Until There Is Only the Song

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Pollock, Jackson (1912-1956): Number 34, 1949

 

“I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was
to show up for my life and not be ashamed.”
― Anne Lamott

 

We live in a world where the entire second half of our life is preoccupied with trying our damnedest to hold onto the package as it was in the first half.  Every extra pound gets scrutinized and ridiculed.  Every bubble of cellulite, every wrinkle and sag, every gray hair or thinning scalp, every unexplained spot that suddenly appears, every droop of the eyelid becomes the obsessed fixation.  Because what we value are the vibrant eyes that tame the fiercest beast with their gaze.  The lean, muscular body that can accomplish amazing feats.  The breasts that defy gravity.  The dark, full mane of hair that, for some purely random reason, defines us.  We spin every desperate wheel to maintain (or worse yet, regain if we happen to dare let ourselves lose it) our youthful meaning.  We spin those desperate wheels, which is fairly time-consuming and energy-consuming, when we could be gazing at constellations, learning a second language, traveling abroad, going back to school, getting involved in humanitarian efforts, basking in the hammock with a mountain of great books.  We spend our latter years spinning instead of enjoying, instead of embracing the ancient wisdoms that we were too distracted and high-strung and immature to grasp in youth, like “expect nothing, appreciate everything” or “there is only now.”

Why can’t we do both? … you may ask … Live rich lives and obsess over aging?  Go ahead.  Try it.  They are diametrically opposed to each other.  Not only is the preoccupation with maintaining and regaining all-consuming, but it is all-consuming meaninglessness.  And the guilt that appears when we fail anyway (we’re all going to die) is corrosive.  So between the guilt and the sweat, desperately trying to fend off death, desperately trying to remain relevant to those who worship the package only, eats up every bit of the joy and peace that our higher selves spent so much effort in our youth trying to attain through our spiritual pursuits.  Remember when yoga was about breath-seeking salvation, and not so much about that impressive gravity-defying forearm-stand scorpion pose?

What has happened to you?  Aren’t you supposed to get wiser as you’ve gotten wizened?  Why are your cupboards filled with creams for younger skin, and hair dyes, and diet books, and little pills meant to do magical things?  Why have you lost your zest for life because it was once filled with the meaning to contribute, and to express, and to minister, and now, in a fit of desperation to say “I’m still here!” it is preoccupied with the need to go viral and get re-Tweeted?  Why are you considering what tattoos you’ll get to mask the scars on your torso from the surgery you had, to remove your kidney in order to save someone’s life?  Why are these awesome scars so distasteful that they need covering up?  Because our society only praises the centerfold template?  And you have allowed them to shame you?  Is that why you have conveniently created this spin that the surgery scars are going to be celebrated with a cute little tattooed symbol on top of each one?  When each one is already the magnificent symbol?  And for that matter, why isn’t every scar that our bodies have ever created, from that knee scrape in childhood, to the ravages of childbirth, celebrated instead of drowned in unguents and miracle creams?  Every one of those scars is a testament to living, the map of an extraordinary life, a life not spent indoors hiding safely behind the curtain of fear and hyperbaric chambers, but boldly taking on the world, amassing the nicks and scrapes that come from playing fiercely and loving wildly.

Why, why, why is your life so filled with the perpetual fog of projection, lamentation, and woolgathering, that there is no room for the breathtaking moments?   Is your lame excuse that this cruel world only reveres the young? Renders anyone who isn’t, invisible?  Well, it’s true.  And so what.  The world is not fair, or kind, or wise, or mature, or evolved, or on a higher plane.  And you’re a slave to that, why?   Because you won’t be looked at?  Regarded? Considered relevant if the seams dare to loosen and give way to proud season?  Season should be proud.  Season should be strutting its beak with the years of brilliant hindsight and quicker foresight.  Season should be worshiped.  And when it isn’t ― and it won’t, not in this culture ― be proud anyway.  Proud to carry the work of your ancestors.  Proud to seek the quiet where gardens grow and healing has a chance in hell.  Proud to express uniquely, and not care about pie charts and hit stats.

Be forthright in staking your place in the constellations.  Be the artist you were born to be.  Tell your truth.  Be a castaway, a fugitive from the mundanity of conformity.  Be a brazen vagrant.  Be a little crazy.  Or a lot crazy.  Talk to yourself too much because you have so much to express, and not always an adoring audience waiting with bated breath.  The audience may never come.  Say it anyway.  Wear your clothes inside out.  Clash a paisley blouse with a striped pant, and do it loudly.  Be not afraid of THAT WORD that means you were blessed with not dying young, in spite of this society that hands down a sentence for the crime of having the nerve to get older.  Old, old, OLD.   There I said it.   Who cares about a good-looking corpse?   Jiggle, and creak, and eat pie, and celebrate.  The world is not kind.  So what.  YOU are.  Be what the world cannot be.  Raise your own barre.  Leave everyone else’s alone.

Take joyous asylum in being the splat of garish color in the otherwise quaint pastel.  Others like you will gather, and you will find each other.  Others like you will make a stir, trouble the waters, shift the plates.  More and more splats will appear until the lot of you are a mad Pollock.  And as you link arms, the net created by all you half-batty, brazen souls will stand the test of time, will strengthen with numbers, will cradle the audacious in its embrace, and dampen the ridiculous clangs of the drones and clones until there is only the song.  And you will sing that song, the choir of you, the throng of you rapturous spirits who did not cave to the world’s random and rude criteria for relevancy.

“Dance like there’s nobody watching” (W. Purkey)   . . .  But not like someone is shooting at your feet.

 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

 

Oh, the Places An Orchestra Can Go!

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 ohtheplaces

 

Just who IS this Elvis Schoenberg? . . . you may be asking yourself.  Well, recently, members of his acclaimed orchestra spoke freely and frankly for the camera, in an effort to uncover the mystery of Elvis, and the perplexing phenomenon that is The Orchestre Surreal.

Jonathann Launer filmed this footage, a teaser of sorts for the new Orchestre Surreal movie that is in the works.  And I had the honor to edit, from mountains and hours of footage, this little mini-docu that hearkens to a little Christopher Guest, a pinch of “The Office” and a dash of “This Is Spinal Tap.”

 

Proceed with caution!

Oh, the Places An Orchestra Can Go!

(Documentary Short)
Shot by Jonathann Launer
Edited by Angela Carole Brown
Music by The Orchestre Surreal
Conducted by Elvis Schoenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

An Old Black Man Someday (A Call For Peace)

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There is so much to say.  And I have been largely silent on the subject, in this social media playground.  Because others are more articulate.  The world is full of articulate polemics on the subject.  An entire movement – Black Lives Matter – has been necessitated.  This strange epidemic.   It is.  An epidemic.  And for much of the world, it is somewhat of an abstract.  But think of someone’s son.  Someone’s father.  Someone’s brother.  Think of them as children growing up.   Think of where (and why) we have turned a very wrong corner, after ALL of the vital work of the civil rights movement, of history! and the enlightenment of men that has continually tried to be fostered and fought for.

I added the following stanza to a song I wrote 15 years ago, because there is a new dynamic now:

In matters global to familial, my solemn heart doth daily pray;
Let not endangered be the old black man someday.

Endangered.  Think of that word.   That threat.   That awesome haunt of prophecy.

