more new music… another preview from “we are all haunted by something”

Just a short update as I’m starting to finish up pre-mastering on all the songs for the new album, one about every other week now. A little more than half the album is done now, in its final state to go to mastering, but even at the above rate there may be some slippage on the release date of June 24th. Hopefully not but we shall see – I don’t believe in rushing things.

The latest is:
THE INDELIBLE IMPRINT OF PLACE / LLANO ESTACADO
(© 2016/2017 Excellent Sky Records/Nights on Venus/Craig Carrington Thomas. All rights reserved.)

This is a 2-minute preview of “Llano Estacado”, not the full song – I’m still tweaking it. The Llano Estacado is the “Staked Plains” in West Texas and eastern New Mexico and has been described as the “table lands between Austin and Santa Fe.” The Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado described the area as mostly “a sea of grass” in the 16th century. That’s true – it really is. And, other than the various caprock escarpments, it’s insanely flat. My Mom, no less eloquently, described it – on our yearly road trips in the mid-to-late 1960s/early 70s to Colorado through Amarillo, Dalhart, and Clayton – like this: “There’s nothing out here. It’s so empty… how can people live out here?” That always cracked me up… because somehow they did and still do.

The caprock, eastern New Mexico...
The caprock, eastern New Mexico…
Rabbit Ears Mountain, near Clayton, New Mexico... August, 2001.
Rabbit Ears Mountain, near Clayton, New Mexico… August, 2001.

Lubbock, Texas is the largest city on the Llano; I was there for 4 years, getting my undergraduate degree from Texas Tech University. I lived in Midland 2 hours south for a little while afterward. Between those two cities… some lifelong friendships, some good parties, knowledge acquired, a little worldly experience, constant wind, occasional dust storms, some not-so-good jobs, and a lot of bad apartments. I’ve spent a lot of time in this area, having living there, but mostly traveling through it over the course of 6 decades. For whatever reason, for me this area never becomes old. I love it. It may be tedious to drive through but it never gets old.

South of San Jon, New Mexico...
South of San Jon, New Mexico…

Places define us, shape us, change us, and any place we’ve lived leaves its indelible mark upon us.

"Speed of Life" single, released on 10/9/16...
“Speed of Life” single, released on 10/9/16…

Speed of Lifeis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 2-song EP was released on October 9, 2016 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and iTunes.

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthly, Santos and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

goldenboy_and_princeFollow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky),

new year, new music…

Happy 2017 to everyone! I hope you have had an excellent start to this new year, now 20 days in.

Erin & Craig... the Shmoopies. Skiing at Copper Mtn., January 1, 2017...
Erin & Craig… the Shmoopies. At Copper Mtn., January 1, 2017…
Coming down into Silverthorne, Prince on the iPod...
Coming down into Silverthorne, Prince on the iPod…

Work continues on the new album… Finishing up songs one by one, getting the mixes done for mastering, and so I include two more songs – the mastered demos – from the album, “We Are All Haunted by Something”, here as another preview. I am scheduling the album for release in June this year. 15, possibly 16 songs. It is supposed to be a double album but I want it to fit on one disc (there will be a CD) – i.e., under 80 minutes… so we shall see.

RELIVE TOMORROW… TODAY!
(© 2016/2017 Excellent Sky Records/Nights on Venus/Craig Carrington Thomas. All rights reserved.)

And…
IN WILDERNESS [IS THE ONLY SANITY IN THE WORLD]
(© 2016/2017 Excellent Sky Records/Nights on Venus/Craig Carrington Thomas. All rights reserved.)

And the cover artwork for the album…

Preliminary album cover for "We Are All Haunted by Something", scheduled for release in June, 2017. This is the old abandoned Apache Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico - shot taken in 2009. The image of the night sky is from Justin Marsh, added with his permission.
Preliminary album cover for “We Are All Haunted by Something”, scheduled for release in June, 2017. This is the old abandoned Apache Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico – shot taken in 2009. The image of the night sky, as background, is from Justin Marsh, added with his permission.

Release date will be finalized by the end of this month.

And now that it’s January 20th, let’s talk briefly (very briefly) about what’s happening today in the U.S. There will be an inauguration ceremony today in our nation’s capital… and it will be completely bogus. The coronation of the illegitimate “president”… President * Asterisk *. Das Kleinkind führer (the Toddler leader)… one Mr. Donald Trump (I agree with Rep. John Lewis). I really don’t even want to talk about him because that’s giving him the attention he craves.

