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Birthday or Not, Bob Dylan is Timeless

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Yesterday Robert Allen Zimmerman stepped into his eighth decade of life.  Seems to me that writing anything about Dylan is almost an insult… as the man’s complexity and mystery defies any verbal description that might be adequate . Throughout his career he has played the roles of bona-fide shapeshifter, wordsmith, imp, and reluctant icon.  In spite of journalists’ attempts to pigeonhole him, categorize him, unintentionally foist labels and attributes upon him, he – like no one else graced with celebrity – has proven the master at outrunning everyone through sheer wit, and has notably avoided the same tragic demise as his peer John Lennon. His voice was no less influential than John’s (perhaps to his chagrin) and in spite of his power, learned how to slink into the shadows and become invisible. This is no accident. He’s basically a glorious version of the Road Runner. Sometimes the Wile E. Coyote he escapes is the parasitic journalist, sometimes it’s the “fans” who try to take a piece of his soul without asking.

Beyond the dexterity with which he has always dealt with the media, he is a Poet of the highest order, a consummate songwriter and lyricist, and is the owner of a singing voice which comforted many and seemed to capture, uncannily, the expansive American frontier, the peace movement, the civil rights movement and the genesis of the blues all at the same time.  Who else can do that? If he doesn’t want to fly straight onto our radar, he won’t. He’ll fly below, he’ll play mental jiu-jitsu and he’ll defy any and all attempts others make to own him; all while being seared into the consciousness of the American songbook.

Just as the most powerful moments often halt one into speechlessness, an homage to Bob Dylan in words seems almost silly. The man is beyond description and protects who he is indefatigably and with – not a shroud – but a veritable fortress of mystery.  Bob Dylan is equal parts genius, poet, rebel and sage.  Commemorate the day by stretching your personal catalogue beyond “Like a Rolling Stone” or  “Blowin’ in the Wind”. My personal favourites are “My Back Pages”, “Ballad in Plain D”, “Desolation Row”, “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.”  Great songwriters don’t (or can’t) just write five masterpieces, which makes it a task to whittle down to single digits. Someone once asked Bob Dylan about his songwriting process and he quickly explained, “Oh, I don’t write the songs, I just tune into them.”  Beyond the songs he believes already existed, treat yourself to some beach reading or swim into the laser-like mind of a very right-brained and esoteric artist here.

Happy Birthday Bob!!

“I didn’t come out of a cereal box. ”
Bob Dylan
“The worth of things can’t be measured by what they cost but by what they cost you to get it, that if anything costs you your faith or your family, then the price is too high, and that there are some things that will never wear out.”
Bob Dylan (Chronicles: Volume One)
“People disagreeing everywhere you look makes you wanna stop and read a book. ”
Bob Dylan
“You can never be wise and be in love at the same time.”
Bob Dylan
“He not busy being born is busy dying.”
Bob Dylan
“People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.”
Bob Dylan
“I think women rule the world and that no man has ever done anything that a woman either hasn’t allowed him to do or encouraged him to do.”
Bob Dylan
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
Bob Dylan
“Play it fuckin’ loud!”
Bob Dylan
“A poem is a naked person… Some people say that I am a poet.”
Bob Dylan

Nay to Bay to Breakers

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Many a  Sunday afternoon, I find myself trapped in a maudlin hell of about five hours long. I am like the ram that gets his horns stuck in a bramble, I tell myself.  When the poor guy realizes he’s stuck, he panics and desperately tries to pull his horns out, only to further enmesh himself. This is what I have come to expect from Sundays.  ‘Tis a bramble one cannot escape quietly.  That’s just the way it is. I can’t crawl out of my skin so why try?  Roll with it. Recently a well-meaning friend reminded a girlfriend and I that Bay to Breakers was coming up on Sunday as he searched our faces for instantaneous traces of glee.  None cometh. I think there may have been a little eye rollage though  if he was looking closely enough. When he breathlessly announced that he fully intended to go to the locus of the shitstorm for purposes of not-so-innocent voyeurism we began to feel sorry for him.

Would it help my Sunday if I joined the masses? Do I really need yet another  example and reminder of the arrested development that permeates our fair maiden of a city? Hmm, let me think about that. Negatory. This Sunday, will however, call for the double pre-empt. One, it is Sunday, two I am expected to click my heels together at the notion of fully grown adults prancing around half-nude to nude and letting out their inner sluts whilst boozefied. Bay to Breakers is an additional Halloween (read: an excuse for women to dress sluttier than they usually do and an excuse for men to profiteer from that fleeting window in time when they don’t have to put in as much effort to spread their seed.) I suppose it works out for everybody?  Kind of?

