Starting to catch up on texts now. Feeling better after Wednesday’s peocedure 👍. Last night i read one where someone, younger, had texted me asking me “how do you know if you want to be an artist? How do you know if you’re good?” I must have replied right before falling asleep, because I didn’t remember any of this until I saw it this morning. But I did indeed reply.
“Well to begin with, those are two totally different things. Im not even sure they’re related. And secondly, an artist never questions those things. An artist knows they’re an artist from early on. You know this, right? (Not to say it’s not a valid or interesting question… as a contemplation maybe…) but it’s not something an artist thinks about or asks… because it implies art as some sort of vocation one chooses. Like choosing a college to choose a major to choose a career….
“But art doesn’t work that way. There’s no choosing going on. Artists already know they’re an artist. Because every waking moment of their entire life since they can remember has been spent thinking about, planning and creating art. See? You either know because you KNOW, because you’ve always known, as any artist does, or you don’t know.
“Pretty much the same thing with being “good” as you called it. (Assume and see quotes around the word “good” from now on; because we can’t use that term without having it in quotes. It’s just too subjective and insignificant to the subject to not have in quotes.) Not sure being good is related to art to be honest.
“Craftsman are good. People can have good skillsets. But that doesn’t make them artists. And vice versa. We all know people who are really skilled at something, heck even like playing the piano or something “in the arts” but they’re not artists. And vice versa. Some of the greatest artists of all time were never very skilled at anything. You know? Because art transcends all that.
“That’s an important point. The other, perhaps more important here, is that being good is such a subjective idea, it’s so momentary and fleeting, completely dependent on the viewer the audience the culture and geography and time they’re from, their mood… artists know this… and trust me, artists are never wondering if they’re good. Number one, they’re way beyond that. They KNOW they’re good. Always have. What they’re focused on is getting better and being fucking great. On transcending the art form itself.
“You mentioned earlier that you’re “still working on your technique”. But remember, technique has very little to do with being an artist. It can’t hurt. Unless it does. Then you need to be prepared to scrap it entirely. If it ever threatens your art.”
“If I’m not focusing on technique what am i focusing on?”
“On creating incredible art! Silly. Look, technique is just one of those things along for the ride for a while. Until it’s no longer useful. Then you ditch it to create better art. Because you’re an artist. Not a technician. You wanna become a radiologist? Master a technique. You’ll do a lot of good in the world and you’ll make a lot of money. Both of which are awesome.
“So you didn’t practice a lot when you were a kid?”
“Hell yeah I practiced. Obsessively. From the moment I got my first guitar I did nothing but play guitar. And years before that it was the piano. Every day all day long. But once I got that guitar man all i did was practice guitar. First thing I did when I woke up, before getting dressed for school. First thing I did when I got home from school till dinner. And then all night till I fell asleep. Obsessively.
“And very soon after it turned into being more about songwriting. The guitar itself became secondary to the real art-form, writing songs. Creating. I realized pretty early on that there were a lot of people out there who were very “skilled” at playing the guitar, or any instrument, and they could practice twenty hours a day and may become great at it or not, but they weren’t creating anything new. They weren’t pulling new creations of artistic divinity out of thin air. They were just getting really good on the guitar. Or piano. Or violin. More power to them.
“But I recognized early on that wasn’t art. That was technical skill. I was about ten when that hit me. And if there’s one thing an artist doesn’t have its patience to develop technical skill. Too busy trying to create something out of thin air. That’s what artists do.
“Think of Einstein and his theory of relativity. Pulled that thing out of thin air. Or that John Lennon quote where he said “give me a tuba and I’ll create art with it… because that’s what we do.” See? His playing the guitar was totally secondary to his art form. Really just a tool. But he could have had any tool. It wouldn’t have mattered.
“How do you ever reach the point where you think you’re as good as the artists you really love and admire? Who inspired you?”
“Well again, with that “good” idea again. Look, an artist knows they’re the shit from the day they’re born. It’s a knowing. You’re not comparing yourself to anyone. You KNOW you’re incredible. You know you’re the future. You know you’re creating magic. And it’s got nothing to do with other people. You just know that what you’re doing, who you are, is important. Really important.
“And trust me, you need to KNOW this. Because artists sacrifice their entire lives for their art. They sacrifice fitting in, friendships, being a part of the gang, relationships, feeling a part of society, marriages and kids, feeling “normal”, having money…. on and on. Because you’re so completely obsessed with and committed to creating art, creating the next big thing, besting yourself, transcending art and life itself, you end up sacrificing almost everything else in life because of this obsession and commitment to being a great artist. So you HAVE to KNOW.
“And it’s not arrogance. It’s a confident knowing. People who accuse you of arrogance don’t feel that way about themselves. So they don’t know. To them it may actually seem like arrogance, because they’ve never felt that way about themselves. They don’t wake up living 24 hours a day thinking they’re one of the greatest artists in human history. Great artists do. It’s just part of their nature. No one is going to talk them out of it.
“Do art from that space. From that place of being. Like Mozart. Or Van Gogh. Or Eddie Van Halen. But as YOU. One of the greatest most important artists of all time. You know already if you’re that or not. You always have. Now just go be it and do it.”
So if you haven’t noticed, it’s been a while. You know a lot of times if someone is absent for a while it’s simply due to the fact that they’re really busy and having a blast living life. Other times it might be something more challenging. Truth is, we don’t know unless they tell us. For the last few months Princess little tree and I have been unfortunately going through something more on the challenging side, while strangely also being really busy and (attempting to at least) having a blast enjoying living life. It honestly didn’t even occur to me until the last day or two to even share this with anyone. Not kidding. Even my closest friends who I communicate with on a daily basis via text will find this news entirely new. I’ve thought about this strange fact a little today. Part of it is just black and white practical: I’ve been in so much pain for the last few months that I haven’t thought about or done anything except just trying to get thru the next minute. (Pain is an incredible phenomenon. One of the reasons I finally decided to let this loose is because I’ve discovered some fascinating things about consciousness from being in excruciating pain, and over the next few weeks and months will most likely make note of them as they occur to me. So step one would be to let everyone know what’s going on so we have some context.) I can hear you now… “Ambassador get to the freaking point man, Jesus!” Yeah I know. That’s the thing about not telling anyone something for a long time… You’re way ahead of them in your thoughts about it. Meantime, they don’t even know what you’re talking about. Long story short, we’re facing a challenge with my spine. Yep. I know. Sounds crazy. Waited too long to tell anyone. It’s been a few months now. We’re already through the chiro, X-rays, cat-scans, orthopedic doctors, MRIs, radiologists, physical therapy, second and third opinions etc. We’re also already well into the denial shock trauma anger sadness and fear phases as a family. I wish I could tell you “it’s this one thing and this is the game-plan”. Truth is, it’s a multiple of different issues. We’re as shocked as anyone else would be. The doctors have prioritized which are the most pressing in importance and we’ll be dealing with them in that order. If you’re into that kind of thing or interested, we can break down the details in a separate message. It’s three pages of insanely technical medical-speak that features the word “severe” a lot. We are still in a state of mild shock about it, just typing it here, contemplating it, and we’ve been dealing with this for a few months now. Still doesn’t sound real to me, even though I’m experiencing it on a daily minute to minute basis. Just seems like we’re talking about someone else’s life. (I really believe now that the human mind does tend to warden off certain things when they seem “too big or horrible” to us. It puts up a metaphorical hand and says “Nah, not me.” It’s fascinating.) Unfortunately pain is a major factor in this particular issue. So it’s hard to stay in denial. When you picture that “pain-chart” at the doctors office, the one with the faces on it from level 0 pain to level 10, I always figured level 10 pain would be akin to getting shot or stabbed or tortured or having a limb cut off… level 10 is the highest number on the chart. Again, for context, so as a human community we can effectively communicate with one another. Charts are a great thing. So you have to go to the worst possible things you can imagine to get your head around level 10 pain. For about two months now I’ve been in level 7-9 pain. Excruciating is the most appropriate word I have found for it. Yes, to answer your next logical question, i am on a lot of medications for it. 4-7 different ones, depending on the hour, all day long. My mind is a dark murky slow-churning swamp most of the time. But better than being in excruciating pain. Re the denial, part of the reason I’m in this situation is because I just “ignored it” for so long. We’ve been told by the doctors that men have this unfortunate supernatural predilection for doing this compared to women, thinking if they ignore it it’ll go away or that they can “tough it out” or “power through it”. Because they’re “a man”. They’re strong. Tough. That’s what I did. I know a lot of guys that tend to do that. With a lot of different things. I actually worked out more over the last year thinking “I just need to get stronger and I’ll beat this pain whatever it is”. It’s funny looking back now. But in a really sad way, because I ended up doing a lot more damage. Yes my wife is really really mad. But her fear presently outweighs her anger thank God. Or not. Depends on how you look at it. The hardest part of this I’ll tell you flat out is #1, dealing with the pain. Because it’s a constant. It’s chronic. Your mind plays tricks on you. It fantasizes about “ending things so you can just get out of pain”. You have to be hyper-vigilant to defeat those thoughts. That’s the second hardest thing: trying to keep your sanity, remember who you are and remind yourself that you freaking love being alive. The third hardest thing, for me, hands down, is watching what it’s doing to my wife and not being able to help her as i normally do with everything. Seeing her sadness, watching her break down and cry out of fear or feeling sorry for us. It’s heart breaking. It crushes my soul. For obvious reasons. Bottomline, and here’s where it gets juicy from a widened-back philosophical human perspective, we’re at that point in the journey where we’re done examining researching exploring and talking to different experts in their field etc. The bottomline according to the