#ROBO:  Resist, Oppose, Boycott, Obstruct…
These are the keywords for what’s coming

Suffice to say, I will not watch the inauguration today and I urge you to do the same. If you do have the TV on, turn it to the Food Network, HGTV, or the National Geographic channels. There’ll be no coverage of it on those and some other channels. BOYCOTT it. #Boycotttheinauguration I applaud the 50+ congressmen and women who have said they will not attend the inauguration… or watch either.
#NotMyPresident
#NotMyCulture
#NotNormal

Look away guys!
Look away guys!

Here are some good timely articles/essays for getting through today without hurling, this one from independent journalist Leah McElrath…”Will We Have a Functioning Executive Branch of the Government at 12:01pm EST today?
I highly recommend following her on Twitter… @leahmcelrath

From Sarah Kendzior at The Correspondent, a very thoughtful read, particularly if you have children or grandkids under 7:
Our kids may never get the chance to know America

And finally from John Pavlovitz: “Let the Record Show” which pretty much sums it up for me and if you’ve read this far, perhaps for you as well. Take care out there.

"Speed of Life" single, released on 10/9/16...
“Speed of Life” single, released on 10/9/16…

Speed of Lifeis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 2-song EP was released on October 9, 2016 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and iTunes.

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthly, Santos and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

Craig, end of July, 2016...
Craig, end of July, 2016…

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky),

 

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from Nights on Venus…

This will be a short post today… Just wanted to wish everyone who follows this blog and to those dropping in a very Merry Christmas and I hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday today!

craig_firepitHere’s a look back to a Christmas post from 5 years ago, shortly after I had moved back to Colorado.

In and around our neighborhood here in Golden, CO…

snow_golden1Ralphie is still on the tele with about 5 1/2 hours left of the annual 24 hour marathon, although I think we’re Ralphie-ed out now for this year.

Maxx also wants to say "Merry Christmas Y'all". All he needs here is a disco mirror ball...
Maxx also wants to say “Merry Christmas Y’all”. All he needs here is a disco mirror ball…

New music is coming soon from NoV… Will have the mastered demo of “Relive Tomorrow… Today!” next time.

Next week Erin and I will be skiing to start the New Year, 2017! Hopefully not like this… Ouch!

"Speed of Life" single, released on 10/9/16...
“Speed of Life” single, released on 10/9/16…

Speed of Lifeis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 2-song EP was released on October 9, 2016 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and iTunes.

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthly, Santos and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

Erin & Craig... in front of the "hobbit hole"...11/5/2016
Erin & Craig… in front of the “hobbit hole”…11/5/2016

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky),

post-wedding bell/honeymoon/election/media blues…

It’s been quite a week. This November, everything got real…

One part of this post will be the fun stuff, one part will be rant. I’ll do the fun stuff first…

We came, we saw, we got married…

erin_craig_bell_tower
The Shmoopies get married… Church of the Transfiguration, Evergreen, Colorado, Nov. 5, 2016. About to ring the bell… Some history here. My family came up to the Evergreen Conference, of which the church used to be a part, every year from 1965-1971. I worked at the conference from 1971 through 1975, my first job, and one of my duties was to ring this bell for the morning services. This was the first time I had rung the bell in 41 years.
Highland Haven, Evergreen...
Highland Haven, Evergreen…

And we partied afterwards. Mightily. Loudly. A fun time was had by all at Lariat Lodge just up the hill on the other side of the highway – the reception was excellent, thank you guys! – and thank you everyone who came and celebrated with us. Erin and I are very glad all of you were there with us for our “alternative” wedding! It was one of the best parties I’ve been to in a while. Yay us… we did it!

On Canyon Road, Santa Fe...
On Canyon Road, Santa Fe…

And then we hit the road for a few days… down to Santa Fe, where I used to live for a while in the mid-1980’s. And our favorite place, Ten Thousand Waves. I had been going to the hot tubs since 1984 but I had never stayed in their rooms/suites before. Actually they’re more like casitas – small houses, and I highly recommend them. Do the full experience. Staying on site there, at the compound up in the foothills of Santa Fe at 7,700 feet, is an experience not to be missed. We went into town, checked out the art galleries, mostly on Canyon Road, and all our other favorite places. Santa Fe doesn’t change a whole lot, particularly around the plaza and everything that doesn’t radiate off of Cerrillos Road, and that’s one thing I love about it. The air always seems to carry the scent of piñon, the high desert light is bright and intense, adobe everywhere (“if you don’t like adobe, go home…“), and there’s always that spiritual vibe about this place.

