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…
Time really does fly. We’ve reached June already, the start of the hiking/summer season and I anticipate a very busy season for us here. Some photos from Sunday’s hike at Alderfer/Three Sisters open space park in Evergreen, usually our first hike of the season…
There is a new song in the Nights on Venus News section.
I’m currently working on new songs in the studio… makin’ headway, finishing them up. Taking a more balanced approach this year (and also in 2015 and moving forward), a more relaxed approach to creative work, allowing more time for these little trips Erin and I take into the mountains, getting out into the natural beauty of the wilderness, and especially now as summer is upon us and we’re making plans to move up to the mountains within the next year, year-and-a-half. There have been many changes over the last few years and this year of 2016 in particular so far; we’re not even halfway through. And in these times of accelerated changes it’s good and necessary to unplug from the Internet as much as possible – the bane now of our collective existence – and get away from the constant ‘urbanity’ of it all. Well anyway, that’s where we’re headed.
Like today… the last day of April (and now into May, as of this writing). It has been snowing here since early Friday morning and yes, it is the title of a song by Prince that closes his 1986 album Parade.
2016, four months into it, has been a brutal year for iconic musicians and their fans as we have witnessed the passing of so many of our musical heroes. Artists who made a deep and lasting imprint on popular culture and made significant contributions through their music. David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Dale “Buffin” Griffin, drummer for Mott the Hoople. Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson, guitarist/songwriter and original singer for Jefferson Airplane (both died on the same day), Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire, Dan Hicks, Vanity (singer Denise Matthews, Prince protégé); Keith Emerson; George Martin, the legendary producer; Merle Haggard. And now, Prince himself.
Where to even begin?
The 21st of this month was just an ordinary Thursday. I had come back from lunch and was settled in at my desk. I go online, onto Twitter, and see Prince’s name is trending – not a good sign for musicians in 2016, but I knew he was on tour, the Piano and a Microphone Tour, and he was relatively young (hell, I turn 60 this year). I also knew his private jet had had to make an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois last week, but surely he didn’t…
And now it’s been 9 days since his death. I still can’t believe Prince is gone. Though some in the press sometimes referred to him as “the diminutive one”, he was truly larger than life. A musical force of nature we will not soon see again, if ever.
The day after he died, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam said, “If there was anyone I thought would be playing when he was 80 or 85, it was gonna be Prince.” I would second that and thought so too, which is what makes his death even more shocking.
I had seen him and his various bands six times over the years, beginning with the Purple Rain tour, and I would say at least 3 of those concerts are among the best 5 concerts I’ve ever seen by any artist. Watching him onstage you just saw pure joy and virtuosity in his playing that seemed effortless; listening to his recordings you just hear pure creativity and talent and that same joy.
His arrangements of his songs are amazing. Hey, when the record company said “there’s no bass part on “When Doves Cry” – no problem. He just simply told them it sounded better without the bass so he took it out. Reminds me of the renowned photographer Ansel Adams: when people questioned his work he would just say, “I’m the artist and I know how it’s supposed to look.” Prince, who produced his debut album (“For You”) when he was 19, and all albums thereafter, could have said the same: “I’m the artist; I know how it’s supposed to sound.”
This video has been making the rounds on the Internet for the last week or so. Very much worth watching. Just beautiful… effortless.
I think the first time I remember seeing – or even hearing about – Prince was on TV, on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1981 which featured Todd Rundgren as the musical guest but also included Prince who sang “Partyup” off of his album Dirty Mind. I also remember being kind of pissed off about it ’cause, as a huge Todd fan, I wanted to see more Todd; I had no idea who this Prince guy was (though I, along with the rest of the world, would soon find out).
In 1982 you started to hear Prince on the more mainstream radio stations in Dallas; I remember KVIL-FM and longtime, legendary DJ Ron Chapman would refer to “Delirious” as “the baby song” probably because that’s what listeners called it when they phoned in to request it. I first heard the album 1999 over at my friend Annie’s house on Richmond Ave. near where I worked at Balloon-o-Grams after we had moved down to Lower Greenville. Heard it a lot actually, especially side 2 (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “D.M.S.R”), as she would play it before we went out and hit the clubs – Cafe Dallas, Confetti, Tango – during those “run-amok” days.
After 1999 I went back and bought all his albums that I’d missed – both Dirty Mind and Controversy were amazing. There was nothing else like these albums out there at the time – truly groundbreaking.
And then came Purple Rain…
In mid-September of 1984, Prince was king. Seriously. He ruled the airwaves – radio, MTV, and in the movies. You couldn’t go anywhere in America, even a small town like Las Vegas, New Mexico and not know who he was. I had moved out to Santa Fe by then, tending bar downstairs at the Plaza Ore House where we played Prince constantly on the weekend nights, and traveling twice a week through eastern New Mexico, through towns named Roy, Springer, and Tucumcari, with my girlfriend at the time, trying to hold onto a relationship that was doomed from the outset. Purple Rain was the lion’s share of the soundtrack to all that craziness (“Let’s Go Crazy”), driving around in the empty spaces and flat-topped mesas, meeting up with her whenever our schedules would allow.
