroots reconnection to what we used to think were America's values back when
we were nave and trusting. Only now we go there with eyes wide open...a conscious choice to
return to a simpler time, in the midst of a complex and dangerous world.
Although my icon could look like anything, every time I imagine it I see the face of humanity:
colorless, borderless and free. It is a timeless vision and a reality that empire-builders
April 7, 2007
Massive Attack Morning
I was introduced to Massive Attack last year by a friend. This weekend
I dug the CDs out and listened to Mezzanine and 100th Window.
The reason I did that is that when we were practicing two more
of my songs for the CD we all got into this zone and the song
went to that place where I hope all my songs eventually go...a
kind of transformational space. It was apparent from the comments
and looks that all 5 of us went there in our own way. He commented
that it reminded him a bit of Massive Attack so I knew I had to
revisit those CDs. Of the two CDs my current favorite is 100th Window.
And the similarity I feel to what happened in our practice was the
percussion/rhythm goes to this place that I can only describe as
tribal and primal. Goes right into the heart and soul of me.
And the lyrics on this CD are a bit more accessible to me as
far as the words transforming me than the lyrics on Mezzanine.
So today it was cold and snowing and I bundled up in winter clothes
and added my CD walkman and headphones loaded with Massive Attack.
I walked and walked as the biting wind blew in my face, numbing my
cheeks, and the tribal beats vibrated through my body. The sun came
out while it was still snowing and the flakes fell like little
diamonds, sparkling...I started to lose track of the planet as I
went deeper into this inner space. Then a chubby robin flew down
in front of me and I stopped to watch him/her. He made little bird
tracks in the snow, turning his head this way and that to 'listen'
for worms but he was probably confused at this late date in the year
to see white instead of green and hear only ethereal sounds that
worms may send out from the primal depths of the earth until the
outer layer thaws again. After he flew away I studied the markings
and patterns left by his feet as they had wandered over the street,
looking for some kind of meaning in those bird hieroglyphics.
The meaning registered only as a feeling with no words attached
so I took that with me and walked on, the intro to track 7 matching
the sparkling magic of the morning.
January 28, 2007
Two Girls Take a Road Trip to the 30th Anniversary Ann Arbor Folk Festival
We were driving north on I-69 last Friday, drinking Fuji natural artesian water, eating
honey mustard potato chips, string cheese and HoHos---which,
in hindsight, somehow foreshadowed our experience digesting the
eclectic mix of organic, mellow, rocking, controversial, and yes,
even heretical performances at the 30th Anniversary Ann Arbor Folk
Festival just a mere two and a half hour drive from our home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
We were excited to be getting off so darn cheap.
For fifty bucks total my friend, Linda Swarts, and I got
almost-back-row seats in the vertigo section of the newly
renovated and acoustically amazing Hill Auditorium on the
University of Michigan campus for two nights of music starting
at 6:30PM and ending after 11:00PM. Headlining Rufus Wainwright
on night one and John Prine on night two and with Jeff Daniels
as the MC we got a good deal, averaging out to between five and
six bucks for each hour.
One of the more delightful surprises of those music-packed two
days was the host, Jeff Daniels, known more as a Hollywood actor
in movies like Dumb and Dumber, Terms of Endearment and the
critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated, The Squid and the Whale,
than as a singer-songwriter. He kept the music coming between
acts, as the stage crew set up for each new group, with his smooth
folk style guitar picking and lyrics, and a delivery reminiscent
of Arlo Guthrie. One of Jeff's more memorable tunes on Friday night
was an Alice's-Restaurant-type song about the time his family drove
east in an RV and he inadvertently left his wife at a truck stop
and finally noticed when one of his sons said, "Where's mom?" The
ensuing adventure to get her back was eventually told to the world
on the David Letterman show and is now immortalized in song.
You can check out his new CD on jeffdaniels.com.
Friday night's lineup was so eclectic and powerful that I am at
a loss as to where to begin and how much to say about the
serendipitous connections and living room intimacy that took place.
I'll just start with Millish, a band that is described in the
program as a group that "explores the links that connect Irish
traditional music with other roots music from around the world-from
Scotland and Brittany, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Spain
and America." They delivered a high energy, interesting sound.
Ember Swift and her band gave a high-powered show that rocked the
house. Her songs, both personal and political, were delivered
through her riveting personality and voice. Jackie Greene traveled
from sunny California to sing in a strong voice with Dylan-style
delivery and lyrics. He played a killer harmonica, amazingly lyrical
and true, accompanying himself alternately on guitar and piano.