there's our next house, up there on that hill... Twilight in the foothills.
There’s our next house, up there on that hill… Twilight in the foothills from our front porch at Ten Thousand Waves.
A roaring fire in the casita...
A roaring fire in the casita, Shmoopy’s toes…

There’s a song on the next Nights on Venus album (scheduled for spring/early summer, 2017) entitled “The Indelible Imprint of Place”… this is what I’m talking about. Always love a spiritual vibe in a place. Santa Fe may be our next home (for me…again) and chapter in life… and I certainly hope so.

Chili ristra at Geronimo restaurant, Canyon Road...
Chili ristra at Geronimo restaurant, Canyon Road…
Sculpture, Canyon Road...
Sculpture, Canyon Road…
Dining at Izanami...
Dining at Izanami…

A week later I wish we were still in Santa Fe.
There was just one little fly in the ointment… well, actually a rather large one. There was that whole election thing last Tuesday…

And now, the rant…

In the space of a week I’ve gone from fucking pissed to thoroughly disgusted… well, I’m still fucking pissed but mostly just more disgusted at this people-of-WalMart-WWE-reality-TV-shitshow-spectacle of an election. Sure, it’s all fun and games… ’til someone elects a fascist.
#NotMyPresident
#NotMyCulture

Stupid, stupid, stupid!!

To those who voted for Trump, you have absolutely no idea what you’ve done and I only have one thing to say to you…

Oh, what was that? Say it again…

Very sorry… and very, very soon, just like those poor souls over in the UK who voted for Brexit and then wanted to have a do-over vote when they realized what Brexit actually meant. Unfortunately, this is way worse and now all of us are on board.

The recurring image that comes to my mind about what happened and what’s most likely to happen now going forward is this scene from the movie Mulholland Drive with Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. When Harring’s character Rita begins talking in her sleep, Betty (Watts) awakens her from her nightmare and tells her “it’s OK” to which Rita responds, “No, it’s not OK.”

The last few days I’ve seen some posts come across my news feed on Facebook from people saying we need to come together now and unite as a country and get behind President-elect Trump. Fuck that. Go peddle that happy horseshit somewhere else.

Even President Obama said yesterday that “Americans need to reconcile themselves to a Trump presidency.” In this context, reconcile sounds more like “resign”. That’s not acceptance, that’s resignation. And so the normalization of these things begins – things that cannot and should not ever be normalized, including, but certainly not limited to, the demonization of others for starters.

"Rhinoceros" by Albrecht Durer, 16th century...
“Rhinoceros” by Albrecht Durer, 16th century…

Nope. Not going along with that either. There comes “A Time for Refusal“. Keep your humanity and basic decency intact. Don’t go along with the crowd, the mob, or the “new normal”.

Currently, the results of the national election show Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by over 2 million votes (a lead that continues to grow, btw, a week later… hmm). It’s way past time for the Electoral College to go, to be gone. A couple of petitions: Make Hillary Clinton President on December 19 . The electors of the Electoral College still have to do a formal vote that day. This petition has 4.3 million signers as of this morning. It’s a longshot of course but if you really don’t want to see Trump take office, it’s one of the last chances you may have.

The 2nd: Abolish the Electoral College .

And finally there’s this, which may be the most effective. E-mail the electors directly at Ask the Electors.org . Longshot for sure… but it’s the last line of defense before Dec. 19th.

How bad could things get here in the U.S.? Chris Hedges over at Truthdig has a few ideas on that in his most recent essay. Well worth a read, even as sobering and bleak as it is. What’s that expression?… “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

Also a good read this week, complete with some helpful hints for future reference, comes this essay from Masha Gessen, “Autocracy: Rules for Survival“.

As bad as the outcome of the election was, equally bad was the media coverage of it and the campaign pretty much from the get-go. In fact, the media coverage has been more infuriating and I didn’t even watch much of it on TV. They are more than complicit in this national disaster. It was just pervasive everywhere you went – online or otherwise. The sensationalistic headlines, the coverage of Trump seemingly 24/7, the polls, the dissemination of lies, the Twitter fights and ridiculous reports of them as if they were real news, and on and on ad nauseum. Again, disgusting. This applies equally to the leftist media outlets as well as those on the right.

