I think that every writer shares a similar dream. A time to get away. The space to think clearly. The much coveted writer’s retreat experience is that rare opportunity to get both at once, usually in a gorgeous location to boot.
As a few of you have noticed, I took this last week away from publishing episodes of The Lies & Truth Of Doctor Desmond Brice in order to prepare for a retreat to Lake Chelan, Washington. The curious Doctor Brice remains in my thoughts, as I do hope he remains in yours. The time away will be a chance to focus on what comes next and I am thankful to Write On The River in Wenatchee for affording me the opportunity to share space with some of Washington’s finest writers.
What comes next? As many of you are aware, Doctor Desmond Brice fits into a larger supernatural mythology of Canyon County, Oregon. While up in Lake Chelan on this specific writer’s retreat, I am going to break out the time twisted plot of The Strange Air which will be the second novel in my supernatural mystery series. Also, I am going to take a little of my three days to work through edits and ideas for The Mask Of Tomorrowwhich I anticipate releasing in January or February.
Stay tuned. I also anticipate a few blogs and pictures along the way.
By the way… don’t think for a moment I’m taking a retreat just anywhere ordinary. According to legend, Lake Chelan is haunted by a dragon.
Search the term mindfulness on Google and you’ll come up with 160 million hits… approximately. For a myriad of reasons, focusing on the present moment is an idea that is gaining traction in our cultural zeitgeist.
Down to a more personal level, my recent draft of The Mask Of Tomorrow is done. I mean it. My draft is done.
Translation: I can’t even look at the manuscript. Right now, what I need is to practice a little mindfulness.
You know Space Invaders, right? If not, you’re either fourteen years old, or you spent the bulk of the last thirty years on a church mission in Guyana.
Space Invaders is the quintessential drone-making 1980’s video game. One of the earliest shooting games, Space Invaders hit the market in Japan and the US in the late seventies. By 1982 it had grossed over $2 billion and spawned an equal number of suburban American zombie children.
Need a refresher on the game mechanics? You control the little side-scrolling space ship on the bottom of the screen. For protection you’ve got these shields made of what I can only imagine is marshmallow. Blocks of aliens five high and six wide drop bombs as they move left to right before they drop down to move right to left. A space ship scrolls over top. Manage to clear the screen and it starts over.
You can play this game for hours. And hours. It’s fucking brilliant.
Last Christmas a family friend bought me one of those all-in-one Atari 2600 consoles. Ever seen one? Looks like the classic Atari 2600 console but it comes with hundreds of games already built in. All hail exponential advances in technology. No need for cluncky cartridges.
We relegated the little console to the old 32-inch TV upstairs. Upstairs is where a lot of the old stuff goes. Couches and desks. Beds and toys. It’s nice though because Lisa has built a little massage studio up there too.
With every page closer to the end of my recent draft, the sound of Space Invaders calling out my name has gotten a little louder.
My son goes to school on Monday and Wednesday mornings. He goes to school on Thursday too but Lisa works upstairs on Thursdays. This makes Thursday a gaming bogie.
After Lisa goes to work on Monday and Wednesdays though, I drop the kid off at school at nine o’clock. Four hours later, I return to pick him up.
Four hours. That makes for a lot of frickin’ aliens.
It’s 9:12. I turn off the cell phone. I go upstairs and only one game in, I clear six screens. How can this get any better?
Back in the late 1990’s, I lived in a house where half of the residents were studying to be sommeliers. The other half really loved their roommates’ course of study.
In that house, I learned then that your tastebuds are most active in the morning. Today I learn that applies to Rainer as well, cracking a can of the frosty lager as I work on besting the last high score.
Did I mention high scores? I turn the game on and the high score reads 000000. After my first game of scoring 970 points, the high score turns to 970.
Unlike in the arcade there are no left behind initials to focus my competitive edge on. I settle in for game two. I drink my Rainer. The phone rings. I ignore the phone knowing full well that student loans are paid off and I’m not in any need of consolidation.
12:20 rolls around. I need to compose myself before picking the kid up. As it turns out, I opened one Rainer can and only finished about 2/3rds of it.
The high score is 1,030. If I sit here another forty-five minutes, I’ll best that score, but then I’ll be the bane of my son’s school (and my son, to be honest).
1,030? Talk about a crummy high score.
I really don’t know what today was supposed to prove to me. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to prove anything. Maybe the whole point is to spend a day in idle mode.
Focus on the present moment. Rather than spend my day at my desk working for tomorrow, I sat upstairs and saved the world from an imminent attack from side scrolling aliens.