Favorite songs from that album: “Take Me With U” and “The Beautiful Ones”.
She and I saw Purple Rain in Las Vegas, a town that was proud of the fact that the movie Red Dawn – featuring Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, and Lea Thompson, and also released that year – had been filmed there. Loved everything about Purple Rain, and I remember afterward she said a very interesting thing about Prince: “He’s going to be the one people remember.” Will never forget that… this at a time when Michael Jackson was at his peak popularity, Bruce Springsteen had released Born In the U.S.A., and Madonna had just released her first album.
32 years ago…
I hope that whoever is in charge of Prince’s estate and entrusted with his music, will – sooner than later – release an expanded, full edition of Purple Rain, with all the musical interludes that he recorded and that were recorded, the rough versions of the title track for instance, including where he plays it on just the piano. Give us the whole enchilada… please.
I love the fact that even after the phenomenal success of Purple Rain, Prince did not move to Los Angeles… or NY, or anywhere else, and stayed put in his hometown of Minneapolis… where he was so much a part of his community and the primary architect of the ‘Minneapolis Sound’.
I love it that after Purple Rain he didn’t try to duplicate it or just rest on the success of it and continually pushed himself further musically, exploring, taking risks, and staking out new musical territory for himself, his band, and his listeners all over the world. That is what a true artist does.
And the albums followed, year after year, tour after tour…
33 of them in all, continuing on through this past December, 2015 with the release of HITNRUN Phase Two. I’m just now catching up with the HITNRUN albums… and they are both excellent.
I love the fact that when he was recruited to be on the “We Are the World” studio sessions in 1985, he chose to record his own song instead – “4 The Tears In Your Eyes” – as his contribution with his band The Revolution. At the time he caught a lot of flak for it, but his song is by far superior. Go check it out on The Hits/The B-Sides album here (scroll down to song 55). It is one of his best and most affecting emotionally.
Essential Prince albums… by decade: 1970’s Prince (1979) – includes “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad”
1980’s All of them… Dirty Mind (1980) Controversy (1981) 1999 (1982) Purple Rain (1984) Around The World In a Day (1985) Parade (1986) Sign o’ the Times (1987) Lovesexy (1988)
1990’s Diamonds and Pearls (1991) Love Symbol Album (with the New Power Generation, 1992) – includes “Sexy M.F.” and “7”
The aforementioned Hits and B-Sides album (1993) The Black Album (1994) The Gold Experience (1995) Emancipation (1996) Crystal Ball (1998) Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999)
2000’s N.E.W.S. (2003) – all instrumental album 3121 (2006) Planet Earth (2007) Lotusflower (2009)
2010’s PLECTRUMELECTRUM with 3rdEYEGIRL (2014) ART OFFICIAL AGE (2014) HITNRUN Phase One (Sept., 2015) HITNRUN Phase Two (Dec., 2015)
All titles in all caps… his.
Essential songs?… Too numerous to list here. To me they’re pretty much all essential, even from albums I didn’t list above.
Most Underrated Prince album: Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, 1999
Best Prince Song you’ve probably never heard: “Da Bang” from Crystal Ball, 1998 (also love “Crucial” from that album – check ’em out)
Best Prince Song you may have heard but not necessarily on the radio:
“P Control” from The Gold Experience, 1995
For better or worse, and probably forever, people will say that Purple Rain, the soundtrack and the movie, was his magnum opus and what he will be most remembered for. It’s an excellent album to be sure – the 6th album in his discography – but I’m not sure it’s his best (Sign O’ the Times would be a strong contender). But Purple Rain achieves its greatness not just from the songwriting and musicianship and the performances, but also from hitting the collective consciousness at just the right time, right place, with the right cohesive image – so much so that it became mythical. It was a game-changer.
Erin and I watched the movie the day after he died (it will be playing at ‘Film on the Rocks’ at nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater on May 12th… we will be there). The weirdest thing about it was that through the entire movie it didn’t seem like he was gone at all… until the final song “Baby I’m a Star” that closes the movie, when he turns around and the camera freezes on him, and it was a clear reminder that yes, he was gone. Which absolutely sucks…
Some have called Prince the “greatest recording artist of our time” – I think that’s true, at least in my book, and to answer the implied rhetorical question of whether there will be another like him… no, there won’t be. He was one of a kind, his talent singular, and with the music industry as fractured and splintered as it is now, there will never be consensus around any artist in the same way no matter how hard the industry might try to manufacture it.
