A Concerted Effort Before the Concert

Thinking of that afternoon, I want to pull Doug to his feet

and tell him, “we’re missing something here,”

though even recognizing that we were obviously a little lost, could we then know what

it was we should have been focusing on and somehow penetrate to

the inner core of importance?

Of course not,

But I still get that urge all these years later.

Still, at that moment the scene in my head is Doug sitting on the floor

on the stage rolling joints from a bag of pot that is

the worst, worthless shit anyone has ever rolled into

joints.

In my memory, it wasn’t until Jerry Garcia shows up, driving up from New York City

to Connecticut in his rental car that we get something decent to

smoke and then the stuff he’s got is so potent it’ll knock your socks off

and even he will only take a few puffs, confessing that if he smokes any

more he’ll be too stoned to play the concert. (And somewhere I have a

tape or I had a tape, it’s been gone for years, of him stumbling through

the guitar solo on Casey Jones and even though he’s only trying to play maybe

five or six notes, he gets lost, drifting off on whatever psychedelic substance

he had ingested that night, the notes like oddly timed drops of water drifting down

a window pane during a rainstorm.)

And then we jammed, Garcia on banjo, a bunch of other guitars, Vassar Clements on fiddle,

I played a little bit of six string on the sound check and I barely remember the

performance afterward, I was working with the sound crew juggling speakers, chords,

electronics, microphones my memory of it after all these years blank as to what transportation

everyone got into when everything was wrapped or even who I was riding with that night.

But a few days ago, the radio in Tennessee, more than forty years later talked about how Doug was a genius and that someone had just put out an album of his songs and the DJ played some and the songs, to my ears,

all had practically the same melody over and over again and forgettable interchangeable words, or so it seemed, guess I should surf the Internet and explore the songs of Doug to see what he was really up to back then aside from rolling joints with the weakest pot I ever hope to smoke.

And in the middle of all those thoughts and half-remembered memories, the central spotlight for me will always be Doug

pre-performance, sitting on that stage with his giant bag of pot rolling joints and my urge today to pull him to his feet and tell him that we were missing something, overlooking something and, in the harsher light of hindsight warning him that he was going to die young and soon after that afternoon and that it seems important we should recognize what the hell it is we’re missing.

Though you could argue that in some way he didn’t miss anything, he wrote his songs, played them, and lived the life he wanted and now he’s got an interesting kind of middle-of-the-road immortality, his music still getting put out there long after he’s gone while I’m sitting here on a rainy Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee remembering him explaining to me how his manager made him change the name of his group and how years ago he had been a young guitar-playing prodigy with a couple of top-40 hits and a big following in Texas and I can still remember the awful taste of that pot

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Impenetrable: A Short Story

Impenetrable.

That’s what the thought was, the thought I had that morning while riding on the train.

Actually, I don’t know if it was in the morning. I think it could have been in the evening.

I don’t even know what year it was. I don’t know what direction I was going in. But I remember thinking that thought.

And I know what train I was on. The Long Island Rail Road.

Sitting alone, staring out the window.

Playing music is the only thing that makes sense for your life. That’s what was in my head.

An impenetrable thought. Why was it the only thing that I should be doing?

No idea at all. Nothing beyond the thought. No emotional explanation. No supporting ideas about the place of music in my life. No connections to my personality, to my character, to my emotional makeup. To any desire to reach any particular goal in music.

Just the naked thought, stripped away from everything else.

More that I remember: Finding the isolation of that conclusion to be puzzling, disturbing, disconcerting. And I couldn’t trace it as a conclusion to an accessible string of thoughts. It stood alone. Why had it popped into my head apparently unsummoned?

And now, looking back at that moment, I still can’t grasp how that rumination over what to do with my life forms part of a larger story. It stands disconnected from other events, thoughts, emotions, people, encounters, changes, journeys – sitting alone on a train full of strangers, one lonely idea occupying my attention for a few minutes. In my memory of that moment, the thought arrives from seemingly nowhere.

What it does say to me now: It reveals the reality that no matter how I try to come to grips with a present day purpose in my life, a meaningful examination of what I do today, I have to suspect that any new realization I come to may also be truncated, abbreviated, limited in some way.

