Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There's A Slow Train Comin'

I was driving through the mountains the other day just going from here to there.
I put the Bob Dylan CD “Slow Train Comin” in the dash and sat back to enjoy the ride. Dylan is an artist who always takes me back to my roots, to beginnings, to my less than subtle introduction to some of the most amazing music ever performed, or recorded. It got me to remembering so many of the major musical artists I had the good fortune to have seen and heard live, in their prime, and in the full scope of their influence; artists who have not only changed the course of music, but who have melded their own style, and their own thinking into the stream of our continuing consciousness.

One of the most powerful shows I have ever witnessed was the trio Cream at the height of their brief, but profound affiliation. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker. Musical Gods joining forces to will the world into existence. They nailed my head to the roof and pummeled me into a willing submission.

I attended the Who’s first American performance of ‘Tommy’, the seminal rock opera.
Pete Townsend, John Entwhistle, Keith Moon, and Roger Daltry. A stunningly emotional, and profound performance, accompanied by all the wild-man theatrics they have become so well known for. The Who would not be denied their place in the pantheon of rock royalty.

I saw Pink Floyd perform the rock opera “The Wall” in its entirety while, over the course of the night, an actual wall was being constructed from each side of the enormous stage, eventually meeting at center stage to completely obscure the band from view as the final notes of the performance wafted out over the wall, settling disturbingly over a captivated and, to say the least, stunned audience.

I absorbed Jimi Hendrix, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience on many occasions prior to the world getting clued in to his transcendent talent, prior to Monterey Pop even, and his explosion onto the international stage. “Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” There was never a more indulgent performer, and never a greater artist at combining raw sexuality with dripping and blistering chops.

I saw Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company more times than I can remember. She pierced my soul like a double-edged sword, one side slicing deep to the core, and the other celebrating the incision. Janis didn’t just tug on the heartstrings, she grasped them tightly with both hands, and ripped my heart out of my chest with a violent tenderness never, ever, ever felt before.

Led Zepplin cranked the decibels to levels never known. They reached a vocal range I didn’t know existed, and a musical transcendence equaled, or surpassed, only by Pink Floyd. Phenomenal is the only word worthy of their performance. I could only stare.

I saw the Rolling Stones in their ‘Gimme Shelter’ days when they were at their baddest, when they were at their most narcissistic, when they were at their absolute best. The Rolling Stones at Altamont, perhaps the beginning of the end of the innocence.

I saw Little Richard. He started it all. Mick Jagger knew that. I saw him pounding his piano like a preacher making love to his congregation. Prancing, preening, shouting, screaming, the gospel of the rock, and of the roll. If Rock and Roll was Jesus, then Little Richard was John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord.

I saw James Brown gettin’ down with dignity. And with lots of sweat.
“I feel good”. The feeling doesn’t get any gooder.

I saw several Buffalo Springfield concerts, from whence Neil Young and Stephen Stills came, and then Neal as a solo artist. I saw the Byrds, originators along with the Springfield, whose members went on to form Crosby, Stills and Nash, later adding Neil Young to become CSNY. I saw all those guys. They enabled bands like the Eagles to eventually emerge. Singers, songwriters, musicians with something to say. I loved those bands, rooted, every one of them, in the inimitable Mr. Dylan.

I saw the original Animals with Eric Burden on vocals, later to become Eric Burden and the Animals. “Bring It On Home To Me”, “House of the Rising Sun”, “We Gotta Get Outta This Place”, and a host of other blues-based gems that shook our insides like jelly. They were the first band I ever saw live in concert. They opened for Leslie Gore. Leslie Gore. Are you kidding me? Everybody was there for Leslie Gore. I was just a kid, but I was there for The Animals. I understood the Animals.

I found Albert King as a young man. Purity of blues, not as visible as B.B King, but sweeter than honey, and pure as an underground mountain spring. “I’m gonna call up China, and see if my baby’s over there.” He led me to the blues.

Creedence Clearwater Revival with the original southern swamp rock attitude. Their shows were just flat out guttural. As pared down as rock can get. As straight forward as a shotgun brought to an argument.

The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish. The roots of the San Francisco sound. I saw them all many times in their formative days, in the days when music was emerging in the City like weeds in the spring, or flowers in the hair of all the teenage runaways.

Canned Heat (On the Road Again), the greatest boogie band in the world.
Steppenwolf with John Kay (Born to be Wild), Arthur Lee and Love (My Little Red Book), Sky Saxon and The Seeds (Pushin’ Too Hard). The three greatest garage bands ever. The originators of grunge, the bands that made Nirvana (and everything that followed) possible. I saw them way back then. They were intense. And they were originals, all of them. Jimi Hendrix called Arthur Lee his ‘single greatest influence’.

