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, Happy 4th of July to everyone here in the U.S. of A.! Hope everyone has a safe, fun-filled holiday – go catch some fireworks tonight wherever you are as we celebrate the nation’s 239th birthday!
As the final touches are being applied to the Santos EP (and now I have just signed off on it), a look back to July, 2010… literally. A photo essay back to that time… before there was a Nights on Venus.
I took a little trip out to the Mandala Center just outside of the small town of Des Moines in northeastern New Mexico. And when I say small, it really is – the population was 161 in 2010. If you drive from the Panhandle of Texas up to Colorado, you know where this town is; it’s just a place you drive though before you get to Raton and the interstate (25). For me it was a destination and a personal retreat for 5 days that summer.
I had booked the 5 days at the Mandala Center before I got laid off from my job as a web developer at the end of April, the second time that I had been laid off, as an I.T. contractor, in as many years. I could have cancelled my time at the center, gotten my money back, because now I was unemployed again, but I didn’t want to and thought it was important to have those days to myself. I was living in Dallas at the time; I’d already paid for those days and I needed the change of scenery. So I went…
On U.S. 287, the time-honored route through West Texas that every Texan going to Colorado knows because really, it’s the only route. At Dumas, you have a choice: take U.S. 87 and you go through the corner of northeastern New Mexico, the more scenic route. It’s high desert between Clayton and Raton; Des Moines and the Mandala Center is about halfway between.
The first thing about the summer of 2010 is that it was exceptionally hot. Normally, temperatures for this area, once you get up above 6,000 feet, are about 85-90 degrees F. (29-32 degrees C.) in July. Since I was staying somewhere that didn’t have air-conditioning, I had planned for that and figured the nights at least would be cool. That summer the temps were hovering around the 100-degree mark. I was a little concerned ’cause I really don’t do hot weather anymore. Not at all.
Essentially, Nights on Venus came into being during those 5 days at the Mandala Center.
I had begun recording a few songs back in May, the first exploratory efforts after diving into the world of computer-based recording. I had a few songs written and started with them – took my last full paycheck from the job that had just ended and bought everything I needed for recording because I figured at age 53, as an I.T. contractor and having been laid off/unemployed for 7 months the previous year, it was probably going to be the last decent paycheck I’d get to be able to do this. That actually proved to be correct…
There were other people staying at the Mandala Center, 8 of us all total, all there on our own personal retreats for various reasons and staying in the Wolf Lodge. The Mandala Center itself I feel is a very special place; it offers workshops, classes, and a place for personal retreats in a beautiful, remote setting and you can check it out here. It may resonate with you and I highly recommend it. For one thing, the stillness and the quiet here are just overwhelming. There really are no distractions. The stars at night and the Milky Way were as brilliant here as anywhere I’ve seen them, including Crestone (Colorado). And no TV, no cell phone reception (courtesy of my carrier… from Dalhart, TX to Walsenburg, CO, the “cone of silence” was in effect) or laptop – no wi-fi! All of which made for an environment perfectly suited to thinking about “what comes next”.
Which turned out to be Nights on Venus… I settled on the name while I was there. “Nights From a Rooftop” (from the 1st album) was one of the songs from that first set of songs recorded in May. The title “Another Day in Paradox” originated here. That became title and the title track for the album 3 years later.
Every day Capulin Mountain dominated the landscape just to the northwest; behind me rose Sierra Grande. Pages of journal entries written there those 5 days (I’ve been keeping a journal since 1986) could be distilled down to a couple of lines: “No ambivalence. Work on music, work on myself.”
Obviously I took a lot of photographs while I was there… and left with some sense of direction.
The new 4-song EP, “Santos“, is scheduled to be released on 7/8/15 at all the usual online outlets.
This week, “Another Day in Paradox,” was released on June 18th, almost a year to the day that I began recording what I thought was going to be a 4-song EP. It evolved into something considerably more ambitious.
