Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Versatile Values

Versatile Values
Friday, June 6, 2008
2:06:55 PM EDT Feeling Embarrassed Hearing Bach
Versatile Values

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day."
Jim Valvano
Sounds like my day, only in reverse. Oh, I wake up with a hopeful attitude, stagger around a bit, make some coffee, drink it, find out what time it is, what day it is and start some music playing. But then I sit down at my desk and look at the problems that face me. Oh, dear. Alas and alack. Woe is me. How will I ever get things done and straightened out. It's no use trying. All is lost. I give up.
But then I start thinking. After my bowl of gruel, I feed the animals so the kangaroo won't pester me. Then I call Hong Kong, Helsinki and Can Cun to see if I have any messages, pay my ski diving instructor's bill, answer a few letters and dash off a note to George Bush. Then it's time to take the armadillo for his walk. That takes a while. He's very slow and has to stop and smell everything.
I don't have time for a proper lunch so I mash up one of the leftover Easter eggs and make a sandwich. It's a shame because they're so pretty. After lunch I ponder what I'm going to write in my journal for today, do some reading from the ancient sanskrit texts and make some notes on my slate.
Oh, no! I just rememberd I have to make cookies for tomorrow's Three Legged and Sack Race Festival. Well, I'll just have to put up the Christmas lights another day. It's only June after all, they can wait. After the cookies are made it's time for my dinner: baked squid with radish sauce and a piece of onion pie, if there's any left.
I hitch up the mule to the wheel and get him walking to generate the electricity to get my computer on, and since almost all of my non-journal friends have gone to sleep for a year or two, I sit down to see what my journalist friends have been up to today. By this time I'm laughing.
It makes a full day.

Basic Beauty

Wednesday, September 24, 2008
12:14:38 AM EDT Feeling Thoughtful Hearing Mozart Edit Entry Delete Entry
Basic Beauty

The best reason for doing anything is the joy of doing it.

DB - The Vagabond


I've always been an analytical artist as well as a practicing one. A stage manager, once said to me, "Why do you talk about it so much? Why don't you just do it?" The answer was that I enjoy talking and thinking about it.
Ten or so years ago I became intrigued about the subject of "entertainment." What is it that enables someone to stand on a stage and do something such that hundreds of people will forget everything else and watch and listen. What is that magic? I knew I had it myself but I couldn't identify what it was.
So in my spare time I decided to see if I could understand it by seeing as many entertainers as I could. I went to operas, Broadway musicals, night clubs, orchestra concerts, jazz concerts, rock concerts. I watched singers, dancers, magicians and clowns. I saw people performing in huge arenas and concert halls and on street corners. Some were better than others and some had the unmistakable magic of the entertainer no matter what they did. But I still couldn't define it. Well, I kept searching and a day came when I finally saw it clearly, in a most unlikely place.
Damrosch Park in New York City is a place with a band shell. It's an outdoor performing area in Lincoln Center. It seats 3,000 people. I played there once myself as host of the Du bonnet Chamber Music Festival. In the summer they would book in various artists to perform - three different groups, one after another.
One afternoon a friend called to tell me that Liam Clancy was scheduled to appear there that evening, he and his wife were going and would I like to come along. I thought that would be fun so I did.
Liam Clancy was part of the famous Clancy Brothers Irish folk singing group. When it broke up, his brothers Tom and Paddy went their separate ways and Liam formed his group. But this is not about Liam Clancy.
He was second on the program following a young folk singer I didn't know, who was okay. When Clancy's group was finished my friends wanted to leave. But just at that moment Liam Clancy said "Stick around because you've got Percy Sledge coming."
Now I'm a classical music lover. I'm not a great fan of R&B/Soul. There's nothing wrong with it, I just never went seeking it out. But Percy Slege was almost an American institution. I didn't know he was still alive, much less still performing. So I begged my friends to stay and hear him, and we did.
He came out and stood there in a white suit, in a spotlight, with a microphone, backed by The Uptown Brass (a high quality Harlem big band) and sang. And he was riveting.
The place was overflowing with spectators. In fact, my friends and I were nowhere near the stage. We were way at the back, sitting under the trees. But I couldn't take my eyes off of him. I and thousands of other people were completely engrossed.
He sang all of his famous songs, including "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" and "When A Man Loves A Woman." During that song there was a musical bridge where the band played and he didn't sing. Instead he spoke about tthe song, and without bragging, but with a sense of the enjoyment of the privilege, he listed all the great capitals and countries of the world where he had sung that song. And just before the musical bridge ended he said "and New York City."
I will never forget that moment. It was like sunshine suddenly bursting into my heart and my head. I saw it. He loves his songs, he loves singing them and he loves singing them to other people for their pleasure and enjoyment. That's entertainment! It's as simple as that. And I knew it all along.
Thank you Percy.. Thank you forever.