I don’t mind or judge the revelry, unless I step back for a minute and observe from a bird’s eye perspective what’s really going on, at which point it all seems a bit ridiculous and embarrassing. I decide this is not something to which any stable, grown adult should aspire, so in order to avoid the pathos of the day, I’m projecting myself straight into the safe confines of the cinema house where Mardi Gras beads, opportunists of all stripes and public urination cannot touch me. Jane Eyre and Hanna will protect and soothe me for four whole hours. Le Sigh. Bring on the picture show.

It just so happens that this double feature of two female badasses was the perfect antidote to the day. While the majority of the “runners” spent today showing their pieces parts and costumes en masse, I spent it with two fiercely independent strong-willed characters, Jane Eyre & Hanna the 16 year old CIA-trained assassin.

Charlotte Bronte has endeared herself to many with the story of Jane Eyre and I was riveted by the impenetrable mettle of an abused orphan transformed into steely yet kind governess, into experientially naïve yet maternal lover, into scorned victim of deception, into teacher, into missionary heartbreaker to whom she reports:“I love you like a brother.” Ouch!  Into……. I shan’t spoil the entire ending.  Mia Wasikowska had great pacing and a couple of moving scenes in which she rendered herself Thief of All Tears. Stop making me look like a driveling sap in public dammit! Worth a look if not only for the supporting role of Dame Judi Dench. Or even the witty retorts Jane Eyre delivers to ball bust her boss-turned-lover which, although well-deserved, likely started the home fires burning if you catch my drift. Must see the movie to catch the pun. All’s well that ends well per usual. Kind of.

After revving up my cinematic palate with a Jane Ap-Eyre-Tif, I gorged myself on every minute detail of Hanna – intently. Hanna (with Eric Bana) was a refreshing surprise and my kind of movie. It had everything a girl could want: Stealth, Danger, Suspense, Cinematography El Primo, a blood-pumping Soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, the CIA, Flamenco dancing & singers for Christ’s Sake (I needed a ciggy after that one and I don’t even smoke), Cate Blanchett in an almost there American accent (although much better than that Katharine Hepburn mess of an accent she tried to pull off in Aviator), the formidable Saoirse Ronan speaking in Arabic, Spanish, Italian & German, a few good chases and a bit of a twist.  The screenplay writer Seth Lochhead conceived the story when he was a student at Vancouver Film School.  Well done, lad.

Although I was still fully clothed when I left the theater and didn’t reek of booze or piss, the path of civilization never did let me down. I think I prefer the sandbox where all the grown-ups and artists hang out.  Avoiding the coarse crowds where everyone revels in how “free” they are for a day made me happy to be chained to my sanity and dignity…and reminded me of a line from that sweet Bob Dylan song, “Ballad in Plain D”:

“My friends from the prison they ask unto me. How good, how good does it feel to be free? And I answer them most mysteriously: Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”


Bleeding Tears & Bedtime Stories

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I have the unfortunate privilege of feeling everything now, instead of running through it by way of booze numbing.  I am told this constant crying is “cleansing” and it is healthy.  Perhaps.  But I can tell you that it’s quite embarrassing to have the floodgates release like clockwork every time I get on a bus and turn on my ipod.  You can imagine my jolt as I walked down the street at night, just minding my business lost in Bob Dylan when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I took my earphones out. Well, how cute are they. Two “Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” soldiers working for the Mormons. I think they call them Elders, even though they were about 18 years old.  “Are you ok? We just wanted to make sure you were ok, because we saw you crying on the bus.”  “That’s very sweet, thank you.  But are you going to try to sell me on Jesus?”  “No, don’t worry.” they laughed and I exhaled my frustration “I’m never getting married. What is wrong with people? It’s contagious.” I announced.  “Marriage is a joke because divorce is always the punchline.” We parted ways and I took their pamphlet, politely.

Something about a moving bus always chokes me up. Ok, that and also the pain that is my broken family which is drowning in subterfuge, sewage and deception, mostly self-deception.  It is a very sick system, and there is nothing I can do about it.  I was crying for my family, the healthy system (or at least functionally healthy) of yesteryear.  I suddenly had a vision of when I was 11 years old, riding a bike with my dad, just he and I riding up a hill at night in Hocking Hills.  And he looked over, 100%  present and told me how much he loved me.  I think about the time when I was a small girl, and he would roll the toy car Transam down the length of the kitchen floor.  Those days of innocence are long gone.

Then one day, I took a 737 to Los Angeles and I left my family.  My dad looked at me with grave concern and said, “I’m worried about you.”  “Oh, don’t worrrrrry!” I reassured him with a cavalier wave of the hand. “Now that worries me more!” he protested.  And when I gave my one-way boarding pass to the stewardess at the gate and boarded the plane, I walked to the back of the plane to sit down.  A man with a Texas drawl tapped me from behind and said, “You know I was watching you and your dad at the gate.  You just ripped his heart out.”

I guess turnabout is fair play.  You got me back good, dad. You got us all good.  Alright then, we’ll call it a draw.