In the wake of this epidemic that seems to be our nation’s startling reality, my 15-year-old song rings now with a sobering irony.  It was originally written about my brother Mike, spun from, and into, a pastoral, nostalgic, childhood idyllic.

Today it chills.

I feel so strange about this offering, because as artists we always want to reflect the times, but what this reflects hurts me to my core.  I have three brothers in total, all young men still.  I just want them to live to be old men someday.  That they happen to be black . . .

 
 

An Old Black Man Someday

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

If Music Be the Food Of Love, Play On

If Music Be FINAL

 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of reciting a little Shakespeare during an Orchestre Surreal concert, for the closing night of the Grove Shakespeare Summerfest, so having Shakespeare on the brain, a bit, is how I came to this title.  It’s from Twelfth Night, and the full quotation is:  If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.  That strain again!  

I was challenged on Facebook recently to post the cover of a great album.  I, Forever Nerd, love those kinds of challenges, quizzes and lists.  I’ll always bite.  And I found it nearly impossible to narrow the list down to ONE all-encompassing example of greatness (I did, though, for the sake of the challenge), but it made me itchy to compile my Top 10.  The fascinating thing about Top 10 Desert Island lists is that they usually reflect not just someone’s favorite sump’n-sump’ns, but the sump’n-sump’ns that shifted something in the person, that played an integral role in the turning point moments, that were a part of that person’s various magnificent puberties.  So I started to compile the list, and couldn’t, for the life of me, narrow it down to ten.  I could fairly reasonably narrow down twenty examples and feel I’d done my inspirations justice, but I absolutely could not do just ten.  I tried.   I really did.  It was impossible to pick ones to omit.

I take this stuff very seriously!   And yes (I do know what you’re thinking) I could most definitely benefit from a yoga class right now.  But before I succumb to the cold tyranny of chill copacesence, om sensibilities, and serenity-seeking Downward Dogs, I have managed to compile twenty albums that changed me, that helped define who I am today.  What do I know of greatest?  I just know what I think is great, what has shaped me, what I would happily be isolated away from the known world in the aural company of.  Twenty albums that have fed my soul and rendered something new with each listen, and will continue to do so until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil.   Sorry, it seems that old Will S. is going to be lodged in my brain for a while.

So, the 20.  And if any of you Millennials out there are already hip to any of these — because barely a one (with the odd exception or three) is newer than thirty years old — I salute you for not taking the predictable position of buying into the Old Fart myth, and believing that nothing from the last millennium has relevancy.  Likewise, the fact that barely a one is newer than thirty years old is purely coincidental.  Because I’ll also never subscribe to the popular fallacy, beloved of MY age group, that there is no more good music.  There is.  There always has been.  There always will be.

Here goes (in no kind of hierarchical order, though I’ve gone back and forth for days over whether to do this alphabetically, in order to remain democratic . . . yeah, I know, yoga).  We’ll start with the one I selected for the Facebook challenge.

 
 
 

1. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue

This may very well be the most perfect album in history.   Miles became a godling to me very early on in my development as an artist, and also just as a human being.  I resonated with his restlessness in refusing to remain in the same place.  When most artists cultivate a voice that becomes signature for them, Miles was onto the next idea almost before the last one even got a chance to be cemented.  It angered a lot of his fans.  And I am really just making an assumption that restlessness was the motivating force.  Maybe he wasn’t restless at all.  Maybe he was simply so ravenous in his artistic appetite that he needed to devour everything in some way.  I’ve probably heard most of Miles’s seminal works, but there is a naked simplicity, a focus, and a palpable mood to Kind of Blue that sets it apart not only from other music, but other of Miles’s music.  And timeless!  There isn’t a single element in it that dates it.  It was recorded in 1959, but could’ve been recorded in 2016.  I think it largely has to do with the role of acoustic instruments, versus the new trick in electronic and digital innovation (there used to be a new one every decade, now it’s about every time you blink).  The acoustic instrument remains the same from century to century, and with it a sense of perpetual relevance.

Besides which, and really the most salient point, it is an emotionally resonant, open-veined, moody expression that evokes the shadows, a philosophical, spiritual, and conceptual place I tend to find my own greatest inspirations and epiphanies.  It’s also sexy.   Even though, and let me be really clear about this, sexy is not a requirement for relevancy.  But it is sexy. Sensuous.  Slinky.  Smoldering.

Try a taste.
“Blue In Green” from Kind of Blue

 
 
 

2. Pharoah Sanders’ Thembi

My sister hipped me to this album and this artist.  I don’t even think she knows the full impact of what that introduction meant for me as an artist myself, and how I have approached my own works since. Not that ANYTHING I’ve ever produced even remotely invokes Sanders’s sound, nor has it ever intended to.  It’s just the idea behind what he creates that has become my own silent credo: To summon the freaking gods through expression that understands the workings of the subconscious mind, and presents a more psychologically symbolic expression, than, say, a linear narrative.  A few years later, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew would end up being another undertaking that did that same kind of thing to me.

When my sister first said “listen to this,” without any warning, any explanation, any disclaimer (my sister is nearly a generation older than me, and was plugged into to a whole music scene that was nowhere near my playground), I didn’t know what the hell I was listening to, or what it meant, but I was hooked, and I didn’t quite understand why.  I was 16 years old.  My age group, in my day, was listening to Michael Jackson and Heatwave, and anything disco.  My dad came into my room once when I was blasting it (it kind of needs to be blasted, just like really great speed metal), and wondered what demon had possessed me.  He called it crap! noise!  It is a primal scream, for certain, a dissonant celebration of everything abstract and visceral, and from a plane pre-language, from the groin.  My dad not only hated it, it made him angry, as if the Great Pharoah were summoning a pimped-out Satan himself, and putting my dad’s home and family in peril.  It’s truly deep the emotions Thembi pulls out of people.  For me, it was an awakening (again with the shadows) of the subconscious.  For years I didn’t understand how Pharoah’s saxophone fit into any harmonic landscape.  And I didn’t really care, because I loved what I perceived as him going completely rogue, breaking all the rules.  Imagine my surprise, as I got more musically educated, when I discovered that there IS a harmonic rhyme, reason, and method to his seeming madness.  It’s a visitation from other modes and scale systems, some far more dissonant than the ones our western ears are used to.  But there is a system.  He may live just outside of it, and scratching at the door, but he’s there.  I choreographed a solo piece in my modern dance class in high school to a piece from Thembi fused with a piece from a Lonnie Liston-Smith album that had a similar primal growl and astral channeling.  I couldn’t put this music into words at that time, which is why they were kind of perfect to interpret for the medium of modern dance.

Don’t be scared.
“Bailophone Dance” from Thembi

 
 
 

3. John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

Closely related to the music of Pharoah Sanders, to my ears, is A Love Supreme.  Another example of an artist channeling something abstract and sublingual.  Coltrane was in his spiritual phase during this recording.   The four tracks are epic, and are virtually chapters of one total concept.  They’re really four parts of a suite, with Part one, entitled Acknowledgment, containing the mantra or chant that became the album title.  And the most commonly accepted interpretation of the album’s title and the music itself is that the love to which he refers is for God, or IS God.  And it absolutely feels/sounds like such an invocation.  And the fact that a chant, of sorts, engines the piece is both power and submission all in one aural experience.  I have my lifelong family friend Harmon Outlaw to thank for hipping me to this.  I was around thirty years old with THIS puberty.   Side note: both Thembi and A Love Supreme are referenced several times in my novel The Assassination of Gabriel Champion.

