Courting the Caves: Honest Self-examination Isn’t Afraid of the Dark - digital art

“Pain, instead of being something to avoid,
can actually bring us closer to the truth.”

― Pema Chodron

Courting the caves.   I first coined that term, and reference it repeatedly now in my life, when I was writing my grief memoir about the days surrounding my mother’s death. The first of my referring to the term is in Chapter One of this book that I have yet to publish:

I write and chronicle and document and work out knots, and have done this for as long as I can remember, tapping the unconscious well, going to that place where cave spiders dwell, taking darkness on. Even as a child I was the one who befriended monsters and made them my allies. In adulthood it’s been a little trickier to spot the shadowy demons, but once spotted I am never afraid of foraging through the tangled, weedy backwoods, of courting the caves, of sticking a finger in their horrific faces and starting a fight. I’m afraid of everything else in the world, but not that. I’m a true believer that the way out of the hole and into a peace of spirit is with a good, bloody brawl.

It seems I’ve spent my life soul-searching and self-examining. I’m an overly-analytical person anyway. I’ve been told that before, and I do know it to be true. Just the other day I ran across a note I’d written to myself  (rather than the traditional journal volumes many keep and amass over years’ time, I just amass little post-its all over the place with thoughts I don’t want to lose). This one read:

You don’t need to know why. Stop needing to define this feeling. Stop talking it to death. Stop thinking it to death. Stop decoding. Just have the feeling, without needing to intellectualize it, or understand it. It doesn’t need to be shushed away. Allow it. You don’t need to be talked down from it. Go through it. It exists for a reason. Listen. Your body is a pristine barometer for what’s happening in your world. Honor that knot in the gut. That racing heart of foreboding. It has something to tell you. Don’t quarantine it is some kind of bubble that can’t allow you to feel unless that feeling is a happy one. That is a dangerous aspect of the Positive Principle movement, a movement that is an inherently good concept while having its kinks, such as the practice of a denial of feelings that are actually valid and whole, in order to wear an inauthentic mask of  IT’S ALL GOOD. Sometimes it’s not all good. That’s OK.”

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a post-it. But do you see what I did here? I was trying to talk myself out of overthinking something, only to evolve the thought into something quite overthinking. I can’t help my brain. And the truth is, while that trait can sometimes burden me and others, it has also been a gift, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the person I am because of that self-understanding seeker’s road.

I’ve read all the books. Everyone from Deepak Chopra to Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve jumped on that bandwagon of trying to be a more evolved version of myself, of trying to reach some kind of higher consciousness, of trying to heal old “pain bodies, ” as my good friend Eckhart says.  Yeah, no, Eckhart Tolle isn’t actually my friend. But you had to know that he would be one of the many I’ve read on this trek, and he feels like an old friend. I have a dear sister-girl who shares this path with me, more or less, and we’re both constantly asking each other, “what would Eckhart do?”  We say it with tongue in cheek, and are usually following it up with laughter over some crazy thing one or the other of us has done. But it actually does help ground us. Just to be able to step back for a minute and re-frame. It always manages to bring us back from the crazy brink.

I wrote a little credo years ago, and it has been my email sign-off ever since:

  1. Create  ― even if you’re not an artist
  2. Support artists ― especially the independents
  3. Live well ― doesn’t take money to do it
  4. And be whole

This is my most heart-centered request of mankind, beyond the obvious one of do no harm, and it has everything to do with self-nurture, which means it’s really a request of myself. Lately, I’ve had to really think about what #3 means.  What does it mean to live well? I don’t mean to live affluently. Pretend money and status don’t exist.  Then ask yourself if you are living well.

Without giving it too much thought (yeah, nice try Angela), my instinctive answer to what living well means is the ability to be as whole, centered, and conscious as we have the potential for. Living a life in that higher agreement state. If we can make ourselves whole, we can (and do) minister more authentically and more willingly to the global family and to the planet. And that ministers to us. It all rounds back in often inexplicable ways.  Likewise, if we take the steps toward ministering, it can’t help but foster wholeness. But what does wholeness mean? Everyone has a story, a history. Some call it baggage. It shapes us. And it is most beneficial to us (yes, baggage can be beneficial) when we are able to face it, identify it, HEAR what it has to tell us, and then take the steps toward transcending it. Then we stand a chance of getting whole, and getting happy. That’s what it means to live well.