My tears come from the confusion around what is right and what is wrong.  I don’t have any confusion myself, my confusion lies only around the new paradigm, and what I am no longer asked to or expected to believe.  Suddenly, loved ones are changing the game to suit their own needs, like one might cherry pick the 10 Commandments in the Torah.  Suddenly, anything that is difficult can be overlooked, thrown out the window or tweaked to serve one’s own holy purpose which is themselves.

Is nothing sacred anymore?  Don’t answer that. Are we entering a new era where we are only supposed to be concerned with ourselves?  Is the Age of Narcissism the natural offspring of the Age of Technology?  It seems like the logical next step, and it certainly seems we’re already there. I guess I’m just getting the memo: Narcissism is the new black!!!

Am I being too “traditional” in my belief that in a marriage, putting the other person before yourself is the whole point?  Is honesty, transparency and integrity at every moment, just a trend that went out of style with bellbottoms?  Or can we just throw those archaic values out the window with the DOS computers?  Is it written somewhere that when we turn a certain age we can, and we are actually supposed to tell everyone to F off.  Is it “All bets are off when you turn 60.  That’s when you start living for yourself and no one else but yourself.”  I wish SOMEone would have clarified that in their religious text.  “Do unto others as you would have done to you, unless you’re not feeling like it that day, in which case it’s ok, because neither did this person or this person, so everyone in the village will get used to it, and if they don’t, screw them!”

The Baby Boomers are really losing their shit.  The whole world is going Loco.  Really crazy…CaCa everywhere.

And now, for a bedtime story.

Once upon a time, a boy was walking down a dirt path.  He took this path to school every single day and this path was a busy thruway, full of travellers.  The village was small and the kind of tight-knit community where all of the parents and children were keenly aware of everyone else.  Cooperation abounded.  It was very much a tribal community.  There was an old woman, called Gerty, who ambled along slowly with her cane.  The boy on the path was a very sensitive and introverted boy, and  he always noticed her.  Everyone noticed her.  Sometimes a mother would put down her sack of flour and help her up the steep hill, down to the other side, and then return to pick up her flour, going far out of her way.  Many times, the old woman’s son would come with her on her walks, which was a challenge for him because he was young, fiery and impatient and had his own agenda of adventure.  But he didn’t.  Then one day, the son stopped coming as much, and the children started getting more careless and throwing balls back and forth in front of her path, forgetting she was there, then the mother with the sack of flour lost her child to typhoid, and became immobile, self-absorbed in her own pain and loss.  The little boy noticed all of this happening gradually and became concerned. With greater fervor, he would run up to the old lady’s side as soon as he saw her she would smile, glance down at the boy and wink.

One day, the boy got very sick and was struck with a fever. He had been throwing up all night and was turning jaundiced.  The boy’s father was distraught and feared for his life. But when he woke up the next morning and the boy’s bed was empty, he was gripped with panic.  He ran to every house in the village, trying to track down his son until someone told him they thought they saw his small figure crawling towards the hill.

“Son! What are you doing? You’re very ill, you’re in no condition for such a climb.”

The boy was clearly struggling. He was heaving, dripping with sweat, frothing at the mouth, but resolved and determined to crawl to the entry point of the path where the old woman was to show up.  The old woman appeared as the sun began it’s ascent and the boy summoned his strength and reached up for her hand.  Everyone had forgotten this woman in the village. This quiet, observant boy had watched it shift over time.  Slowly, people became more and more concerned with their own games, their own lives, their own agendas, chasing their own glory and happiness.  He knew that he was the only one left in the village who still cared about her.  His own father shook his head in disbelief that his son would push through such sickness and fever, just to walk the woman up the hill, and just as he was about to run for the boy to seize him and carry him home, the small boy grabbed the woman’s hand tight, looked back at his father and yelled:

“Helping this woman up the hill every day has been easy. When she became invisible to people because they began to think only about themselves, it was easier.  The hardest day to help her though, was today, and that’s how I knew I had to.” 

Suddenly, the woman lost 20 years on her face, straightened her back and lost her cane.  The boy’s face was restored with color and vitality returned to him.  His father started to cry.  His son had learned the lesson of the village, when everyone else had thrown it away. 

It is no great feat to love someone when we feel great love for them, ease around them, or even passion or lust towards them.  The real challenge is to love someone when we are fighting  every obstacle and stressor in life.  The real challenge is to love when our demons rear their heads and we are left not only to face ourselves, but to love them in spite of ourselves, or self-inflicted sickness.  The love that really counts, the real magical and valuable kind is given when we are so emotionally and physically bankrupt, that it seems that we can only manage to think of ourselves.  When we don’t feel it, that is when we must give it.

