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.
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.
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.
Places define us, shape us, change us, and any place we’ve lived leaves its indelible mark upon us.
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.
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.
Yes, the summer is almost gone – next weekend is Labor Day weekend. But here in Colorado, we say bring on the fall and winter…!
On the road again…
Here’s some Doors for you, some rare footage of the band…
set to the song “Summer’s Almost Gone” from the album “Waiting For the Sun.”
What’s New: This month, three new editions of the Denver music compilation “This Ain’t No Cowtown” Vols. 5.0 and 5.5 were released. Music, comedy, and poetry – there’s a great write-up of it here on Reverb, the Denver Post music blog and you can find the albums on Bandcamp. Love the artwork on this – it’s a great album cover.
And it’s for a worthy cause… ALL proceeds from this comp will go to assist Mike Marchant, Denver songwriter and musician, with the medical bills from his recent bout with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“Agave Blues” is NoV’s contribution to the cause and can be found on V. 5.5.
New music will be coming soon from Nights on Venus, probably around late October. Watch for it right here and on ReverbNation. In the meantime…
This week… a much-needed break for some rest and relaxation as Erin and I hit the road and headed south to New Mexico – the Land of Enchantment – to spend a few days in Santa Fe, my old stompin’ grounds. I was fortunate enough to live here for a couple of years in the mid-80’s – it’s one of my favorite places and over the years I’ve come back for visits when I need to get away for a while.
So, the last few days in pictures and occasional words…
The first stop on the drive down was a short stop in Taos. It’s the more scenic route coming down from the north once you get off I-25 and go through Cimarron Canyon, passing by Angel Fire on the way.
From Taos, you continue south on Highway 68, dropping into the Rio Grande canyon at Pilar.
Back in the land of D. H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe….
One thing that was immediately noticeable when we drove in this time was how hazy and how dry everything looked. Santa Fe and Taos sit on high desert plateaus above 7,000 feet and it is an arid land with water at a premium, but I hadn’t ever seen it look this dry this early in the summer before; we didn’t see a single cloud in the sky for the first 3 days we were here. Hopefully there will be rain soon with those daily afternoon thunderstorms that always came through and cooled the air down.
The haziness was due to a wildfire in another part of the state. When it’s this hot and dry this early in the summer, both here and in Colorado, the fire danger runs very high to extreme. In fact, driving back to Golden yesterday I was shocked to see how little snowpack was left on the high mountains and we could see the smoke from a new wildfire up by Fort Collins. We have smoky skies again here today; we need RAIN! And hopefully we don’t see a repeat of the ‘Summer of Fires’ we had here in CO in 2002.
When you come to Santa Fe, 10,000 Waves Mountain Spa Resort is definitely a must visit. I’ve been coming here since 1984 and it is by far the best place to relax and unwind in town when that’s what you’re looking for.
We didn’t go to a lot of art galleries on this trip but we did make it over to the New Mexico Museum of Art. This is a separate museum from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which is a couple of blocks away, but it has several of her paintings in its collection.
The Plaza of course, is the central hub in downtown Santa Fe that everything was built around dating back to the early 1600’s, and it makes for great people-watching. For a great view of the whole Plaza, try the balcony at the Marble Brewery on San Francisco St. Great craft beers and specialty pizzas from the Rooftop Pizzeria (in the Santa Fe Arcade). It’s a great place to hang out in the early afternoon.
Love Margaritas? Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen is a must visit as well. It’s been a fixture in Santa Fe since 1952. The food – mostly authentic Northern New Mexican cuisine – is always excellent, especially the carne adovada. But the real reason to go is the Margaritas – over 100 varieties. They’re the best in town… and the best anywhere. Personal favorite: The Moonglow and the Grand Moonglow.
Santa Fe bills itself as “The City Different”…. that’s true – it is a totally unique place and a different world here. It’s a world with its own different pace of life, one that’s still a little slower, even in the age of wi-fi and Android apps.
I also like the fact that, even though I haven’t been a ‘local’ here since 1986, I still always feel like one whenever I visit. A lot of my old haunts are still here and don’t seem to change… too much. There’s a definite routine – probably due to the fact I’m a creature of habit much more than I care to admit, but also because I just plain love these places I’ve come to know over the years. There’s just a unique, one-of-a-kind vibe here you don’t get anywhere else, and I never get tired of it.
Other places to check out when you come for a visit: the Loretto Chapel (with its famous staircase), the Palace Restaurant, Tomasita’s (restaurant), the Ore House (where I used to tend the bar), the Shohko Café (great sushi), and the Técoloté Café – great breakfasts, always crowded, so sit at the community table… you never know who you’ll meet. Bookstores: The Ark bookstore and also the Collected Works downtown.
Be sure to bring some extra cash-ola, because you never know what you’ll be bringing back home for the house, decor-wise.
Best time to visit: If you’re planning a trip here, the best time, imho, is between Thanksgiving and Christmas… less crowded, cooler, and with luminarias on most adobe structures, a more magical time to visit. We’ll be back then, when the Nights on Venus EP is completed later this year.
To round out the trip – and for the full ‘road-trip experience’ – a few pics from Salida, Colorado on the way back to the Front Range….
Into my 2nd week back in Colorado and enjoying it immensely. This trip is a little different because I haven’t booked the return trip to Dallas – didn’t drive this time and left the car in the driveway at a friend’s house. There’s no real hurry to get back to the 100-degree heat, other than to start on final mixdowns of new songs I’ve been recording up here, so will probably be back sometime next week… I think. The job search continues up here and with the emptying out of the storage unit – with most of the contents getting donated or tossed – I’m now approaching a level of minimalism that would befit the minimalist I have usually claimed to be… and have been listening to a lot of Prince. What follows below is a photo-blog of the holiday weekend…
Montezuma is a particular favorite of mine. It was a mining town in the late 1800s, then became a ‘ghost town’ after the Great Silver Crash in 1893 and for pretty much the entire 20th century, but it has had something of a resurgence over the last 15 years or so, judging by the new buildings and homes that have gone up here. Montezuma sits at an altitude of 10,200 feet and has a population of around 65, so immediately it’s my kind of place – high altitude, always cool, close to skiing at Keystone Ski Resort and Arapahoe Basin (7 miles to either one), plenty of hiking trails along the Continental Divide, spectacular views, peace and quiet close to wilderness, and almost no bugs.
At 10,200 feet, obviously the town gets a ton of snow in the winter and spring… and fall.
If I had my druthers, I would be here now, building my state-of-the-art mega-studio but that would only further encourage my tendency to be something a [studio] hermit which I learned all about when I was living in Empire a few years back (slightly lower at 8,600 feet elevation and slightly larger, population 425 – I seem to have an attraction to these small mountain mining towns… must be a past-life thing). A couple of potential problems: a very short growing season (if at all) for growing your own food and there doesn’t appear to be wi-fi here, or a Starbuck’s. But that is the dream, and a dream goes on forever. Oh well, someday, someway…
Happy 4th of July! and Happy 235th Birthday, America! Party on! Hope everyone had an awesome and safe holiday. Back in Golden and continuing with the photo-blog this week, here are a few pics from last night’s festivities…