doctors is I “need at least two separate surgeries or there’s a good chance I will be non-ambulatory in less than a year.” Yes we also had to ask what does “non-ambulatory” mean? We had no idea. Who does? So yeah. We are as can be expected still in complete shock. But we’re also positive and ploughing ahead. It seems like it happened overnight. But they say it’s been progressing for a good ten years and that I “evidently just have a high tolerance for pain”. This Wednesday I’m going in for spinal injections to reduce the inflammation, which should help reduce the pain and help us get to the next phase where we can schedule the first surgery. They will either do one long surgery to address three different issues or two separate smaller ones. I know a lot of us in the world of art entertainment and intellect are not religious by nature, which i think is totally logical and understandable; and yet ironically most are “spiritual” in one sense or another. Especially if you’re friends with me or PLT. As I told a mentor of mine, who happens to be a pastor, a few weeks back, I “would never ask anyone to pray for me for healing or to miraculously take this away, because there’s just way too much suffering in the world. Why on earth would I ever presume to request that I get a miracle when other people are suffering so much worse than I am?” Thats kind of where I land when it comes to this. My wife and my mom are not happy that I feel that way. But man I just don’t feel like I need it compared to other folks who have it much worse. What I will ask and am asking for is that whatever cool magical beautiful spiritual thing you do in your day to day practice, put in a good word for me that I am able to deal with and integrate the mental and emotional challenges of this kind of thing. I’m having a tough time with anger, becoming easily annoyed and impatient. If you know me personally, you know that’s not like me. I’m a little perplexed by it. If anything, the Ambassador is a happy go lucky guy. But not lately. I will say though that this experience has radically transformed my relationship with music, playing the guitar — honestly it’s more like bonding and becoming one with the guitar, and with songwriting and composition. I cannot adequately express with words how much joy playing the guitar and exploring different guitars has provided me with in the last few months since we got this news. It’s been a life saver. More than anything, I’d like to ask you to send positive vibes to and for my wife. You know princess little tree is the sweetest person in the world. She’s like an angel on earth in human form. This has been hard for her. More than hard. And she’s had to pick up a lot of slack for both of us. Besides dealing with all the emotional challenges of this kind of event, which she doesn’t have much time to do because of the practical logistics of doing everything we need to to get through the process to fix this. I honestly cannot imagine it — I freak OUT if she even gets a migraine! I go into a freaking panic inside. But she’s been dealing with this now for a few months. And so far she’s really hanging in there. Trying to integrate it emotionally in the mornings with friends and family before I wake up so she has a brave face during the day. But it’s going to get more real starting this week. So I’d like to ask us all to lift her up and send her positive vibes and strength and courage, remembering the Divine’s infinite love and power. Keep her in your thoughts and prayers if that’s your thing. As for me, to be perfectly honest I am not afraid. I am not worried. I’m strangely calm and confident about the path forward. The pain is unbearable and I’d like it to stop. We’re working on that. We have a good team. And a good plan. I get that life is an awesome adventure of ups AND downs. And that’s what makes it super fun and exciting. Way better than not being alive. Obviously I’m very hopeful and determined for the best possible outcome. We will keep you posted.
There are a myriad of reasons why someone might exclaim “damn I love the internet!” Even in this age where there’s so much internet bashing going on. I have this ‘68 Hofner acoustic guitar that I bought used by auction years ago. It’s in rough shape, but it sounds amazing! The guys in the band already know this. But out of the 20-25 acoustics I have, even over Gibson, Taylor, Martin, Fender, Epiphone, this just might be favorite. It has this rich full body punchy sound that just gets you way down deep. I wanted to find out what model it is, look for others in similar years, and see if there were other models that might be even better to try. NOBODY talks about Hofner acoustic guitars. It’s just not a thing. The violin bass, sure. Mccartney made sure of that. But guitar players don’t rave or even talk about Hofner. Last night I found this guy in the UK who created a whole website dedicated to vintage Hofner acoustic guitars. He’s been maintaining it since 1987! He’s more obsessed than I am.
So I emailed him, sent him a donation to maintain his site. And he just replied back saying if i sent him some pix of my German handcrafted beauty he’d check it out and fill me in on the model and history of it. Damn I love the internet.
Lent has officially begun for those who celebrate it. For non-Christians, look at it as a very long red carpet that takes 40 days to walk down and eventually leads to and ends at the death and alleged Reserection of the Jewish rebel Jesus of Nazareth, what in the commercial world is known as Easter. Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, events most people have heard of, are all related to this holiday of the Christian faith tradition. [For historical clarification, “Easter” is a much older pagan holiday that predates Christianity by hundreds of years that was annexed by the Romans. For hundreds of years prior to Jesus it celebrated the spring equinox and the rebirth of the goddess from winter’s crone to spring’s beautiful young goddess of the harvest. Persians still celebrate the original intention of the holiday in Norooz. (The Romans also pulled the same switcharoo when they turned the centuries old holiday of Yule, which celebrated the winter equinox and the goddess Mithras, into “Christmas”, not having any idea of the actual birth day of Jesus, a fact we are still in the dark about. But don’t shoot the messenger. These are just important points of fact for context.)] Over the past week we have once again started to personally participate in different small groups and forums with spiritually like minded folk to more deeply explore Lent and the Lenten practice. [Note: Despite my more extreme cynical skeptical and agnostic views of the christian faith tradition from knowing far too well the questionable origins of it, I still find the opportunity to gain deeply needed spiritual fulfillment and social engagement from the practice helpful. And helpful is always good. So rather than let the gross imperial nature of Christianity as a whole (and lest we forget, Christianity, especially as it relates to the wicked and nefarious Holy Roman Empire, Vatican and Catholic Church, has been one of the most destructive and harmful institutions in human history, full stop) darken my heart and bar me from something that might do me some good, I embrace the more noble paths it has to offer, just as I do with Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Krishnaism, and even Islam. All heinously brutal and deadly power structures, but each offering their own moments of sublimely poetic spiritual nuggets. If you got through that last paragraph head intact, gold star for you! This last week the discussion subject has been about “what does it mean to take up the cross” as Jesus advised? We’ve heard a variety of answers from people. One point of note we encountered was interesting: there’s a real distinction between the common phrases “to take up the cross” and “your cross to bear”, even though many people use the phrases interchangeably. “To take up the cross” implies more of a mission. Something you proactively do. “Your cross to bear” has a more passive implication, implying a burden you must carry whether you want to or not. Very different indeed. The one thing I heard from others more than anything that stuck my attention was how people in today’s modern world have shifted in their own minds the meaning of Jesus’s admonition to “take up the cross” into a more new age call to “get more active and ambitious in achieving their own goals.” As if he was some metaphysical self-help guru or success coach helping people become wealthier or more successful. That’s a rather peculiar take on a message that came from a man who encouraged his followers to abandon their jobs, money, homes and worldly possessions to more wholeheartedly go out and serve people. I copied and pasted some comments I made this week to various friends in some group chats below… I believe it’s obvious what taking up the cross means in this context of following Jesus and what he advised. “Loving God with all your heart and serving your neighbor as yourself”. I.E. helping others. Serving those in need. Helping your community. It’s not really about the self at all, and certainly not about ones personal ambitions. Volunteer. Serve others. Help wherever there is a need. Forget the self and reach out to and for other peoples. Give everything you have and more. Jesus wasn’t talking about our personal goals or primaries. That’s just the new age materialistic view modern people turn it into because they’re so afraid of giving up their materialistic way of life so they can’t even consider what it really means. We’ve turned Jesus into a new age motivational speaker ala Joel Osteen because that better suits our mentality and desires in this day and age. But it couldn’t be more removed from his actual teachings. What did Jesus ask Simon / peter to do? Get primary about catching more fish?!?! Hell no. He said quit fishing altogether and come follow me and help me HELP PEOPLE. What about Saul/PAUL? Did he ask Saul to get more ambitious about working for the Romans and Jews to go kill even more Christians? Heck no. He blinded him for three days to get his attention and told him to join him in helping people get closer to God, become better people, and spread the good word of love and forgiveness and charity and giving. Did he ask Matthew to get more primary about collecting even more taxes and make even more money for himself to rise up higher in his career? No. He said quit collecting taxes, forget your career and come follow me and let’s help some people. Personal success and collecting money ONLY helps in so far as it permits us more time to be of service to others and make the world a better place. Collecting houses and material possessions is the exact opposite of taking up the cross. It’s a burden that distracts us from taking up the cross and helping make a positive difference in the world around us. Think of the TV show Billions. These are the exact people Jesus would be going after if he were alive today. Someone replied to me: “well Jesus taking the up the cross was HIS mission. My taking up the cross may be different. He didn’t say “go feed people.”” But of course, yes he did. That’s exactly what he said. And he certainly didn’t say “hey go create your own mission and if that’s becoming super successful and rich so you can live in a giant house ten times bigger than your own needs, so be it, that’s your cross.” The cross just represents his moving forward with his ministry despite the fact that he knew he was going to be killed (on the cross). And he encouraged and sometimes pleaded for others to join him. So we have to ask “what was his ministry?” His ministry was helping people. He could have quit. Started playing by the rules. To avoid getting killed. But he didn’t. He went forward toward the cross. Kept on with his ministry. Of course it wasn’t just about feeding people… it was also…
speaking truth to power against lies, money grubbing, being greedy and materialistic instead of sharing ones money with others who are needy.