Self-centered happiness would have kept the boy sick and could have left the woman beaten and robbed. But the boy ignored himself and put another’s happiness, safety, comfort above his own, knowing full well, that it would restore him to health.  He didn’t try to help the woman.  He did it.  There was nothing complicated about what he knew he must do.

The ignorant village is rampant in today’s society.  It is a society of flimsy words and narcissistic propulsion.  Marriages are full of “trying” disguised by visits to marital counsellors (the equivalent of going to church to put on airs of being good).  Many couples close their marital chapter with the grand pronouncement that they paid their dues by way of marital therapy, and now they get to cut bait. The whole time the word ‘try’ is protecting one from any responsibility for how they are actually treating each other or interacting the other 167 hours of the week that they’re not “seeking help.” You don’t have to be responsible for anything you ever did in the past or are doing now because you “tried.”  

What many people don’t fully accept is that they will fall in and out of love through different periods in their marriage.  I’ve witnessed it with a friend of mine. She was so close to getting divorced, even seeking the solution to her problem outside of herself and in others.  Then she stepped back and looked at herself as the problem and focused all of her attention on the way she was reacting to him.  She took it upon herself to refuse to see him as the problem and only see herself as the driving force of their troubles.  She didn’t have to believe it of course, it didn’t even have to be true.   And something magical happened.  She fell in love again. He suddenly opened up to her again, rather than closing down out of fear that he couldn’t trust her. When she changed herself, he changed. Had she focused on him as the problem, they would have been locked into a stalemate forever.  As trust grew, they became more affectionate after a long dry spell of fear, blame and mistrust.  And that is marriage.  Staying constant even when one is not “feeling” it.

Our human village is ailing from a Me-Centered obsession with “happiness” which is illusory and not lasting.  The more people who ignore the woman walking alone on the road, the easier it is for everyone to do it.  And that is how the family unit is being decimatedbrick by brick, chasing after that ever-elusive phantom of happiness called Me, Me, Me, Me, Me and I, I, I, I, I.  Unfortunately, the more we chase and chase this golden calf of “me” and “I” the more we realize, we’re just chasing our tail.

Vadim Gluzman

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I once played Brahms for a new teacher – never having even had a substantial conversation with her or knowing her – and afterwards she spent 10 minutes ripping open my guts and psychoanalyzing me.  ‘You are this, this and that…sometimes you feel this way and your principle values are these.’  She didn’t know me from Adam, but it was accurate to the point of being unsettling and I am thinking, “Did I come to a violin teacher or a witch?”  Of course, some will be more gifted than others at reading and discerning such things, but that she could read these things is not all that surprising.  After all, what an artist is doing when he plays is baring his soul.  This is no small thing.

The first time I heard Vadim play was about 10 years ago – I was playing with CSO at the time – and he played Bottesini’s Duo Concertante for Violin and Double Bass.  I can still hear passages of it like it was yesterday. Some performances leave us with an indelible impression and memory.  His was one of these.  My first impression after hearing him (for lack of a better word) was “Whoa.”  There was an immediate recognition that registered  in every cell.  Utter charm and elegance – and I knew he was telling the truth.  What he was communicating musically was so authentic, so obviously coming from him in a very deep place internally.  This is not something that can be taught.  We know there is not a shortage of great musicians, great technicians, great performers; but for one to be a direct channel is not so common.  When I first heard Evgeny Kissin play, he made a similar impression.  You have a feeling and knowing that you are in the presence of something special.  This is why I have remembered his performance all of these years and love hearing him play.

In an effort to come up with some kind of formula, or perhaps learn the unteachable, an awe-struck admirer once asked Bob Dylan “What process do you take to write ‘Just Like a Woman’?  How did you possibly come up with the genius of ‘It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding’?  His response was, “I didn’t write the songs, I just tuned into them.”  He recognized himself as a vessel for transference when he could have replied in ego and arrogance.  Who knows, maybe the songs may have stopped coming had he succumbed to ego worship. In order to prepare one’s self to be such a channel, of course, a few things need to already be in place and then some.  One of the things that sets performers like Kissin and Gluzman apart is that their commitment to the music is of a higher order and they are able to communicate what they can because they bow in deep humility to the music and not their egos.  Egoless playing is what opens the channel to provide for that VIP access and direct line to the Divine.

I have always felt writing about music makes no sense, though music critics may disagree with me.  Music often succeeds where language fails.  If everything that needed to be communicated could be said in words, we would have no need for music.  Music reaches previously untouched depths of the more visceral and transcendent.  So to write about it seems not only inadequate but wholly unnecessary.  He already said it, so why write about what couldn’t be written in the first place?  So the disclaimer is: anything subsequently written about his playing pales in comparison to what comes from him on stage.  He is still in the Bay Area and playing Brahms one more night.  Go hear him.   Or check him out somewhere else along the way.  As his career has taken off in the past several years my reaction has been, “Good, I’m glad everyone is catching up.”