Cheerful Calendar

Thursday, September 25, 2008
12:08:56 AM EDT Feeling Sad Hearing Mozart Edit Entry Delete Entry
Cheerful Calendar

It's no use wondering what to do with your life.
You're doing it.

DB - The Vagabond
Autumn is my favorite season of the year. It's the most interesting and most festive season.
It begins in late summer when the days are warm and the nights are cool. Most of the stormy season is over and most of the bugs have done their deeds. Crops are fecund and harvest is near. The leaves are lush and green, soon to be set on fire with yellows, reds and shades of amber by nature's miraculous power.
It's the season of celebrations: Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Columbus Day. There were Italian kids in school who always got Columbus Day off, so naturally we had to make fun of them the next day, out of envy of course, just as we made fun of the Jewish kids when they got a day off.
Halloween was a big night for all of us kids back in the days when it was still safe for us to go out on our own. And we pulled tricks, tooth picks stuck into front door bells, hastily drawn crayon marks on windshields, etc. No spray painting the dog or other nasty things. Those things came along later with the razor blades in the apples. Halloween ain't what it used to be.
My father was a Veteran of the First World War and even though he had passed from the seen my mother always wanted him remembered on Veteran's Day.
Thanksgiving meant a visit with Aunt Emily and Uncle Stanley. Stanley was a painter, a successful one. They had a nice big apartment in New York City. Emily loved to cook, so Thanksgiving meant the whole family sitting around the big dinner table while Emily feasted us. Later they bought a farm house in upstate New York. So we all drove up there. Emily would have been heart broken if we didn't.
So now the leaves have turned to brown and fallen on the streets, sidewalks and back yards. We would run down the side walk, kicking the leaves as we went. The men would rake them up into piles and there would be bonfires.
The road side vegetable stands with their corn on the cob, pumpkins and other autumn harvests were about ready to close up.
The sky is getting dark earlier, The days are cool now,the nights chilly. The wood is in. The fireplaces are blazing. Animals and things have been moved to other quarters. It will soon be December 21 and the winter festivities will begin.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quick Quip

Quick Quip Friday, June 27, 2008

I don't know how people live without coffee, I really don't.

Martha Quinn
Most American think they have a divine right to a cup of coffee in the morning and at certain times during the day. Ironically, coffee beans only grow near the Equator. So coffee is not an American product. There is only one state in our nation where they grow. If you want the true, red, white and blue American brew you have to go to Hawaii. Of course, there may be other benefits to doing that. I don't know, I've never been there.

We have the Muslims to thank for our coffee. It was first discovered in Ethiopia in the 9th Century. Some curious Arab pried open a pod and found two beans inside. He sniffed, tasted and decided it was good. Coffee spread throughout the Muslim world quickly. And eventually reached Europe. The Europeans brought it over here with them but, alas, it wouldn't grow in stubborn North American soil. As a result all of our coffee is imported, from Africa and South America.

Coffee houses were the rage when I was in school. You could order fancy things like cafe au'lait, mokka mit schlag, espresso, cappucino and feel very sophisticated and upper class. My friends and I favored the Mozart Cafe in Harvard Square where every time we entered we caused a sensation. (But that's another story.)

Today you can go into Starbucks, pay way too much money for a well ground and cooked cup of large coffee which you get in a cardboard or styrofoam cup. Be careful taking off the lid, you might scald yourself. Milk and sugar is on the side. You have to serve yourself and clean up after yourself. How's that for class?

One day I was on my way to a recording session and I wanted a cup to lubricate my vocal chords. I stopped in a place and asked for a coffee to go. They pointed at a row of urns with various titles; maple, nutmeg, mocha, blueberry, I don't know. I turned and walked out. I found the Greek place. I was in and out in 3 minutes. If you want a coffee, without all the fashion frills, find the Greeks or the Arabs. They know from coffee.

Think happy thoughts about old friends as I just did.

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Quintessential Quackery 3/25/09

Quintessential Quackery

When it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.



P.T. Barnum said "There's a sucker born every minute" and he set out to prove it. When he had his zoo he posted a sign saying "this way to the egress." People went through the door to see the egress and found themselves out on the street. If you promised your kid to let him see the performing monkeys, you had to go around and pay another admission price to get back in. It was a cheap trick. (Quack. Quack)

Here are some classic egress lines, some red flags that everyone should be suspicious about: "congratulations" "this is your lucky day" "no hidden fees" "as you are a valued customer" "time is running out" "you have been selected" "no money down" "we will not be undersold" "at no further expense" "here is your chance to win...." (quack, quack) I know I've left some out. I welcome any reminders.

Then there's the American Express contest where you can win the Grand Prize!! You're so busy pasting labels here and there that you don't notice the little box in the corner which if you don't check you end up with a magazine subscription you don't want.

But one of the biggest scams is the "you have been awarded" quack. I got 4 of these. I was hoping to get more so I could make a scrap book.

For example: I have here a check made out to me for $4,975, drawn on an Alabama bank. The check has an illegible signature. The accompanying letter has a fake heading with a Seattle address (it's an office building). The letter tells me that I have been awarded $1,375,000 and the enclosed check is to HELP ME pay for registration and insurance fees. It's signed by one person and lists another person's phone number to call to start accessing my "award." The envelope has no return address and it has a Canadian stamp. If I deposited that check I would be stuck. (quack, quack)

The terrible thing is that some people fall for that fiction and end up sending away their life savings thinking they are going to get the million they've been "awarded." And if they stop sending money, the vagrants will threaten to come and take it.

It's unfortunately important for everyone to be cautious, skeptical and suspicious. Otherwise you may find yourself out on the street, a sitting duck. (Quack, Quack)

If it looks like a quack, and sounds like a quack, it's a quack.

DB - The vagabond

Monday, March 23, 2009

Inexhaustible Inspiration 11/22/08

Of all of our possessions, wisdom alone is immortal.

Well my monitor problem has been graciously solved I'm happy to say. But now there is no heat in my apartment and the range and oven have completely stopped working. There's always something. But then, if there weren't, there'd be nothing.

I have written in this journal about those who mistake the messenger for the message. Who think the actor must be like the character he plays. Who look at results and call them causes. Who make assumptions and then act on them as if they were truths.

People with wealth often want to be remembered by endowing an organization, building a wing on a hospital, setting up a scholarship or erecting a tall building all with their names on them,so that they will be remembered. Portraits are painted, statues carved, biographies and autobiographies are written. And all of it is to point a finger of immortality at a mortal.
But, like the person who loves the actor because he loves the character he plays, it's a useless look in the wrong direction.

When I was in high school I was a runner and I would run relay races. Like the Pony Express, where the riders would change horses at certain places by literally jumping off one horse and onto a fresh one, in a relay race the baton is passed from one runner to another. The classic reason for the relay race was to deliver a document over a space of many miles by passing it from one runner to another. The third runner in that message delivery never met the first one, yet he benefited from that first runner's speed.

It seems to me that wisdom comes in three styles. There's the wisdom that knows why things are the way they are, the wisdom that knows how to create and make things and the wisdom that knows how to fix things and keep them running properly (like my stove, one of these day, hopefully, so I can bake my potato and won't have to make my morning coffee from hot tap water).

But does the portrait of Bach, the statue of Balzac or the newly reconstructed face of Galileo tell us anything about what those men knew? No more than the endowment, the chair in Economics at the local college or the new wing on the hospital tell us about what the rich people knew who put them there.

We have inherited wisdom from the thinkers, the scientists, the artists, the designers, the craftsmen, the engineers, the mechanics and the peasants of the past. And whether it comes into the hands of the wealthy, the geniuses or the ordinary everyday vagabonds like me, we shape it, hone it, polish it, color it, add to it and pass it to the next runner to carry on into the human race, and that is our true spiritual immortality.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Thursday, March 19, 2009

From a Letter to Beth 2/19/09

The only way to worship correctly is to think. If I didn't believe that to be true with all of my being, I would fold up my journal and become a monk.

"The world is too much with us" as Wordsworth said. I lose faith sometimes that I will get people to see life as a metaphor, to hear the song behind the music, to see the beauty behind the picture, to live life deeply and understand its meaning instead of living on the surface of things. Life is so much more interesting if one seeks for it.

Yes there are great lessons to be learned from the birds (and the wolves). A great lesson is that we are all part of creation. We are at one with the birds, the trees, the wind. the sunlight, the distant planets.and the sound of a flute. I don't get that wisdom in a church.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Designated Dabbling 11/17/08

The smallest good deed is better than the greatest good intention.

Emmanuel Duguet

What is your next step in life? It's the one right in front of you.

I was living on the upper West Side in Manhattan. I was in rehearsal for a play on the upper East Side. The rehearsals began at 10 a.m. It was summer. On days when it wasn't raining I would walk to work across Central Park. I allowed myself plenty of time so that I didn't have to rush and could enjoy a leisurely stroll.
Every morning I would pass a woman, who was well but comfortably dressed and who carried a plastic bag. Every now and then she would bend over, pick up a piece of litter and put it in the bag.
Since we saw each other every morning we soon got to nodding and then greeting. One morning I stopped to chat with her. I noticed that she wasn't picking up all the litter, just some. now and then. I asked her about that and she explained that she was out for her morning walk in the park and not to clean it up, so she only dealt with the trash that was in front of her as she walked.
I have thought about that woman and her remark often over the years. It is a great life lesson. We can't change the world, but we can improve it, one step at a time.
Wherever we go in life we leave a trail behind us. Is it a clean one?

"Let there be peace in the world and let it begin with me."

Vagabond Journeys

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Easy Enlightenment 2/12/09

There's plenty things you can learn every day. Every day.

Billy Eckstine

Are you ready for your valentine?
The first time I saw Billy Eckstine sing was on TV way back in the late 40s. In those days the only black entertainers one saw on network television were usually tap dancers. That was when we were told they all had "natural rhythm." Remember that?
(All rhythm is natural, folks. Ask any drummer, black, white or otherwise.)

Mr. B was born in 1914, started singing at the age of 7, and became a major influence in the jazz world all the way up to the 80's. He had his own orchestra, sang and played the trumpet. He gave many jazz greats their start.
The trick to learning things every day is being alert. The first thing I have to remind myself of is that there is going to be something there to learn, every day, Sometimes I go looking for it and sometimes I don't.

Then I have to notice the lesson when it comes. I have to remember to ask myself if it is something I knew yesterday. If not, I then have to wrap it up in my mind as a gift, to be opened whenever I need it. Sometimes learning the new thing means throwing out the old thing. So be it. I try to avoid sitting in the quicksand of the "tried and true."

I have stacks of books on all sorts of topics that interest me. Some of them are about things that have absolutely no vital bearing on my life. But so what? I'm learning about the efforts of the Indians to shake loose of the British Empire's control of their country. I'm learning about the origins of the biblical word "Leviathan," I'm learning about the difference between "vague" and "borderline" cases. I'm learning about the life of Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus). And I'm learning about classical realism in modern art.

Those things interest me. But they don't interest me until I start the journey, until I open the book and start to read or go outside and start looking around. And that's the other trick. I have to overcome the inertia of not looking for new things, not being open to grasp them and not paying attention to what is around me.

Knowing that is one of the new things I've learned.

DB Vagabond Journeys

Sweeten up your life a little bit today. You deserve it.

Afternoon Adventure 11/14/08

You will become as small as your controlling desire,
or as great as your dominant aspiration.

James Allen
Somber sky, the patter of rain on the window off and on all day, miraculous imaginings, quiet longings, solitude.

I should have brushed the leaves from the front steps yesterday as I thought to do, but I was tired from the days walk. Maybe one of my housemates will do it on the next clear day. Not likely. One good thing about the rain is that the leaf blowers aren't out filling the neighborhood with their ugly noise.

I have no exoteric duties today. The apartment is cold, not enough heat comes up. I have to call the landlord. It can wait.

It's good to be in. I have books to read and music to hear. Right now it's a Mahler symphony. (Who's he?) I have enough food, plenty of coffee and cigarettes and the young woman in the computer who tells me when I have email, who always surprises me because I rarely get any. The phone is turned off because the only calls I get are from the credit card companies wanting their money, which they will all get eventually.

I do have duties. I have to work on my Brian story. I like to stay ahead. I think some of the readers have gotten bored with it lately. I don't get anywhere near the comments I used to get. Maybe they gave up and stopped reading it, which is too bad because it is about to get very frightening and they won't know why.

And I also have my thoughts. I learned how to deal with regrets. I just don't think about them. I think ahead. I think about my writing and my painting, and I plan for them. Amazing things can be done on a rainy afternoon.

I live a solitary life, no romance, no one to care for, no one to listen to and to tell that she doesn't look fat in that dress. I wouldn't mind a little romance, but I guess it isn't a necessity.
There are things missing from this afternoon. I wish I was a better man. I wish I was a better artist. I wish I could astonish myself.

I have no friends here to visit with and bounce ideas with. I know a few answers, but I know a lot more questions. My ideas bounce back at me like a rubber ball.

There is a desperately important need to mine the mentality of the universe. Every moment spent not doing that is discarded treasure.