encouraging people to be honest, have integrity, be more virtuous, less villainous.
encouraging people to not be greedy with their time but using it to volunteer and help others…. and help the community around them.
helping people not be so self focused on personal success and fame and approval but to humble themselves to get closer to god and serve those who are more needy. That was his whole trip. It’s hard for us now because we live in a deliberately materialistically society based on consumer capitalism to keep everyone buying so the society runs smoothly. So we’re blinded by that. So that other way of living is hard for us to contemplate let alone even consider imagining for ourselves. I get it. I’m the worst. But I do remain hopeful that every step I take in the direction of helping others and selfless service brings me closer to at least knowing that cross is there to take up. I even look at the little things… marching for Black Lives Matter, or LGBTQ rights, donations to Feeding America, taking those few extra minutes each day to sing happy birthday to people, or calling older folks who are in lockdown and might be lonely, remembering to text friends to tell them they’re awesome and I appreciate them. The thing is that we live in a very public and very selfish and competitive world now. Its always been this way. But it’s gotten much much worse. Getting a lot of money and fame has become the predominate way to stand out and feel good about yourself or others. Gone are the days when good deeds make someone cool or famous or popular. I’m Gen X, and if there’s one primary aspect of Gen X it’s that we shunned attention. Being UNcool and UNpopular were our calling cards. We tried hard to NOT try hard. We absolutely disdained the money grubbing extreme bougiouse ambitious trying and showing off of the boomers. Hence the nickname Slackers. It’s not that we didn’t care. We cared. A lot. We just didn’t care about those kinds of things. We did hallucinogens to explore consciousness. Our focus was the intellect the spirit the community the climate justice and quality rights for all. The world. Our souls. When we think of the anti-heroes of generation x we think of Matt Dillon in The Outsiders or Judd Nelson in Breakfast Club or Tyler Durden in Fight Club. Three of my personal favs. Deliberarely shunning the materialistic societal norms of working hard to buy more stuff and climb the corporate ladder to look better in the eyes of others. Get that new car. Lease it if you can’t afford it. Buy that new house. Brag about your new job so you can tell your friends about it over dinner at that new place in town. Made me sick back then as a kid. Still makes me sick. There’s also Ferris Beuller… skip school which is what society says you’re supposed to be doing and instead go take advantage of being alive and enjoy it. The boomers were materialistic posers. Authenticity and sucking the nectar out of each minute was our thing. NOW it’s all changed of course. The new gens are not just focused but obsessed with proving to other people they exist and they’re relevant by showing it off publicly and from getting the approval of others. They don’t go look at mountains. They Instagram mountains. If they happen to see a mountain while they’re at it, so be it. But that’s not the goal. It’s a sad state of affairs. And we’re all to blame for letting things get this bad for them. The end result being that they’re so obsessed with keeping up appearances to prove their self worth through the eyes of others that service to others has all but left their cultural consciousness. If they march for some cause it’s to get a good shot for Snapchat or Insta, more like attending a rave. Social media celebrities and influencers have become their heroes. You ask “so what’s their cause? What’s their big mission?” And they respond “what? Being famous silly!” It’s fucked up. I’ll share a little anecdote with you here because it’s appropriate for where we’re at in this post. Our oldest daughter was in lockdown with us for almost a year. And one day my music career came up. Fast forwarding twenty minutes into the conversation she asks me “hold on now! You and your band deliberately tried to NOT have hit songs?!?! What the f*^k?!?” “Yeah dude. If I heard us skating too close to something that sounded commercial I knew we were on the wrong track and I’d change it up to make it more experimental or artistic. Our goal wasn’t to have hits. It was to be cool, smart, artistic. More like Picasso or Einstein or David Lynch.” “But You’re IN the music business! Having hits is your goal!” “Nah dude. Being known as brilliant artists is our goal little dude. Ask mom.” Princess Little Tree chimed in: “Honey I couldn’t believe it either. When I first met Ed and he told me about Rise and Shine and how he was singing in ten different languages and the songs were all five to ten minutes long… I asked him “how is thst ever going to be played on the radio?” And he replied “well hopefully it never will be.” I couldn’t believe it! I thought he was joking! But he wasn’t. His goals were totally different than what we normally think for musicians. He thought he was Michaelangelo! I had to BEG him to make ONE album just for me that was commercial. Just as a favor to me. Which he did thank God. Ballad On Third Avenue. But i had to produce it for them!!!! So we could eat and have a roof over our heads! Silly boy!” So yeah that’s a bit off topic. But it exemplifies the differences in generations. Gen X takes pride in shunning the cultural norms of fitting in, sucking the corporate teet to show off for the approval of others. Celebrity means nothing if you didn’t get there authentically and organically and on your own terms. And to us there has to be a big dose of being of service. Helping others. To serving the world. We take up the cross by not giving in to societal pressures that tell you that you have to show off or fit in or be somebody in the eyes of others regardless of what you’re actually doing to help people or not. We are committed and determined to work tirelessly till everyone enjoys equal rights, till homelessness and hunger are eradicated, till everyone is accepted and embraced for who they are, till political lobbying is outlawed, till politicians start actually working for us as they’re supposed to, till the imperialistic power structures that have dominated human society are brought to their knees. So corporations don’t pay 40% fewer taxes than hard working struggling people, and on and on and on. We’ve accomplished a lot. But we’re just getting started. Join us.