And oh, I love this from Thom Palmer’s Truth in Politics blog. He gets it right.

The election cycle needs to be shortened and all the pundits, the pollsters, the smarmy commentators, most of whom don’t deserve the air time they get, et al. need to go the way of the Electoral College, i.e., out the fucking exit door, get rid of them all. It wasn’t just pervasive, it was abusive. The American people are in an abusive relationship with its endless proliferation of media and addiction to it. And you know what you do when you find yourself in an abusive relationship?… You walk away from it; you leave…

And you go on with your life. Live your best life now.

"Speed of Life" single, released on 10/9/16...
“Speed of Life” single, released on 10/9/16…

Speed of Lifeis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 2-song EP was released on October 9, 2016 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and iTunes.

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthly, Santos and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

Erin & Craig... in front of the "hobbit hole"...11/5/2016
Erin & Craig… in front of the “hobbit hole”…11/5/2016

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky),

“speed of life” single available now…

The new 2-song single “Speed of Life” has been released as of 10/9/2016 and I have included both songs here in today’s post.

SPEED OF LIFE
(Written by David Bowie. © 1977 Tintoretto Music and Screen Gems-EMI Music. All rights reserved.)

And the ‘B-side’…
CONFIRM HUMANITY (I’M NOT A ROBOT)
(© 2016 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)

Recording info:
Recorded and mixed July – August, 2016 at the ‘Cave Recording Studio, Golden, Colorado
Craig Carrington Thomas – all instruments, programming, engineering and production
Mastered by Brian Hazard at Resonance Mastering, Huntington Beach, California, September, 2016
Cover artwork by CCT

About the songs… starting with the ‘B-side’ first…
When I first started recording “Confirm Humanity…”, I thought it was kind of a goofy song but I liked the beat and the synths. Actually by the end, I really like what the song turned into and I’m very pleased with this one. The title of the song is a ready-made… I was on some website, signing up on their mailing list and there was a captcha that asked me to: Confirm Humanity (I’m Not a Robot). I thought that was kind of funny. Boom. Title. The sort of sinister surf/spy guitar part was played on my Danelectro baritone. There’s no bass part on this and that double hit on the snare drum… I must have listened to “Incense and Peppermints” around that time – the infamous double hi-hat hit – and it just got stuck in the ol’ subconscious.

Speed of Life“… this is the opening track from David Bowie’s album “Low” in 1977 and marked his new collaboration with musician/producer Brian Eno for the next three albums, the Berlin trilogy – “Low”, “Heroes”, and “Lodger”. I was somewhat surprised to learn that “Speed of Life” was Bowie’s first instrumental, especially since he already had 10 studio albums released by then.

"Miracle of the Slave" - Tintoretto
“Miracle of the Slave” – Tintoretto. If you’ve ever taken an Art History course, you’ve seen a slide of this painting.

Also very interesting when the licensing came back and I saw the publishing credits for “Speed of Life”. The first listed publisher was Tintoretto Music. Tintoretto was a 16th-century Italian painter during the Renaissance in Venice, most well-known perhaps for his painting, “Miracle of the Slave” (1548).

David Bowie in front of a portrait he painted of Iggy Pop in Berlin in 1976…

David Bowie was certainly a Renaissance man in his/our own time – musician, singer, songwriter, actor, art collector, and artist with artist being the broadest, most all-encompassing word to describe him. His paintings are probably the least known of his creative work but you can see several of them in this excellent article and interview with him from 1998, reprinted by the New York Times just a few days after his death this past January. And that’s really how 2016 began, what has set the tone for this year with the news of his death only 10 days in. It has been, for the most part, a very somber year; he and his artistic presence and sensibilities are very much missed.

“Speed of Life” is among my favorite Bowie songs and a song I have done live a number of times over the years, with various bands and at solo gigs. This is the first recorded version I’ve done of the song, in tribute to him and his life. I hope he would have liked this version.

A few milestones this month of October and on into November:
Nights on Venus turned 6 on October 8th.
I turned 60 on October 16th.
Erin and I get married this week.

"Speed of Life" single, released on 10/9/16...
“Speed of Life” single, released on 10/9/16…

Speed of Lifeis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 2-song EP was released on October 9, 2016 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and iTunes.