I didn’t get to see Van Morrison until later in life, but he did not disappoint. Van the man can imitate himself better than anybody can.

I never saw the Beatles live, but I never wanted to either. They were a teenie-bop band in their early American tour days. And later on they were not really a live band any more.
I’ve seen a thousand other shows, but those I’ve listed are some of the most memorable.

I mention all these other bands to say this, that as many great shows, and as many profound artists as I have seen over the years, and particularly in the early days, there’s one concert that stands out far and above all the rest. Far and above all the rest. No comparison, no question. Bob Dylan, 1979 at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco. The live performance of his new album ‘Slow Train Comin’. I relived the experience the other day driving through the mountains.

The thing that made this concert different from any other I’d ever attended was the degree of passion. Other performances I’d seen had been passionate, but this one had the additional element of the performer actually believing, and believing in (perhaps for the first time) what he was singing. Other performers I’d seen over the years may have felt what they were singing, they may even have felt very strongly about what they were singing, and very deeply, but they did not necessarily believe, or believe in, what they were communicating. Good songs, heartfelt words, clever words, passionate intent, dynamic delivery, but missing was the personal imperative of inner truth that registered deep within their soul and psyche. It was not missing in Dylan’s performance at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco back in 1979.

And it is not missing on the album “Slow Train Coming”. It is, in my view, the album that Bob Dylan may have been put on this earth to make. It is honest, it is inspired, it is prophetic, and it is, perhaps, the most important album ever recorded.

Dig your old album out of storage, or if you don’t have one email me and I’ll burn you a copy of my CD. I don’t think Bob would mind one bit.
I might even send him a copy in case he needs to listen to it once again.

But be aware, listening to this work comes with a warning;
“It could reduce you to tears”.
Listen to ‘Precious Angel’, ‘I Believe In You’, ‘When He Returns’.
‘Slow Train Comin’, Change My Way of Thinking’, ‘When You Gonna Wake Up’,
‘Gotta Serve Somebody’.
Cuttin’ through all the nonsense, and relativity, and straight to the truth, to the heart of the matter.

There’s A Slow Train Comin’, my friend.
It’s comin’ round the bend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


It’s not something that comes to us easily. Oh, it did at first. It wasn’t hard to trust our mother; after all, we’d just spent nine months intimately acquainted with her. She was a safe place for us, and it wasn’t a matter of our having to weigh experience to determine her trustworthiness. It was instinctual.

But somewhere along the way things changed. We began to encounter negative experiences in the world, and unscrupulous people. Innocence gave way to awareness, and gullibility gave way to distrust. Suspicion of others increased like one accumulates parking tickets in the City. No matter how determined we were to trust everyone, we began to realize that we just shouldn’t. It took a piece of our soul to have to come to grips with that reality, and it was a piece that very few people would ever get back. The older we get the more examples we accumulate to draw upon for why we shouldn’t be so trustful. We have a lot of experiences along the way to reinforce the goodness of people too, but it seems like we need about ten of those as a counterbalance for every time we’ve been burned by trusting someone we probably shouldn’t have.
We end up being more mistrustful than trustful.
And we don’t particularly like living that way.

Some people have just had bad luck, or made bad choices in regards to trust. They seem to always trust the wrong people. They seem, somehow, to want to prove to themselves that trusting someone will make the person trustworthy. I know that’s a dynamic parents try and practice with children, and with varying degrees of success, but in the real world?
No, I don’t think so.

We need to find a balance between trust and mistrust. Too much of the former can get a person killed. Too much of the latter can make a person feel dead inside.

But the thing about trusting is that it makes you feel good, like chocolate does. That’s why we want to do it.
But too much chocolate, well, you know,
it has its repercussions.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Those of you who read me regularly know that I write quite often about honesty. But I do so because I do not believe that the world suffers so much from a political, or social-justice problem, as it does from a problem with honesty. Oh, there are many political and social-justice problems, but they are always rooted in dishonest practices, by governments, religions, dictators, and others in positions of power. It is the same problem, amplified, that many people have in their own private lives.

One of the main causes of grief and disharmony in our world is that we, as a broad collection of human beings, invariably prefer to deal with symptoms of a problem rather than with the actual situation itself. We prefer to try and repair the damage done by our actions, or inaction, than to prevent the damage from occurring in the first place. Or we just ignore it, hoping it will go away. We end up approaching a situation dishonestly, and then just living with it, or trying to fix it later. We do not require honesty of ourselves, of our associates, or of our leaders. We overlook it in others, thus more easily enabling us to overlook it in ourselves. But it makes for a stressful, disingenuous, and complicated world. Everything ends up under the table rather than on top of the table where it belongs.

