1) Successful and fun volunteering with summer camp for kids. (see my post elsewhere in this Notes edition).
2) Playing music for Friend Aid, a local event in support of a good friend.
3) More track mixing in the studio; moving me closer to releasing my new album.
4) Sharing my new version of a song inspired by the poetry of Rumi with Coleman Barks, a well-known American poet. As one of the translators of Rumi’s poetry, Mr. Barks has even given me permission to record the song.
During this past summer, I had planned to release In a Circle by late September and then have an album release concert in mid- October. However, after putting myself through the mental/emotional meat grinder for a month or so, I realized that I was NOT having fun and NOT enjoying the process. Therefore, I made a healthy choice for myself to “stop the madness” and slow down the process. Consequently, I cancelled the October concert date and my new album release date will be Spring 2018.
Recently, I sent out a one question survey to the Notes subscribers and my other musical supporters. I wanted to find out what media format folks preferred to use for listening to my forthcoming album. So far, I have not been surprised to discover that only a few more folks prefer the media choice of playing a CD over that of accessing my music via a download card. At the same time, a small number of folks would prefer to listen to my new album via a thumb drive. Overall, it appears that half the folks still play CD’s and the other half prefer to download music for their listening enjoyment. Apparently, the music industry continues to be reshaped, due to changes in technology and information access.
This summer, I was a volunteer out at Soil Born Farms. Since the early 2000’s, it’s been an urban working farm providing quality organic produce and agricultural education for the community. Also, the farm has a weekly summer camp program for grade school kids. Since I retired in 2015, I’ve been open and curious about the idea of participating in some form of service in community.
The Farms’ summer camp program is held at their American River Ranch location in Rancho Cordova. I had been reading about it for a number of years in the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op newsletter. And, I resonated with the idea of helping city kids connect with the natural world in a fun, non-academic environment.
When I was a younger man in my early twenties, I was a teacher’s assistant at a preschool in Denver, Colorado. Through that experience, I learned how to just be and connect with kids. A few years later, I met a single mother and became a father to her preschool aged daughter. My favorite time with my young step daughter was making up stories for her at nap time. Both of these experiences with young children gave me the inspiration to become a Waldorf school teacher. At the time, I had the vision to create a healthy, supportive connection with children and guide them in a good way during their magical years of early childhood.
After moving to California in the late 70’s with my wife and now two kids (my son was less than a month old), I had planned to enter a Waldorf teacher’s training program. I thought I was ready to live and fulfill my earlier vision. However, due to life circumstances at the time, my vision sadly did not come to fruition.
Apparently, the seed of that vision has remained dormant within me all these years. So, I was pleasantly surprised to have that vision germinate and begin to flower for me this summer at Soil Born Farms.
In early June, I had an informal interview with Alyssa Kassner, Youth Education Coordinator at Soil Born Farms. She kindly explained the general flow of each day with the kids and shared about being flexible with the activities of summer camp. This was going to be a new experience for me. I must admit I felt the butterflies of fear within. During the interview, I was asked if I would be willing to bring my guitar and play some songs for the kids. And, that was the turning point for me. So, in the spirit of Meadowlark, I happily agreed to try it out and see where it led me. In the following days, I learned there were to be two different camp focuses – Farm Camp and Nature Camp.
During the course of each week’s camp, different groups of kids came and went. All of the kids were encouraged to create a Nature name to use at camp and to make a name tag to wear and carry in the spirit of that animal or plant. It was fun to see the various Nature names kids (and the adult staff) came up with: California Poppy, Serious Scrub Jay, and Fox. Here’s the name tag I made and wore for all of the camps.
After the kids arrived each morning, I enjoyed throwing the ball with them and blowing and catching soap bubbles. And, then there were fairy castles and villages. Wow, I had no idea building fairy castles was so much fun and so much work! This was some serious business. 😉 The power of young folks’ imagination is such a blessing. It still amazes me how the joy of simple play with young folks connects me with my own little boy within.
There is a circle of big trees on the farm sheltering a large circle of tree sections aptly named, the Sacred Circle. After the kids arrived for camp and played for a bit, we would head over to the Sacred Circle for singing. This is where the musical spirit of Meadowlark really sang out. The kids chose handmade shaker gourds or clapper sticks to play. And, they were encouraged to take turns leading the circle in their own rhythms.