The “hear what it has to tell us” part is where I do my best to live when it comes to my spiritual journey. And one of my self-discovery practices (of the many I have) is one I find too scrumptious not to share here.  It’s called SoulCollage®, and it’s the brainchild of the late artist and psychologist Seena B. Frost, who developed this incredible practice as a way for the artistic and therapeutic layman to participate hands-on in his/her own self-discovery, and to create beautiful works of art in the process.

SoulCollage is, quite simply, the making of collage art. Beyond that basic modality of creating something artful, however, is a therapeutic process that taps into the subconscious with its vivid mood and collision of imagery, and cultivates the powers of the intuitive.  Through the seemingly unrelated images of a collage work, much can be revealed about the deepest parts of who we authentically are.  You need not be an artist of any experience.  You need only be hungry for an extraordinary journey of self-excavation and growth.

I became a student of SoulCollage through one of its facilitators in Los Angeles, folk artist and radiant spirit MARGO GRAVELLE. For many years now I have met with a group of like-minded seekers to make collages toward the purpose of the ongoing creation of a “deck” that might be likened to a Tarot deck, the result of which reflects and represents the varied and many aspects of each person’s emotional and psychological pantheon of characters (called “the committee”), as well as a discovery and identification of archetypes, which dips a bit into the work of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Carolyn Myss, etc.

My own experience with SoulCollage has been a deeply sacred and life-changing one for me. I have sought many healing modalities, including cognitive therapy and grief counseling, and have never felt more clear about who I am (the good, the bad, the ugly, the brilliant) through any means more potent than through this extraordinary, and completely non-judgmental practice. And often, it is the shadow images in the collages that give us our greatest dawning and light.

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
― Joseph Campbell

This post isn’t about selling SoulCollage on you (I’ve got no investment other than the personal healing in it), but if you’re interested in finding out more, please visit Seena’s site: SOUL COLLAGE.   If nothing more, it’s absolutely fascinating exploration, and may even help you to find a class in your area, which I recommend for anyone on a self-seeking path for transformation.

Why I adore this particular practice so much is because it seems to me that the self-examination movement has taken an odd and, I feel, uncourageous turn. I have spoken of this in past blog posts, but here is where I’ll try to elaborate. There is a trend, a force, a movement, within the self-help world that abhors conflict, that does everything in its power to manifest a rosier view of life, without the planting of the groundwork first, without a visit to the caves, and to encourage the practice of denial in its followers. Conflict is an interesting word to me, because I want nothing more in my life than to live with some measure of peace of spirit, and it’s what I strive for every day, yet as a writer what I know for sure is that conflict is everything. There is no story without conflict. A story without conflict is just an ad. Exploration of the human condition, and that means conflict, is what any story should be.  Sometimes that conflict is resolved in the story, but the more interesting ones really just pose questions that make us think, that give us varying perspectives, and that expand the palate of our understanding of the human race.  That’s what the best writers do.

So, here’s the thing.  Because I am a writer, and have a pretty specific opinion of what a writer should do, I tend to approach my own personal journey in the same way as I do my writing.  By courting conflict.  Not as a way to wallow, which brings to mind the Native American parable:

A grandfather says, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” When asked which wolf will win the fight in his heart, the old man replies, “The one I feed.”   

It’s a wise parable. There is a danger to the spirit that wallows, because it is kept broken, and then we find ourselves just perpetually running with stuff, and letting it be the loop we’re in.

What I’m referring to is the wisdom in courting conflict as a means of transcending it, not denying it, but of being willing to face it, challenge it, figure out what it’s feeding to make it stick around. That one lodged in my head, like a mighty slap, from the Tony Robbins retreat I attended a couple of years ago.