Be prepared for ascension.
“Resolution” from A Love Supreme

 
 
 

4. Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Swings Lightly

This one owes the credit for showing up in my life to my dad.  Yes, the same dad who deemed Pharoah Sanders a musical charlatan.  My dad was a deep lover of music, which doesn’t mean he was going to like everything.  Who of us out there likes everything?  His tastes tended to reflect, first of all, his era. But also a more mainstream music that nonetheless was obligated, for his taste, to swing freaking hard.  So, he exposed me to his musical loves:  big band, swing, the crooners, the torch singers, and the blues gods.  And of the plethora that I was saturated with in my youth, the one that became singularly the artist that made me want to sing was the empress, goddess, Ella Fitzgerald.  I was so obsessed with her that I memorized every lick and scat that she ever perfected.  Again, I was only a young teenager, when the rest of my kind were listening to Heatwave.  Truth be told, so was I.  But I was also memorizing Ella’s scat solo in Just You Just Me.  She was authentically off the cuff with these pearls, a passing thought only immortalized because a “recording in progress” button was pushed.  But for me, every phrase was studied obsessively. My young inexperienced voice was unprepared for such chops, but I clunked through them for years before I even realized I might want to try this singing thing for a living myself.

She is playful, but skillful like a surgeon.  The only singer truly worthy of the label of scatter. A jazz singer in the truest sense.  It’s awfully funny to me that I got pigeonholed very early on in my own career as a jazz singer, because I am the last thing from that spirit.  I’m an extremely conservative singer, in spite of my tastes for burning scatters and progressive jazzers.  I don’t improvise, don’t change up the melody to float over changes, don’t scat, even though Ella’s scatting was what originally mesmerized me.  And it’s a good bet I don’t scat BECAUSE of that.  Awe has kept me at a respectful distance.  The silent credo being “if you can’t top Ella, or even meet her on her plane, don’t bother.”

And though I’ve done little else but talk about her scatting prowess, what makes her goddess for me is not that, but her attention to phrasing and nuance.  The songs she’s singing on this particular album are the songs everyone was recording at the time.  But no one phrased like her.  OK, yes, there was Sarah Vaughn.  Betty Carter.  Cassandra Wilson.  But Ella and her American songbook efforts were what made me choose a certain path of my own.  These tracks still quiet a room with today’s listen.

Don’t let the scatting burn your fingers.
“Just You Just Me” from Ella Swings Lightly

 
 
 

5. Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives OF Henry VIII

Interestingly enough, of the two arguably most virtuosic keyboard rock gods in the world (Rick Wakeman of Yes, and Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Keith Emerson was actually a friend, someone I got to know very well in the last decade of his life.  And his gifts were meteoric, and that is absolutely without hyperbole.  Tarkus is genius. Yet Rick Wakeman is who I am including on the list because his impact in my life is longer lived, by a good 35 years.  I was given the solo album listed above at a very pivotal time in my youth, by the girlfriend of my recently singled father.  And it has been with me and blown my mind ever since.  ELP’s existence in my consciousness is much newer.  The Six Wives of Henry VIII is Moog and Hammond B3 heaven, for starters.  It was the very beginning innovations of that kind of electronic musical universe, with his fortissimo runs that variously dipped into both the classical and blues universe, and are fiery and dazzling.  And that keyboardists could legitimately stake a claim in the guitar-dominant rock world was audacious.  Wakeman’s Henry Vlll shaped my growing years, and growing ears.

Beware the chopping block.
“Catherine Howard” from The Six Wives of Henry VIII

 
 
 

6. Joni Mitchell’s Mingus

Joni is so brilliantly prolific that from day to day my favorite of hers continually shifts. From Blue to Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter to Turbulent Indigo I float in a daze of inimitable songwriting prowess.  Those only begin to scratch the surface.  But it was Mingus, Joni’s paean to another musical genius (bassist god Charles Mingus) and featuring the playing and arranging of yet another again (contemporary bass legend Jaco Pastorius), that first brought Ms. Mitchell into my world.  Thanks Pete Strobl!  I had never heard anything like it.  Her songwriting is so odd and somehow non-linear.  She almost never composes “hooks” but merely tells stories over melodic lines that nearly defy form, and yet make all the form-&-function sense in the world.  Jaco did some stunning horn arrangements for the album, all her signature takes on Mingus tunes, and of course Jaco’s prominent, patented bass sound is meant, in a way, to stand in for Maestro Mingus, who should just be allowed to sit back on his throne and be honored (actually, Mingus died the same year Mingus was released).  There are also some tasty morsels of home recordings of Mingus talking that occur between tracks.  The whole piece is utterly artful.  Joni Mitchell is known as the preeminent folk singer, but her voice, pliant like taffy, was meant for jazz.

Talk about phrasing.
“Goodbye Porkpie Hat” from Mingus

 
 
 

7. Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace

During the 70’s and 80’s, which I maintain IS the renaissance of the great female R&B and soul singers (Chaka, Patti, Mavis, Gladys …), whenever they were at their best they were described as “takin’ it to church.”   Well, Aretha’s Amazing Grace is her example of literally doing that. Recorded in her minister father’s baptist church, she and the church’s choir lit up this canon of iconic gospel anthems. And having come out of the baptist church choir myself, I knew every one of these songs, they have that ancestral tug on me, and absolutely nobody on the planet does the same justice to them as Ms. Franklin.  Her interpretations are infectious, simmering almost to points of hair-pulling, only then to erupt and release.  I used to giggle as a child, in church, when witnessing the aisle-marching of the women who were “hit by the Lord.”  But I will march an aisle any day for Goddess Franklin.

Try not marchin’, see how far you get.
“How I Got Over” from Amazing Grace

 
 
 

8. Earth, Wind & Fire’s That’s the Way of the World

From that opening guitar and bass lick on Shining Star, within seconds a funk has been established that will be hard to match, let alone surpass, as one progresses through the eight tracks.  But they manage to keep it raised.  This album was truly my first exposure to music that was funky and groovy and had a fat-ass pocket.  I would come to love Parliament Funkadelic (especially their deranged theatricality), Prince, Curtis Mayfield (in my mother’s house we had to sneak to listen to Superfly), and the Ohio Players in much the same way, but Earth, Wind & Fire was the introduction for me.  Happy Feelin’ is absolutely infectious, and that baritone sax opening lick, and those vibes, give it true street love.  My little brother and I sang Reasons loudly and in a continuous loop, in the back of my dad’s rented motor home all across the US that summer.  You cannot listen to this album and stay seated.  Or, for that matter, any of the other examples in this paragraph.  That is the powerful way with funk music, and there was (and still is) NO GREATER decade for it than the 1970’s, especially for its tendency to court social commentary of the streets.  Actually, as I complete this thought I realize that while all of the other examples in this paragraph tended to make urban plight commentary, Earth, Wind & Fire never really did.  They were plugged into a whole other sensibility and sensitivity; the spiritual, and largely eastern at that.   They composed and sang always about peace, love and light in the world, compassion, astral travelings, cosmic consciousness.  Hmmm, an earlier personal influence than I even originally knew.