Another guitarist added haunting effects-laden guitar to enhance
One of the more colorful groups and a real favorite of mine looked
like a band of outlaw pirate cowboys. Gandalf Murphy and the
Slambovian Circus of Dreams were, to say the least, very entertaining
and high energy. Hailing from New York , they played in a seventies
folk rock style, more rock than folk. The highlight for me was their
Dylan cover of Gates of Eden. Hauntingly spooky and powerful, the
song elevated my emotions to the highest of the entire weekend.
It reminded me, once again, of the incredible power that can be
wielded by emotionally authentic delivery of timeless and lyrically
My appetite for the headliner performance of Rufus Wainwright,
son of long time folk singer-songwriters Louden Wainwright III
and Kate McGarrigle, was whetted when his sister, Martha Wainwright, came
to the stage. I was first introduced to this family last year
when I saw I'm Your Man, the musical tribute to Canadian poet
and songwriter, Leonard Cohen. Rufus, Martha and Kate were all
featured on the DVD singing great versions of Cohen songs.
This movie led me to google Rufus, and to discover, and then
travel to, this Folk Festival, wanting to hear more of their
performances. Martha, Rufus's younger sister, has a unique,
emotionally powerful and unusual singing style. Her delivery
of Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, supposedly written about her father was
right at home in Ann Arbor, a refreshingly left-of-center
town. An added surprise for all of us was Kate, her mother,
walking on the stage halfway through Martha's set to accompany
her daughter on piano and accordion for three songs.
After a brief intermission the Japanese Taiko
drumming group, Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble took the stage, with
flair. The centerpiece of the group, a drummer dressed only in
what I would describe as the Japanese version of a thong beat on
a huge drum about five feet in diameter while four other drummers
beat their smaller drums with acrobatic-style movements.
Of course, when Jeff Daniels came out to introduce Rufus Wainwright
after the drummers left the stage, he had to say, "Maybe I should
come out in a thong!" Knowing that Rufus is openly gay,
I was not surprises when he swooned over the muscular body
of the drummer.
Even though Rufus was jetlagged and just in from Europe,
admitting that he was a bit spaced out, he delivered,
with his clear, strong voice and his virtuoso piano playing,
one great song after another, including one he wrote for the
soundtrack of Brokeback Mountain. Then he switched to guitar
and Martha came out to harmonize on several songs. But the
intimacy of the evening increased when his mother, Kate,
came out to play one of her own beautiful songs on the
piano as Rufus sang it. Before she started, though, she
told a story about how 33 years before she had been in Ann
Arbor with a friend and was feeling a bit sick. So she
went to the doctor and discovered she was pregnant...with
Rufus. She came down from Canada for today's show to hear
both her kids perform and they asked her to play with them,
and it was a real treat for those of us in the audience
to not only experience this talented family but to share
in their personal stories. After the song finished Kate
said that she had actually written that song in Ann Arbor
many years ago. Then things went up another notch when Martha
came out and all three performed together...a magical,
intimate experience. Rufus finished the evening with more
piano and original songs, coming back for an encore after
a long standing ovation from those of us who did not yet
want to leave the hall.
I wouldn't say that the evening was technically perfect.
There were some guitars out of tune, lyrics forgotten and
human imperfections apparent, but that's the great part
of folk music. It's about real people, playing real music,
sometimes making mistakes but always having fun and celebrating
music: a sweet relief from the same old manufactured and
manicured bands we are fed over and over on the airways
promoted by the now too powerful and too profit-conscious
record companies. Long live folk music and the venues that
After a fun day walking around Ann Arbor Saturday we got to
the auditorium right at 6:30 and the RDF Boys were warming
up the entering crowd, for the second night. Interestingly
they were playing one of Louden Wainwright's more famous
tunes: Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road. Just like
Friday night, the evening started with shorter sets by
local favorites, this time it was Daisy May, a singer-songwriter
from Big Rapids, Michigan. Then Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines
from Texas performed a few songs. She is known as "an Ani DiFranco
with a down-home Texas perspective." I warmed up to Bill Staines,
singer guitarist from New England, after a few songs, as his gentle
voice and folkie grace settled me down. I found out from reading
the program that this gray-haired old-time musician's songs have
been made popular by other singers like Nancy Griffith who is
known for singing his song, Roseville Fair.
One of my two favorite performers of the evening was Mississippi-born
Paul Thorn, son of a Pentecostal Preacher who, as he told the story
that night, put him up on the pulpit at tent revivals when he was
three years old and had him sing to start the evening. But he was
obviously not Pentecostal any more, which I gathered by his
road-rage style song about whoopin' asses and taking names.
Laced with redneck-style humor I could see how just his voice,
guitar and in-your-face lyrics earned him the title of "modern
wild-man of southern soul music." He told us the story of how
he rose to 9th in the country in heavyweight boxing only to be
beat to a pulp by Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran on national
television. Then he sang us a song about it.