Prince had said he had hundreds of songs “in the vault” and that he hadn’t always given the record companies his “best songs”. I look forward to hearing those songs as they are released (hopefully… certainly?) in the coming years, but that’s small consolation. I’d much rather have him still with us here on Planet Earth.
There’s a romanticism about vinyl, and we share that enthusiasm of the format for obvious reasons. However it should be noted that the romanticism that surrounds vinyl, is largely that- romanticism. Below we’ve assembled a number of recent editorials and reports about the state of vinyl production to shed some light and much needed perspective on this subject.
There several important take-a-ways from our friends who are on the front lines of vinyl production that are also noted in the reports below.
1) Vinyl revenues are grossing more than free streaming receivables. This sounds impressive at first but said another way it means that free streaming is just not generating a lot of revenue in the aggregate of the total business (not a surprise, free streaming is a big problem).
Second, and more sadly is the fact that vinyl production is very expensive and miscalculations on selecting a title or…
…So says the winter trail map for Copper Mountain Resort, and I heartily agree. We had a few ‘snow days’ this past week, the best one being at Copper Mtn. on Saturday for skiing of course, which is the kind of snow day Copper’s talking about.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Dallas where any kind of snowfall was considered a novelty and even an inch of the white stuff could bring a city of half-a-million, back in the 1960’s, to a complete standstill… but I still love ‘snow days’. I suppose if I had grown up in Minnesota or Wisconsin, where every winter day must look like an endless rerun of the movie “Fargo”, maybe I’d feel differently.
My Dad always loves to tell the story of our first winter in Dallas – after we moved from Connecticut – where the headlines in the papers read: “Blanket of Snow Shuts Down Dallas” or something to that effect. That was one very thin blanket – one inch, maybe even less than an inch. Well here, take a look at this newsreel footage from long ago…
Yeah, he still gets a kick out of re-telling that story… and every snowstorm was considered a “freak” snowstorm despite the fact they happened at least once a year.
For me, snow days are still a novelty, even now after I’ve lived in the mountains here and they were more or less an everyday occurrence. Born a northerner, always a northerner I suppose. As the remains of already-forgotten Winter Storm Kayla have been plowed into parking-lot piles around town and are left to melt, and the temperature today is in the upper 50’s, here are a few pics from Golden this past week…
By the weekend, I-70 up to the high country was completely clear and we headed up to Copper Mountain. Awesome snow conditions and just an absolutely gorgeous day – mostly clear blue skies, not too warm, not too cold. Excellent skiing.
And Congratulations to the Denver Broncos for their dominating win over the Carolina Panthers, 24-10, in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday! The “experts” seemed to forget that defense wins championships. Today was the victory parade here in Denver; the crowd at Civic Center Park was estimated at 1 million people… which would be around 20% of the state’s total population all in one place. Which is a lot of people. Thank you Broncos for a great season! A few pics from the parade…
I hope your new year has gotten off to an excellent start, ten days in. Wishing you all the best and let’s keep the good stuff going all through this year.
With the release of the new EP/album Unearthly the last week of 2015 – and now available for download on CD Baby and iTunes, streaming through Apple Music, Tidal, et al. – it’s time for a little break… replenish the well so to speak.
Which means skiing on New Year’s Day and more skiing for the first 3 months here, and also the first major project of the new year. The one I’ve been putting off for 9 months since I brought all the LPs up from Dallas. The one called “going through the record collection”, as in vinyl, and it looks like this…
I realize this is a very age-specific thing here, although, believe it or not, vinyl records are making a comeback now. But if you’ve grown up with just downloading or streaming, you might ask: why even bother with these relics? Well, I love the vinyl/LP format… that’s what it really comes down to. That and the quality of sound from a clean copy (no pops, scratches, static, etc.). I love the CD format as well. Here’s an interesting little infographic I found out there on the web…
And it’s not that I don’t want to go through most of these records and listen to them again. On the contrary, it’s just that, that is the problem in and of itself: I will end up listening to many (most) of them and the process of going through them will take at least twice as long. And after a week of this, that is exactly what has happened.
The overwhelming majority of these vinyl record albums come from the inventory of my former, and currently defunct, art gallery/record store, Excellent Sky Gallery & Empire Records (2003-2007) in the small mountain town of Empire, Colorado, 36 miles west of Denver. The rest are from my own personal collection over the years. I had thousands of records in the store at one time; I still have quite a few left… and as I started to go through them I was surprised by how many I have that are still unopened, 8 1/2 years after the gallery closed and decades since those albums were first released. I had completely forgotten.