Carl Jung from The Philosophical Tree says: “Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

And so I go back to the idea of our baggage being beneficial. It will always teach us something we need to learn. But only if we are willing to identify and face it.  That’s where we stand the chance of transcending it.  There isn’t a breakthrough in existence that wasn’t accompanied by some pain, but what comes out on the other side, always, is freedom. A freedom worth cultivating and renewing and re-strengthening every single day (I just quoted myself, again, this time from an earlier blog post).

Lately, I see a lot of seminars and courses on “healing yourself with….” fill in the blank with your preferred motif. And I’ll always look into them, because I’m always on a path.  What I find in far too many, however, is a process of uncovering all the ills in your past that anyone else has ever inflicted on you, so that the blame can begin. The last part of that phrase is mine, and IS being judgmental, admittedly, because I do believe that’s what the bottom line of these modalities tends to be. Looking under everyone else’s hood except your own to find the culprit of your suffering and damage.

I’m not saying it’s illegitimate to identify an external source of harm to you. It’s important to do so. But it is only a part of the process. The pretty crucial other part is the courage it takes to identify our own complicity in our internal disrepair.  Not to mention the harm we cause others.  And we have all caused someone harm.

I have a friend, Frank Ferrante, who was recently the subject of a documentary called May I Be Frank. And there is a moment in the film, during his own battles with self, and ultimate transformation, when he recalls punching his younger brother badly in the ribs as a young boy.  And he never even put it together that a constant and chronic pain in his own rib area, that he had been living with for years, might’ve actually been a manifestation of his guilt over that act.  I do believe we carry our transgressions against others in our bodies as pain, sometimes even literal and physical.  So when that moment of revelation happens for Frank in the movie, the first time I saw it I almost crumbled, myself, because I fundamentally understand and believe in the power of that kind of purgation. Going through the process is so ultimately purifying, even if painful, that it can’t help but begin to lift burdens, lighten our existence, and allow the door to be opened to a genuine peace of spirit and to happiness.

Frank was so brave to have walked the path illustrated in the documentary.  And because of his bravery, he has experienced a jaw-dropping transformation of body and soul.  It ain’t for sissies, this self-exploration stuff.  But I believe in its absolute cruciality, toward the purpose of delivering oneself out of suffering and into a place of compassion, empathy, and peace.









In 2017, I…

In 2017 I... Blog Banner

In 2017, I…

Lost my father.

Lost my brother, too, in a manner of speaking.

Found my voice as a poet.

Found my brother.

Endured whiplash, of both the physical and the emotional brand.

Found a spiritual home for myself, for the first time ever.

Got spooked by the nature trail that had given me life.

Fostered anxiety.

Thought about my father.

Read some of the most amazing books of fiction, memoir, and poetry that I’ve ever read.

Lost my feline girl (though technically it was at the end of 2016, but it was THE moment that launched this longest year).

Blocked out the White Noise of the White House.

Watched my city burn, and a few others nearly drown, while feeling the haunting wail of a planet in trouble.

Witnessed the unfettered power of #metoo, and the spiritual vacuum cleaner that got unleashed.

Lost my brother again.

Bonded with family in an unprecedented and crucial way.

Found baby bro yet again.

Learned to love and let go in equal measure.

Re-learned it every single day.

Experienced pain and beauty in fairly even amounts.

Thought about my father.

Wrote about my father.

Conquered my fear of the nature trail (had to do with a bobcat sighting), and drew her into my bosom again, after nearly a year without her.

Lost more and more people, in too heartbreaking a number.

Had a talk with Death.  It was a come-to-Jesus moment, with a few side-eyes between us.

Got back to yoga (how I missed you, old friend).

Did Goat yoga!  (seriously, Google it)

Wrote my 1st short story.

Wrote my 118th short story…and 30 poems.

Deemed myself officially (if it’s not obvious by now) addicted, fixated, obsessed with words; an addiction from which I hope to never recover.