2 weeks ago we were down in Florida due to our dad passing away from the virus. Got home Monday and the next day we learned that our eldest cousin, my uncle’s firstborn, passed away suddenly. A few days later my buddy Stretch called me crying because he just learned his 30 year old nephew had died. A few days later our drummer Infinito learned that his mom had died from the virus down in Bolivia. We spoke this morning, both of us crying. He’s devastated. Justifiably so. As I type all this it seems impossible that it can all be real. Denial. I’ve been sick with various maladies for a few weeks. Saw four different doctors this week. Hard to even keep track of the different things we’re talking to the doctors about. It’s occurred to me that this physical breakdown is probably due to the impossible task of trying to mentally and emotionally integrate this bombardment of tragedy and death everywhere. One death overshadows the one before and so on. And then you come back to that prior one. And then back to the next one and the next. An endless cycle. What I’ve been trying to do at a minimum is stay in touch with family and friends as much as possible to communicate with and support them through this hard time. Physically I’m down for the count. I think that’s part of the process. Mentally I’m in a foggy daze. Not even aure what I feel. I know what I’m supposed to feel. But it’s too much. Too heavy. My brother texted me earlier and just wrote “horrible times man” about all of it. There’s a part of me that wants to acknowledge that. Hard to argue with it. Another part of me wants to believe that any minute we’re going to come out of it and everything is going to be great again. And admittedly things are “great” for some people; those who haven’t been touched in any way by the virus. Though I do believe we were all traumatized if not permanently scarred by the surreal insanity and horror of the last four years we just came out of. For many of us we weren’t around for the tragedy and chaos of the 60s or vietnam or watergate etc. These were just stories we read about years later. We didn’t fully understand the deep seated trauma those years had on society or each person individually. It really wasn’t until the last few years that we had a personal experience of it ourselves. That kind of shock and horror. A visceral experience. The way it kept builidng, each day worse than the last, going to bed each night and waking up everyday for years terrified of what we’d hear next from the White House. The way it continued to get worse and worse and culminated in a horrific tragic and terrifying ending on January 6th. I’d like to report that the survival of the republic as evidenced by the surreal inauguration healed all the wounds inflected. Granted it was a relief. They tried hard. They did their best. We all did. But we’ll always look back at those weeks as a swirling mess of emotions. How could we not? We had just come out of the capital riots and mass deaths were still circling our day to day lives hourly. As valiant an attempt as the inauguration tried to be — and it had many moments, it couldn’t, and shouldn’t, dispel the shock we had and have all lived through. A part of me feels that we owe it to ourselves and to those who passed to remember. To grieve. To mourn. To contemplate. Not forever perhaps. But definitely not cut it too short. Frankly I’m not sure I’d be able to cut it short even if I wanted to. I’m trying to do what’s right. To feel what’s right. To be respectful of the near half a million of our fellow citizens who have died this past year. And as well to honor the anger I feel toward the pansy-assed members of the GOP who didn’t have the courage or nobility to stand up for what’s right or sacred in our democracy. I miss guys like John McCain a lot. Mitt Romney comes to mind. Thank God for him. But we need more of them. It can’t just be 5 to 10 Republicans out of tens of millions who see things straight. What’s to stop it from happening again? I can hear friends now advising me that I’m confusing and conflating the issues. This mass explosion of death all around us with the deeply divided politics destroying us from within. But it’s hard for me not to. Both events have deeply affected us. I’ll never dismissively ignore division or coups or civil wars in other countries again, as if “it’s not my business”. Nor will I ever again take for granted the cooperative peace and unity we enjoy in the U.S. That’s something to cherish and work on maintaining. It’s a noble goal. In my mind i keep hearing that scene from All That Jazz play… “Death man… death man… Death is in… death is in….” If we picture the Vietnam memorial in DC, as large and foreboding as it is, we’d need ten of those to honor the fallen of just the past year. None of us are getting away from that reality unscathed. Only the coldest and most heartless among us perhaps. Don’t get me wrong. I want to. I’m beyond overwhelmed and over it like everyone else. People are now starting to talk about the coming “roaring 20s”… I find it hard to go there still being surrounded by so many passing. It feels disrespectful. In Tenet, people from the future are willing to destroy everyone in the past in order to save themselves in the future. Part of me feels like that’s what we’re trying to do now… Sacrificially ignoring everyone who has stacked up in the afterlife in order to move on with all of us who are “still alive”. But that may just be part of the grieving and integration process. I get that. I think it may come down to those who have lost someone and those who haven’t. At some point we do all have to move on. If we had any hard proof of an afterlife maybe we could pick and choose… But we don’t. So the only thing we do have is our innate instinct as organic life forms to keep going, here, in life. We owe it to them I suppose. Or not. I’m torn about that theory frankly. Again, probably part of the grieving process. I guess what it comes down to for me is this deeply rooted feeling that we need to do our absolute best to honor those who passed this past 12 months. We didn’t do a good job of it over the last year. Due to inept leadership we ignored and denied and dishonored our dead because it wasn’t “politically convenient”. It was the greatest shared national shame I’ve ever experienced since I’ve been alive. Luckily that’s changed. But we still have work to do. We need to acknowledge our shared loss, name them in our hearts and out loud, remember them, honor them, recognize that it’s okay that we miss them and love them and mourn for them. And then eventually, hopefully, we can all heal.
In the mid-90s just after Broken Spectacles broke up I felt a little lost for a while. We were all going to go solo from there. I wasnt quite sure what my “thing” was after being part of the “Eddie and Matt” monster for so long.
Caught a local Marilyn Manson show one night… Cant remember why. Brian was a fellow scenester, but it wasn’t our style of music. Just something to do. Turns out that show had a major impact on me and the direction I would go in over the next decade.
What I witnessed that night was similar to many other Manson shows thru the years. An onslaught of shock schtick pain hatred horror and extreme negativity. All in the name of doing something different to get attention. We were accustomed to it in the local scene, because we’d watched Brian and the guys come up since the beginning.
It was never about the music. It was more of a voyeuristic thing to see who he was going to hit or whip or torture or gag or what he was gojng to pee on or set afire. In the beginning, we were all so young, it was I suppose just another “thing” we did being part of the scene. It was a happening. Just like any other show.
But this night was a few years later. I remember standing there, as this loud pounding aggressive music raged against a backdrop of posters that read “your parents hate you” god hates you” etc. thinking to myself “well this is becoming a viable thing now, this kind of deep level negativity as an influence. Imagine the polar opposite of that. That… that could be YOUR thing man. That already IS your thing. You just need to develop it more overtly so it’s clear what it is and so it has an actual effect.
After hearing that in my head I left the venue. A song or two in. I got what I came for. I entered that show feeling a bit lost and without a mission. I left a half hour later with a very clear mission. I was the anti-Manson. The Ambassador. Ah hah! In any way i could i would use the albums and the shows as a positive influence to affirm life and joy and peace and love. It was simple.
True story. Hadn’t thought about this or even remembered it till seeing this story this weekend.
I don’t know about you. But lately I’ve been starting to break, physically beginning to feel the mental and emotional strain caused by an unshakable intuitive feeling of fear that we’re deliberately being f*^ked with by some higher power or unstoppable force from beyond. Can’t say for sure what specific event it was in the last few days….
One would think by the time we spiraled from unfathomable numbers of deaths from a global virus into 3 months of being forcibly locked in our homes into a Great Depression-level economic collapse simultaneously contrasted with a frighteningly imbalanced wicked-seeming illogically bifurcated financial market into black lives finally mattering a little but not enough revealing a disturbing innate national racism yielding masses of protests for weeks on end down into a very sudden and discomforting disappearance of national leadership into a gutter of inanely childish and crazy behavior coming out of the White House on an hourly basis with far too many stories about a deranged self-obsessed psychopath occupying the position of POTUS (once considered “the most important job on earth” but now unanimously viewed as a laughing stock by the rest of the world) much of it coming from his own fellow Republicans — with fear not logic or nobility being the only apparent impediment to the whole lot of them banding together to publicly concede they made a terrible and dangerous mistake, meanwhile the other side of the sinister corporate duopoly that controls the entire country of 360 million people are attempting to run a man who it appears may not make it to the election let alone through a presidency and they won’t budge on their pick despite the overwhelming disinterest in him — the pressing question being WHY?!? — reported simultaneously with stories of a rapidly deteriorating and corrupt justice system and “serious concerns that the current president may be the biggest threat to national security by top military brass” simulcast with eerily under-covered impending wars between China and India, China and Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, China and Japan, Europe considering banning Americans (?!?), “white power” competing with “black power” for slogan of the year in a democratic republic allegedly the most proudly culturally diverse “melting pot” on earth, statues coming down faster than can be counted, Americans with guns lots of guns, Iran (jeez, seriously guys, now?!?) and Israel (seriously guys, now?!?) global food shortages, global food supply poisonings, random fireworks and gun shots every night for hours accompanying a triple digit increase in gun deaths and a constant onslaught of pandemic deniers and conspiracy theories flooding social discourse every day by normally intelligent folks but which boggle the mind… The hope of reopening quickly fading as the deniers are fast-morphing into the walking dead claiming “there’s nothing wrong with us. Stop staring at us. We’re fine,” pulling out their shotguns and rifles as if to signal “yes we’re as stupid and crazy as you’ve always Imagined, now go on and git”
But frankly I was doing okay. In spite of it all. Just doing my thing. Trying to survive, keep my family alive healthy and happy, maybe make a difference here and there when i could. And then suddenly I start getting these random messages from various friends around the world, normal intelligent well balanced folks usually, sheepishly talking about their recent bouts with anxiousness and depression… my initial response being “yeah of course man… the world is on fire… it’s normal… just try to hang on…it’ll get better.”