What could be more mindful than that?
Doubly confusing, I don’t know what this blog is suppose to mean to anyone reading it either. Maybe you searched for mindfulness and found this curious mash-up and now you’re terribly disappointed. If you’ve read this far though (thank you) maybe it’s time to wax philosophical.
Should you shirk a day’s responsibility to play Space Invaders? Maybe. It worked for me.
Should you drink Rainer in the morning? Probably not. Unless you’re camping of course.
Mindfulness is the practice of embracing the events in the present moment. It’s a tough sell. With the mid-term elections coming, you’re shooting the damn aliens, which only get faster, you think about work, when all of a sudden the ship moves overhead and…
Well, you get the idea. Writing is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. That manuscript isn’t going away either. Once I get the little man home and into his nap, I’ll be back downstairs.
I’ll be writing. I’ve got a pretty good idea what to do with that scene involving the truck.
Maybe the point is, we all need a little mindlessness of our own design.
I can’t promise I’ll write anything more about mindfulness, but mindlessness? Sure. Subscribe to my mailing list today to keep track of all the wicked escapades.
Oregon City refers to itself a the “end of the Oregon Trail”. Rightfully so, the former capital is the oldest settlement from the European migration west of the Mississippi River.
The Carnegie Library has stood on the block at 7th & John Adams Streets, mostly unchanged since its construction back in 1911. William Howard Taft was President. The Philadelphia Athletics beat the New York Giants in the World Series. Like many city green areas in early America, the wooded lot was originally covered in an impressive grove of elm trees that have since succumbed to disease. While the brick building remained a stunning example of early, 20th Century architecture, by the dawn of the 21st, it was no longer able to keep pace with a modern public’s demands.
On Saturday, October 15th 2016, amid a swirling wind and rain storm, a newly remodeled Carnegie Library opened to the public after decades of political wrangling, years of careful planning, and months of careful construction. City planners were meticulous in working toward two seemingly disparate goals: modernizing the library’s functionality while maintaining the original, antique small town feeling. Few city openings have come with such anticipation.
A look around the inside of the atrium offers a view of those intersections. A gorgeous metal sculpture hangs from the ceiling; east of computer banks, the brick rear wall of the original building offers reminders of the past; up a staircase, stacks of books, computers, and a series of state of the art AV meeting rooms. The main doors remain at the top of the familiar short staircase, giving way to what feels like the foyer to a grand palace of learning. Many writers have lauded the library’s place in a community, from Charles Bukowski to Susan Sontag. Jorge Luis Borges envisioned that paradise was “a kind of library”.
This is the kind of design that those writers were dreaming of. Oregon City, crown of the old territory, with a new jewel to brag about.
The small town of Dufur, Oregon appears on the horizon, a tiny burrow of trees and houses nestled in a grassy valley. A few hundred yards from the turn-off, the twin light stanchions become visible in the October gloaming. The Friday night UFO has landed in remote Wasco, County. This is rural high school football at it’s small town finest.
Tonight, Dufur squares off against Condon/Arlington, their foe in the 1A ranks. The mighty Rangers lost 30-24 to Sherman last week, a defeat “they needed” according to the ticket taker, a man with vibrant grin and papery hands. Their heads were getting too big for their helmets.
Everyone in town comes out tonight, filling the bleachers on either side of the barn red press box. Moms and Dads and ranch hands line the opposite sideline, wedged in between grass and the parking lot chock full of trucks. Dufur’s sideline is straw strewn, measures taken to keep the mud down, the remnants of the bale piled near the water bucket by the medical kit.
When the teams take the field, the scale of competition becomes obvious. Twenty kids total per side, none of them much bigger than a cornerback from a large school back in the big city. Eight man football is the rule in this part of the state. There simply aren’t enough players to run the usual eleven out there. Consequently, with fewer, smaller athletes, the field seems bigger.
Dufur runs up a 40-0 halftime lead. And it looks pretty easy. A court of Homecoming Princesses descend onto the field in a blue Camaro and red GTO. It seems as though every family in town has had some featured tonight, whether throwing, catching or carrying roses.
Condon/Arlington punches in a touchdown after the break. Nothing is quite crisp. The few back-ups find their way onto the field in garbage time. Half-way through the third quarter, with the score 46-8 and the mercy clock running, the ball changes hands via fumble on three consecutive plays around mid-field. The field isn’t wet. It’s getting late though, bodies worn out but the blue and white clad Honkers from Condon/Arlington continue their cheers, “go white, come on.”