Submitted pieces like a mo-fo.

Got rejected.

Got rejected.

Got rejected.

Never wavered.  I am a poet.  A wordsmith.  Begone now, before someone drops a house on you!

Had/did/received loads of healing, of both the spiritual and the biological kind.

Grew more thankful, and more in love with the random nature of life (that helps in the forgiveness department).

Felt my age.

Killed a plant.

Went vegan.


Made a movie with my orchestra (a very sick day, but too much irreverent fun).

Had the exhilarating honor to interview some amazing wellness-seeking human beings for a tiny documentary I made.

Had the exhilarating honor to be interviewed by a couple of amazing young women for a grand and extraordinary documentary that they made, with 2017 being the launching year for screenings all over the world.  #thegoddessproject

Lived up to my hype.

Didn’t live up to my hype.

Failed my hype miserably.

Decided that hype was not a word worthy of my time.

Talked to my father, my mother, my stepfather, the ancestors, all those who have left this earth but are never far, and who give me living tips daily (sorry, Daddy, that you had to join the League of Gentle Council. Really thought you’d be the one to make it to 100).

Wrote these thoughts to usher out an old, and to usher in a new. To ritualize the idea of rebirth, renewal, and restoration, because I am a New Year’s baby, and so it is in my DNA to ritualize, to chant, to pray, to dance, to give auspiciousness to the concept of new beginnings and rites of passage, to participate in burning bowl rituals, to summon the rains and the gods, to burn sage, to close my eyes, shut off the valve and listen. Listen to the wind in the trees tell me what I need to know next, what I need to do next, how I need to sing next.   And then I sing.

The very last thing I did in 2017 was sing.  As it has been, since forever ago and auld lang syne.  I sang, and sang.

And baby brother is home.  Nestled in all the love his family has to give.  We get to remember my father together.

All of us. Together.

Welcome 2018. Be nice now.




Happy Birthday Phone Message 1/1/92.   Hilarious chaos ensues.   But best of all, my father’s voice.










A Thanksgiving Meditation


Dropping into my heart space today. And with that, the affirmation that I live in gratitude.

Every day that I awaken and breathe, I am thankful.

Every day that I think a thought, and feel my heart’s stirring, I am thankful.

Every day that I am upright and whole, I am thankful.

Every day that a creative and productive idea becomes solid matter, I am thankful.

Every day that I face that thing of which I am most afraid, I am thankful.

Every day that I am given awareness of the smallest of beauties, the most unsung of treasures, I am thankful.

Every day that I am enlightened, given insight, have an epiphany, I am thankful.

Every day that I exercise compassion, understanding, patience, empathy, I am thankful.

Every day that I encounter another living creature and engage, I am thankful.

Every day that I can have some time to myself, for quiet and reflection, I am thankful.

Every day that I am hugged, kissed, loved, I am thankful.

Every day that I laugh, or make someone else laugh, I am thankful.

Every day that the people I love are healthy and happy, I am thankful.

Every day that my friends do well in the world, I am thankful.

Every day that I change someone’s life, or someone changes mine, I am thankful.

Every day that love is evident in my life, I am thankful.

Every day that I act out of anger, impatience, frustration, a broken heart, I am thankful. For each affliction offers an opportunity to learn about myself, and my fellow seeker.

Every day that brings me a challenge that tests my spirit, I am thankful.

Every day that I am humbled by a mistake of my own doing, I am thankful. Why else do our mistakes exist?

Every day that I am faced with seemingly unbearable odds, unrelenting trials, I am thankful. For the lessons learned, and the spirit strengthened by them, are more valuable to me than if I were living an effortless life.

Every day that I try, I am thankful.

Every day that I try again, I am thankful.

And when they ask me what’s new? I will answer, every single day.  Because every single day that arrives brings a sun, a moon, a breath, a surprise, a blessing, a song, whether sung or heard, and the spiritual ear to hear it, a world of love at my fingertips, a capacity for hope, a reason to smile, an opportunity to repair, restore, renew, and a heart full of gratitude.