People comment about Gluzman’s playing harkening back to the days of old bringing us the sensibilities of Milstein and Heifetz.  I think what they really mean to say is that such authentic communication has been missing from the world stage.  Many violinists dominating our stage are not necessarily reminiscent of this time.  The dearly loved, late Yfrah Neaman speculated in an article that the preponderance of Jewish musicians during the golden age of violinists, of which his critics speak, seems to have been a bid to be treated as full citizens, because in the arts one was at least treated as a human being.  Neaman spoke about a masterclass in particular he gave several years ago in Japan which consisted of 4 boys and 49 girls. He suggests that a similar striving for respect and independence may help to explain the predominance of female violinists in Japan. “Now there are far fewer young Jewish players and vast numbers of players from the Far East, all with great techniques and a completely different outlook – the production of a saleable product from the start.”

In a vain attempt to describe what people mean when they talk about Vadim’s sound from the past, it might be said in three words: He Means It.  He is 300% all in when he performs, completely merged, not even slightly detached, out of his ego and in the service of something higher – and buoyant with joy, humility and a fiery temperament.  The term, “volcanic communication” comes to mind. As he stands in the sea of musicians he is so present and in joy that he barely contains himself, and this is the way it should be when one is traversing the higher realms.  There does not seem to be a cell in him that is faking it or factory-produced.  I don’t think I would be mistaken to say that Vadim is not a performer you will ever see “dialling it in.” His sound is luminescent, ebullient and dynamic – an extraordinarily sensitive musician and keenly attuned to musical nuances.  And while there is indeed something regal about his playing, you get the impression that it’s coming from a very magnanimous king who cares for and loves all of the people in the village and is driven not by the glory of his own rule, but by the higher attributes of wisdom, beauty and truth.  This is not something that can be concealed when the soul-spilling is happening on stage – no matter how humble the performer. Though people may not be able to pinpoint why they resonate so strongly with his playing, it is likely that these are some of the reasons why. Go hear him and join him in flight.  You will come out thanking him for existing.

The Purity of Children

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Bob Dylan once remarked that “College is where people go to die.” which of course elicited a sh*t storm in the media around whether he was encouraging young people not to get an education.  He explained, “Look, I’m  not telling anyone not to go to college, I just wouldn’t pay for it, that’s all.”  John Lennon sung about how society brainwashes the masses into obedient drones in  “Working Class Heroes”:

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small,
By giving you no time instead of it all,
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
They hurt you at home and they hit you at school,
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool,
Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules,

A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years,
Then they expect you to pick a career,
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free,
But you’re still fucking peasents as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
There’s room at the top they are telling you still,
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the hill,
A working class hero is something to be.
A working class hero is something to be.
If you want to be a hero well just follow me,
If you want to be a hero well just follow me.

I think the thread of the message in these artists is the same.  Protect your voice and make sure it’s your own.  Have you ever seen a child heavy with fear, lethargy and apprehension on their way to play in the sandbox?  No, because it’s not their natural state and neither is it ours.  The heaviness and the gravity with which we move through life is all learned. It is society’s learned fears and disappointments that poison children and young adults, just as they were poisoned by the false beliefs of those who came before them.   

There is damage to be undone.  One study was done showing that children laugh over 300 times a day, but while adults laugh only 15 times a day.  What is happening in between? Some would say, “So what. Is this even a real problem?” I am going to say yes, considering that more than 70% of illnesses are related to stress (high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, insomnia, migraine, anxiety, allergies, peptic ulcers, compromised immune systems leaving the door open for cancer to name a few) and laughter is a known antidote. 

Have you ever seen an elderly person in the sunset of their life absolutely light up around a child?  Children remind us to be in joy and laughter.  They give that birthright back to us even if it’s for a moment.  For most of the time, the elderly (especially in this country) are marginalized, forgotten and riddled with stress and fears that they did not necessarily invite.  The joy and laughter of children pierces this veneer of hopelessness and instantly heals them.  In the book “Healthy at 100“,  John Robbins studies those people and cultures in the world who consistently have the greatest longevity – commonly living to 100 years of age with no disease.  If you ask an 80 year old in one of these cultures when the last time they went to the doctor was, they will laugh at you.  There simply is no need.  There are several common denominators among the different groups blessed with longevity.  One of them is a vegetarian diet, or at least an almost meatless diet except for fish.  Another is that such cultures producing the greatest longevity typically have three generations living together.  So the young children with their ebullient spirits keep their grandparents young, joyful and feeling high-spirited and useful.  They are not shipped off to nursing homes to die.  Marginalizing the elderly in this country is another matter entirely for discussion, but it is yet another symptom of society’s downward pull on our souls.  The societies thriving when it comes to health and well-being are cooperative, not competitive and the respect towards children and the elderly is a huge part of that.

