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…
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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…
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:
This 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”…
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…
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)…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Currently we’re getting some much-needed afternoon rainfall here in Golden on this last day of July. It’s been very dry here of late – fire restrictions in place here in Jefferson and Clear Creek counties and many others in Colorado I’m sure. Thankfully only another month-and-a-half of summer to go. No camp fires – that means you, campers and visitors to our state alike. We don’t need any wildfires.
Other than hiking in the high country and being able to enjoy a craft brew on a patio with a cool breeze somewhere après-hike, I really don’t like summer very much. Probably all those years I lived in Texas… Too freakin’ hot. Plus if you come to Colorado during peak tourist season, you might get this:
And if you get stuck in one of these, you’re gonna have… “a bad time“. No amount of great music/mixtapes and snacks/edibles is gonna help you out here. Just sayin’.
Colorado Tip #4: If you want to go to the high country from Denver in the summer, always leave before 9:30 am, especially on the weekends. The earlier the better. You’ll thank me later.
Always in search of cooler climes, Erin and I are looking to visit someplace cool (literally) and exotic in 2017. Like Iceland. Set to a bossa nova beat…
Love the graphic of the horse and the people in the hot springs near Reykjavik in the map. The “U” in the title is a nod and homage to Prince, who died in April of this year and was one of his trademarks in many song titles throughout his career. It will be the only time I use the “U” in the context of song title. Just my way of saying “thank you” for what his music has meant to me in my life.
The release of a 2-song single is scheduled now for mid-October; “I Just Wanna Fly Off to Iceland With U” may be the B-side on this one… we shall see. More details to follow. As always, thanks for following/listening!
First of all, I love this book. Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo is one of my favorite books of all time.
First published in 1997, this book has been a companion since then that I revisit every few years, or revisit a chapter as needed whenever, because its message is just that good. And it’s not just for guitarists of course. It’s for everyone who is involved in the creation of music, whatever the instrument, whatever the genre, at whatever level of ability. Or those involved in the creation of art… or any kind of creative endeavor, and that covers a lot of territory. But way beyond that, and ultimately, it’s about how we all create our lives.
Zen Guitar is not about learning a specific technique, or any technique for that matter. As the author points out from the very beginning, there are plenty of books and videos for learning techniques and genres. Instead, he says simply: “We are here to make a sound.”
We are here to express beauty, beauty in the world.
In the chapter “Beginner’s Mind”, Sudo incorporates the idea and training/imagery of the martial arts dojo to provide a basic framework for practice:
1. Wear the white belt.
2. Pick up your guitar.
That’s it. What could be more simple?
Well of course, it’s not that simple – it never is. And there’s the rub (paradox). Essentially Zen Guitar is a spiritual book; it connects the basics of playing the guitar to one’s spiritual development along the musical [and one’s life] journey.
Thoughts are creative in themselves. Energy follows thought. Thoughts become things. Everyone is creative.
From the chapter “Pick Up Your Guitar”:
“Look deeply into the spirit that goes into making an item of quality – the care, the precision, the attention to detail. Incorporate that spirit into your work… Anything you set out to make – music, love, a bookshelf, a meal – make as well as you can. To do otherwise is spiritless…”
And “Act with a sense of purpose.”
Each chapter is relatively short – most of the time one page or less than two pages, and begins with a pertinent quote from a well-known musician. Bite-size chunks of musical wisdom… Like most spiritual books Zen Guitar is best digested in an unhurried fashion. Read a short chapter, if you’re unfamiliar with the idea presented, if it’s new to you… give it time to sink in. Think on it, feel it… embody it.
The quote that begins the aforementioned “Pick Up Your Guitar” chapter: “If you pick up a guitar and it says, “Take me, I’m yours,” then that’s the one for you.” – Frank Zappa
Speaks to intuition… Learn to trust it.
In fact, the quotes are a highlight in themselves and very definitely, on their own merit alone, a reason for buying the book. A few examples/highlights:
From the chapter “Loss of Focus” in the section “The Twelve Common Missteps”, comes this gem:
“I remember coming to a concert where they had a big catered meal set out for everyone… I went and said, “Miles, man, you gotta see all this food they got here.” And Miles said, “I didn’t come here to eat.”
– Gary Bartz, recalling a conversation with Miles Davis
From the chapter “Jamming”…
“The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.” – Duke Ellington
And from the chapter on “Virtuosity” comes this:
“Whether you are [playing] in the bar, the church, the strip joint or the Himalayas, the first duty of music is to complement and enhance life.” – Carlos Santana
That is truth. As a musician, playing music enhances your life. What you put forth into the world musically enhances the experience of life for many others – people you will most likely never meet but affects them nonetheless. Music is not just mere entertainment and should never be thought of as such. Music, played with true feeling and integrity, can change lives. This is no small thing.
There’s a lot more that I could quote from this book but I think you get the idea. If you’re involved in any kind of creative endeavor, not just music, not just guitar, you should get this book. Zen Guitar is that good, it is that inspirational and I highly recommend it. This book should be in every creative’s library. The bottom line on it…
Know what you are doing and more importantly, why.
Most of all, be mindful of what you are doing.
It boils down to:
Do what has to be done
When it has to be done
As well as it can be done
And do it that way every time.
Accept nothing less…
Much food for thought here.
Nights on Venus News:
New music is coming soon, within the next couple of weeks. Finishing up a new song: the mastered demo of “I Just Wanna Fly Off to Iceland With U”… Yes, Iceland… with a bossa nova beat. Of course they go together. And we’re making plans to go there in 2017 and get Nights on Venus on the lineup of the Iceland Airwaves music festival, November, 2017.
For this year there will be no new album. Erin and I are getting married in November – we set the date, and as this is 4 months away there’s a lot to do between now and then. There may be a 2, possibly 3-song single release in the fall but a full album won’t happen until 2017. And it will be entitled “We Are All Haunted By Something”. And as I’m working with these 20+ songs so far, it may possibly become a double album… we shall see.
Happy Birthday Todd!
I’m just going to re-blog John’s Celebration here and add three more songs to the mix, so let’s make that 10! Including the first song I ever heard by him, 48 years ago… the song that made me a Todd Fan For Life (TFFL):
“Open My Eyes”, with the Nazz, 1968
From 1975 and the album “Initiation”, here’s “Real Man…
And more recently, from his album “Liars”, this is “Godsaid” from 2004…