What if we were to require honesty in our relationships and associations? Would we end up having to withdraw from relationships altogether when they did not meet the criteria for honesty? Would we be pushed out of associations for not meeting the criteria of relativism? I think some of both. But is that reason enough to participate in a continuous, and less than genuine, manner of interacting with the world around us?

But what the hell does honesty really mean anyway? Does it mean to live in a ‘tell-all’ world, where we have no secrets of our own? Does it mean to answer every question whether the answer is anybody’s business or not? Does it mean to confess to every shortcoming, failure, or indiscretion? Does it mean to challenge every standard of interaction and behavior? Does it mean to supplant wisdom and common sense with irresponsible nobility?

Of course not.
Honest is a way of being. Honesty is a dimension where one lives when one rids oneself of the fear of consequence, or of the uncaring brutality of convenience. The fear of consequence, for most individuals, is what encourages deceit (dishonesty), it is what enables it, whether it is deceit by commission, or deceit by omission. The fear of consequence is what demands one to practice self-protection, rather than honesty, whatever the cost. Self-protection breeds deceit like a chameleon changes colors for its own survival. On the other hand, The Uncaring Brutality of Convenience gives no regard to the feelings, or wellbeing, of another. It tends to be embraced by the egomaniacal, the power hungry, and the greedy. In any event, both dynamics are rooted in the practice of dishonesty.

The consequences we fear as individuals do not necessarily have to be a form of punishment. A consequence can simply be the embarrassment of having someone know about an act or behavior that contradicts a pre-existing image of us. It can be someone thinking less of us for knowing what they now know about us. But, living with guilt is a predictable consequence of trying to avoid other consequences through the practice of dishonesty.

Dishonesty separates. It separates husbands and wives. It separates parents and children. It separates friends. It separates employers from employees, people from churches, politicians from the people, and countries from each other. Dishonesty separates a person from himself. When looked at pragmatically, dishonesty never has the payoff one would hope for. That in its self ought to be motivation enough to discontinue the practice.

“Honesty is the best policy.” That’s what people used to say.
You never hear people say that anymore.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Hard Working People

We in this country owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the hard working people. I’m not talking about the ‘white-collar’ people, and I’m certainly not saying that those folks are not hard working, but I’m referring specifically to the ‘blue-collar’ workers here, those who get their hands dirty and break their backs on our behalf that we might have the goods and services that continue to enhance our daily lives.

For many years I’ve been aware of, but have been noticing even more profoundly of late, the utter disdain and contempt with which the intellectual, social and political elite in this country regard those who actually enable the lives of privilege they have grown comfortably accustomed to having. They pay lip service to the working class, but behind their backs they denigrate and belittle them, thankful that they, themselves, are not to be counted among them. Oh, they might invite their pool boy, or their groundskeeper to one of their parties because it’s kind of cute to have someone from the servant class to impress their friends with, kind of like a mascot. Like when they used to invite one black person to a social gathering to validate their own liberal credentials. But the disdain covers, like a blanket, all the other hard working people that they don’t actually know, or even care to know. And that really is the vast majority of the American people.

The working people build the houses that we live in. They grow the trees, cut the timber, and mill the logs. They provide the raw material that eventually becomes our comfortable surroundings. They build our furniture, install our carpets and appliances, and even move our belongings from one town to the next. They deliver our gas and electricity, and keep it working for us. They drill our wells, and put in our septic and irrigation systems. They manufacture and assemble our electronics to bring entertainment to our lives. They build our cars, our roads and bridges, and repair them with the sweat of their own brows. They dig the ditches, grow the food, irrigate the fields, and collect the trash. They drive, and repair, the planes and trucks and trains that deliver the goods to our markets, to our homes and to our businesses. They stock the shelves at our local grocery. They tow our cars out of the mud when we get stuck, fix our flat tires, and deliver us from other at-risk situations on the road.

Hard working people. They manufacture our clothes in factories, sweat-shops even, pick our fruit and vegetables, our coffee beans, and harvest our fish. They cook it for us, and they clean up after us. Some do it with a servants heart, and some just to make a living. But it doesn’t really matter why they do it. They are the ones who, by their labor, actually build this country, and hold it together, who give the rest of us the ability to work not quite so hard at our own survival.

Oh, and lest I forget, they also put out our fires, and come to our aid if we have an accident. They rescue us if we’re lost on a mountain, in the desert, or on the sea. They risk their lives to do so. They do not ask for our pedigree before they save our lives. Everyone is equally important in their eyes, the elite, and the working class alike.