I have fond and vivid memories of being a child.  One summer night – I must have been about 6 or 7 – with my parents long-since asleep, I remember spontaneously turning around on my knees in the middle of the night to gaze out the window.  I stared into the moon and the pitch-black forest singing for hours along with the sound of the crickets.  Who knows why we remember the strange things we do.  I remained totally content and unaware of myself, like it was the most natural thing in the world.  It was.  No one said to me, “It’s time to sing.” or “It’s not time to sing.” or “You shouldn’t sing.” or “You can’t sing.”  and no one told me I had to sing between the hours of daylight and dusk if it happened to be the third month of the year.  My spirit moved me to sing so it made perfect sense to do so.  This is what is so beautiful about children.  They are as yet, untainted as the fallen snow and are almost always acting from places of authenticity. 

At what point in our socialization did we become so heavy and serious vibrating such downtrodden, low frequencies?  Must we accept most of our false beliefs, and fear addiction as “normal” or can we un-accept it and reach for something higher? So how do we become this way?  This is not splitting the atom.  We have negative images and a constant stream of fear and bad news projected into our world at all times – whether we like it or not.  There is propaganda everywhere and there are competing agendas all around us.  To protect one’s own agenda (in this case our soul’s true voice and state) we must fight for it through all the noise.  TV certainly spreads traumas (both real and fictional) to the nth degree.  One study monitored the brain activity, release of chemicals and heart rates of people watching violent or gory scenes in a movie theater. The study proved that the body cannot physiologically discern the difference between whether something  is really happening and we need to prepare for battle or if it is just an image removed from our reality.  The same stress chemicals such as cortisol (the “running from the tiger” chemicals our body releases to protect us) are released and our heart still experiences stress as it jumps into fight or flight mode.  If that weren’t enough, this study shows that watching violent movies makes people numb and much more indifferent to the pain of others.  Fear may be treated like an amusement park ride by the movie industry but it’s the last thing we need more of.

The big F-word is a tool that is used to control, and by the time we have reached the age where we are 100% responsible for our own livelihood and well-being, the weeds of fear have fully infested the garden.  We will do anything to play it safe and do what we’re told we “should” do in order to avoid being outcasts of non-conformity. 

My grandmother often told me that this was her favourite picture of me and I can see why.  The look on my face says, “I have no clue there is any cruelty or injustice in the world, so don’t try to convince me otherwise – or at least put it off as long as possible.”  All is right with the world in this picture and I am shielded like most children at this age.

 How does one protect himself or his children from the invasion of society’s negative beliefs and pronouncements about the seriousness of life?  With music and laughter, and a healthy dose of trusting one’s intuition and keeping a childlike spirit.  So throw away the limiting beliefs and the “can’ts”.  Get rid of the TV.  Question everything you are fed or are told to believe.  Go to that place where your soul feels absolutely at home and free, whether it’s in front of a canvas, or onstage, or creating a business around your passion, or being around a particular person or wherever.  Play.  Stop caring about what society and others think of you.  Travel extensively if you need further convincing that this over-caffeinated, stress-filled, money-obsessed existence is not necessarily the key to happiness.

Have you ever noticed that the people who look way younger than their age seem to be always playing… or cracking jokes… or defiantly breaking the rules… or absolutely consumed with their passion?  Have you ever considered that the people who look 10 years younger than their age are only doing what they’ve always done? Playing in their sandbox? This is not an accident.  Bullies may come along and take our toys away while we’re playing, but no one can ever take you out of the sandbox without your consent.  

I was once watching a friend’s 6-year-old — in the middle of her side-splitting giggling she says to me, “I like you, because you’re like a kid.”  “What do you mean I’m like a kid?” I asked, trying to get at the crux of what she was trying to say.  “Well, you play with me and stuff and most of the time my mom just sits in front of the computer for a long time.”  Ah.  So kids play.  Adults don’t.  Interesting.  It’s never too late for all of us to get back into the sandbox with the kids and start remembering who we really are.  It’s a win-win.

Anniversary of the Death of John Lennon

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I was only 4 years old on December 8th, 1980 – the day John Lennon died – so I don’t have one of the “I remember where I was when I heard he died” stories.  But I grew up with the Beatles blasting through the speakers of our home.  My brother and I have countless memories of playing Beatles records from our dad’s  collection and skipping around the house.  Penny Lane was probably the very first Beatles song I remember hearing – one of the first indications to my 4-year-old mind that my dad was way cool.  Soonafter I fell in love another notch when I heard the song “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” on an episode of “Joanie Loves Chachi.” My adolescent infatuations began with The White Album (I had a special place in my heart for Rocky Raccoon, Piggies, Martha My Dear), Rubber Soul, Revolver, not to discount the brilliance of Sgt. Peppers or Abbey Road.