So I’ve been listening to these artifacts (relics) all this week… and right now. I’ll let the character Rob, from High Fidelity – who’s something of a hero to me – explain:
Rob is the main character from the film which comes from the book, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and if you loved the movie, check out the book as well – it’s a good read. Sifting through the unopened albums, I come across these gems:
ZZ Top – “Eliminator” and the follow-up, “Afterburner” from the mid-1980’s (and for some odd reason I have 4 copies of their album “Fandango” and they are well-played). U2 – “The Joshua Tree”, from 1987… that weird time when the music industry was switching from vinyl to the next big thing – CDs. Sting – “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”, his first solo album from 1985 – features the hit “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” and “Russians”…
Patti Smith – “Horses”, still unopened, though I suspect not for long.
Shoes – one of my favorite power-pop bands from Zion, Illinois and their album “Tongue Twister” from 1981…
Prince’s “1999”, unopened…
The Pretenders’ 1st album from 1980…
and, OMG… Paris “Big Towne, 2061” – Bob Welch’s band between Fleetwood Mac and his solo career.
And on and on it goes…
OK, so I’m working backwards through the alphabet here; continuing on I find surprisingly clean copies of Three Dog Night’s “Suitable For Framing” and “Harmony” (and one very embarrassing, politically incorrect – by today’s standards – inner gatefold photo of the band)… 4 copies of Elton John’s “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” (?), and even the more obscure albums like the “Times Square” soundtrack (from the equally obscure 1980 film) play quite well after all these years… and, Head East! And here I think of the old RIAA “this record will never become obsolete” notification on the back of the early Beatles’ albums.
Eventually I come to Boston. “More Than a Feeling” Boston. Their album, “Third Stage” from 1986. 8 years after their previous album “Don’t Look Back”, which was their 2nd album. 8 years between albums is a mighty long time, especially back then. I’d never heard the album in its entirety, just the two hits – “Amanda” and “We’re Ready” – and it’s unopened. So yeah, it’s time to open it, give it a spin…
Standard operating procedure dictates that when you open a vinyl record album and put it on the turntable the very first time – its maiden voyage – you burn a copy onto another format. From the 1970’s through the mid-90’s the blank cassette tape – usually from Maxell – was the de facto choice for this. Then later in the 90’s, it was on CD, CD-R. And when you had burned a copy, you put the vinyl record back in its sleeve and never, ever took it out of its sleeve again, for any reason. Under any circumstances… unless/until of course the tape got jammed up or the CD started skipping…
This is how you make your vinyl last – treat it gently, treat it kindly, and it will reward you with years of ‘high-fidelity’.
So, back to Boston… I’ve been listening to this album most of this past week – now burned on CD-R of course – revisiting 1986, which in the Boston/Tom Scholz universe sounds very much like 1978. Which is to say they picked up where they left off and I kinda love it, as it takes me back to that time of their heyday when I was in undergraduate school in the late ’70s. That trademark layered guitar wall-of-sound that can level tall buildings if you would only crank it up high enough is still in effect on “Third Stage”, and it’s a great-sounding album. Great-sounding now, again by today’s standards, and I’m sure this was even more awesome back in 1986. I’ve got the two sets of oversized speakers so I’m crankin’ it; Erin comes down to the basement and says, “You’re like a teenage boy in the basement!…” and I’m like, “So, what’s your point, Shmoopy?”
And so she sits down and listens to the album with me…
Like I said, 8 years is a long time to go between albums and as it took 6 years to record “Third Stage”, according to the liner notes, it seems that the rest of the original band drifted off to other things ’cause only Tom and the late lead singer Brad Delp appear here. Have to say I think this is their best album, even more than their impactful debut album from 1976. This in spite of the fact that the guitar riff from “I Think I Like It” is a lift of a riff from Journey’s “Anyway You Want It” (it is, listen to it). Tom, what were you thinking? Dude, you graduated from M.I.T. – you know better. Also very interesting is the pipe organ pipe motif in the album artwork – it’s in the body of the spaceship on the cover and then on the inside sleeve photo, dimly lit in red light. Real curious about that – would like to hear the story, as I have more than a passing familiarity with pipe organs. Just sayin’…
Well, it has been fun this past week re-discovering, re-acquainting myself with the old record inventory, and the fun will continue until I’m done consolidating… as in the meantime I find 3 very good (+) to excellent copies of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”. If you’re a vinyl LP aficionado you know the scoring system:
M – Mint (unopened, unplayed)
NM – Near Mint
EX – Excellent
VG+ – Very Good plus, but not excellent
VG – Very good
G – Acceptable… and I never took anything below this in the record store, because if I played it and couldn’t listen to it – excessive pops, scratches, static, whatever – I wouldn’t sell it.
Which is my way of saying I hope to re-open the gallery/record store at some point in the future, back up in the mountains… preferably sooner than later. I’m making plans to paint again in 2016 after a 6-year hiatus, along with continuing the recorded work I’m doing in Nights on Venus. Full-length album this year, possibly by August…
“Unearthly“, the new 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available onBandcamp, CD Baby, andiTunes.