Pure … just … joy.
“Happy Feelin’ from That’s the Way of the World

 
 
 

9. & 10.  Bonnie Raitt’s Sweet Forgiveness & Streetlights

Though these two albums were released three years apart, 1974 and 1977 respectively, they came into my life at the same moment.  High school, and a friend lent me these two records, and I never returned them.  (If borrowing karma is real, then that explains why there are many, many items I’ve lent to friends that I never got back).  In any case, because they came to me at the same time, I practically see them as one long record.  These records opened up my world of rootsy Americana rock, and chick singers who sing the shit out of blues (I met the music of Janis much later on) but also having a sweet melodic heart, and storytelling songwriting, which influenced my own future songwriting.  There’s grits in that woman’s voice!  And she plays a wistful guitar too.   Wistful goes a long way in my book.  I wore the grooves out of those records.  Thank you, friend whose name I don’t even remember.  You changed my life that day, and I’m sorry you never got your records back.  Sort of.

Here are two hearty cups of wistful for you.
“My Opening Farewell” from Sweet Forgiveness
“That Song About the Midway” from Streetlights

 
 
 

11. Elliott Smith’s Either/Or

Simple yet emotionally penetrating, Elliott Smith wrote and sang about internal struggles, with simple narrative takes on neighborhood things.  He established a signature sound of doubling his vocals for a kind of rudimentary choral effect, and his production was basic guitar-led folk.  I say basic because there has always been a simplicity to folk music from a production standpoint.  The great folk and folk rock music renaissance of the 1960’s (Dylan, Baez, Simon & Garfunkle, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds…), which was really a re-invigoration of the folk and roots music of the depression era (Guthrie, Johnson, Leadbelly…), seemed to be resurfacing again with Elliott Smith’s Either/Or as we neared the millennium.   There had been a dearth of folk music for a good three decades, in favor of slickly produced, technically polished pop gleams and shimmers.  To my mind, it was Smith who reopened the door for the likes of Damien Rice, Iron & Wine, James Vincent McMorrow, Ben Harper, The Civil Wars, Eastmountainsouth, and so many more who presently or recently peopled the universe with the newest folk resurgence.  They like to call it “singer/songwriter” as a new genre name, but except for the ones who also produce slickly, it is the exposed heart and stripped down soul of folk music, with more attention paid to emotional expression than technical virtuosity or production wizardry.  Either/Or is on this list because it paved the way for a present movement that is actually very close to my heart.  But it’s also on this list for its own sake.  It is artful, poignant melancholy. Clearly betraying a dark inner life, as Elliott Smith took his own life before his canon of work barely got a chance to form.  Sorry for the cliche, but at least his music lives on.

Which kind of bar is he talking about here?  Hmmmm.
“Between the Bars” from Either/Or

 
 
 

12. Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball

Emmylou is actually an example of folk & roots that existed in the last folk wave, and continues through this present one, because she is still recording.  In the early days, she was strictly country.  But the kind of country that was roots and Americana and blues steeped. Front porch music.  When country music started to become polished, corporate pop (around the 1980’s), that’s when I lost interest.  But I love the country music that reflects the roots and blues influence.  That was Emmylou.  And then she went and did something audacious for a country singer; she changed her entire sound and direction.  I tend to credit the producer of her mid-90’s album Wrecking Ball, the inimitable ambient-guitar-abstract godling Daniel Lanois. But it would do a disservice to the artist herself not to assume she had a hand in the decision to do something as risky as completely change gears.  The result is an electronic ambient wash of mood and manipulation of the guitar as experimental instrument. Emmylou has never sounded better, though I backtrack just slightly in my pronouncement that she completely changed gears.   She’ll always have the rural in her voice and delivery.  And it more than compliments the atmospherics of a Lanois production. Or should I say his sound more than compliments Emmylou’s ruddy texture and great heart.

Melancholy beauty on a Steve Earle gem.
“Goodbye” from Wrecking Ball

 
 
 

13. Bon Iver’s  Bon Iver

Speaking of ambient and atmospheric washes of sound (clearly I am drawn to this, as my own musical partner in a few ventures, guitarist Ken Rosser, leans toward that sensibility himself) Bon Iver, the band whose creator and visionary is Justin Vernon, almost seems too new to be on a list of desert island musts, because only time and distance really determine who has lasting legs and who does not, but then again I said this list was about my own personal impact, not a global consensus one.  And so, I’m including them (I keep wanting to type “him” because I do believe HE went by the singular name Bon Iver before it was deemed to be a band name), because it has been a long time since my head has been this turned by an artist’s voice (arresting falsetto timber), production sound (those symphonic and electronic atmospherics again), and abstract songwriting (Vernon is a poet in the truest non-linear sense) which have combined to create a genuinely moody, textural ambiance that feels, always, to me, like winter.  I realize that’s an abstruse comment.  I also just realized as I typed this that iver is French for winter, so maybe that image just lodged as a matter of subconscious suggestion, but it truly does sound like winter, with lyrics that bear the weight of wintry austerity.  I adore their sound.  And it doesn’t follow anyone’s musical suit.  It is a genuinely unique entity.  Holocene may just be the most gorgeous song I’ve ever heard.

Ready for gorgeous?
“Holocene” from Bon Iver

 
 
 

14. Rickie Lee Jones’ Pirates

This woman’s voice is an instrument!  A breathy woodwind or sighing bow on strings.  My very first boyfriend introduced me to Pirates. We were a raging hormone teen couple, always fighting, loving, laughing, and full of drama.  And it makes a certain sense that we would be drawn to this effort, which features songs of fighting, loving, laughing, and youthful hormone-raging drama.  The songs Skeletons and The Returns are heartbreaking, both reflecting a you-and-me-against-the-world sensibility that can, and sometimes does, turn tragic.  These songs artfully convey tragedy, magnificent puberties, and the poetry of the streets.  And that voice just defies logic and common sense.  She’s often parodied for having enunciation challenges, as if her vocal takes are booze-fueled and nerve-damaged (and for all I know, they might very well have been), but I find it a rather intoxicating (seriously no pun intended!) added texture to the canvas.

Perfect you-&-me-against-the-world allure.
“We Belong Together” from Pirates

 
 
 

15. Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love

My best friend and I have a running joke of perpetually claiming that Jimi is a cousin. I don’t know about for her, but for me it’s all wrapped up in this deeply familial resonance his music has for me.  He didn’t come along for me until late in life (my early 30s), but when he did I devoured everything. I’m not an instrumentalist, so I can’t truly articulate his guitar sacredness the way others can. But I recognize it.  It’s undeniable.  He’s connected to something divine.  Axis: Bold As Love isn’t considered as iconic as Are you Experienced? or Electricladyland, but it’s his most arresting to me.  Each track is a gem.  And Little Wing is the one that singlehandedly slays me.  It’s been recorded epicly by so many music greats that it’s easy to forget how brief the original actually is. It’s over before you know it, but not before you’re propelled into Jimi’s world of wild imagery and sensual psychedelia, and yet in a slow, blue, gentle way.  His Little Wing is succubus, mother, and guardian angel all at once.  It stops my heart every time.

I’ve always dreamt of being the “she” in this piece of perfection.
“Little Wing” from Axis: Bold As Love

(Actually this is not from the album, it’s a live version, as his album recordings are impossible to find on YouTube. )

 
 
 
16. Pink Floyd’s The Wall

I’d already been intimate with Dark Side of the Moon, and knew these guys were special.  But The Wall obliterated my sense of what was allowed.  Yes, there is The Who’s Tommy.  And The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.  And there’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  And Ziggy Stardust.  And the list goes on and on, of grand concept albums.  Most of these I did not get wind of till deep into my adulthood.  So my first encounter with an album that was more than just a collection of complimentary tracks, that told a singular story, and celebrated a kind of emotional arc, was The Wall.  It is so grand in its scope, so anciently archetypal in its themes, that it is practically opera.  It is gripping, wildly imaginative, burlesque-esque and Wagnerian all at the same time.

Psychedelia mastery.
“In the Flesh” from The Wall

 
 
 

17. Roberta Flack’s Quiet Fire

This woman is a voodoo priestess on this album.  And yet this album actually got lukewarm critical reception when it first released in 1971.  I’ve heard “inert” and “without vibrancy” about it.  NOT my experience at all.  The tracks have an almost emasculating power to them that betrays that soft, silky voice as merely sweet.  Hey, hmmmm, a music business run largely by men back in the day.  Maybe I’m not the only one who caught wind of a certain castrating-take-no-prisoners element that accounts for its early critical reception.  The changes on Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water make their song anthemic here.  And Sunday and Sister Jones tells the kind of front porch, campfire, haunted fairy tale that I am obsessed by, especially in the songwriting.  Go Down Moses is the true testicle-slaying piece on this album.  She never goes full tilt in the melisma department.  Doesn’t need to.  Her notes are measured, elongated, expressionistic, without showiness, and unequivocally mesmerizing.  She puts the mesmer on you as still-standing and stare-downing as all the most effective voodoo priestesses out there.

This is the one that hexes me.
“Sunday and Sister Jones” from Quiet Fire

 

 
 
 

18. Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones

This album was a revelation for me.  The bluesy world that Tom Waits creates, or rather recreates, for us, of the city’s underbelly, is as artful for its bluntness and absence of pretty and clean as it is for the iconic stories he tells, tragic, ironic, funny, and ultimately heartbreaking.  Soldier’s Things is no more than a “list song.”  But what it lists off says everything about war, and soldiers, and what war does, and what soldiers face when they return, with no more than the rattling off of a list of objects to be sold at a garage sale.  This is what Waits can do.  And his instrumentation throughout the album reminds me of the old Salvation Army bands, who were  clunky and un-nuanced, and that became their artful signature.  Waits raises that signature, with barrel-y string basses, and jumbo parade drums with old, withered heads on them, and rickety tack pianos, and rusted washboards, and out-of-tune banjos, and industrial clinks and clangs, as well as his parade of bawdy, lowlife, grotesque, desperate, hanging-by-a-thread characters, to a state of high art. His voice is gin-soaked and growly, and he morphs it from song to song like an actor immersing himself in various characters.  And Waits’ pathos is loud and palpable.  His spoken word pieces sting, jolt, and make you laugh … but with a weird taste in the mouth for finding them funny.  Frank’s Wild Years is maybe his most famous track on this album, his briefest spoken word tome, and yet a movie could be made of this story, for its vivid description and imagery of a certain kind of life, and depiction of being on one’s lowest rung, yet never moving into martyrdom or self-pity.  The balance of awful and whimsical is ART.   He changed my whole paradigm as a songwriter, giving me the permission to strip away pop confections, rules, and formulas, and to write what was nagging at my gut instead.   That he wrote what nagged at his gut is his greatest trick.

Song, slay me now.
“Soldier’s Things” from Swordfishtrombones

 
 
 

19. John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman‘s  John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

That’s it. That’s the title of the iconic love song album by the eminent tenor player and vocalist of the times.  All ballads.  All gentle and internal.  Only 6 tracks.  That would be considered an EP today.  Everyone talks about Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett when they talk about the crooners. Few talk about Johnny Hartman. But he was IT for me.  His voice is far deeper than those pleasant tenors, betraying a solemnity of spirit.  Every song is a heartbreaking gem, and are the hippest choices out of the vast American songbook.  He died relatively young, so his canon of works is small compared to his contemporaries, but if he made no other record but this one with Coltrane, that would’ve satisfied the gods more than plenty.  A friend of mine, from many moons ago, who was a terrific jazz singer himself, said of the album, after I’d excitedly shared it with him, that he found it dull and without any pep.  To each, his own, of course. But, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how anyone would need pep, or bounce, or whatever my friend felt was lacking, when one is being told a riveting story with an opened heart and exposed nerve.  But that’s just me.  And that’s exactly what Johnny Hartman does to me.  It is the ultimate in romance ballads.  Clint Eastwood knows that, as he used nothing but Hartman tracks all throughout his soundtrack to The Bridges of Madison County, which just made me smile so wide.  Every track melts my heart, but the one that crushes me is My One and Only Love.  Holy God.  Wow, I just realized I’m not even talking about Coltrane, and we’ve already established that he’s had an indelible imprint on me.  And truly, this album isn’t the same without him.  I guess I just know how little Hartman is actually known in the lay world of music lovers.  Which is tragic.  But, in truth, it is the equal-turf relationship between voice and horn that channels the power and electricity of this sensual, passionate rendering.

Melancholy never sounded so sweet.
“My One and Only Love” from John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

 
 
 

20.  Danny Kaye’s Stories From Faraway Places

I saved this one for last because I never actually established a rule that the album had to be music.  And so this one separates from the others a bit, but I am including it.  And music does actually underscore the stories (though I don’t know whom to credit the music).  But I can truly say that I have never been more enchanted in my life by any listening experience as a child than by my experience of being taken on captivating adventures the world over, by the soothing, magical, and expressive voice of Danny Kaye.  I had the record of him reciting Grimm’s Fairy Tales, singing Hans Christian Anderson, and the Faraway Places album, but it was his narration of fables from Czechoslovakia that I remember most fondly. It also singlehandedly launched my love of narrated stories, and my eventual collection over the years of the many versions of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, with narrators ranging from Sean Connery to Boris Karloff to David Bowie (in disappointing irony, the master of storytelling himself, as I consider Mr. Kaye, never did a rendition of Peter and the Wolf).   It’s funny, as an adult I’m a very visual person, and absolutely cannot do my “reading” through audio books, especially fiction.   I need to see the words on a page, smell the paper, hold the thing in my hand, luxuriate in the poetry before me, and read each word at my own pace.  Maybe even re-read, if a turn of phrase just happens to arrest me.  But as a child, Danny Kaye was my exclusive tour guide through wondrous lands and magical worlds, and his voice has always served as balm.

Scary, funny, whimsical.  A child’s perfect carnival ride.
“Nail Broth” and “Master Of All Masters” from Stories From Faraway Places

 

 
 
 

Bonus
One notable omission that I feel compelled to acknowledge, because of its huge impact in my musician’s life, is that I also happen to be a lover of classical music, having studied and played it for more than a decade as a piano student, and then continuing to listen  for my entire life, but I’ve never framed any piece in my mind as part of a seminal album.  Such albums do exist.  But here’s the thing; I can talk to you about the explosive three movements of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, or the New School experimentations of Ligeti, Cage, and Berg, or the 12-tone rows of Arnold Schoenberg.  Or that Bartok and Rachmaninoff were my favorites to play during my years of study.  But while there are obviously albums and particular renditions of pieces, the rock stars of those aren’t the composers themselves, or even the symphony orchestras or the soloist performing them (or in the case of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, ACTUAL rock stars).

It’s the conductors.    Dude, have you checked out Von Karajan’s Rite of Spring?”   “Naw, man Boulez’s is the tightest.”

As much love and reverence as I have for the genre (which I’m using as an umbrella term to encompass Baroque, Romantic, Renaissance, Post-modern, early-20th-century, etc), vast in its scope and depth, and the numerous directional turns in history that it has taken, I could never decipher a conductor’s particular style or voice.  I never built that muscle.  Alas, that would have to be someone else’s Top 20 list.   But if I could take Bach’s Cello Suites or Chopin’s Nocturnes with me to that desert island, I’d be all the happier for it.

 
 
 

*          *          *

 
 
 

And so, there it is.   My 20.  And that doesn’t begin to cover it.  There is so much artful and iconic music out there.  Music that has stirred my soul.  I remember my era of nothing but Afro-Cuban music, and saturating myself with the likes of Mongo Santamaria and the mambo king Tito Puente.  I recall so fondly my era of all the vocalise masters, with the likes of Eddie Jefferson and Lambert, Hendrix and Ross.  I will never forget the era of nothing but the bass gods, your Minguses and your Jacos and your Stanleys (which explains the handful of bass player boyfriends I’ve had).  Or the first time I heard Nina Simone bite the heads off no-gooders with her take on Pirate Jenny from The Threepenny Opera, and chilling me to my bone.  Or getting my first whiff of ancient folk songs from other countries and cultures, especially from the Irish.  Or the shuddering and compelling weirdness of the icelandic Bjork.  The Catholic mass sung in pure Congolese that my father bought for me.  The prolific and profound contributions of The Beatles.  And being blown away by a young boy my own age, who could dance and sing ANYONE off the stage, but sufficed to do his magical thing with his four brothers.  Yeah, there’s just no end to what has touched me deeply.  Music is a revelation in this life.  It calls on the gods, channels the divine, and salves us when we’re broken.

I know I’m a nerd about these things.   I hope there are others out there too, who love sharing their favorite whatevers, the favorite whatevers that changed them, uplifted them, defined them.  Share it.  You never know who’s listening, and who’s diggin’ it.

The late Robin Williams once said:  You know what music is?  God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars.   

Amen.   And play on.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

Hitching A Ride With the Merriest Band of Gypsies

OS Movie BGC

 

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes – the ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing that you can’t do is ignore them.”
― Jack Kerouac

 

As many of you know, I have spent the last two decades with the most unique musical project EVER, Elvis Schoenberg’s Orchestre Surreal. I’ve always maintained that this orchestra’s creator and conductor, Ross Wright AKA Elvis Schoenberg, was truly paving the way for a new Avant-Garde.

And so, while Bindi Girl Chronicles was created to share stories of both the fictional and non-fictional variety; wax, however poetically, on the creative process; and explore the caves of self-examination ― I’d like to take a moment to do a little promoting of this extraterrestrial entity that I’ve had the honor to creatively be a part of for the better part of my professional life.

For those who aren’t familiar, Elvis Schoenberg has artfully collided musical genres in such a strange-bedfellows way (Prokofiev meets Creedence, Hendrix meets Strauss, The Stones meets Copland…) that simply by having created these juxtapositions, his epic pieces often make social commentary, sometimes without even necessarily intending to, and they ALWAYS offer up a sometimes broad, sometimes subtle, humor. ¹The result is a deconstructing of known and unknown songs with the wit and whimsy of Spike Jones, the complexities of Frank Zappa, and with a little Juan Garcia Esquivel thrown in, while showcasing easily the wackiest wacky-savant orchestra of 30 top studio musicians in Los Angeles. It actually does require a learned crowd to fully get Ross’s thing, even with the sometime foray into the scatological.  It’s a melange of high-brow and low-brow, to be sure!

In our nearly twenty years together we have produced three CD’s.  We’ve played venues the likes of the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the famed Whiskey a Go Go.  We are the recipients of the Los Angeles Music Award for “Best Rock Opera” and “Best Orchestral Arranging” for our scripted show (one of three) Symphony of the Absurd. We’ve been L.A. Weekly’s “Pick of the Week.”  And we’ve had a coveted spot on Music Connection’s Top 100 Unsigned Acts List.  About the only thing we haven’t traversed yet is the movies.  Until now!

I am so honored to announce that the Orchestre Surreal is finally making our movie! Theatrical in a deranged-circus-Fellini-German-expressionistic-John-Waters-burlesque way, the Orchestre Surreal is as cinematic as they come, and we are ready to capture that on film.

Is it nervy of us?  HELL YES!  But I just can’t think of any reason to be anything else.  So, we are leaping!

We’ll be working in collaboration with Who’s On First Films, and with them we’re raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

I invite you to check us out (especially our promo video!), and consider being part of our incredible journey.  There are some really cool premiums for being a contributor and going on this trip with us.  If nothing else, we would deeply appreciate if you would help us spread the word, and share the link and the love.

Deadline is October 9, 2016

 

Hooray for Elvis Schoenberg, and for such a strange and wonderful world he has created.  Our recently added rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit couldn’t be more fitting, as Elvis has definitely commandeered us all (orchestra members and audiences alike) down a magical rabbit hole for adventures untold.

 

¹Related post: The Night, the City, and Miss Thing

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

 

 

Belligerent Romance : song. heart. bravery.

www.hqpixs.blogspot.com

“…the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.”
― Eric Maisel

 

I re-post this every year.  An anniversary of sorts.  So, if you’ve been down this road, please bear with me.  If not, enjoy.

On this morning 8 years ago, I was awakened rudely by construction in the neighborhood. I fought it for a time, but eventually gave in and hastened my exercise gear on. I got myself outside for a good walking meditation, and couldn’t get Hans’ song out of my head.

Angela.

There are actually lots of songs with my name in the title. The music from the television show Taxi is actually called Angela’s Theme. There’s Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby. Of course, the Stones’ iconic Angie. The Bee Gees have a song. Even Motley Crue, stealing lines from Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary with their own “when the winds cry Angela” lyric.

It can be heady, this idea of your name inspiring song after song, but then again none of them were written for me. So, how heady can I really get?

Until Hans. I was to be giving him a kidney in just two more days. This anticipated event had dragged out for nine excruciating bureaucratic months. My best friend pointed out the symbolic time frame as indicative of a kind of birth. But now it was finally arriving, and both of us (Hans and I) were bouncing off the walls in our own way. Me, I’d been doing these walking meditations every day for a month solid in preparation. It was equal parts exercise (I really hoofed it) and opportunity to live with my own thoughts before my day officially began with and in the world; to level myself and clear out my brain for the big day. I chanted, I did mantras, I worked out problems, I talked myself down from ledges, I rationalized behavior, I asked for forgiveness, I defended myself in imaginary arguments, and I thanked the Forces That Be for everything.

But on the walk 8 years ago today, all that activity got shoved to the various corners and crannies of my obsessive brain to make room for memories of the night before, going to see Hans play his guitar in a coffee house, and open his set with Angela . . . written for me.

Interestingly enough, almost all of the romantic relationships I’ve ever had have been with musicians and composers, and yet none of them has ever written a song for me. It is either a great poetic juxtaposition, or a really unsettling indication of the impact I have on the people I’m involved with. Of course, I’m also a songwriter, and I’ve never written a song for any one of them either. So, okay, maybe all it indicates is that every one of us is jaded and crusty and we’ve lost all sense of romance and inspiration.

Picasso painted every woman he ever fell for. What has happened to that kind of belligerent romance? The terrible compulsion to celebrate another human being?

So, hearing this song, sung by teenager Hans and his girlfriend and the drummer in his band, was a moment that had left me speechless and tearful. A moment that had made me realize that inspiration and romance do still exist…. they’re just hiding among the young. And if we still want to be touched by it, then the young are who we need to surround ourselves with.

So there I was, walking my regular route in the neighborhood, and trying to chant my daily mantra, which usually began with “Love, reign over me…” (I have tended to find much more prayerful intention in rock songs than I’ve ever found from anything biblical.) “ . . . make me mindful . . . give me grace . . . deliver me from need . . . fill me with wonder . . . ” etc. Sometimes I chanted for winning the lottery, but I do get that that’s not really how it works, and so those requests always came with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But on that morning I didn’t care about money or enlightenment.

On that morning, I was intoxicated by having had a song written for me, for the first time in my life. I felt like Marie-Thérèse, or Anaïs Nin, or Beethoven’s “immortal beloved”; women who have been painted, written about, composed for, dedicated symphonies. I highly recommend it. Being someone’s muse. It’s a high like no other.

As I walked, I completely tuned out the music that was blasting through the iPod buds wedged in my ear. Explanation: It’s easier for me to do my mantras against music; it’s a deliberate sensory overload; somehow things just stick themselves deeper in the subconscious when they’re too overloaded to have surface impact. It didn’t matter that day anyway; I had abandoned my Pete Townsend-inspired mantra and my downloaded pop tunes, to be flooded with Hans’ song. Or rather, the idea of Hans’ song.

A complete stranger who was walking my way held her palm up, and shouted “high five” as we passed each other. I obliged. First time I’d ever been accosted in that way. And I thought of this woman’s completely loopy bravery. Just to infiltrate a perfect stranger’s sphere, for a split second, and engage. What if I had refused her? Treated her the way we treat the bag ladies who pass us by? I wouldn’t be brave enough to throw my loopiness out there in that way; too afraid of rejection, of having someone look at me like I was nuts. And then I thought of the oddly shaped angle that I was practically on the eve of having surgeons cut me open and pull a kidney out of my body, yet here I was assured that I would’ve been too afraid to be silly on the street with a passing stranger. Which one really takes more bravery?

It takes a special kind of bravery to write a song for somebody. It takes letting down one’s cool guard and daring to show a little vulnerability. Letting the world peek into your opened and exposed heart. And most especially, letting the person for whom the song is written peek into your heart, daring to let them know that you feel, and that they have impacted your life enough to inspire public song.

I once had a boyfriend, a brilliant composer, who, with me, was one day listening to a song written by a friend of ours with a woman’s name in the title. He said, “I don’t think I could write a song with some woman’s name in the title.” He said this with a kind of pride in the claim. I felt sad for him. And sad for myself, as well, because I think that claim was my truth too. We’re all just too cool. Vulnerability is not attractive.

Leonard Bernstein’s Maria, from “Westside Story”, a song of truly loopy and delirious love.

Tom Waits’ Martha, an invocation of sweet, melancholy reminiscence.

The Beatles’ Michelle.

Elton John’s Daniel.

Brian’s Song.

Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

The list goes on, and on, and encouragingly on. Who knows which of these is based on an actual person, or is merely the playground of fiction? And who cares? Either one still requires a level of unadulterated celebration, and a willingness to abandon cool, which makes someone ultra-cool in my book.

Hans is brave. He is brave to be a musician, going out there in the world for the scrutiny of the jaded. He is brave to have withstood years of debilitating dialysis, countless surgeries, stem cell experiments, catheters and fistulas implanted beneath his skin, and finally a transplant. But perhaps the bravest act of all was his daring to expose his great heart in so many ways, only one tiny example of which was the writing of a song entitled Angela.

 

(Two days later, on July 22, 2008, I successfully donated my kidney to Hans San Juan, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, and Hans has been healthy ever since.)

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

An Elm & Houston Revelation

Elm & Houston Epiphany copy

 

Last week, for me, saw four intensive days in seminar with the iconic Tony Robbins and his “Unleash the Power Within” doctrine.  If you’re not familiar, look him up on YouTube. There are hundreds of lectures, TED Talks, etc, on the man.  If you ARE familiar, I’ve found, you’re either behind him with a sense of devotion that just about any other motivational speaker out there would be hard pressed to rival, or you’ve concluded that he’s a modern day Jim Jones. I find almost no one who has a tepid reaction to him.

Yes, I did the firewalk.  No, I was not injured.  Yes, it gave me a high like nothing else, for what it was designed to symbolize; the power to accomplish anything, even the seemingly impossible, a subject-matter I am painfully intimate with.  I had a personal stake in doing this.  And it delivered.

And finally, yes, we’re talking about the same UPWDallas2016 that blitzkrieged the news on the firewalk night. “Hundreds burned in failed Tony Robbins Firewalk!” As someone who was there, I can vouch for the real thing being nowhere near as dramatic or perilous as the coverage made it out to be, because, of course, “if it bleeds it leads.”

Dallas is a city I’ve barely been to, in all of my many trips to Texas.  It’s usually been a case of flying in or out of DFW and picking up connections to other destinations.  So in preparing to come to this city for the Robbins conference, on my menu of intentions was to visit Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of JFK. I really have a thing for visiting these kinds of historical landmarks, and this one especially has been on my list to visit, because our nation changed radically after (perhaps even as a result of) the assassination that day in 1963.

We only had the last day in town, after the seminar was over, to check it out thoroughly, though we did actually run across it by accident on the first night of the seminar.  The friend I was traveling with, and I, had decided to walk a few blocks away from the Convention Center to get our Uber, since eight thousand other people were all trying to get back to their hotels too. And at a certain point, a few blocks into our midnight walk (the night of the firewalk, so we were already on a kind of high), my friend suddenly stopped in his tracks, looked around, as if he was lost, and then said “I think this is it.” “What?” “Yeah,” he continued, ignoring me. He then proceeded to stroll across a grassy knoll (I’m still not catching on), and pointed to an X in the street. “This is where Kennedy was shot.”

It was a quiet night.  Clear sky.  Bright moon.  I was already open-veined and euphoric, because I’d walked on hot coals tonight, baby!  And I had not burned my feet, because I had applied the fierce focus and intention taught us earlier that evening.  And it was not a parlor trick; the coals were freaking hot.  And so, when everything finally came into dawning for me, and I saw the corner street signs of Houston and Elm, and the picket fence where the fourth bullet had allegedly come from, and the building formerly known as the Texas Book Depository, I stood there, having just experienced something rather larger-than-life, and cried a little, just to myself, at this other larger-than-life historical ground zero.  It was an eerie and haunting thing to stumble upon by accident at midnight.  We spent a bit of time there, as one does, then called for our Uber.  And then proceeded to end every night of the conference with the same agenda.