As previously mentioned, one morning I was helping the kids build fairy castles and villages. I was being useful by collecting acorn caps and white quartz rocks to bring to the young architects. While searching for these materials, I was inspired to create a fairy castle song. Later, in the Sacred Circle, I shared the song with everyone. It was such a gift to see kids expressing their joy through singing during our time in the circle. And, the dancing was a delightful surprise!
Most mornings, I arrived early before the kids arrived. During those times, I was able to connect with the spirit of the land and my deeper self. I appreciated observing the birds flying about in the trees and bushes, the farmers out in the field rows working, and feeling the fresh morning air of a new day. It became my summer morning meditation.
And, speaking of meditation, one of my favorite activities during Farm Camp involved each person (kids and staff) finding a quiet place away from others. That quiet place became their own personal “sit spot.” Also, each person took a handmade Nature Journal with them to either write or draw in. The intention of the “sit spot” was for individuals to connect with nature and themselves. I think this is a great way to introduce kids to the idea of slowing down and listening within and without. When it was time for the “sit spot”, I gravitated towards sitting in the Sacred Circle alone. Here are some pages from my own Nature Journal.
This year, Nature Camp was added to Soil Born Farms’ summer program. It’s an opportunity for the kids to spend time off-site by exploring the American River Parkway which includes the American River Bike Trail. We also took time to explore and wade in Cordova Creek which feeds into the American River. To help create a connection with water, I shared river songs in the Sacred Circle with the kids before hiking to the river. As a group, we took a few pleasant one mile hikes to Riverbend Park where we played games and just spent time hanging out with nature.
During one of those nature “hang outs”, one of the boys actually climbed a tree and caught a lizard. He was a happy lad, as he had fun showing off that lizard before letting it go. Also, some of the other kids had fun singing their own version of Down by the Bay while on the trail, there and back again. Such a powerful way to express the joy of being alive while connecting with the natural world!
I really enjoyed my time with the kids and the staff at the farm as a volunteer for their Farm and Nature camps. And, I was honored to be included as an elder in the group. The experience helped make my summer special and I look forward to volunteering again next year. I’m glad I was able to have fun AND be of service to the kids.
On the last day of camp, I heard about Roots and Wings, a home school class opportunity for students at the farm that takes place every other Friday from fall through spring. I think it just might be a good way for me to stay connected with the folks on the farm and the spirit of the land, as well another volunteer opportunity.
Now, if you still haven’t been out to Soil Born Farms, what are you waiting for? Go check it out and be sure to visit their farm stand that’s open every Saturday from 8 am to 12:30 pm until November 18th.
I have appreciated and enjoyed the poetry of Rumi since the mid 1990’s. At that point in time, Coleman Barks, an American poet, published his second collection of Rumi’s poetry. In that same year, Bill Moyers interviewed Barks on his PBS series, The Language of Life.
Those events combined produced two unexpected results. First, Rumi became one of the most favorite poets in America, over 700 years after his death. Second, Coleman Barks became the world’s best known translator of Rumi’s work and has been credited with popularizing the writings of Rumi in American culture.
Rumi (aka Jelaluddin Rumi) was born in the 13th century in present day Afghanistan to Persian speaking parents. He was a theologian and follower of Islam’s mystical tradition of Sufism and remains one of the foremost poets in Islamic culture and history. He founded the Mevlevi Dervish Order, also known as the whirling dervishes, and wrote thousands of poems, many of them ecstatic expressions of the Sufi notion that all things can be seen as manifestations of the divine.
The writings of Rumi are read today in various parts of the world and have been widely translated into many different languages. Therefore, the influence of his universal poetry and prose transcends national borders and ethnic divisions.
Coleman Barks path to Rumi’s mystical poetry turns out to be a fascinating story in itself. In the mid 1970’s, Mr. Barks was attending Robert Bly’s annual Great Mother conference. Bly is a fellow American poet and writer. Also, along with being one of the founders of the men’s mytho-poetic movement, he is known for his versions of poetry written by Kabir, a well-known Indian mystic poet from the 15th century.