Broken plays give each team a final touchdown. 58-14 when time expires. Everyone shakes hands. The folding chairs fold up and the few hundred intrepid souls head for the parking lot, opposite sentiments as rivals say goodbye. Condon/Arlington is a ninety minutes away by car, a time one may be able to shave down by ten minutes on a dry, Friday night on the open road.
For Dufur though, their worries are different. Next week on Thursday night it’s South Wasco County down in Maupin. And then there is a 9:50 last call down at the Pastime Saloon.
My experience with poetry was bound to arrive at this crossroads. Making this decision became inevitable. Self-publishing, yes or no.
Periodically over the years, my work has found a traditional publisher. Over the last five months or so, I have been seriously weighing and comparing MFA programs. The conventional route is something I strive toward, an outlet I will likely always seek.
emertzSelf Publishing – A Poetry Chapbook Finds It’s Form
The heavy music world knits together, granted not always in a neat and orderly fashion. When Aaron Turner, ex-Isis guitarist and vocalist, decided it was time to make a change he ventured out onto his own; better stated, he ventured inward. Turner delved into his music and his creative process, emerging with a batch of rough songs that needed dimension. In order to best honor that vision, he gathered others, Baptists drummer Nick Yacychyn and bassist Brian Cook.
Those disparate threads wove back together, becoming the powerhouse, Sumac.
Anyone who listens to Kishi Bashi’s records immediately associates him with an ethereal quality. With a song collection centered on creation myths and conversations across the spaceless void of eternity, it is difficult to go elsewhere during one of his dynamic performances. He has successfully transformed his classically trained violin into a post-modern marvel through a complicated series of digital loops, effects and glittering samples, lifting listeners into what can be described as a uniquely ecstatic musical experience.
When Bashi performs with his orchestra, however, one is struck by how his music resonates deep in the gut, and how grounded his songs actually become. He isn’t simply the product of better musical engineering. Human mouth beats, frantic foot stomping and, often, Mike Savino, the bearded banjo player at his right serve as a necessary ballast.
Bearing a strong resemblance to American lumberjacks of myth, Savino’s old time instrument serves as an ideal compliment. Savino isn’t simply the stage compliment to Kishi Bashi though. Far from it, actually. Working under the moniker Tall Tall Trees, the New York City artist has released an intriguing stream of traditionally based, modern music, spinning the banjo off into a rare realm of technology and experimentation.
Savino bounces as he plucks his instrument and strums it with bow. A few times throughout, he captivates the Aladdin Theater crowd by using the skin body for percussion. His energy is infectious, voice oaken strong, forcing one to wonder how this whole crazy string arrangement could go off without his presence.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Savino after the Kishi Bashi Orchestra show in Portland, Oregon when we had the opportunity to talk about, among other things, the music.
How long have you been playing the banjo?
I’ve been playing banjo since college in the late 1990s. It was always a sound I remember being drawn to, even as a youngster but bass was always my first instrument. After I went to music school I had this overwhelming desire to play a portable, acoustic instrument and sing and write songs and here was this banjo in my closet.
How soon into your playing the banjo did you start experimenting with the kind of sounds you could get from the instrument?
When I started playing banjo with a band, especially a drummer, I realized that I needed to be louder, so I installed a humbucker pick up. It didn’t take me long to start adding fuzz pedals, and delays, and whatever else I could find. A well-curated pedal-board can have limitless possibilities.
Talk about the tradition, if any, of sonic experimentation with the banjo.
I’ve always been into extended techniques when it comes to playing musical instruments. When I was sixteen, I discovered that I could play a laser gun through my bass pickups. Since then, I’ve been constantly searching for new sounds and techniques.
As far as the banjo goes, not many people have veered away from old-time clawhammer, bluegrass, or traditional folk banjo. Legends like Bela Fleck and Tony Trichka, have taken the banjo deep into the jazz and classical world but the actual playing is pretty rooted in the Earl Scruggs style. I’m pretty shocked that no one has really used the banjo as what it essentially is, a drum with strings on it.
Your site boldly states that “Mike Savino is not your granddaddy’s banjo player.” Have you experienced any resistance from colleagues in your unconventional treatment of the instrument?
Haha, that’s actually something Kishi Bashi said on the radio during an interview. I thought it was pretty funny. I haven’t had many people criticize me for not being “traditional” despite both the bluegrass and old time music community being pretty protective of that music. Most people come up to me after a show and say they had no idea you could do that with a banjo, to which I usually reply, “me either”.
Talk about self-releasing your first two records, Tall Tall Trees and moment.
I have my own record label, Good Neighbor Records, which basically means that I go to the post office a lot. I’ve been lucky to have extremely supportive fans that have donated money through Kickstarter and Pledge Music and that has been integral in keeping Tall Tall Trees going.
Making records is a lot of work, especially when you do it all yourself. There’s a lot of minutiae that’s not fun and everything takes longer than you plan, but at the end there is a snapshot of where you are as an artist that you can hold in your hands.
You Kickstarted the production of moment. Talk about that process of reaching out to your audience for support in crafting a new album.
Crowdfunding has been essential to me and keeping Tall Tall Trees going. It’s an extremely emotional thing to do. Every donation translates into someone who believes in you and your dream, your neighbor, your friend from 5th grade, and many people whom you’ve never even met, chipping in to help you accomplish something you could otherwise not afford. It’s pretty amazing, humbling, and has inspired me to keep going, even through the hard times.
One of my sleeper favorite tracks of 2014 was “How Did It Get Dark So Fast”. Talk about the new music to come from Tall Tall Trees.
Thanks. That song is pretty close to my heart as it was written at the time when Tall Tall Trees was transitioning from a four piece band to just me. The Seasonal EP is kind of an accidental release. I’ve been working on a new music for a year but my touring schedule has prevented me from finishing a full length album so I decided to release something to give people a clue what I’ve been up to. The new Tall Tall Trees music is definitely evolving alongside my live show. I’m trying to use the banjo and record it in ways never done before so it’s a lot of trial and error as well as beautiful mistakes.
How did you get mixed up with Kishi Bashi and his orchestra?
K and I are old friends. He used to play in my ensemble when we were fresh out of jazz school. I was writing a lot of instrumental music influenced by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, as well as Balkan and African music that featured a lot of improvisation. A mutual friend brought him over to jam with us and I was blown away. He has such a natural flow and fluidity in his playing, we clicked right away and have been friends ever since. One day I’m going to release that music and make tens of dollars!
In both live and recorded form, Kishi Bashi brings a sense of musical conversation. That dialog exists between technology and organic performance, as well as lyrically and the array of strings. Has being a part of that changed your approach to the banjo?
Playing with K is always a continuous dialog as we are both improvisers. We speak the same language with different accents. K’s been a great champion of my music for a long time, and I his. I played with him at the first official Kishi Bashi show. There were no loops. I played double bass. Regina Spektor was there, and nine other people. K was there when I first starting hitting the banjo with a mallet and he was all like, “that’s cool, you should develop that” and I was like, “I know, right?!?” I’m very lucky to have him as a friend, colleague, and foil. We have a lot of fun.
You bring a really interesting energy to your performance. What fuels you?
The first time I played music in front of an audience I felt a complete possession, as if my body was taken over by something and I was not in control. Many years later, I still feel this, though I am able to be conscious and guide myself in the direction I want to go, but the spirits are still in control, not me.
Today I took and chance and participated in my first Oregon Humanities “Dear Stranger” project. Write a letter, sign your name and send it in. Then, within a month, you will receive a letter back from a complete stranger. The expectation is that you describe a “quandary” situation from your life.
The funniest fact is that I couldn’t think of one at first. That is, until a whole table of quandary contents came rolling back to my addled memory. When I finally sat down with a trusty, yellow Dixon Ticonderoga #2 in hand, the letter was easy. Whoever gets that letter is in for a treat.
As I lick the stamp and seal up the envelope (a loving, old feelings) I think, perhaps I will sit down and write a longer, more personal essay off the incident in that letter. I only managed to scratch my own surface. Maybe that was the point? Thank you, Oregon Humanities.
Discovery is half of the joy of writing music review. The other is sharing.
It’s hard to love everything that comes across your desk. It is darn near impossible to love anything as much as I loved Aftermath from the Hamburg brother sister duo Hundreds.
The record came to me from out of the blue and has found permanent fixture in my catalog. The songs are filled with subtle and intimate glimpses and the songwriting is some of the most strikingly beautiful in recent memory.
I’ve been very fortunate to interview quite a number of musicians over these last few years. It’s a perk. Especially when the artist is someone you admire.
Doug Gillard is the quintessential indie rock veteran. He’s been integral to a ton of great bands, and in my eyes he stands out as one of those steady performers whose inclusion in a project lends an immediate credibility.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Doug to discuss his new album Parade On, his long and winding career in indie rock and his collaborations with Nada Surf and Guided By Voices. Click through here to read my interview on Bearded Magazine.
If you’d like to read some of my other music reviews and features, click over to the regularly updated, Well-Lighted Music page.