So, by the time we got to our last day in town, and had the seminar firmly behind us, and had a cousin of mine who lives in town escorting us for the day, to go experience this thing in the daylight, do the museum, and be official tourists, we had already experienced it the way everyone should, I’ve now concluded.  The midnight visit had been a sacred, internal moment that had allowed me to feel that bit of history in an intimate and private way, and to have an emotional reaction to it.  In the light of day, it was an entirely different experience.  All the opportunists were out in droves, selling their bogus copies of “the actual newspaper headline from The Dallas Morning News!” and their angle on what really happened that day.  Every wild theory was flying out of the mouths of the carnival barkers, creating a cacophony of chatter that was almost musical.

And then a most interesting thing happened.  One such barker that I was standing near, and trying to listen to, as he explained to a huddle of tourists about the fatal shot, couldn’t’ve been more than 50 years old, and yet was saying things like, “and that’s when we all hit the deck, and then ran across here behind the picket fence…”  He then pointed to a blurred figure, in a crowd of other blurred figures, in an old, dog-eared photograph he was holding, with the doomed presidential motorcade in the foreground, and said, “that’s me.”  Even though blurred, the figure he was pointing to was clearly an adult, someone who was not an infant, which, at a stretch, is the only way this guy could’ve potentially been present at this 53-year-old moment in history.  So yeah, we were dealing with crazy, I concluded, and he officially lost my interest in listening any longer.

From a distance, however, I continued to stare at him do his thing.  I sort of couldn’t take my eyes away, because I was suddenly reminded of the most profound thing that I had learned from Tony Robbins during his game-changing seminar intensive.  That all of our problems, struggles, dysfunctions, etc., exist and linger because they serve a need.  And as long as they continue to provide a benefit, they will not be repaired.  There is something that they fulfill.  I remembered that one stopping me dead in my tracks on, I want to say, Day 2 of this thing.  And so, as I stared at this man, who was more likely mentally ill than a simple con man, I was suddenly softened from the earlier eye-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive stance I’d taken against him, and wondered what need his story was fulfilling for him.  A sense of significance in a world that had rendered him insignificant?  Combating a crippling loneliness by surrounding himself with people who could potentially find awe in his story, and him?  Whatever the benefit was, it certainly wasn’t a financial one, since everyone around him had him nailed, and no one was buying his story, or his wares.  Yet they were continuing to hang on his every word, because crazy is entertaining.  And it was at that moment that I realized I would probably never look at any other situation again, neither another’s nor my own, without asking that question:  What need does this serve?

That changes the whole playing field, doesn’t it?

There is a plethora, a right worthy grocery list, to be honest, of struggles and hiccups that my own personal growth seems to be bombarded with these days.  Much of which I’ve chalked up to a case of what I do, or don’t, deserve.  Or I chalk up a certain behavior, which is nonetheless frustrating for me, to being a hardwiring.

For example, one sentence I’ve claimed for years as part of my story: I’ve spent my life not being picked.  Or at least believing, always, in that outcome (which pretty much means it’s guaranteed).  Case in point:  My boyfriend in 8th grade literally moved on from me to someone else without a word my way.  How I found out was when his “new thing” and I were racing against each other in a track meet.  The girl had actually been my friend, and the boyfriend and I had not had a single conflict, so while I get kids just moving on from each other thoughtlessly, I never understood the venal nature of the moment.  He stood at the starting line where she and I were poised to run the 50-yard dash, and he muttered, but for everyone to hear, “Beat her, Albertine!  Beat her good!” Albertine didn’t win that race that day.  I did.  But it gave me no pleasure in the victory, because I was also the one beaten.  I didn’t understand my breed, and I didn’t get what I had done so heinous to have deserved such malevolence.  Today I can see clearly how that one incident has been so indelibly stamped on me that I have always tended to enter into an agreement with isolation and outsidership.

I’ve just thought of it as a hardwiring, a simple case of, “This is who I am. I don’t fit into circles and clubs.” But here’s the danger in that; chalking anything up to a hardwiring presupposes that there’s nothing that can be done about it.  It takes the power (if it’s a plight we’re actually interested in fixing) right out of our hands.

And if I have taken nothing else away from this seminar, I have taken with me a new understanding that any emotional baggage we have only sticks around, and is given momentum, because there is a need it serves.  That one just blew my head right open.  Done.  Brains on the dashboard.  Blood and guts everywhere.  Absolutely nothing I’ve ever learned in my years’ long pursuit of self-examination has made more sense than that.

And so, rather than tossing off my penchants for outsidership, for example, as a hardwiring I can do nothing about, I need to figure out what the role of outsider in my life has been serving all this time.

One thing I know for sure is that it’s been a bit of a badge of honor.  I do love my solitude, and marching to my own drummer, and I have a natural penchant toward inward-turning and contemplation.  So, what it’s feeding is pretty obvious.  But it’s also a dubious badge, as there is always an overtone of loneliness and missed opportunity that is a part of the outsider landscape.  So, maybe it also feeds a kind of “poor me” comfort?  I’m not sure yet, but there is so much to play with here.  So much to discover, to answer for myself, so many lids to pry open, so that maybe I actually stand a chance of delivering myself from some of these frustrations, and finally give myself the permission to pursue just exactly what I want in this life.

As for Crazy Grassy Knoll Man, he will likely remain who he is, though we never know who or what comes along to change our state, and our stake.  But my attitude toward him (once I got past the stun of him cursing me out for not buying any of his wares) became more compassionate and empathetic to the battles that must be his, the battles we all experience to varying degrees of crazy.  And to know that there is an answer, somewhere, somehow, for every one of us.  I just want to be that little sprite whispering into Crazy Grassy Knoll Man’s ear, “I see you.  You are seen.”

This was merely one of fifty hours worth of ideas that were drilled into our heads by Tony Robbins during his four days of exhaustive saturation.  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this seminar did for me.  And honestly, I’m not sure I’m meant to share any more of the experience than this one example, because it was such a deeply intimate odyssey for me, one of identifying belief systems, and transforming them.  It was so intimate, in fact, that when my friend and I couldn’t get a seat together on Day One, we ended up not doing any part of the seminar together, as it was nice not having to be self-conscious around each other.  And that was easy enough to accomplish, in a sea of eight thousand people.  We just met up on dinner breaks and when it was over each day.  We didn’t even witness each others’ firewalk.  Instead, upon completion of the walk, I cheered for my triumph with the people around me, who were all doing the same, a communal pep rally.  New bonds got formed.  In fact, my firewalk partner and I decided to remain friends.  The experience was intimate and expansive at the same time.

I’ve been changed by this four-day event, that’s for sure. To what degree will be discovered in the days to come, as I venture forth to apply these tools and get out of my own way.  But I don’t think I truly got hit with that feeling of difference until my revelatory moment on the corner of Elm Street and Houston, the same corner that was John F. Kennedy’s last.  A setting ripe with ghosts and guile.  And maybe even a little grace.

 

 

Dedicated to my dear friend Ross Wright,
who gave me the gift of this experience,
went through it with me,
and who roots for me always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.