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthly, Santos and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

Craig, end of July, 2016...
Craig, end of July, 2016…

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky),

 

fall is here… finally (yay!)… “speed of life” single releases on 10/9

Once again it’s time for the annual fall leaf tour and post. Fall has arrived (sort of… still a little too warm right now) and the last couple of weekends Erin and I have taken a couple of drives into the high country and done a few hikes. But first…

Early morning on the road up to Squaw Pass and Echo Lake...
Early morning on the road up to Squaw Pass and Echo Lake…

Some Nights on Venus News:
Mastering on “Speed of Life” finished up over the past week and the 2-song single will be released this Sunday, 10/9 on CD Baby and on Bandcamp initially. You can get both songs as free downloads on Bandcamp for the first week, through 10/15, and they will appear here on a post this Sunday via Soundcloud. Here is a look at the cover artwork:

Artwork on "Speed of Life" single...
Artwork on “Speed of Life” single…

squaw_pass06This coming Saturday also marks the 6-year anniversary of my little musical endeavor, Nights on Venus… another milestone. Work continues on a full-length album – “We Are All Haunted by Something” – which is scheduled for release in 2017.

And now, back to the annual fall color “porn”…

Aspens at Ponder Point...
Aspens at Ponder Point…
Looking toward the Continental Divide, already a dusting of snow...
Looking toward the Continental Divide, already a dusting of snow…

squaw_pass04

squaw_pass08

Echo Lake...
Echo Lake…
West of Empire...
West of Empire…

And of course, with the arrival of fall, winter won’t be far behind. We’ll be breaking out the skis, boots and poles pretty soon, getting ski tune-ups and watching “Hot Dog, The Movie” – classic, silly ski movie from the 1980’s (think the ski ballet competition and Chinese downhill). Yep, Erin and I are still just a couple of ski-bum wannabes…

ineptitudedemotivator
Wheeeeee!
Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthlyis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, and iTunes.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

Craig, July, 2016...
Craig, July, 2016…

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky)

 

 

big bend revisited… memories of the end of summer 1971, and a new Nights on Venus single in mid-October…

Big Bend, as in national park Big Bend, in far West Texas, bordering Mexico, and separated by the mighty, muddy Rio Grande River. Think Fandango (a young Kevin Costner) and No Country For Old Men (Tommy Lee Jones)…

Still from the movie "Fandango" (1985)... Kevin Costner holds the bottle of champagne ("Dom") aloft before flinging it into the abyss...
Still from the movie “Fandango” (1985)… Kevin Costner holds the bottle of champagne (“Dom”) aloft before flinging it into the abyss… No, we did not have champagne with us on this trip as we were 14 and our handlers would have frowned on that. No beer either…
Map of Big Bend National Park... The dark line is the Rio Grande River and the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Map of Big Bend National Park… The dark line is the Rio Grande River and the border between the U.S./Texas and Mexico.

I was reminded, via Facebook post this week (thanks John!), that today, August 27th, was the day the St. Mark’s School of Texas Class of 1975, from Dallas – about 92-93 of us – boarded buses, along with our Outward Bound instructors and select faculty from the school, and set off at 7:00 a.m. 45 years ago for the remote and rugged Big Bend country south of Alpine and Marfa for an adventure. We would be there for 10 days – 5 in the Chisos Mountains, 5 on the Rio Grande River.

This was the official start of our freshman year, 1971. The first Outward Bound trip (mandatory for us) had come into being that year as an alternative and replacement for the annual rite of passage known as Freshman Day at the school – a one-day melee which involved a lot of shaving cream, silly string, dunkings in the library courtyard fountain and general harassment from the seniors toward the incoming freshman class. The trip to Big Bend was supposed to end that tradition, which it did (I think), and was to be our rite of passage.

I was 14 at the time. I had just come back to Dallas from my first summer of working up at the Evergreen Conference in Evergreen, Colorado only the week before. Mostly I was helping out with routine maintenance and kitchen duties, although the first job I was assigned was to clean out the incinerator which probably hadn’t been touched in a couple of decades. It had to be the dirtiest, nastiest job my supervisors could think of to give me as an initiation and I’m sure they were laughing their asses off that entire week I was cleaning it out. On the brighter side, I was always off work by 2:30 and could hike or hang out down at Bear Creek the rest of the afternoon; there’d been a summer romance with a girl from the Midwest, and The Who’s album Who’s Next had just been released and was on the Denver FM stations constantly. “The Song Is Over” (featuring Nicky Hopkins’ excellent piano work) from that album quickly became my favorite song and still is to this day.