Well, you can’t just pick one – they were pure genius translated  into sound.  Although among their influences were Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers – they took everything they knew, stirred it into their alchemical pot of unparalleled songwriting, joy and a small dose of rebellion infusing their own generation with a soundtrack to be extremely proud of.  Their music erased lines of generations and they have clearly insinuated themselves into the hearts of every generation today.

It was not until college though that I became easily impartial to John.  I always felt sympatico to him on some level (maybe because we are both Libra/Dragons, lol.) Behind his consummate songwriting was cynicism, vulnerability and pain; he repeatedly birthed to us a dose of the hauntingly beautiful laced with irreverence and shrewd wit.  There was so much to be admired about him.  As Paul preferred to stay more on the conventional side of protocol (both in his crafting of music and in press conferences) John thumbed his nose at the establishment, never apologizing for saying what he felt, even when it rankled the powers that be.

His long drawn out battle around the U.S. government’s attempt to deport him was clearly a not-so-disguised attempt to silence him – his message resonating with so many – and a modern-day witch hunt.  As many before him who disrupted the status quo by fearlessly speaking out about injustice (and who are often ahead of their time) he was snuffed out early.  One of the main reasons I believe Dylan is still around and in one piece physically and psychologically is because of his lack of vulnerability and refusal to be pigeon-holed, projected upon or owned and crushed by the media.  Although Bob Dylan is also somewhat of a modern-day prophet and a man ahead of his time, the relationship he has to the media can only be described as a clever, impish and invincible Road Runner running from Wile E. Coyote.  I believe Bob has come out relatively unscathed because he always stays 5 steps ahead of them by questions aimed to cage him.

Which way is the more admirable path?  There isn’t one.  It is simply tragic and unjust that John was cheated out of the prime of his life.  When John’s message stepped beyond the bounds of his cozy little music label/box, the powers that be became uncomfortable.  Whatever you might believe about conspiracy theories, John always had a subconscious fear of being shot by a nutjob.  In spite of the paranoia around his phone being tapped during the “felonious” marijuana witch hunt, he never shrunk into his shadows or stifled what he thought in order to play it safe.  Some may call him a martyr for this – he often made himself, almost dangerously, open and vulnerable to fans in service of his principles and beliefs, one time spending almost an hour talking with a mentally disturbed fan who crossed the precipice of his estate. I remember seeing the clip in a documentary thinking he was simply trying to re-wire the poor sod’s brain through a gesture of sheer compassionate reason and love.   It is not surprising that it was his very message of love, openness, one-ness and vulnerability that doomed him.  Quod me nutrit me destruit (What nourishes me also destroys me.)   Even if John’s assassinator acted alone and was not at the frontlines of a conspiracy, his message only grew in power when he departed from the earth plane.

When you take a candle into a dark room, the darkness can’t swallow the light.  The light always wins.  The same is true for his life –  he very well may have decided he was done with this dimension.  The last two songs that John wrote,  Watching the Wheels and Woman seem eerily prophetic.

If you listen to the lyrics of the two songs respectively, it almost seems that he unconsciously knew he was going to die and was saying his goodbyes:

“Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind,
I tell them there’s no hurry…
I’m just sitting here doing time,

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.”

And what seems like a haunting goodbye to Yoko:

“After all I’m forever in your debt,
And woman I will try express,
My inner feelings and thankfulness,
For showing me the meaning of success,
oooh well, well,
oooh well, well,

Woman I know you understand
The little child inside the man,
Please remember my life is in your hands,
And woman hold me close to your heart,
However, distant don’t keep us apart,
After all it is written in the stars”

Well, for all intents and purposes his life (or at least estate) is most definitely in her hands now for better or for worse; and maybe his untimely death was written in the stars.  Either way, he was a bright light and the joy and message he brought to the world, although greatly missed, could never be diminished by a lone gunmen who is hopefully rotting away in prison being raped up the a** by a large tattooed cellmate.  Although this sentiment may not echo his message of peace and love I have to draw the line when dark forces make cowardly attempts to quiet the light of brilliantly creative and giving forces.  Why are some of the brightest lights taken from us so early?  Maybe they reflect back to some people the things that are difficult to look at in themselves, or embarrass, like disconnection from the light in themselves.  While these losses may be sad and confusing for the rest of us, we must remember that he like so many others were just exceptionally bright lights who were on loan to us for a while.  The important thing – as with all those who lifted humanity in some way – is how we will keep each spirit alive by continuing to live their particular message.  That’s our job here and now; and as tragic as John’s shortened life was to so many, he has just started over somewhere else.