In contrast to “In 4 the Evening,” which was about the simple joys of staying home (with your honey), not having to go out anywhere, and establishing a consistent ‘evening’ mood throughout, “Another Day…” is kind of all over the map, literally, both geographically and musically. Back out into the fray, into the world again…
Basically “Another Day’s” themes come down to an East/West thing… Yin/Yang, maintaining balance… It’s part travelogue and partly autobiographical – 13 indie/ether rock instrumental “meditations” on everyday life and life in the American West. Less ambient, more uptempo pop/rock than its predecessors, but still spacy with plenty of surf guitar twang and electronica. Much of it is about following the path of a more-or-less inwardly-directed life while living and trying to make a living in a relentlessly outwardly-based culture and society – Eastern practice in a Western world.
It’s also about the migration from east to west personally, having been born on the East Coast, then growing up in Texas and having spent the majority of my life here as a Westerner. There have been many stretches of empty road with sky… with a few breakdowns along the way (“Stranded in San Jon”).
Presented here are the remaining 3 songs from the album that I haven’t put up already in this blog. The first 2 are available as free downloads through the month of June from the Nights on Venus page on ReverbNation along with “Agave Blues.”
Along with “Between Two Worlds,” probably my favorite song off the album. More jazz than before, more Latin percussion… new territory in a familiar place. Just hangin’ out in Santa Fe… where I used to live from 1984 – ’86.
There’s lots of organ on this album and probably most prominently here. This song only came together fully about a week before it went to mastering. If it sounds “church-y,” well yeah, that’s no accident since my primary influence was church organ music (from my dad) and since I was there so much – lifelong friends know this is true – well, I kind of absorbed it. Rather than downplaying that influence as I’ve done for years, this may be the first song where I truly embraced it, although I was going for more of a Jimmy Greenspoon/Three Dog Night organ sound on this.
The 8-minute mini-epic of ‘The West,’ recorded around the time of the wildfires and the Aurora theater shooting here in the summer of 2012… and pondering what things will be like in the not completely far-off future…
Currently I’m taking a short break and getting caught up on a few things, though working on very simple videos (.wmv Flash files) for a couple of songs, “Vanishing America” being one of them. Next time on the blog, Erin and I will be up in Aspen for a few days taking a mini-vacation…
In the meantime, happy listening! and go catch the Super Moon (in Capricorn) tonight!
This week, a new song posted – “Stranded in San Jon” [New Mexico – the ‘J’ is pronounced as ‘H ‘- along old route 66]… and a blast from the past: an excerpt from my almost-forgotten (unpublished) novel, “Autumn,” completed in 1998 (such a long time ago!). Set in 1984, the novel is kind of Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show” meets Prince’s “Purple Rain” – an age-old tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy uproots life to keep them together, does, but ultimately loses girl (i.e., “Crazy Stupid Love,” which is a great flick, btw). Well… you do things like this in your 20’s. It’s as much a tale of two cities – Dallas and Santa Fe – and a cultural document of the times, much of which takes place in part of the great American outback of eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, and west Texas.
Although I didn’t think so at the time, mercifully (and thankfully) the novel, which topped out at 460 pages, was not published back in 1998. In their rejection letters, literary agents would tell me that they just wouldn’t know how to market it for a mass – read ‘mainstream’ – audience, not unlike Miles’ predicament in the film “Sideways” (another great movie). Perhaps the story shouldn’t have been told in the first person – too personal, too much like a journal – but told in the third person, it would lose much of its immediacy (only the names have been changed to ward off potential lawsuits – it is a litigious society we live in). It’s been said that “first novels are like first pancakes – you have to throw ’em out,” but maybe I revisit this, then again, maybe not – do a major rewrite in the age of author E-book self-publishing for Kindle, et al. – but it probably won’t be happening anytime soon.
As usual when I post something here, this is not the final mastered version of the song; hopefully it conveys something of the “experience.” Moving further into new territory…
In the meantime, without further yada yada, here are both. Enjoy!
“I stood at the top of the stairs to the entrance of the motel, looking in both directions down the main street of San Jon, population: 381. There wasn’t much to it and I doubted whether that many really did live here, so clean and empty was the street. I was looking at a few storefronts – mostly abandoned ones – a water tower, a number of houses with lonely-looking trees clustered around them, and a couple of churches. Bleak was the word that came to mind. A dead town dying; not even a Dairy Queen, after all, this wasn’t west Texas where every town, no matter how small, had one. Beyond the buildings – a sea of grasslands so immense it threatened to swallow the town whole, rendering it nonexistent. To the south, the caprock, another mesa of the Llano Estacado; to the north of town, I-40, with its trucks and cars moving on toward bustling life in either Amarillo to the east or Albuquerque to the west. Hell, even Tucumcari would do right now.