And may my most powerful prayer from this day forward be … NOT … “Dear God, please give me …” But two words, and two words only:   THANK YOU.

Happy Thanksgiving.


In This Room

084 copy


That I am the one

alone with my father at

his moment is purely chance.


It is 4:14 am, and the house is quiet. Though we’re all

here, this moment leaves me alone with my father, who

will die tonight; it’s just a matter of when. I have had

some developing anxiety lately. I’ve often felt that it’s


as embarrassingly elementary as: We get what we

deserve. Period. And after a lifetime of missteps and

regret I feel fairly certain that I am destined to die in a

heinous car crash for all my sins. As a result, I’ve lately


been fearful of cars. Getting behind the wheel of them.

Being a passenger in them. Encountering them and their

owners on the most manic freeways in the world (yes, you,

Los Angeles). So I almost didn’t make it. I paused as I got


the call from home that my father was beginning his

transition.   I was sixty miles away.   My heart raced; I

should be there and nowhere else. But I paused. I paused

again when the second phone call from my brother revealed


that he was only minutes away from arriving at Dad’s.

So, there’s just me, then? Who won’t be there when Dad

passes, out of this life? Only me? While everyone else

rallies, because rally is what you do. I guess that was


the one that unpaused me.   I strapped on guile — an

ill-fitting dress — and got on those deathtrap freeways.

The way I came to see it, as I drove, with extreme

paranoia about every auto that seemed to be inching


into me, was that if it’s my time to go, in the most fiery,

bloody way one can imagine, that would still be better

than living the remainder of my life in the self-hatred that

I would choose cowardice and PTSD-level anxiety over the


privilege of holding my father’s hand as he completes his

extraordinary task on this earth.   So here I am, at 4:14 a.m.,

and our entire life together as father and firstborn floods

the corners of my eyes. We’re all here, floating in and out


of his room over the course of several hours, several days,

holding vigil, being here as much for each other as for him.

My stepmother, especially, has been the most solid rock I’ve

ever witnessed. She’s not indulging her irrational fears.


That I am the one

alone with my father at

his moment is purely chance.

Except what if it isn’t?


What if, of all his children to see him over the threshold

(there are five of us), he chooses the one most fragile?

It could be argued that a younger brother who wrestles

with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis is the fragile one.


At least, in that invincible, God-complex universe that is

my brother’s, he is absolutely certain of his power and

worth. Of course, only in my own troubled universe can

there even be an “at least” regarding a brother’s diagnosis.


I am bitterly aware. But what if my father is saying to

me, at 4:14 a.m., through his shroud of unconsciousness,

his sheer drape between this life and another: “Darling

daughter, the rest of my children are good in the world.


They know their worth. You have been struggling for

fifteen years. Ever since the estrangement with your

mother at the time of her death. You have self-flagellated

in the most dramatic ways, because she died alone and


you hold yourself responsible for every bit of it. Darling

girl, see me out. Hold my hand, and sing to me. Though

my eyes are closed, and my breath is thready, I am listening

and holding your hand too. You. See me out.  So that you


can be atoned. So that you can cancel out regret.  So that,

against your fears, too closely linked to annihilation, you

can stop looking, almost begging, to meet the eyes of

road-ragers and challenge them to take you out.”


My goodness, what if?


The throng has been his vigil all night. Yet at 4:15 a.m. on

a Thursday, the dark hours of morning, a daughter alone,

holding her father’s hand, he takes his last breath. I watch

for his chest to rise one more time. An almost violent stare.


It never does.  My father’s youngest walks in the room, takes

our father’s hand, and confirms the death that I have been

staring at these vast seconds.  We hold each other at

his bedside, as the rest of my family enters and gathers.


And we feel the enormous heft of siblinghood, marriage,

fatherhood, all bound together in this room by my

father’s very sinews. It is the most precious moment

I can imagine.  We all feel this. We are in sync.  A family.