I was going to say “I’m looking forward to the day when the blue-collar people will invite an intellectual, a social, or a political elitist, to one of their barbecues. You know, kind of like a mascot, to validate their working class credentials.” But I think I won’t say that. I’d rather everyone take the point of view of the fire and rescue people. You know, “Everybody is of equal importance.”
We are all the same.
We are all brothers and sisters.

But anyway, if you would,
“Say a prayer for the hard working people”.
They must get awfully tired.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Mercy Of God

The Mercy of God is not a mystery, unless of course, one does not recognize it as part of life. It is, however, the part that brings balance, it is the part that brings relief, and a sense of reprieve from the struggle.

The Mercy of God is in the morning light, without which the darkness would go on forever. The Mercy of God is in the warmth the light brings with it, that we might not suffer in the cold. The Mercy of God is in the rain following a dry season, and in the rainbow following a storm. The Mercy of God is in the new growth, in gardens, on farms, and in the wild, enabling creatures, great and small, to be free from hunger.

The Mercy of God is in recovery from illness, in reconciliation with someone we love, and in being given another chance at getting things right. It is in forgiveness from our transgressions, and in the affirmation of being loved, despite our seeming unworthiness. It is in the budding hope of a new beginning.

The Mercy of God is the still small voice within us, which guides us through the wilderness, through the depths of despair even, to keep us safe from the unexpected, the unforeseen. And from ourselves.

The Mercy of God is what enables us to wake up in the morning with an expectation of the divine, and to lay our head down at night in peace, with the satisfaction of having been in such valued company.

The Mercy of God is in every breath that we take, exhaling the past, and inhaling the new, filling our lungs with life as they rise. It is in its own design.

It is a salve applied generously, and without expectation,
from the compassionate Hand of God.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mental Chronicles 3

-There is no such thing as original thought.
There is only original expression of pre-existing thought.
Some would say that, in itself, constitutes original thought?
But I don’t know, I’ll have to think about that.

-If there is no order in our world then we have learned to live amid the dangerous
and the unpredictable.
Might be good to create a little harmony for ourselves once in awhile.

-If there is no disorder in our world then we have learned to live amid the safe,
and the predictable.
Might be good to create a little chaos for ourselves once in awhile.

-Misread a headline a couple weeks ago. It said “Budget deficit tops One Trillion Dollars
for the first time.”
I mistakenly read it as “Budget deceit tops One Trillion Dollars for the first time.”
But now that I think about it, it seems to me I might have read it right.

-I guess the government/banking/credit card industry has repeated the mortgage debacle they were supposedly trying to rescue us from, but this time with cars instead of houses. Cash for Clunkers, huh? That makes a lot of sense in this economy. Yeah, trade in the old car that is all paid for, get a $4,500 ‘incentive’, and walk out of the dealership with a new car. Oh yeah, and a new loan that you can’t afford.
Sure, that’ll help.
Corporate/Government greed and collusion.

-The time has certainly come for we, the people, to eat the cannibals (the politicians)
who have been feeding on us for so long.
Call it Just Deserts.

-Women’s beach volleyball:
Serve. Set. Spike. Hug.
Repeat. (Sometimes replace hug with pat on the ass).

-Tiger Woods: Roll a little ball into a hole with a stick. Pump fist.
Flex bicep, and inflate entire body. Contort face and roar with manly rage and narcissistic superiority, as if, as the perpetual frontrunner, you’ve just overcome insurmountable odds; and all the adversity in the world.
Repeat on the next hole.
Unless, of course, you don’t happen to win,
then storm away and sulk like a sore loser.

-Watching sports on TV is yoga and meditation for men.
Except it doesn’t require that we admire ourselves while doing it.

-“Weren’t”. Has there ever been a worse sounding word?
Go ahead, say it, “Weren’t”.

-Have you been paying attention to how those who disagree with Obama’s policies are being labeled as racists by many Social and Political leaders, members of Congress even? Someone needs to inform these supposedly enlightened, intellectual pretenders that there is no greater racism than the use of the label to define someone with whom you disagree.
Morally and ethically compromised, all of them.
I hope they choke on their own hypocrisy.

- That ancient western philosopher, Coyocious says,
“Righteousness often exists in one’s willingness to risk the profane,
and self-righteousness is the greatest profanity of all.”

-Ever notice how we don’t really notice much when we’re preoccupied with whether or not we’re being noticed?

-Sometimes I remember things that I thought I’d forgotten, but realize that much of it was stuff that I’d actually discarded, rather than forgotten. Like cleaning out a file cabinet.
There’s just not enough room to keep everything in one head.

-Sometimes when I wonder whether or not I should say something I’ll just go ahead and say it since, more likely than not, it’s just original expression of a pre-existing thought.
Then if anyone is offended by it I can just blame it on whoever put the idea out there in the first place.