It was late afternoon; all day long I’d been driving through towns like this one coming down from Springer – Roy, Mosquero, Logan – towns that had all seen better days if they’d ever seen them at all. The day in pictures: diverging roads that led to empty spaces between mesas; an abandoned white adobe motel with a badly-painted mural of Spanish conquistadors on a side wall in Logan; gutted stone houses with only the blue sky for a roof near Conchas Lake; a pair of white crosses along the side of the highway; sunflowers growing through the cracks of a cement foundation where a house once stood; a woman and child exiting a bar through a screen door in Roy. Of all places, the Scirocco had chosen this one to break down on my way to Clovis… and had now been, for lack of a better word, impounded for the last fifteen minutes back at the gas station when the maxed-out credit card didn’t go through. The repair work was already complete when the mechanic told me they had to call in for approval on anything over $200; the work had exceeded that times two.
I took a walk – not so much out of curiosity as just to think about the situation. It was hot in the sun, stifling, with no breeze – unusual for a town on the high plains. A block east I found Ricardo’s Bar. It was open; about half-a-dozen people were inside sitting at the bar and a couple of tables. Everyone turned to look at me when I walked in and studied me for a long second. Obviously I was not a local. Two TVs hung diagonally at the ends of the bar and the Summer Olympics were on, track and field stuff. Someone had just won the pole vault competition with a jump of over nineteen feet. The place had a couple of video games, a pool table in back, and a jukebox. I quickly checked to see what was on it and found Hank Williams’ name – yes, that Hank Williams – no comma or ‘Jr.’ following it. Hmm… no DEVO or “Mexican Radio.” I popped in 50 cents and played a trio of Johnny Cash songs. Ricardo’s smelled of dust and stale smoke and for a moment I thought of lighting up one of the clove cigarettes I had on me, then figured these people were unfamiliar with the smell and it would probably freak them out. Everyone here smoked Marlboros.
Autumn would soon be waiting for me in Clovis and I’d call her when I got back to the motel. One beer turned into three, but I was high and dry. High lonesome. The patron saint in charge of traveling money for foolish lovers wasn’t bailing me out…”
So there you have it… 28 years ago this month. The crazy summer and fall of 1984 – a time when Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Bruce ruled the airwaves.
Thanks for reading… and listening. Until next time…
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….
This week…. 20 inches of snow on Friday, the day we were supposed to drive up to Breckenridge for the annual Ice Sculpture Competition, and not wanting to get stuck in a 4-5 hour parking lot on I-70 up into the mountains (or coming back), we decided discretion was the better part of not driving and stayed put in Golden (where’s that sense of adventure… slippin’ and slidin’ and fishtailin’ all the way up to the Eisenhower tunnel?). And of course, the traffic jam never materialized because everyone else decided to stay home more or less so, aside from all the snow – 40 inches around Floyd Hill – the roads were virtually traffic-free. Breckenridge Ski Area touted a ‘whopping’ 2 inches of snow (that’s nothing!) but the decision had already been made. Well, there’s always next year…
And the new song, “In 4 the Evening,” is still in the finishing stages and not quite ready. So, sorry for last week’s ‘teaser’ but hey, these things happen….
AND NOW, FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Instead, I dug through the vast photographic archives here at la casa NoV and revisit some photos that I took from 2009 while traveling through Tucumcari, New Mexico, “Town of Murals.” I used to go through Tucumcari in eastern New Mexico quite a bit when I lived in Santa Fe from 1984-’86 but I was very surprised on my last visit (since 2003) to find a number of wall murals on the buildings in town – it was completely unexpected. There may be even more now 3 years later. Among them, this mural about Route 66, “The Mother Road,” through Tucumcari (you can click on the images to see the larger photographs):
I don’t know who the artist is or if these are the work of several different artists but they are all very well done. If you find yourself traveling on I-40 between Amarillo and Albuquerque, take the business route exit through Tucumcari – old route 66 – drive around and seek them out. They’re worth your while, and stop in at La Cita if you’re hungry – great Mexican food.
“More art in public places…. fewer torn-down “old” buildings.”