And then suddenly it starts hailing at around 6 pm. Out of nowhere on a hot wet sweltering steaming summer day, frozen ice starts falling from the sky. The sound is piercing and deafening. I keep wiping my eyes, opening and closing them, assuming I’m seeing things. Maybe i took a nap and I’m dreaming. It’s 90 degrees outside. How is there ice falling from the sky?
But we’re still not talking about the insane fact that the US military quietly admitted that it’s been seeing UFOs in the skies for a few decades now a few months back.
The problem isn’t all the bad news. It’s the overwhelming quantity of it, combined with the new surreal strangeness of it all and the fact that it’s so damn alarming out of our hands and weird that most people are going numb to it. I get it. Eat sleep work eat sleep work. Invent a God because there’s no visible way out of this insanity at our level. Note to self: add prayer to eat sleep work. Maybe it’ll help.
And our kids. God our poor f*^king kids. That whole generation… All three of them really… I keep trying to underplay how bad everything is when they break down and cry and mention it… I try to play it cool, like we all had our problems. This is no different.
It occurs to me that none of this is new. What generation hasn’t felt this way since humankind first awoke to self awareness on planet earth? Frightened confused boggled overwhelmed terrified. Sumerian Babylonian Persian Greek Roman Jewish Christian Muslim Gods were all constructed from such base human feelings.
Compared to the Ice Age or the so called Dark Ages or the Plague surely we have it better… It’s become a daily meditation. But honestly… the thought though completely rational doesn’t make me feel any better. How is it for you?
PLEASE SHARE. (Prelude: I literally just woke up. (Late night.) So pardon the potential rough grammatical edges of this post, but if I keep my eyes closed after awakening from dreams I can still see and recall them vividly. So I’m deliberately staying half asleep at the moment.) Let me give you slight context and then ask you all for your experiences.
As loyal readers will know, I started dreaming of being able to fly in 2004. Though it started out as me taking running starts and then doing super long leaps thru the air, 200-500 yards at a time. It continued to evolve, in dreams, over the last 15 years. And now I easily float/fly around rooms, or through the air outside.
I just awoke from a dream where we are all at a big avatar course and I needed to get my books from the room so I just floated thru the room to go get them and not disturb anyone.
A FEW NOTES: yes it’s me, my physical body. I’m not ethereal or astral. I’m physically flying. People see me. I’m flat and parallel to the ground, about 5-10 feet in the air depending on what my goal is, with my arms outstretched. No it’s not “easy”, I still have to work at it in the dream, talk myself through it each time in terms of how to move and shift my weight to stay afloat and aim and get to where I want to go etc. It’s a method that I’ve evolved over the last 15 years. Maybe a few hundred dreams now. But only in dreams (I guess?). I can get afloat and parallel to the ground easily now. Ascend to whatever heights I want to. I usually get nervous or scared when I go too high in the air. So I tend to stay at about 5-15 feet. I can turn easily. I can descend and land easily.
When I began waking up this morning, it was the last thing I was doing in the dream, so it was still so fresh and real that I asked Princess Little Tree if I often flew in real life, or was it just in my dreams. She assured me I have not yet managed to do it in real life, but i dream and talk and write about it a lot. I tried anyway, not quite believing her, but alas i could not float up. F*^king gravity. Very frustrating.
Here’s where YOU come in: I am curious about others who frequently dream of being able to float through the air or fly or even leap long distances. Anything that defies gravity. I am more curious about you doing it physically i.e. with your body, not astrally (astrally we do it all the time in dreams. So it’s not… you know.) How do you do it? Are you parallel to the ground? How do you propel yourself? How do you ascend? How do you turn? How high can you go? Anything in this realm re flying or floating please feel free to share.
CONTEMPLATION: I’d like to first discuss the physical mechanics of the phenomenon, permitting I’m not crazy and the only one here, and then separately discuss the metaphorical ramifications. I’m more interested in the physical aspects of the paradigm, of your paradigm if you’ve experienced this… as i believe it is leading to our eventually being able to do this in real life. I’ve become quite convinced of it over the last 25 years. I’ve tinkered with designs for various body packs to machines that suck gravity out of large spaces, you name it. But to be honest i am now leaning toward thinking that we will do it using our minds. SO I’m curious what others have come up with.
Again, the metaphorical ramifications of these kind of dreams… we’ve covered that a lot… My wife, God bless her, has taken too many pages of notes on that subject thru the years while I lie there pondering it aloud while half-in-dream. My excitement is about YOUR physical mechanical experiences and what you’ve discovered. Feel free to share ANYthing you remember or that comes to mind.
[So I spelled “Brasilian” wrong… At least if we are speaking English, which will prevent this post from ranking high or even popping up in search engines when beginners are searching for data regarding Brazilian music. Which admittedly sucks in a way. Because everyone should know about Brasilian music. The more the better. Brasilian music, like coffee or chocolate or Radiohead or sex or Avatar or God is something that everyone should have a chance to discover and experience and enjoy. It’s that good. It’s that great. That glorious. But Brasilian is actually how the word is spelled. Because the actual name of the country is Brasil. Not Brazil. regardless of what most of us are taught in the English speaking world. I don’t know if we want to go as far as calling that some form of racism or classism or just being careless and selfish, but it’s a dismissive act that we in the West have been guilty of far too many times for far too long when it comes to other countries. We heard “Brazil” so we just decided to call it that. At some point we learned how the people actually spell their country’s name and we never bothered to correct it. It would be akin to finding out that Brasilians call the U.S. the Y.S. by mistake and just never bothered to fix it. It feels demeaning. So, Brasilian it is. Because that’s their name.
On a good note, what we’ll find is that people who have made it at least to the point in their exploration of this glorious country and culture will easily find this post, as they’ll be spelling the name of the country right when they run their search for Brasilian music. But alas this post isn’t just for the already-converted. In fact, I’d prefer it hit the average person who’s always just been curious why every now and then we hear of yet another person who’s going gaga over Brasilian music…. Or better yet, perhaps even people who aren’t even aware of this phenomenon yet. Just to discover how amazing this very special music is. It’s that good.]
So… Where to begin. As some may know, I first got the Brasil bug about 20 years ago. And it hit me hard — in a major way. This is why I recorded and released 3 Brasilian classics on various albums over the last 20 years. I know it may seem a bit cheesy or annoying to the uninitiated, random songs in Portuguese popping up on our albums… You probably skip them. I probably would if i didn’t speak the language. I get it. But let me explain… It’s important. I can easily reflect back on the events and relay them here, though I’m not sure I can adequately explain the near supernatural way it all felt and went down. But I’ll try.
The first Brasilian song I ever heard was “Fio Maravilha” by Jorge Bem Jor. This is going back now over 20 years. Broken Spectacles was just breaking up. I was devastated. I hadn’t yet moved to New York to record Acoustic In New York. I was sort of lost musically for a few months. That breakup was hard. Those guys were my brothers. We had been together for 6 straight years. Lived together. So I was grieving. We all were. Though we weren’t speaking. Each of us holding onto our own personal grudges and resentments.
I was also thoroughly tired of western music — meaning anything pop or rock from America or England or Ireland or Australia. And yeah that included classical or avant garde or jazz or folk… Anything English or Western. Anything remotely “normal”. So i had already abandoned regular tuned guitar playing and was now completely immersed in creating my own open-tuned guitar tunings and writing only in those…. All of the Acoustic In New York album is in an open-tuning of some kind. Back then I pretty much only used my open D9 or a funky open A I came up with, both of which I still use a lot today. So yeah that whole album is either open D9 or open A. Funny now. But true.
I also had completely abandoned listening to anything western or even in English — other people’s music I mean. My answer to the band’s breakup was to still do music and explore and listen to music, but just not western music. So I started buying a ton of different album collections of what we were calling World Music. I just started soaking it all in. It was all so new for me. Music from France and Italy and Spain, Iran and India and Russia and poland, Nigeria and Senegal and Mali etc etc. Pretty much any and every country. Some spoke to me. Some didn’t. But i dug the process of discovery. A whole new world was opened to me that as a band we had explored very little, because we were so focused on “making it”…. We just didn’t have room for “world music”. We were so busy either making music or keeping up with our peers and perceived competitors, all Western music artists.