As Barks put it, “At that point he (Bly) had been reading translations of Rumi, and he had a stack of these that he gave to me, and he said in his Lutheran Minnesota accent, “These poems need to be released from their cages.” And so I began doing that, just on my own for seven years.” In 1984, Barks published his first collection of Rumi’s poetry, Open Secret: Versions of Rumi. About ten years later, he published another collection of Rumi’s poetry and wound up in the spotlight which gained a newfound appreciation for Rumi’s universal message of connecting with the Divine through the heart.
Until recently, I thought that Barks had actually translated the works of Rumi. However, that turns out not to be the case. Apparently, he paraphrased Rumi’s poetry into more contemporary language, based upon translations by Rumi scholars. To be honest, I don’t mind the paraphrasing and contemporizing of Rumi because it has made his work much more accessible to myself as a modern poet and songwriter. I am happy to have been inspired by Bark’s versions of Rumi’s work, as they have connected me more deeply with the Divine Mystery.
Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Coleman explaining more of his “translation” process.
I was surprised to learn that you don’t speak Persian. How do you “translate” Rumi’s work, then?
I depend upon scholarly translations and living scholars to give me word-for-word translations, and then I work with the English, trying to be as faithful as possible to the images that come through the words and the spiritual information coming through those images. But I don’t try to reproduce any of the musicality of the Persian. I translate it into American free verse.
So the word “translator” doesn’t exactly describe what you do?
It’s often called a second translation. Someone brings it from the source language sort of halfway to a literal translation and then someone else takes it from that stage to a poem in the English language. Scholarly translations don’t try to do that.
How did you get involved in working with Rumi’s poetry?
Every day I would sit with A.J. Arberry’s translations trying to feel the interior of the poems and to rephrase them. I never thought of publishing them. I just let them pile up. And seven years later, I showed some to Kabir Helminski up at Threshold Books in Putnam, Vt., and he published a little book called “Open Secret,” which won the Pushcart Writers Choice award. That little book has sold more copies every year since 1984.
For the past eighteen years, Dale Zola has co-produced with her husband, Dan, spoken word events called The Great Night of Rumi and The Great Night of Soul Poetry. In 1999, she also released an album of songs that were musical interpretations of Rumi’s poetry, as “translated” by Coleman Barks. The album’s title is The Breeze at Dawn.
Around 2005, Dena and I attended a Great Night of Rumi in Sebastopol and that’s where I first heard songs from the album, as performed live. I was so moved by the music that night I had to buy the CD. My favorite track on the album is titled, Come, Come Whoever You Are. One line of the song sums it all up for me; “Though you have broken your vows a thousand times, come, come again, come…”
Here’s another great tune from Dale Zola’s beautiful album, The Breeze at Dawn. It’s titled, What is the Soul?
After hearing Come, Come Whoever You Are and carrying it around in my heart for over ten years, I was finally compelled to write a new song with Dale’s song as the chorus. I created the verses based on versions by Coleman Barks of a few different Rumi poems. I’m grateful for my willingness to listen to inspiration when it calls me.
To hear a demo recording of my new song, click here.
May you always enjoy your own connection to the Beloved.
Other source: Wikipedia
After taking a break, I was back in the studio this month for more mixing of my album, In a Circle. Wow, it’s been a long journey since I started recording the first vocal and guitar tracks in the studio! At this point, I’m now nearly complete with the process.
To put it simply, mixing an album is all about getting a good blend of instruments and vocals. So, the final goal is to have the most important tracks of each song (in my case, it’s usually the vocals) easy to hear amongst the instrument tracks (guitar, drums, etc.) To hear one of my latest mixes, click below.
Colin Hay gets the Meadowlark spotlight this week because I heard him in concert this week at The Crest, my favorite live music venue in Sacramento. However, the surprise of the night was having a young Cuban artist, San Miguel Perez, opening the show with his band. Apparently, San Miguel is considered one of the best Cuban tres and guitar players. Also, he’s a singer, percussionist, and composer, as well as part of the New Generation of the Buena Vista Social Club.
Here’s an original song that he played with Colin at The Crest. For me, there’s something inspiring about witnessing both older and younger artists working and playing together. If you like this music, check out San Miguel’s website.