My other favorite group of the night was Mountain Heart,
a high energy bluegrass band with amazing performances on
fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and bass. They were a happy,
talented and fun group of guys who were very easy on the eye
as well. Their newest addition, a singer-songwriter and guitarist,
Josh Shilling, performed his original ballad, Who's the Fool Now,
and sounded (according to my friend, Linda) like a young extra-good
version of Vince Gill. On Mountain Heart's website it tells how he
received a standing ovation at the Grand Ole Opry a few weeks ago
at his debut performance with the band. Virtuoso mandolin player,
Adam Steffey, has earned multiple Grammys over the years. Check out
their website for his extensive list of awards and accomplishments.
It was amazing to watch, courtesy of my binoculars (which I
remembered to bring this night) the banjo player, who plays
with no fingers on his left hand, just part of a thumb.
I could go on and on about this group, but let me just say that
my energy level doubled during their performance. I would highly
recommend seeing them live if you ever get the chance.
The only disappointment for me was the group that played just
before John Prine. Over the Rhine hails from Cincinnati and when
I read in the program that they have been compared to U2 and
the Cowboy Junkies, both favorites of mine, I was very jazzed
to hear them. But the songs seemed to lack the emotional
connection I had consistently felt from the other musicians.
The female lead singer, in contrast to all the previous
jeans-wearing folkie-looking musicians and the casual MC,
was wearing a nice dress with nylons and was backed by a
drummer, keyboardist and bass player, all wearing fancy
suits and shiny shoes. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing
against dressing up, but in this case it was a metaphor for
my experience of the music. They came off sounding like a nice
lounge act, but for me they lacked personally authentic lyrics
and a delivery that connects to my mind or emotions which is
the bedrock of good folk music. We took a break half way
through their set to stretch our legs before the headliner,
What can I say? John Prine is John Prine. He is old and shaky,
with a rough weathered voice, but still knows how to deliver both
amusing but simple tunes always left of center, and also hauntingly
beautiful ballads. Ironically for me John was backed by a
guitarist and bass player also dressed to the nines. Even
more so than the last band. While John was wearing Johnny Cash
style basic black, the bass player and guitarist were wearing
slick shiny suits and white shirts and the guitarist also sported
a red tie and slicked back nicely trimmed hair...a sort of corporate
mafia look. With the two men standing, one on either side of John,
it reminded me of Robert Palmer's famous video with the cloned
red lipstick girls. It was a cartoonish visual, and again
contrasted a bit from the engaging folk vibe of the rest
of the weekend. But it was the end of two very full days
and we were tired and faced a long, cold, snowy drive back
to Fort Wayne. I was antsy to get on the road so we slipped
out a few songs before the end of the show and headed south,
drinking spring water, eating string cheese and Milky Way
I keep thinking how grateful I am for the Ark, the intimate venue
in Ann Arbor that has sponsored this folk festival for so many
years. Their commitment to providing quality entertainment in
the region is well known and David Siglin, Program Director and
President, spoke each night, thanking all the sponsors who made
it possible for them to have the festival at the Hill Auditorium,
as well as hosting performances 300 nights of the year in the Ark's
smaller venue, allowing old and new and emerging artists to be
heard. You should really check out their website: theark.org
and take the road trip north some day. Many of the groups who
performed at this year's festival are scheduled to do shows at the
Ark this year. It is definitely worth the drive.
September 5, 2006
Dylan Road Trip 1988
After a '70s filled with hitchhiking, communes, trips up the Alcan
highway to Alaska, outdoor music festivals with Led Zepplin, the
Doors, Santana, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the
Fish and way more, I had a child in 1979 and became a single mom
struggling to survive on welfare. I went back to school and got my
teaching certificate and was hired to start teaching elementary
school in a mostly white upper middle class district in the suburbs
of Seattle. I would be starting in August of 1988, to set up my
classroom, so I was sensing the loss of the last remnants of my
Then the Gorge at George, Washington, on the Columbia River at
a Winery in Mid-eastern Washington announced they were moving
from small acoustic and jazz performances at their outdoor
amphitheatre, to their first rock concert ever: Tracy Chapman
opening for Bob Dylan. I knew I had to go but could find no one
to go with me. So I decided to
have one last fling before school started, and I bought one ticket,
packed up my powder blue Pinto and drove across the Cascade
Mountains to the Gorge Amphitheater. It was June 1988, I was poor,
overwhelmed with responsibilities and alone, but still felt the
stirrings of my gypsy spirit calling me to experience a connection
with the words and music that cut through time, space and illusion
to let me know that I was not alone in my world view.