And perhaps it will be limited in a manner I can’t grasp, can’t even make out. In a way that’s hidden even as it traps me, the way that thought did then, when it entered my thoughts as I looked out that train window.

Creativity — Still a Bit of a Mystery

I’m often a sucker for reading articles and online screeds about creativity.

And almost always find them disappointing.

Yeah, you have to work at creativity and sit down to create even when you don’t feel like it. But often you do feel like it and then you have to leave yourself open to somehow receive what your unconscious mind is trying to feed to your conscious self so that you can write it down, or record it or… do whatever with it.

If I’m working on a short story or a novel, the process is pretty straightforward — call up the proper screen on the computer, put fingers on the keyboard and give yourself a kick in the butt. Actually writing it is the only way to truly discover what a story is about it.

As for writing songs — I like to work them out on the guitar, try out different phrasings by singing them and experiment with chording and harmonizing with what’s popping out of my mouth and being created by my fingers. I usual find that the music comes from my fingers and the lyrics are on my tongue. Somewhere in the brain the neurons that control those functions get together and… and do something which I can’t quite explain.

For me, the initial melody/lyrics/chords that get the song started are synthesized from somewhere in my head to the physical world fairly easily (when my mood is synchronized properly with the earth’s rotation or… fill in the blank). And after the first rush of putting things together — words, melody, etc. — I have to coax the rest out with pushes and prods that are more prolonged and strenuous.

And I can’t tell if what I’ve created is any good until a few days later when I can be more objective. Even then, it’s hard to tell until you get somebody else’s POV.

Persistence is also key to being creative. Did the creativity work for you today? Get back at it tomorrow.

When Songs Happen

So what makes a song idea pop into my head?

Today, it was something on the radio, I think,that set it off though I can’t precisely remember which song got me going. I was traveling to Franklin, TN from Smyrna for supplies at Costco and Whole Foods that I can’t get closer to home and listening to the Americana station out of Murfreesboro. Seems like the song that was playing was one of those plaintive old-style country tunes where a woman is lamenting some kind of lost lover or fun times that were over.

And the idea popped into my head. The radio tune had started me thinking about the sexual proclivities of former lovers, the anti-depressants some of them were — and are — on (as are so many folks) and led me into a made up scenario involving proclivities and psychoactive drugs and regret.

We’ll see how this one turns out. When I write songs the initial idea usually undergoes seriously warped changes before I get to something I want to perform. I write the finished version on the guitar and feel like the words come out of my mouth while the melody part comes out of the fingers on the fret board — which means, I guess, that the verse is working its way through the language/oral part of my brain and the music is wending its way mostly through another brain area that’s linked up to motor control of my hands..

Though I’m sure there’s plenty of feedback and interaction among all the moving parts in the white and gray matter.

At the same time, it’s been an exhausting week getting projects done for the websites that pay me to write for them. But I’m recovering

 

 

Coming Soon — A test for gluten in your urine

According to these researchers, if you have celiac (or even if you don’t, but I’m not worried about that right now) there will soon be a home test you can use to see if there is gluten in your urine — meaning you’ve inadvertently recently eaten a food that contains gluten.

I want a set of these tests right now! You can’t depend on gluten free labels in the store. Because of recent physical and nerve system problems I know I I’ve recently eaten something that shouldn’t have been on my diet. So I’m on my super-strict diet for the foreseeable future . Only fresh fruits and vegetables with meat or fish I prepare myself. And the occasional indulgence is only of foods that are CERTIFIED Gluten free.

Just cause a label says gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s so.

http://www.celiaccentral.org/research-news/q-and-a-researchers-new-urine-test-shows-gluten-ingested-people-celiac-disease/

We’re not lab rats — the case for “all natural” brain research

An interesting study and report — a couple of researchers from Princeton point out that if we want to do lab studies of animals that tell us more meaningful info about the brain, we should let those animals live in more naturalistic settings — digging burrows and living in the kind of rodent hierarchies that exist in the real world. Otherwise, findings produced under unnatural circumstances in sterile rat cages won’t tell us much useful information about how brains — theirs and ours — work in a more complex setting.

Welcome to the real world, rodent subjects! (Assuming somebody really does these kinds of experiments.20141118_112003

(Here’s a photo of my dogs in their natural setting. Wonder what’s going on in those brains… )