If you’re an 80’s music fan, you may remember Colin as the front man and lead vocalist for one of the popular bands of that time, Men at Work. Also, he was their principal songwriter. In the early days of MTV, their music videos helped make them popular in the U.S. Here’s one of their hit tunes from back in the day, Who Can It Be Now?
Even though, Colin lived in Australia from the age of 14 years old until 1989, he was born in Scotland. In 1981, Men at Work’s first album, Business as Usual, produced three hits. Their second album, Cargo, was released in 1983 and produced three more hits. Finally, by the time their third album, Two Hearts, was released in 1985, the band was falling apart and, sadly, the hits stopped coming.
After Men at Work disbanded in 1985, Colin lived in Australia for a few more years before relocating to Los Angeles in 1989. Since 1987, he’s been working away as a solo artist with 13 albums released. Here’s a great song from his album, Going Somewhere, released in 2005. In this video, the female vocalist singing with him on stage is his wife, Cecilia Noel.
In March 2017, Colin’s latest album, Fierce Mercy, was released, so he’s out on tour again at 64 years old. After many years of living in the States, he became a U.S. citizen in 2016. It’s good to see an artist continuing their work, even after the glittery fame train has come and gone. To me, it’s proof that the life of an artist is ongoing with or without the spotlight. As proof, here’s a song off his new album that he played at the concert this week. Thank you for all the great tunes over the years, Colin. Good on you, mate!
Recently, I was inspired to write a new song I call Birthday Blessings. In June, a good friend of mine had a birthday. On the morning of his birthday, I woke up and was gifted with a song in his honor before I even got out of bed. After rising for the day, I wrote out the words of the song. Immediately, I worked out the melody and chord progression. Then, to complete the scribing process, I recorded it on my wife’s smartphone. Finally, I called up my friend and sang him the new song. To hear Birthday Blessings, click below.
Out of curiosity, I decided to do a little research about birthdays around the world. It appears that this sacred and special occasion is celebrated in very many different ways. Apparently, some traditions are quite similar in many parts of the world; birthday candles which carry wishes up to the Great Spirit, birthday games which gauge how much more a child can do versus last year, and birthday pinches or taps which ensure good luck for the coming year.
For example in various Africa, initiation ceremonies are held for groups of children, instead of birthdays. So, when children reach a certain designated age, they learn the laws, beliefs, customs, songs and dances of their tribes. In England, there is the tradition of fortune telling cakes where certain symbolic objects are mixed into the birthday cake as it’s being prepared. And, if your piece of cake has a coin in it, then you will be rich. In Nepal, the tradition is placing a mark on the forehead. Based on this, a certain mixture of rice yogurt and color is placed on the birthday child’s forehead for good luck. –Source
Of course, the common birthday tradition in this country is cake, candles and song. After the “Happy Birthday” song has been sung, the birthday honoree makes a wish and then blows out the candles. If the candles are blown out with one blow, they are told their birthday wish will come true.
And, now for extra measure, here’s my other favorite birthday song. This one features Paul McCartney (without those other guys) playing to a large crowd in Moscow. It seems that folks just like to celebrate birthdays, even it’s for someone else.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot to mention. I had a birthday myself this past week. “I would like you to dance…”
Earlier this year, I featured Noel Paul Stookey in my ongoing Artist Spotlight series. In that blog post, I mentioned his song, Jean Claude, a powerful WW II period piece. So, I wanted to give that song it’s full due by sharing it with you this month.
“His most recent recorded collection, ONE AND MANY, once again reveals Noel’s gift for connecting diverse contemporary concerns to inspired musical performances. A video rendering of “Jean Claude”, his moving story song of two close friends separated by the Holocaust is being shown in synagogues across the country as part of the Yom Hashoah (remembrance of the holocaust).” –Source
Here’s what Noel himself wrote about the origin this song.
Songwriting is as much about following your heart as it is about finding the music that allows you to take the journey. Some years ago, I had found an interesting chord pattern on the guitar and over the next several weeks I added a melody. It seemed romantic… perhaps ‘French’? But I didn’t know where to take it.