And then came the trip to Big Bend…

Casa Grande... Big Bend, 1971. Photo courtesy of Mark Walsh.
Casa Grande… Big Bend, 1971. Photo courtesy of Mark Walsh.

First of all, it’s absolutely beautiful country – if you’ve been there, you know and if you haven’t, you should definitely go. I remember we got there late in the afternoon and were glad to get off the buses after 12 hours. We quickly divided into groups – several of them would go to the river first, several would stay in the mountains. I was in one of the groups that would get the mountains first. We all ate hamburgers for dinner, then got our gear and said adios to the groups that were headed for the river… and later we camped out under a cloudless sky filled with a million stars. Will never forget that… I just stared up at the sky for the longest time, ’til I fell asleep.

Cover from the St. Mark's yearbook, The Marksman, 1972...
Cover from the St. Mark’s yearbook, The Marksman, 1972…

And the first five days of the trip in the mountains were the best, at least for me. We hiked the trails, hiked up to Lost Mine Peak with 35-40 lb. packs on our backs; I remember I was reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath at the time and had it tucked away in my pack. The days were predictably hot (but it was a dry heat), the nights cool because it was the desert. One classmate broke his ankle and had to be carted out – I remember that; the highlights: a 200-foot free rappel down a sheer vertical rock wall where you could lower yourself as fast or as slow as you wanted, an overnight mini-solo in the wilderness, and of course, those cool desert nights. We may have all sweated like pigs during the day, but the mountains were “no sweat” and essentially familiar terrain.

Pictures of the Big Bend experience from the Marksman, 1972...
Pictures of the Big Bend experience from the Marksman, 1972…

The same could not be said of the days on the river, the muddy Rio Grande. In fact, as I thought about this trip in the weeks leading up to it, the time on the river was the part I had been dreading. For good reason as it turned out. Most of the time in the boat on the river was boring – if it got too hot, which it inevitably did, you just rolled off the side into the river and floated along. There were raft wars, wasp wars, swatting at the damn wasps with the frying pans in our packs, but then I also remember one day hearing the guys in the boat up in front of us starting to sing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” so we all started to sing along in ours. That was cool.

I remember being in the boat – and we were always switching into other boats – that helped two guys cross the river from the Mexican side to the U.S. side. I remember seeing dead livestock in the quicksand near the river, a dead horse… a body floating downstream, lifeless. A human body. Those who were in that particular boat that day will remember… ’cause we were all a little freaked out, even the Outward Bound guy. Most of the time on the river was fairly peaceful and then you’d have the occasional rapids and everyone would work as one to get through them. For whatever reason I happened to see a lot of death on the river. At 14 years of age, it leaves an impression… Can’t unsee it.

And then there was the last day… It was supposed to be an easy day – only one last set of rapids before the takeout point. I wish I had all the pictures I took on this trip – I was telling a classmate I had shot 12 rolls of film on the trip, actually was bragging about it as I was a bit more of a camera buff back then, in the photography club at school and all. But they were lost that last day, never got to see ’em – my camera, waterlogged and ruined even before the raft turned over. The following passage comes from a journal entry I wrote much later, 25 years after the fact, looking back on what happened, and now 20 years ago… For those who remember, this will fill in some gaps.

What I remember about that last half-mile or so before the takeout point… I see the three of us – Mark, Mike, and me – in the boat, coming through the rapids and it was late in the afternoon; it was actually quite beautiful because there was that “cinematic honeydew light” that you get just ahead of sundown. The golden hour. We were actually coming through those rapids quite late in the day and I remember watching the boat up in front of us – I was at the back of our boat, playing captain. But the boat up in front of us hit a hole in the middle of the river; I watched their boat dip into it and then watched as it veered off way to the right toward the rock wall on the south side of the river. I remember thinking we had to avoid that hole and so we started paddling harder and I was trying to steer the boat as best I could away from it. Well of course, that proved futile and we ended up dipping down into it as well. And sure enough, we started drifting way to the right just like the boat in front of us did. Even so, I didn’t think we were in immediate trouble – then just as quickly realized we were. That would have been when the boat was getting too close to the rock wall and then as the boat got stuck against the wall by the current moments later.