One day I’m listening to this World Music collection — and I believe it was one of Putumayo’s (they really deserve all the credit for this World Music explosion that happened in the States in the 90s. They don’t get enough credit for what they accomplished IMHO). And suddenly I hear this song… “Fio Maravilha”. The artist was Jorge Bem Jor. How do you even explain it? That feeling? Well it was very similar to how I felt when I first heard the Beatles. Or Dylan. Or Bowie. Or Kate Bush. I was just totally knocked out. Chills. Electrified. There was something supremely special about this song and this artist. I knew it was deeper than just digging on some new discovery from Italy or France. This was a life-changing moment for me musically and personally. It felt supernatural. I was mesmerized but couldn’t explain WHY. Everyone I played the song for seemed “not that interested”, which I couldn’t understand. Didn’t they hear what I was hearing?
But remember we’re still in pre-internet days here. It existed, but no one’s using it yet. There was no “running a search to look up the song” thing going on yet…. So I had no idea what this song was. I didn’t know what country it came from and i sure as hell couldn’t figure out what language it was. Maybe it was African. I really dug a lot of the African stuff. (More on that in another post perhaps…) But it sounded like the guy was singing in French. So Africa made sense. But i had studied French. It wasn’t French. Some of the words sounded like they were in Spanish. But I spoke Spanish. It was’t Spanish. Italian maybe? I grew up in an Italian household. Definitely not Italian. Damn it. What WAS it?
All I knew was that I must have listened to that song ten to twenty times a day for weeks. Just absolutely fell in love with it. More than all the songs from all the other countries I was listening to (NOTE: there were two exceptions; though they’re off point they’re important to mention: Ali Farka Toure from Mali and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan also became favorites of mine….) One day I meet this girl through the scene. I can’t remember her name. But she had this really round face. I mean like an apple kind of round. Cute. Kind of foreign looking. Nice girl. And she had a peculiar accent. After some talking and hanging I learned that she was from Brasil. And more importantly I learned that Brasil was in South America (not Africa, as some Americans mistakenly believe) and more importantly still I learned that they spoke Portuguese in Brasil. NOT Spanish. Which was HUGE. Because in the States we just always assume that everyone speaks Spanish in “Latin America”… It’s just this assumption that we make. It’s a sincerely crazy notion really, because Brasil is the largest country in South America. (!!!) And they don’t speak Spanish there. But I can’t honestly say I even knew that much at the time.
But whatever. It’s just how we are in the U.S. We lump the whole continent together including Central America, almost as if they’re one big country. Which they’re not. Not even a little bit. It’s a major faux paz.
[I assume this has become a little better since the advent of the internet age… though I’m not sure how many people know where Brasil is or know that they don’t speak Spanish, but rather Portuguese, or are aware of their many cultural accomplishments as a people…]
Eventually I learn from this girl that she KNOWS this song that I am madly in LOVE with, “Fio Maravilha”. Like she KNOWS it knows it. She’s known it all her life. It’s a super famous classic in Brasil. She grew up hearing it on the radio all her life. Mind BLOWN. Wow. Okay. So that’s Portuguese. Portuguese? Man what the fuck is Portuguese? I had no idea what that was…
I really didn’t even ever consider that there were “hit songs” outside of Western music. It just never occurred to me. I guess I just always assumed that the whole world was listening to the same hits and the same artists we were in the States and in the UK. There’s a term for that…. living with blinders on… shallow? living in a bubble? jingoism perhaps? But it’s not important. Suffice it to say I was a kid and just had absolutely no awareness of anything musical much outside of the little world we lived in within the confines of western music… America, England, Ireland, Australia, all of it primarily due to and because of music. (Literature and history of course were a different story. But we’re talking about music here.)
But all that changed when I heard that first Brasilian song. What was even weirder was that this girl also taught me that this song was NOT a beautiful romantic love song to a girl like I assumed it was — it IS a beautiful romantic song, no doubt about it.. And when you hear it, that’s what you just automatically assume it is.. because it’s so poetic and beautiful sounding…. But in reality, “Fio Maravilha” was an homage to a soccer player and a particular goal he scores in one important game. Fio maravilha means “marvelous son” in portuguese. What the fuck? This incredibly gorgeous sonorous song is about soccer??? I must admit i was stupefied at first. I didn’t get it.
I was a young, idealistic, intellectual artist and consciousness explorer who paid NO attention to sports. So this was a very foreign concept to me… to write such a beautiful song about soccer? And then for the song to become a big hit and then a classic. Seriously? What?
Later I would learn the history of Brasil, social, political, cultural etc. and the very important role soccer actually plays in it… It’s a fascinating human story. It is very difficult to fully relay the importance of football in Brasil, and impossible to overstate just how important it is there. Brasil is the all time most winningest country in the world in football/soccer. No one comes close to them. Most World Cups. Most Americas Cups. In the 50s and 60s when the chips were down for them socially and politically they mesmerized the entire world with their championship talent, ability to play and multiple wins in soccer globally. You can watch the footage on YouTube. It’s awe-inspiring how much better they are than everyone else. Like magicians or artists. Pele… Brasilian.
Regardless of the strange subject matter, I quickly became obsessed. There was something so transcendent about this music…. it didn’t matter to me what the song was about. I just wanted to hear more. I started buying anything I could get my hands on that was Brasilian. Compilations mostly. I then heard Caetano Veloso. Jesus this was like hearing McCartney for the first time. (Except in some ways he’s better. In other ways, not. I mean, Sir Paul is Sir Paul…) Everyone knows I have an obsession with Caetano. I consider him one of the few “best of all time”. He’s right up there with John Lennon, Sir Paul, Dylan, Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell, Bowie and The Boss. The song “Caetano” from our Nothing Is Cohesive album is literally me singing the praises of and drooling over how amazing Caetano Veloso is. So yeah… he’s my man.
Then I heard Gilberto Gil. Specifically the song “So Quero Um Xodo”. The melody was light and airy and happy, but sad at the same time. I needed to know what he was talking about. Just had to. I found the translation to English and started reading it. And for whatever reason it just hit me. Hard. Like BAM! By this point two years had passed. My deal with SONY never transpired. The album never came out. I came back to Miami from New York with my tail between my legs, broke, depressed, dejected, and thoroughly disheartened with music as a career. I was 25 years old at the time. i was finished with music. I didn’t write it. Didn’t play it. Didn’t listen to it and wouldn’t let anyone around me listen to it. Almost two years like that. Music made me sad. Really sad. So i just took it out of my life.
Then i heard that song by Gilberto Gil. There was such happiness and freedom in his voice, and yet he was singing about stuff that was so sad… about how hard life is and how lonely he was and how his life would be okay if he could just find someone to love, someone to call honey or dear or sweetheart… I sat there at my desk and started crying. Then balling. Something touched me deeply about the total recklessness and abandonment of the male ego and American strength and ambition that we are raised to put on in the States. There was none of that in Gil’s song. Just a lonely guy, singing happily, almost gleefully, about his grieving and the pains of life and how one day he might find happiness.
Within an hour I got one of my guitars out of the closet where they’d been for almost two years and started to play. And then write. I hadn’t played a guitar or any instrument in all that time. Hadn’t even listened to a song or seen a video. Stayed far away from all of it. But that night I played all night and into the next day. Something had changed. Looking back now, at the whole trip, at everything that’s transpired over the last 20 years, — because I know I’ve been very lucky, things came late for me… but they worked out well, me coming back to it after a two year break… — I guess you could say that it took something very foreign and far removed culturally, musically, lyrically to shake me up and shake me out of my discouragement.
In all the different Brasilian songs I was hearing I kept noticing that there was an inherent poorness in the people, financially speaking… they sang about it… these were not Americans or Europeans… These were not people accustomed to having it all, to being able to buy whatever they want, to buying a house before you’re 30 years old, to having two cars…. And yet they were supernaturally positive, poetic, intellectual, spiritual…. It was uncanny and confusing, but inspiring.
These were people who grew up and lived in “favelas”, which are basically giant projects of tiny little houses made of cardboard and billboard signs and old tires and put together with rope and old used wires and cables…. these were shanty towns. With no running water or electricity, conceptually something that we in the U.S. couldn’t even imagine, and yet their music was so carefree and happy, but also deep, poetic, profound and intellectual. I just couldn’t get it to make sense…
But it felt like i was connecting with something so deeply meaningful to me personally that it could be past life related. I mean, it was that powerful. It tugged at my heart. Sincerely. I felt it in my heart. It was that powerful. And yeah, I’m half English and half Italian. So it should have happened with Italian or English music. But it didn’t. It happened with Brasilian music.
I had to go there. I needed to learn Portuguese so i could get inside of this incredibly beautiful language and really understand firsthand what all the lyrics were about. Why did it sound so good? Why were the lyrics so poetic? I also had to get to know the people and their culture. There was something so different about them. So spiritual. So deep. So not full of shit. So sincere. I also wanted to learn how to play their music. And there was no way I could learn it in the U.S.
So let’s start there. Why IS Brasilian music so great? Something I’ve contemplated a lot lately. At the moment I am attempting to learn how to play the song “Aguas de Marco” by Tom Jobim and Ellis Regina. You know it. Trust me. You’ve heard it a million times. It’s been a hit here in the States too. It’s an old 70s song. It might be the most beautiful song ever written. It’s also one of the most poetic and profound lyrically.
Musically this song is a beast. A monster. On the guitar it’s like a giant roller coaster of a Loch Ness Monster filled with far too many chords, all of them jazz chords that take more than four fingers to form. My first trip to Brasil was in ’98. Stayed there for a few months studying Portuguese at a language school in the mornings and then going to lunch and then studying Brasilian music all afternoon at another school. Crazy, I know. But I was obsessed. I wanted to speak portuguese as fluently as I did English and Spanish and I wanted to be able to play Brasilian music as well as I could play Western music. So i attacked it full on.
But the finer point is that it took me 20 years to even consider ever learning to play this song “Aguas de Marco”, even though I’ve always LOVED it. I just always labeled it “way too difficult”. The last few weeks though, I started listening to it again and casually commented to Princess Little Tree that “I could never learn to play that song. It’s way too complicated….” and she said, “yeah right. You’ll learn it and be playing it by the end of the week like you always do.” In Avatar we call that a White Worm. She shifted me with that comment, delivered as casually as my earlier discouraged remark about it being too difficult to ever play. So I picked up the guitar and started slowly learning it. I’m still in the practicing phase of it…. Slowly getting there. It’s hard. Really hard. But I’m getting there….
And this got me revved up. Because honestly the song really is incredibly difficult. Unless you literally grew up playing jazz your whole life. Which I didn’t. And yeah I have years and years, hell, decades now, of experience playing Brasilian music, but most of the Bossa Nova stuff I have always shied away from because of how challenging it is. But I skipped ahead. Let’s start at what I have lately been calling “reason number one why Brasilian music is so great”:
Reason Number one: When you first hear Brasilian music the first thing you notice is how beautiful it is. How mysterious it sounds. It’s fucking gorgeous to the ear. Sonically everything about it is transcendent. But it’s also completely different sounding than what we’re accustomed to in the West. And there’s a reason for this. They don’t use the same chords that we do. They still use the 12 note do rei mi scale that we do in western music — unlike say India or Mali etc., but the chords they use all come from the earlier Bossa Nova music that came out in the 50s, which was a spin off of american jazz, but their version. You know Bossa Nova. Even if you don’t know you do.
Think of that song “Girl from Ipanema”. That’s probably the worst of the Brasilian songs honestly, but that’s what it took to break Brasilian music into the U.S. Something simple and elementary like that. Truth is, most bossa nova is incredibly complex. In the U.S. Bossa as it’s called is considered jazz. If you major in music in college, you take an entire semester of just Bossa Nova. That’s how big and transformative it was and still is to music.
When you think of Bossa Nova, think of Tom Jobim or Joao Gilberto (who just passed away this week…). Between the two of them they’ve got 20 songs you know but don’t realize are actually Brasilian classics. Bossa Nova was both jazzy and pop at the same time. It wasn’t atonal chaotic free-form improv music like a lot of american jazz. You can easily groove to and sing along with it. But it utilizes jazz chording to create the progressions.
You hear these beautiful melodies and chord progressions and they sound just like normal beautiful songs…. You have no idea that underneath it all are these incredibly complex jazz chord structures. You’re just swept away by the beauty of the music…. So you really don’t think about it.
That’s why i needed to go to Brasil and learn it. I tried learning it here in the States and as soon as i looked at one song and how funky the chords were, I was like “What the hell?” I just wasn’t familiar with chords like that. (If you’re a musician, then you know we occasionally use diminished and augmented chords, but only occasionally… 7s and 9s and sus4s a lot…. But the Brasilians take it to a whole other level. They’ll have chords like Gm7(9)(13)/G# and that’s standard… And they use a LOT of flat 5s. -5 or 5- are everywhere. Which are killer on your fingers. Especially when combined with 4s, 6s, 7s, 9s, 13s and different bass notes (another favorite of theirs). And they’ll have the entire song is made up of chords like that. And there will be like 15 to 30 of them in one song and they bounce around them endlessly sometimes all within one verse… It’s total madness. So it’s like learning a whole new language.)
After Bossa Nova, the next generation of Brasilians created a new kind of music which is called MPB, which stands for musica popular Brasileira. This is where you get guys like Caetano, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Milton Nascieamento, Jorge Bem, etc. The new generation. The Tropicalia generation. It’s essentially Bossa as it’s foundation, but with influences from American and English pop and rock like Dylan and the Beatles and Hendrix and then also influences of avant garde from America and Europe mixed in like John Cage or John Cale or Terry Reilly. It’s trippy but it’s eerily accessible music.
MPB is more “pop”, it “sounds” more western, sort of, but again it’s totally unique from western music. Still has that passion, poetry and mystery to it that’s unique to Brasilian music. And that’s because they still composed their songs using those bossa nova jazz chords as their foundation, but also threw in some Western styled chords too. When I say western styled chords, i literally mean the chords that you and I use and take for granted as musicians… C, D, Am, GMaj7, B7, Dmin7, etc. Simple stuff comparatively. But THEY started incorporating more of those into their music for the first time. Specifically to attempt to make their music sound more Western and more pop or rock. And it worked. Jorge Bem Jor is really good at making western styled pop/rock. He occasionally writes songs that really are composed of mostly western chords. But he’s one of the only ones.
So yeah that’s the first thing you notice, that stands out. Like with all music… Just the music itself, the melodies and harmonies and progressions…. the unique beauty of their music. And as explained above, there’s a reason for it. They’re not making music the same way we are. Not at all. Totally different musical components underneath.
Reason Number Two: The sound of the voices and the Portuguese language. The next thing that grabs you are the voices… there’s a purity and a sincerity to the voices in Brasilian music that we rarely hear in the West. Think Radiohead. That kind of vulnerability and pathos. Hell that’s why they’re fucking Radiohead. They lay it all out there. So too do the best Brasilian artists. Then there’s the sound of the language itself. You may not understand a word of what’s being said, but you just know it SOUNDS beautiful.
I explain Portuguese like this. Imagine a sentence in your own language, any sentence, a small one of just a few words. Now imagine it visually, being about three to six inches tall, the letters and words of that sentence. Put it up on a table or counter. Can you see it? Now that’s a sentence in your native language standing up there three to six inches tall. You can see it visually. The Brasilians took Portuguese, one of the five Latin languages (related to French, Italian, Spanish and Romanian), the native language of Portugal — which is actually quite similar to Spanish in many ways… But they flattened and softened it through the centuries.
[Brasilian Portuguese is it’s own language. It’s NOT the same as Portuguese. Literally. Again, not something most people know. But when you go to learn Portuguese, you are asked to make a choice between regular portuguese, as in Portugal, or Brasilian Portuguese, which is formally referred to as Portuguese-BR.]
Picture the sentence of words that you put up on the table in your mind. Now imagine someone coming along taking their hands and flattening all those words and letters till they’re like less than an inch tall. That’s what the Brasilians did to Portuguese. They just flattened all the consonants and vowels… Then they took a warm iron and flattened those words and letters even more, and then they took a steamer and softened them all up till your sentence is no more than a few milometers high…. You can’t even see the words and letters anymore. Because they’ve been so flattened. Which creates the softest most poetic and beautiful language you’ve ever heard.
Sure French is pretty. There’s something really sexy and sensual about speaking French… the way it rolls off your tongue and out of your mouth… You have to deliberately act like you have marbles in your mouth to make it sound authentic. Like you just had dental surgery and you can’t open your mouth…. So too is Italian a beautiful language. It’s so sing-songy and lyrical. It feels like your’re breaking into song or reciting poetry when you speak Italian. It’s fucking gleeful. No matter what you’re actually saying. It’s an incredible feeling actually. Speaking Italian. But each their own. In their own way. None better than the other. As with all languages….