Guilt for being rich, and guilt thinking that perhaps love and peace isn’t enough and you have to go and get shot or something.
John Lennon

I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?
John Lennon

If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that… I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.
John Lennon

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.
John Lennon

Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it.
John Lennon

Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.
John Lennon

Rituals are important. Nowadays it’s hip not to be married. I’m not interested in being hip.
John Lennon

The basic thing nobody asks is why do people take drugs of any sort? Why do we have these accessories to normal living to live? I mean, is there something wrong with society that’s making us so pressurized, that we cannot live without guarding ourselves against it?
John Lennon

Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.
John Lennon

We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.
John Lennon

Eminem – Another Prey of Addiction

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From yesterday’s poll, it was Eminem who said: 

“My brain just doesn’t know when to shut off. When I do something I have to do it all the way — that goes for music … everything. I have to push it to the extreme. That’s how I realized I have an addictive behavior. Somebody told me this once, that the thing that makes me bad is the same thing that makes me good at other things.”

Eminem talking more about his addiction:

 It’s comforting to know that there are other people who get the addiction struggle and can relate – this has been one of the most comforting things about talking to others who have prevailed over the grips of addiction.  Those who have always been moderate users don’t seem to understand and too often see it as a moral failing or a lack of willpower – you know, something easily remedied.  Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  One of my favourite experiences was when I was released from the hospital for alcohol poisioning a couple of years ago.  On my release form it stated the doctor’s recommendation at the bottom of my page for good health.  “Quit drinking.”, it said. 

As you can imagine, the clouds parted and angels immediately began singing.  Gee, why hadn’t I thought of that.  Brilliant.  Problem solved.

The truth is that addiction is extremely complex and mysterious.  I don’t profess to have the answers or the magic key but I do know that addiction is a soul-sucker and something that is put in our path (we all have addictions of some kind) in order to overcome.  Great men are not really made by their accomplishments or what they have achieved, but by what they have overcome.  Ask any now-liberated addict, ask Elie Wiesel, ask cancer survivors who were told by the doctor they had 6 months to live to which they responded, “F— off.” and are proudly walking down the street 10 years later.   I have always known I was a strong person at my core, but the test of addiction is not for pussies.  It is human nature to want to take the easy pill or the most comfortable route.  When we rely on substances to soften the blow or to escape parts of ourselves that we don’t accept (shyness, insecurities, anger, anxiety) we might be numbing or escaping some kind of momentary pain, but we are disconnecting from ourselves little by little and stunting growth.  Addiction is like putting the pause button on life.  I like to think of this life as school and a place where we come temporarily to learn lessons.  So if we’re just holding court or treading water, running to substances every time we don’t want to walk through something, what’s the point of being here?  That line from the Bob Dylan song bears repeating:  “He not busy being born is busy dying.”   It takes an enormous amount of bravery to be relentless about overcoming addiction – the grasp of which often eludes all rational thought.  There are armies of people who have tried intellectualizing their way out of the problem and it doesn’t seem to work.   All we know is that in many times it is so powerful that the gravest negative consequences are not remedies.  I remember in the early ’90s seeing Robert Downey Jr. on TV standing in the courtroom speaking to the judge about his multiple visits back to the courtroom.  I’ll never for get what he said. This poor guy, so bright and sensitive said to the judge:

“Your honor, I feel like I have a loaded gun in my mouth and I know it’s loaded but I can’t take it out.”

My heart went out to him then – I really felt his pain and frustration from a place of non-judgment and that was many years before I even had a thought about or experience with anything addictive.  I never could have imagined he might be foreshadowing my struggles to come.

A friend once told me when I was in the throes of the negative consequences and ill health of drinking, “You will always want to drink, but I promise you things will get better.”  Difficult to disagree with such logic, but 90% of the time not being able to rely on alcohol for relief  has been akin to taking a noonday stroll across hot coals.  This constant presence forces me to live in reality  rather than to keep running from it; and for extremely sensitive and aware individuals who feel things a little more deeply than they would like, reality isn’t always so bearable or as easy to rite off as just a bad day.  I know there are those who can relate. Choosing to walk through the pain of reality is a gift though.  It forces you to actually deal with or walk straight through things you are afraid of or don’t want to see or feel, which paradoxically disempowers them.

Band-aids are no longer an effective means of coasting through life.   I miss choosing the easy-way-out at times, but it’s too hard not to notice how the universe aligns to support you when you stop abandoning yourself.  Eminem and Robert Downey Jr. are both clean now and surely have different demons with which to deal, but the path they have chosen to take (the harder one) is nothing short of heroic.  I can say this because I am intimately connected with the struggle, the spirit required and the refusal to give up after repeatedly hitting wall after wall.  In fact, I have more respect for someone who has truly plummetd the depths and come out of challenges triumphant through their own mettle and perserverance over someone who has had a relatively easy life, not been forced to grow or transform and just glides along being a ‘good’ person.  One of the gifts of addiction, I think, is that the warning to pay attention often becomes so loud that it forces you to take that journey deeper into yourself.  Unless there is a huge reason or pressing need to do so, most people won’t take that journey. 

So in the words of our dear friend Ali G,  Mad Respek to those fighting the hard fight.