Once there, it was quite apparent that the Winery had not
anticipated the organization that it would take to handle huge
numbers of cars (parking in grassy fields in random ways, with
no lights after dark to find your car), massive consumption of
alcohol, and facilities to make it comfortable to wait in the
hot sun on the grassy terraces for the show to start as soon as
the sun was setting. I spread out my blanket and food and watched
progressively drunk people stagger around and turn increasingly
red with sunburn, and increasingly crazy with dehydration.
But once the late afternoon sun settled over the Columbia River
Gorge and the air went from stunningly hot to crispy cool, the
restless natives started to settle down. I will never forget
the experience I had as the setting sun threw brilliant colors
over the Columbia River Gorge, turning the wispy clouds into
brush strokes of color, and Tracy Chapman and her acoustic guitar
walked on the stage and started to play with no other musicians.
She was spectacular and amazing singing Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution.
The mix was clear as a bell, warm and powerful in its starkness and
spoke volumes to the presence that she brought alone, to that stage,
with just her music and words and voice.
By the time Dylan came on it was maybe an hour until blackness and
he sped onto the stage with his rock band and they started playing
songs really fast and loud, the words running together in a growl
that I could not understand. I would definitely have stayed for
the whole show had I not gotten a strong intuitive and paranoid hit
that things were going to be very crazy when the show was over.
So about an hour into his set, I packed up and searched for my car
and finally found it, meandered thru fields of randomly parked cars
and until I found a way out to the main road and, in the darkness,
headed back across the flat middle of Washington toward the Cascade
It wasn't until the next day that I found out my intuition had saved
me from a nightmare experience (drunken chaos and a stabbing death
in the parking lot), but my adventures were not yet over that night.
I stopped in Cle Elum at a small cafe, after midnight, for a burger
and some pie to tide me over, before heading up the pass to cross
the Cascades. At about 2:00 AM, as I started the descent on the
western slope of the pass, in almost total darkness, my motor stopped
running and I coasted to a stop at the side of the highway. Feeling
like I was still in the middle of a serendipitous adventure, fuelled
by the buzz of too much sun and not quite enough music, there I was,
in the era before cell phones and wireless internet, in the dark,
surrounded by mountains and forest with a broken Pinto. I figured
that eventually the concert would be over and there might be a
stream of cars headed back to Seattle who might be amenable to
picking up a lone girl on a dark road.
Sure enough, after about
an hour, a few headlights started winding down toward me, and I
stuck out my thumb. A car pulled over containing four guys who had
been to see Dylan. They offered to drive me all the way home.
I jumped in, leaving the Pinto for my call to AAA once the sun came
up. Once we were on our way, someone lit up and offered me a toke,
which I declined, being a responsible single mom. True to their
word, they drove for an hour right to my door and happily wished
Soon I had my car towed, repaired, and was on my way to ten years
as a school teacher. But I got to hold on to that adventure, which
was such a flashback (outdoor concerts, hitching home from a Dylan
concert and being offered a high from strangers) to my itinerant
'60s and early '70s life.
And now here I am, my daughter grown and living on the west coast,
buying my Dylan tickets on the internet, connecting with friends by
cell phone who are going to get in early and save seats at Fort
Wayne's Wizard Stadium, a working car, a steady job I love, and
still the thrill in my heart in anticipation of getting a hit of
timeless, live music and lyrics that connect with world view and
A Bit of a Bio
One of my earliest memories was in a tree above a cranberry bog
on the twenty acres surrounding my parents' rented house, throwing balled up
wonder dough to my dog, Pudgy. I always believed that
when I grew up he would turn into a prince and we would marry,
but that was only the first of many times my imagination betrayed
me. He was killed by a car when I was thirteen and almost immediately
my hormones kicked in and I turned to my own species for comfort.
Growing up in what eventually became the suburbs east of Seattle,
I worked my way through the public school system, and then the
University of Washington, until I had a bachelors degree in anthropology.
I immediately headed north to Alaska and spent many years on Kodiak
Island in the town of the same name.
Returning to the Pacific Northwest, I was raised by my beautiful,
intelligent and talented daughter. I left teaching in the public
schools as soon as my daughter graduated from high school. Then I began
studying audio engineering and midi production at Shoreline Community
College. After a year and a half my money ran out, so I started working
for a large, internet retailer right in the heart of downtown Seattle.
When the pace became too hectic, I packed my bags and headed for the
Midwest. I called Indiana home for nine years and spent my time writing,
playing music, hanging out with friends and healing my psyche...I
worked at an arts non-profit for five years as Director of Grants and now
am headed back to the Northwest to live in Portland Oregon.
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