And then there’s Brasilian Portuguese. All the consonants have been softened to the point where they all start to sound the same. There is absolutely no stress, tension or struggle in Portuguese. It’s the polar opposite of Russian or German or any of the Scandinavian languages, which let’s face it, are anything but “soft”. Some languages have more of a “hard” sound to them…. Some are softer. Portuguese is incredibly “soft” sounding. Like being massaged in a hot bath with the lights turned down low…. In portuguese, there’s a lot of the jhuh sound. Half the consonants have it. Or just shhh.
All the R’s have been changed to H’s. Both in the beginning, middle and ending of words. It’s a trip. But it makes for a much softer language than most. Instead of trilling or rolling the R’s at the end of sentences as in Spanish, which is a harder sound to the ear, they’ve turned them into haaahhhh or huuuhhhh. It all makes for a very soft, poetic, euphonious and gorgeous sound to the ears.
Another thing is that they speak, and thus sing, most of the language through the front of their face and their nose. It may sound weird, but if you’ve studied classical singing you know that we’re taught to not sing from our throats but rather through the “mask” of the front of the face and to “throw” about a third to a half of our sound through our nose in order to make for the most beautiful singing. Well…. here’s an entire country full of people who just naturally happen to speak and sing through the “mask” of the front of the face and place about a third to a half of the words through their nose in order to pronounce the language properly. A coincidence? Maybe. But it works. If you’ve studied or speak other languages then you know that some actually require you to deliberately use the back of your throat to speak the language authentically. This is a deliberately hard sound, made hard sounding by the use of the throat and various glottal sounds. Arabic and the Semitic languages come to mind. And again German…
Personally I honestly can’t choose between Italian or Portuguese or French. I believe that all three are equally gorgeous. Depending on the need or goal at hand. But Portuguese… Wow…. There’s just nothing like it. If French is the language of love and Italian is the language of great opera, Portuguese is the language of God and the human soul.
Reason Number Three: After you start getting into Brasilian music you might decide to learn what’s actually being said. In your native language. And this is the next thing that really knocks you on your ass when it comes to Brasilian music. Once you actually start reading what they’re saying… And how they’re saying it. The poetic nature of how they form thoughts is truly profound. Entirely different from how we do it in English or Spanish or French or Italian — the closest might be the French. They’re pop is pretty freaking profound at times actually…..
The Brasilians can literally make a song about a soccer player seem like they’re talking about the second coming of the messiah. And in the song “Fio Maravilha” they do. It’s not JUST a song about a soccer player, see…. It’s a song about the redemption of an entire people who’ve been oppressed for hundreds of years through the magnanimous glory of a supremely gifted artist who is almost deified for his glorious talent on the football field and how grateful the people are for his talents and gifts and the glorious way he plays, for he truly is a gift from heaven, an angel. And that’s the song in a nutshell. It gives you chills. It transcends its subject matter.
In the song “Girl from Ipanema” (and I’m just choosing this song because you know it…. there are much better examples….) the English translation was done by this American hack who completely destroyed the poetic nature of the original portuguese lyrics. To the point where Jobim and Joao Gilberto refused to continue the recording process. They were horrified by the English translation. They called it “shallow and vulgar”. Ultimately it wasn’t their call to make. The American music business machine had already taken over and had them sign over all their rights. So they were stuck with a song that they didn’t like.
BUT if you go back and read an actual transliteration of the lyrics of this song, you’ll see that it’s actually a gorgeous work of brilliant poetry by one of the great poets of Brasil, Vinicius De Moraes, who in Brasil is known as just “Vinicius” (because he transcends that much, no last name required… everyone knows who you’re talking about. Same with Jobim, Gilberto, Joao, Caetano, Jorge, Chico…. These guys have risen to this point of “first name only” status.)
But back to “Girl from Ipanema”. In this song, they start the song off by immediately comparing this mysterious girl of beauty and grace they see stroll by on the beach to the Holy Mother right from the start. TOTALLY different than the shallow “long and tall and dark and lovely” lyrics in the English translation. NONE of that is in the actual song. This American dickweed just made it up because he didn’t speak Portuguese. The original song is pure poetry. Mystery. Profundity. About grace and beauty and honor and heaven and the power of all that and yet how far away it all is. It’s a symbolic statement about something much grander than just a girl on a beach.
Check out the song “Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar”. Jobim and Vinicius wrote that together too. I actually recorded that one…. You might know it. But don’t listen to mine. Listen to Caetano’s version. Or Joao Gilberto’s. Or heck even better listen to Jobim sing it. He wrote it. Gorgeous work of poetry and beauty.
Caetano Veloso is a master of this poetic style. He’ll be appearing to be singing about one thing, but in reality you realize he’s singing about something much bigger, but he keeps swooping in and out of the two to three different arenas like a beautiful poetic bird. He’s a master songwriter. A true poet. A true composer. Check out “Desde que o Samba e Samba”, or “O Leaonzinho” or “Sampa”. All three are classics. Incredible songs. Brilliant songs. Beautiful songs. But precisely because they are also brilliant works of musical art and lyrical poetry.
Three days ago I heard the song “Superbacana” by Caetano Veloso for the first time… or at least it was the first time that I “heard” it, really listened to it. It blow me away. It’s off his Tropicalia album, the one that really shook the earth beneath all of Brasil and started the whole Tropicalismo or Tropicalia social and political movement there. (Along with equal contributions from Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes and Tom Ze and Gal Costa and others.
Anyway, I do what I always do. I listen to the song ten to twenty times in a row, analyzing the lyrics and the poetry of the beautifully perfect Portuguese language, still in my opinion the most poetic of them all (and yes, being Italian and speaking Italian and French and Spanish etc. I know what a betrayal that may sound like… but there’s just something transcendent about this language, both in how it sounds to the ear and in how the words and phrases are strung together…. Obviously a subjective thing. I’ll give you that.) I then do a quick translation to English to see if I missed anything. Wow, what a fucking song that is. Simple. Fun. Light-hearted. On the surface. And yet still a Dylanesque social protest song. And the way he spits the lyrics out so fast. Truly genius.
Then I spend three days transcribing the chords, listening to it over and over again. Searching the internet for anyone who has ever transcribed the chords to just get some help with it. But no one has. And this song is 50 years old! I WhatsApp a friend of mine in Brasil to ask him about the song. He tells me “yeah bro, not many people know that song. Not even here in Brasil. It’s only hip with super hip people. It’s not like a popular song, like so many of his….Good luck with that. But I really hope you figure it out, because I can’t wait to hear you sing it with your strong funny Portuguese accent!”
I’m going to include some links below so you can listen to the song on YouTube. Because it’s just that good. Bear in mind, it’s 1967, so it still has elements of that orchestrated pop of the sixties, plus elements of the popular bossa nova style happening in Brasil at the time (think Tom Jobim) and yet it also has this frantic rock ‘n’ roll vibe to it and a sort of folky protest theme to it as well. A very hip tune. The whole Tropicalia album by Caetano is brilliant. A definite must-have.
When you analyze the lyrics, basically Caetano is saying “You all act like you don’t even know I exist, but I believe you’re pretending. Not only do you know I was born, but you also know that I am super fucking cool. (Superbacana literally translates to “super-cool”). And he uses the song to rally against the bourgeois class currently occupying Copacabana and the government with all their big spending on technology and other things that he doesn’t believe help him or the people of the country. But in the end he and his people are still super-cool regardless.
When I first discovered it, it reminded me of the song “ManChildWoman”, the way he’s just overtly bragging, very rock ‘n’ roll swagger… Which I admit I do a lot of from time to time in certain songs… It’s all in fun…. Just to catch a groove and ride it. But after studying the song more, I believe there’s more to Caetano’s “Superbacana” than just empty bragging like “ManChildWoman”. Truly. It’s more Dylan. The bragging is more asserting his existence against an authoritarian regime that refused to acknowledge their existence for so long. It’s a life or death kind of “I believe in me” type of thing. Whereas I was there when I wrote “ManChildWoman” (at least I think I was…as much as I could be considering…) and there was no life or death vibe in my mind. I remember. It was more just “I believe in me mother fucker yeah!” They both have their place. It’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all important. As important as rock ‘n’ roll can be.
I’m still trying to figure it out. Learning the chords. Trying to learn the phrasing of how he spits out those lyrics so fast. It’s a brilliant piece of work.
Anyway, check it out. It’s a hip tune. Truly special.