As for our moment, father and daughter alone, it will

be forever mine that until, and perhaps even inside

of, his very last breath, my father was still taking

care of his child.  Offering her peace.


Should she choose to accept it.






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.


The Beauty of Flux

NGS Picture Id:1500684


The dark obscuring the light

Then passing through

Not staying

Not lingering

Not indulgent nor milking its poetry

But offering a moment’s space for reflection

An opportunity to shift

An opportunity that waits for no one who pauses

Pause and it’s gone

The kind but firm nudge to leap

A reassurance that we are in control of nothing


The power of a thing is in its vanishing



It is the beautiful slap

in the face of the Great Lie we’ve been sold

That we can have the world for the asking

That we can buy our security for a few

cosmic shekels

As I gaze through my 7-Eleven-purchased eclipse glasses

I am reminded that

the world is insecure and unpredictable

Presently in the midst of both a great enlightenment

and a mad fall simultaneously

A breathtaking flux

Which force will ultimately tip the scales?

As the moon passes across her sun

and darkness falls for an instant

so does any semblance of security

Don’t be disappointed

This is the good news

As the earthquakes become more and more

prevalent around the world

so does the quaking of all our ideologies

What’s in store for us?

And are we ready?






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.

#bindigirlchronicles #justathought #alwayswriting


Inventory Banner

I recently took inventory of all my spiritual “stuff.”  The list is quite impressive.

Mantra flash cards (I’ve collected lots of melodic, mineral rich Sanskrit chants from my time with a Kirtan ensemble and other spiritual pursuits).
Beautifully upholstered zafu & matching zabuton sets.
Mala prayer beads (including a set given to me by the Dalai Lama).
Crystals, healing stones, and heart rocks.
Essential oils.
Tibetan singing bowls.
Trickling Zen fountains.
Bundles of roped sage for smudging and cleansing.
Mesmerizing music and recorded “om”s.
Stone works and wood carvings and figurines of the Buddha, Ganesha, Kwan Yin,
St. Francis, and my beloved om (I even have an om tattoo).
And finally, dog-eared stacks of all the most penetrating writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and Pema Chodron, and Eckhardt Tolle, et al.

It all serves something for me.  Much of it helps me open a door that might’ve been otherwise stuck.  My visceral reaction to a certain symbol or image can powerfully operate as just the conduit needed.  What all of it legitimately does is generate an energy and environment of serenity, and a constant reminder of my path. And I’m grateful enough for that.

However, if I’m not careful, these props (the only word I can think of to call them) can also act as a crutch.  And this is where I find it’s time to take serious stock and inventory.

I have been a meditator for years now. And most recently a Kirtan chanter with a lovely group.  There is nothing more meaningful to me than participating in meditational rituals, such as the winter solstice labyrinth I walked this past winter with a group of like-minded seekers at the spiritual center I call home.   And the props can often be an integral part of ritual (chanting 108 repetitions of a mantra with the use of mala beads, or clanging 3 dings of the singing bowls in order to sign in and out of a practice.)

But I look at all the stuff, and I wonder if they aren’t merely being collected to cocoon me from the world, the harsh elements, the stings of life.

My stone Buddha that I bought at a statuary in Glendale two decades ago is so pretty.  So is the one I keep beneath my father’s easel. And the laughing one that sits on my bookshelf surrounded by Jack Kornfield books.  And the one I painted a flower on at Color Me Mine.  And the one that’s holding his hands in gyan mudra.  A couple of them were gifts from people who know my penchant, and I treasure them.  They exist in such quantity all around my modest apartment that they’ve sort of formed a club: Angela’s Guards at the Gate.

And my collection of mala prayer beads is quite something.  But how many of them do I actually use to meditate with?  My meditations are usually silent ones, so my beads really just lie around my apartment, beautifully draped on this or that, in order to create the funky, Zen, hippie-girl-flower-child ambience that is the reputation I most embrace.

And the heart rocks.  I’m always looking for them whenever I walk my nature trail.  I’ve amassed a little bit of a collection, along with every different shape and kind of crystal, and the garnet nugget (my birthstone) that I found encased but subtly peering out from sediment.  These beauties give me comfort.  And the illusion of safety.

I wear my brass Ganesha figurine in a medicine pouch (a beautiful velvet beaded one, of course) around my neck or in a pocket, because Ganesha is the remover of obstacles according to the Hindu religion.  He has never directly removed any of my obstacles, nor do I actually think there is wisdom in believing that all obstacles can be removed.  There is a divine design in obstacles.  Some are meant for us to clear, some not.  All are meant to provide a lesson, if we’re willing and open.  Nevertheless, I keep my sweet Ganesha close to my heart because he comforts.  The illusion of safety.

I imbue meaning on every prop, every trinket, because managing and navigating my life without that armor is maybe just a little too much to consider.

If I were to truly strip down my spiritual journey to its most basic element, I would have to say it’s about management. The buzz word in my spiritual community these days is mindfulness.  But mindfulness isn’t, as is often misunderstood, a state of perfect reaction. We’ll never be perfect reactors.  We’ll have our moments of groundedness interspersed with those other moments of knee-jerk responses, defensiveness, anger, even deceit. And we’ll consider the time when those start to be outweighed by Right Speech and Right Behavior as success! We’re practicing mindfulness!  When the truth is, we’ll always experience both, in probably fairly equal amounts, all throughout our lives. Mindfulness isn’t a banishment of those unskillful moments. Mindfulness is paying attention to all of it. Learning to identify the source of the less benevolent traits, and to offer them as much of our understanding, patience and goodwill as when we get it right.

I recently said to a friend, a fellow meditator, that I had all but abandoned my meditation practice because of some family stresses that were rather consuming, and that I hadn’t been able to get in gear with it. And I was saying it to him as a kind of self-indictment confession. His response to me was, “well, sure, cuz shit comes up. And when life is already feeling very full of it, sometimes the idea of more is too much.  That’s okay.”

And that’s the thing. Meditation isn’t meant to be a cushion (though it sometimes serves exactly that).  It is meant to strip down, to uncover, and to lay bare.  And all it takes is an agenda of NOTHING, and some silence.  That can be hard to do, but is just that simple.  So, all the trinkets, the doo-dads, the Buddhas, the beads, the oils, the crystals, ad infinitum …. perhaps as a way to that place of commitment?

Just be mindful of when practices of cocooning are present. No judgments. Just notice. Carry on.  

That’s the voice that speaks to me every time I feel the need to bring something new and shiny and pretty into my home “for meditation.”

Because truth time?   All the stuff is perfectly fine.  I love collecting beautiful and meaning things.  But naked.  Empty room.  Hard floor.  Stink from the nearby sewer system.  Noise from the neighbors.   No serene music.  No mesmerizing candlelight.  No cloak of protection.  Nothing.  Just breath.  And meditation is still possible.  Being present is still possible.  Living by spiritual principles is still possible.


Be still.

Close my eyes.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Notice everything.

Accept every notice without judgment.

When judgment comes – and it will – notice that too.






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.

The Sanctuary Project

“Every little thing is gonna be alright.” – Bob Marley


I recently spent several months with my iPhone camera amassing footage of my posing a simple question to people I encountered.  Some friends, some strangers.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I would find on this little journey, but I knew it could only be inspiring.  The desire to do this came upon me long before situations in my personal life became unexpectedly dire, and suddenly the project went from being fun to urgent.  Add to that a concerning world landscape presently in our midst, and there blossomed this resonant anchor to the question of where we go for our sense of sanctuary.

Take a look at some of the answers I was blessed to witness, and then take a moment, or several, to think about your own.  Never has there been a more crucial time to turn inward and build practices or rituals that help to assuage suffering.

Featuring a beautiful musical underscoring by my dear friend & composer Chris Hardin, and a diverse group of individuals (from a prison inmate to a Buddhist monk) bravely willing to open their hearts and share.  I invite you to enjoy The Sanctuary Project.







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!




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)


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



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.