During my solo section of a Peter Paul and Mary concert, I played the chord pattern for the audience and they responded so enthusiastically that I asked them to tell me what they thought the song was about. I received this note backstage after the concert, “I think it’s about freedom.”
For months, I puzzled over the direction and details of the song’s story: Jean Claude became the name of a young Frenchman walking to school in 1941. A complicated rhyme scheme (or an inspiration far beyond my knowledge), placed him in Alsace-Lorraine and spoke of his friend Michel on a train bound for Germany.
Another year passed and the lyric was still incomplete when my wife Betty and I visited France in the fall of 2003. When we found ourselves in a bookstore near the Eiffel tower, I wandered over to a cut-out bin of used books, magazines and discarded pamphlets and there, with the cover torn off, I found a crudely printed booklet with a single photo on its exposed first page with these words printed underneath:
The picture was that of a large steam locomotive with perhaps twenty or thirty men standing on the tracks in front. They were wearing striped pajamas…no, not pajamas. I realized that these men would soon be herded like cattle onto this train, separated from their families forever and transported to concentration camps in Poland and Germany. As I lifted the book, I sensed I was holding the song in my hand. I knew with certainty one of these men was Michel. Jean Claude was his friend. –Source
Sunflower is an instrumental piece of music written by Mason Williams. For those of you who don’t know, Mason was the head writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Also, he is a classical guitarist/composer (ex., Classical Gas) and has dabbled in conceptual art. In 1967, he had the idea for a film: to draw the world’s largest sunflower with the sun itself becoming the blossom. According to Mason’s idea, it was to be drawn by an old bi-wing aeroplane by skywriting. Due to technical difficulties, the film didn’t turn out. However, the still photographer was able to take a few black and white photos.
While the music was written to explore a compositional concept, it originally had a different title. However, Mason changed the song title to use it as music for the short film. So, you might think of it as a slide show with music. And, it turns out that the actual event took place on my birthday of that same year. Enjoy!
Another interesting conceptual art piece by Mason was a life size photo of a Greyhound bus, folded up and put into a box. In addition, it had a limited edition of 200 copies. After its release, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) installed a copy of Bus in the lobby in January 1968. —Mason Williams
As it so happens, this poem was inspired by my experience at a men’s Pow-Wow up in the Sierra foothills. I spent a weekend with men, singing and dancing and hanging out in a large canvas dome. Along with that, I gathered with Doug Von Koss (Mr. Noah Project) and a few others one morning to sing the sun up. Most noteworthy, a fire was lit on the second day and was kept burning all night long. As the fire burned, one or more men danced around it all night until the next morning. In some traditions, this is considered as a “giveaway” to Mother Earth.
Written by Marshal Jon McKitrick/ July 2001
Bare feet on hot dirt, dancing in a circle
Carrying burdens from my past
Weighed down heavily in the heat of the bright sun
By the pain in my heart
As I move around the circle, I feel heat
Like a hot sidewalk under my feet
And then I feel coolness of evening, soothing and welcoming
Stepping into and out of the Paradox of my life
I realize and remember:
“Hey, I don’t have to punish myself to be Holy
And I don’t have to be good and perfect or else……”
The long road with no ending is my Sacred Road
I am right where I need to be, moving in the direction of Life
And by remembering what I have forgotten, I am being
The gift of helping others to remember
So the Dance of remembering and forgetting
And remembering and forgetting continues
And the Great Mother Drum of the Universe
Booms out Her call:
“Come follow my voice, dearest one
Step by step, Breath by breath
Your sorrow is deep and your joy is wide
And you are loved and remembered”
Since late spring of this year, I’ve been hearing about the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. So, I was compelled to explore and write about it this month. In the mid to late 60’s, I was a teenager growing up in the Midwest. At that time, there was a lot of social unrest going on. Mainly, U.S. military involvement in the Viet Nam war that was continuing to escalate and there were a number of race riots going on around the country. As a result, there were plenty of anti-war marches and various demonstrations capturing the news headlines.
During that time of confusion and social chaos, I recall hearing about the flower children (aka hippies) out in California. Starting back in 1966, young hippies began arriving in San Francisco in large numbers. They wanted to congregate with each other to share their same ideals and their vision of social change. According to some, the members of the press created the hippie label. It was used to describe a sub-culture of young folks seeking freedom of expression outside the social norms of the time. Other folks claim the hippie designation was derived from the Beat Generation’s moniker of “hipster”, as a derogatory term. Wherever it came from, the youth culture latched on and ran with it in flamboyant, celebratory fashion.
In January 1967, there was a huge “Human Be-In” that took place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This event helped popularize hippie culture across the U.S. Later on in March, there was another such large gathering on the East Coast. It was called the “Central Park Be-In” and it took place in Manhattan, NY. Both of those events led up to a great gathering of counter-culture youth in San Francisco that some dubbed the “Summer of Love.”
Almost simultaneously, two other big musical events happened in June 1967. As it turns out, both were interconnected to the Summer of Love. One was the release on June 2nd of the Beatles game-changing album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The release of the Beatles’ new album and its musical message had a big influence on the hippie culture.
“…the necessary catalyst appeared to advance the hippie movement to nationwide prominence, encouraging thousands of American youths to reject mainstream ideology. That catalyst, the record-topping Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, conveyed the simplest principles of the counterculture: LSD, love, and rejection of the unhip establishment. Entering into “the zone of maximal contact,” the Beatles’ music inspired thousands to make a hippie pilgrimage to Haight-Ashbury. Known to its residents as “the Haight,” this San Francisco district adapted to the influx of hippies with the creation of an alternative social order, including functional counter-institutions to serve the needs of the hippie community.” —Joss.pages
The other big musical event to take place that year was the very first Monterey Pop Festival. It happened in mid June and is considered by some to be the “kick off” to the Summer of Love. The festival is remembered for the first major American appearances by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who and Ravi Shankar. It also featured the first large-scale public performance of Janis Joplin and the introduction of Otis Redding.
One of the popular songs playing on the radio that summer was San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). It was released in May 1967, written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, and sung by Scott McKenzie. The song was produced by Phillips and Lou Adler in order to promote their Monterey Pop Festival. They were seeking a way to validate rock music as an art form in the way in which jazz and folk were regarded. Their idea was to embody the theme of California as a focal point for the youth counterculture.
Some folks hold the opinion that the Flowers in Your Hair song was too mainstream and commercial. Also, it didn’t represent the real music scene that was happening in San Francisco. More importantly, it was not considered to reflect the social and political events of the time. And, it didn’t resemble the authentic San Francisco rock band scene that had started back in the mid 60’s.
One of the most well known San Francisco bands of that time was The Jefferson Airplane. Here’s their great tune, Somebody to Love, as performed on the popular show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The song was released in April 1967 and heard by lots of folks in the summer of that year. I think this one is a better reflection of the hippie culture and its heart felt vision.
This all leads right back to June 21, 1967 in the beautiful city of San Francisco. In celebration of the Summer Solstice, a free concert was held for one and all. Folks who attended the event dubbed it as day one of the “Summer of Love.” Various San Francisco rock bands played including the legendary Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane.
Looking back, I was 13 years old that summer and soon to enter high school. Of course, my parents would have never allowed me to travel halfway across the country to attend the “festivities.” However, all that powerful music playing in the air, on the radio, and through my stereo had a huge impact on me as a teenager. And, the music still vibrates within my soul today.
The whole Summer of Love experience was a combination of music, drugs, and personal freedom. More than just a big party, it was considered by the young people to be a counter-cultural reaction to mainstream America’s “business as usual.” By the end of that summer, the energy of that grand experience had dwindled. Eventually, it seemed to morph from a utopian social experiment to a clash between the ideals of a young generation and the older status quo. George Harrison even visited Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of hippie culture, in August of that year. Apparently, he was curious and had an expectation of seeing some kind of cultural renaissance. Unfortunately, he was very disappointed because by that time, the youth culture’s utopian vision was already plagued by addiction, hunger, and poverty.
In the final analysis, the spirit of what came to be known as the “Woodstock generation” lives on today in various social change movements (i.e., the environment, the men’s movement, women’s rights, organic farming, and celebrating diversity.) Creatively, the hippie culture had a profound impact on the direction music has taken since then, as seen in world beat, Americana, and even hip-hop. So, to all of you long hairs at heart; “Keep on rockin’ in the free world.” Peace, baby!
*Some Wikipedia references used.
Last weekend, I went to hear Jesse Colin Young in concert up in the Gold Country foothills at the State Theatre in Auburn. I was accompanied by a good friend, who is also a guitar player and fellow songwriter. Great place to see and hear a show! The theatre is yet another old art deco style cinema built in the 1930’s, similar to The Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento. The State Theatre was converted to a duplex in the early 70’s. However, the Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center, Inc. purchased the theatre in 2006 and began reconstruction to restore it to the original layout. Here’s how it looks these days.
In his early career during the mid 1960’s, Jesse was a moderately successful folk artist who played folk clubs in Greenwich Village in New York. He had already released two solo albums when he met Jerry Corbitt and they began performing as a duo on the Canadian circuit. Shortly, thereafter, two other musicians joined them and they became Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods (aka The Youngbloods). Their only top 40 hit on the U.S. charts was Get Together which still stands as a classic 60’s anthem about peace, love, and unity. (Source: *Wikipedia)
Jesse started out the concert in Auburn- with a short, well-paced solo acoustic set and performed a tasty handful of original tunes. According to him, one of the tunes (Sunlight) was the first song he wrote after moving to California from New York in June 1967, during the Summer of Love.
In the second longer set, Jesse came back out on stage and brought with him a great band of young musicians. The band features his son, Tristan, on bass guitar, along with other solid musicians in the line up (saxophone, electric guitar, keyboard, drums, and two back up vocalists.) For me, the highlights of this part of the show were Get Together (complete with audience participation), Statesboro Blues (soul shaking solo by the lead guitar player), Ridgetop, What’s Goin’ On (Mercy, Mercy Me), and Darkness, Darkness. At one point in the show, someone from the audience called out to hear Song for Juli, a song that Jesse wrote for his daughter. He politely ignored the request by smiling and simply saying, “She’s 50 now.”
My personal favorite of all of Jesse’s songs is Darkness, Darkness. I’ve always loved the way the fiddle and drum kick off the original studio version of the tune. Recently, I learned that legendary country music artists, Charlie Daniels, played fiddle on that tune, and produced The Youngbloods album (Elephant Mountain) that the song appeared on.
In an interview with Ray Shasho, Jesse explained the song’s genesis:
It was written in New York although it drew its inspiration from listening to KSAN Radio in San Francisco.
“I spent one sleepless night thinking about my friends who were in Vietnam and how terrifying it must be. So much of the fighting was done at night and ‘Darkness Darkness’ came out of that sleepless night. I tried to put myself in their shoes.”
You’ll find some interesting covers of Darkness, Darkness by Richie Havens, Richard Shindell, and Robert Plant on YouTube. I really enjoyed the version by Richie Havens.
Here’s a live version of the song with Jesse and his currently touring band from earlier this year.
To read a great interview with Jesse with more details of his musical journey, click here.
One glorious Indiana day in June, either in the late morning or early afternoon, I was swinging away vigorously on our family’s playground set. As I recall, it was located behind the garage and out of sight from the house. Also, I remember just being happy to be alive.
Best of all, as I was swinging away, I remember breaking out into a raucous version of “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” from the musical, Carousel. I was fully in my joy of life and just being grateful for summer vacation.
Now, this playground set was a heavy duty sucker that was built to handle five kids and, probably, last for years. According to two of my older siblings, our Dad bought it for us kids when we lived in Edmund, OK. As I visualize it, the set was made out of heavy ¼ inch galvanized steel with regular swings, a two seated see-saw type of swing, and a ladder.
Apparently, when we moved from the house in Bloomington to a town in southern Indiana, that playground set was left behind because I never saw it again. A few years ago, my oldest brother visited Bloomington with his youngest daughter. During the trip, they went to see the old house. Recently, in a phone conversation, he told me that the playground set is no longer there. Still, in my heart’s imagination, it’s standing out there in the sun, next to the pasture fence, just waiting for someone to come along to swing and sing joyfully. May you find your own personal joyful spot this summer!
March went out like a lion
A’whippin’ up the water in the bay
Then April cried and stepped aside
And, along come pretty little May
May was full of promises,
But she didn’t keep ‘em quick enough for some
And a crowd of doubtin’ Thomas’s
Was predictin’ that the summer’d never come
But it’s comin, by gum,
You can feel it come,
You can feel it in your heart
You can see it in the ground
You can hear it in the trees
You can smell it in the breeze
Look around! Look around! Look around!
June is bustin’ out all over
All over the meadow and the hill!
Buds’re bustin’ outa bushes
And the rompin’ river pushes
Ev’ry little wheel that wheels beside the mill!
June is bustin’ out all over
The feelin’ is gettin’ so intense,
That the young Virginia creepers
Hev been huggin’ the bejeepers
Outa all the mornin’ glories on the fence!
Because it’s June…, June, June, June
Just because it’s June, June, June!
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (from the musical, Carousel)
Over time, the classic rock song, Bohemian Rhapsody (performed by Queen), has continued to gain fans and musical appreciators. At the same time, it still lives on in the hearts of Queen fans who first heard it back in 1975. The memorable opening (Is this the real life?) with the a cappella choral effect was sung entirely by Freddie Mercury in the studio. He also played piano on the track and wrote the tune. According to one writer, Mercury intended the song to be a “mock” opera. This was about six years after The Who had released, Tommy, as a rock-opera in 1969.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a six minute suite. The song arrangement blends different musical genres: ballad, opera, and hard rock. Also, it contains an extensive overdubbing of vocal harmonies. On an interesting note, Queen never performed the opera section live during a concert. More than likely, they figured it would be too much work to reproduce the studio version with the multiple layers of vocals required. Therefore, when the band did perform the song live, they would play the opera section on tape as it was recorded in the studio. At the end of that section, they would then resume playing when the rock section came in.*
Queen’s record label at the time, EMI, claimed that Bohemian Rhapsody was too long for radio play and would never be a hit. However, Freddie managed to get a copy to a UK radio DJ who played parts of the song over the air. Later, a U.S. radio DJ got a copy of the song. Apparently, he started to play the whole piece on the air in the states. This forced Queen’s U.S. label, Elektra, to allow release of the full unedited version. Of course, the song went gold on the Billboard charts in the U.S. Also, Bohemian Rhapsody was the first song ever to get to number one in the UK twice with same version.
The single was accompanied by a promotional video of the full song. Before this, recording artists had only produced video clips to accompany songs. After the song’s success, it became regular practice for record companies to produce full promotional videos for artists’ single releases. Finally, there seems to be the opinion that the Bohemian Rhapsody video influenced the arrival of music videos even before MTV went on the air in the early 80’s.*
Here’s the official Queen video.
I found this interesting interpretation of Bohemian Rhapsody. This one is played on a 110 year old fairgrounds organ. It’s fun to imagine being at the county fair and riding on the carousel or walking through the house of mirrors with this version playing in the background.
Here’s a great interpretation by Jake Shimabukuro on ukulele. This version just focuses on the music with Jake’s special touch. I love his work with harmonics around 2:50 in the video. Also, he adds a nice feel during the operatic aria section. And, check out his lead guitar-like riffing at 3:41 and 5:40. Nicely done, Jake!
Now, here’s the parody version of Bohemian Rhapsody. This one is by The Muppets and has more kid friendly lyrics. It has no mention of “killing a man” or lines like “sometimes I wish I’d never been born at all.” If you’re in a down mood or have some self-pity going on, watch this one for a pick me up.
Inside the Rhapsody
Finally, I enjoyed this mini-documentary featuring Brian May, the lead guitar player of Queen. In this setting, he’s at a recording studio console accompanied by an engineer. Inside the Rhapsody is taken from Greatest Video Hits 1, a Queen video collection on DVD. I appreciate the way Brian plays isolated tracks here (vocals, piano, guitar, bass, drums) with narrative commentary. Also, I enjoyed his reminiscing about such things as Freddie’s strong piano playing or Brian’s own method of laying down the lead guitar parts. It’s also a good study in recording studio tricks and techniques.
*Note: Much of my fact-checking was done on Wikipedia.