The first thing that happened when the boat got stuck was that Mark, who was sitting up at the very front, got swept away by the current. The river just swept into the boat with such force he was gone in an instant, and I can still remember that look of surprise he had because he turned around in the water looking back at us and then he was downstream, gone. I remember that being kind of an ‘oh shit’ moment and yeah, I knew we were in trouble. So it was just me and Mike in the boat at that point and he’s still trying to paddle and I’m trying to push us off the rock wall with my paddle. I was noticing also that the water was pushing against the boat with such force that the boat was starting to inch its way up the rock wall itself and eventually it was going to turn over on us. Mike turned around and yelled, “What are we gonna do, Thomas?” It was very clear we couldn’t stay where we were and wait for the boats behind us. The river wasn’t going to let us do that ‘cause it was going to flip the boat over on top of us. It seemed like the only thing we could do is try to jump and swim away from the boat and the rock wall as far as we could, get out into the current and go with it. That would be the instinctual thing, right? I yelled back at Mike to swim hard toward the center [of the river]. That was the plan, so he pushed off and went into the river and now I’m all alone and the boat is even more at an angle.

I don’t remember being scared here, probably because there wasn’t time to be scared and possibly because I didn’t fully understand just how dangerous a situation we were in. Sometimes it’s good not to know. A few moments later, I took a deep breath and moved my foot to the left side of the boat, getting ready to push off… then tried to push off but my foot slipped and next thing I know I’m in the water, underwater, and the boat has landed on top of me. OK… now I’m scared. There were some duffel bags in the boat, a few strongboxes and some other equipment but there wasn’t a whole lot which was good because that stuff wasn’t tied down and now this stuff is landing on top of me and I was pushing my way back up to the surface through it. There were only three of us in the boat when this happened. Usually there were 4-6 of us in a boat and one instructor from Outward Bound or one of the teachers who came on this trip but for that last set of rapids we did not have any of the ‘grown-ups’ on board.

When I was still underneath the boat and trying to push it away, I did surface briefly then went back under. I surfaced a few seconds later and saw the sky, caught my breath, and went back under again. There was no control over anything – I was just simply at the mercy of the current. I remember thinking, “Well, this is it, I’m gonna drown…” and the next thing I knew, I could see the sky again and I’ve got a small canister of Kodak film in my mouth. Really. This time I was able to keep my head above water and I was just carried along with the current.

Eventually that current brought me into the same small inlet where it had deposited Mike. We both ended up in a small eddy in a cove on the Mexico side of the river, then scrambled up out of the water onto a small grassy area and watched while the last couple of boats passed by us. I started blowing a whistle, trying to alert any of the boats passing by; Mike pulled out his pocket Bible and was praying (he eventually became a preacher). That we both “landed” in this semi-hidden cove I’ve always thought of as highly providential (the second meaning of the word). It took an hour-and-a-half to two hours to send a motorboat in and get us out of there.

The way we were... Big Bend, 1971
The way we were… Big Bend, 1971

All three of us eventually got to camp that night, ate dinner as we were all starving by then, re-told what had happened out there on the river. Everything I had brought on the trip was lost; the clothes I came out of the water wearing were the ones I wore on the bus the next day heading back home. At least they were dry by then. By the time the buses got to Sweetwater on I-20 on September 6th, and the local Dairy Queen – 200 cheeseburgers ordered, oops sorry, 198 cheeseburgers and 2 hamburgers owing to a classmate’s allergies (hey Robert!) – things started to feel more “normal” again. Actually, those were the best-tasting DQ burgers I ever remember having had, before or since.

For the next year(s?) St. Mark’s decided to hold the freshman Outward Bound trip elsewhere… which turned out to be the Pecos Wilderness area in New Mexico near Santa Fe. As far as I know (I transferred to Irving Cistercian the following year, but not because of the trip), the Class of 1975 was the only class who ever made the trip and completed the course in Big Bend – we were trailblazers! And for those who made this trip and were there, I salute you! It is an indelible part of our experience, individual and collective. On this 45th anniversary.

Nights on Venus News:
The new single “Speed of Life” will be released mid-October. Yes, the David Bowie song “Speed of Life”. Licensing/permission has been obtained. It will be a 2-song single also featuring a new original “Confirm Humanity (I’m Not A Robot)”, both instrumentals, and the two songs will be on the album “We Are All Haunted By Something”, scheduled for release in June, 2017. Stay tuned for updates. A mini-interview I did recently with Bandwidth Daily should be up online soon.

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthlyis the most recent offering from Nights on Venus. The 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, and iTunes.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV Website.

craig_730Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky),