Landscape Lending Library

Road

Tomorrow would be all tap dancing, feather boas and spangled showgirls

Eight weeks was in my rearview mirror. Homeward bound I ate up the last miles of two lane blacktop. Topping off my emptiness pangs, I soaked up the sweeping horizons of blue sky, white clouds, green sage and red soils. Empty high desert sated my last remaining solo thirst to be out in the wide open western rangelands. I broached my worries to ghosts of past touring partners. Max Frobe, Nick Weber and Steve Aveson I invited them into the silence to be here and whisper to my spirit. I praised the hands of all the good souls that had helped me find my way. In another half day of chasing this painted white striped line I would be folded back into my home-ground. My inner affairs were confronted with greater clarity out on the open range. I was unbridled and free to run with all the other wild horses. I could feel the harmonizing link to my wilderness. I was passing through landscapes lending library. I had fended off the demon fear of failure. I had filled my days with purpose. My pickup truck engine hummed. A much sought after next piece of my life puzzle was on the other side of the windshield. Today was good. Tomorrow would be all tap dancing, feather boas and spangled showgirls.

Great Basin One

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Opener… Street Theater Life

The Small Time Bigger Than You Know

One of the hardest hand to mouth hustles ever invented in this world of hard knocks is busking. No contracts, no off site gigs, just pure hat and more hat shows. I’m talking about hard cold cash you can count in a hat after a performance. The lightning bolt street performing epiphany struck my not entirely completed journey to adulthood fresh and wild. Anxious family and friends thought I was headed toward a cobblestone catastrophe. Destitution and insolvency were bookended plotting points. There is no getting off the road, there are no lucky breaks, no easy streets on this obstacle strewn path. You can’t undo what you’ve bet your life on. An emergent busker is a tangled soul drowning in a world insisting on orthodoxy. There has to be no other way out. This is your fated Tombstone. Conformity is a stinking stalemate. You set out to do so many shows, as far as an eye can see, until you’re at risk of being buried in a sea of nickels, dimes and quarters.

Pause

Dealing with it

Galloping across the west this week. To San Francisco Monday in a downpour. Tonight to Burbank and back to Los Angeles Arts District apartment. Thursday to Palm Springs for hiking and soak at Sam’s Family Spa. Friday to Portland to meet our daughters new special guy. Saturday a meeting with street performing photographer Daniel Schulruff.

One liner’s are a daily process. Fragmentary nuggets for upcoming tour. Fort Collins, Colorado will be one stop for a few weeks while I practice my life work. Excited to show up throw it down do some shows self anointed and without asking permission. Street theater at its best.

I’ll bang out three a day for a few weeks. Sharpen the act. Best of all I can get most of this done in the shade out of the sun. Constant exposure to sunlight has not been kind to me after all these years of practicing this art.

In another week I will resume a very consistent workout schedule. Juggling, hand balancing and some cardio. More one liner’s to memorize. Add a few sound effects to closing routine and there you have it you now have a view of backstage.

Forty-seven years later I’m still quite capable of accounting for myself in the fine work that is sidewalk show. Simplicity itself. Pure as snow. Rejuvenating and utterly soul healing for audience and artist. See you out there on the street of dreams…

Slogging Dog Days of Winter

staircase b and w

Uphill Staircase Easement from Winter

I’ve never been a January man. The slog through the dog days of this season is for another kind. I’m from California. We do facelifts, tennis and brunch on the rear sundeck.

My week in Arizona cheered my seasonal affective disorder for a week. I’m back here in this paltry excuse for a sunny day. “Get over it…” I’ve tried. My mother said I was incurable.

Much of my living has been made hustling in outdoor venues. When it rains I’m not working. When it blows I’m done. When its cold nobody will stick around. Lousy weather will land this hapless rogue on ropes of the penniless poorhouse of busking fame.

It isn’t so much seasonal affective disorder as rational fungible illiquidity dis-ease. Of course by now I’ve piled together enough symbolic firewood to make my way to one more spring time or three or four. The mood is more habit I can’t quite convince myself to break.

I vanquish the demon moods with joke writing, juggling workouts and leisurely hours idled away perusing possible June routing options. Los Angeles to Albuquerque. Rendezvous with wife and slow roll north through Colorado’s high country. Fort Collins for street shows, Thermopolis for hot springing, Lethbridge of necessity and Edmonton because I want to.

By the time June is here I will be in full denial about the rot gut bottom days of January. I’ll be out in a field singing with the other birds of play. Fingering me for winter gloom by then is like trying to land a punch against Muhammad Ali. It’s all floating, butterflies and bees by then.

trees with no leaves

Walking with the Dead of Winter

My hands are cold. The leafless trees mock me, long underwear and a brisk sail across the bay is meted out as recreational punishment. There is in this corner of my own making. There is no sympathy, no compassion, no shoulder to lean on. Suck it up, this is that famous now you’ve heard so much about, this is earth in all her splendor. Get up off your sorry ass and dance…

bassett hound

Takes One to Know One…

I think I’ll curl up under a blanket and read a book, sip tea wait for dusk and pine for longer days. I only wish others could understand. None of you will. I know. This is seasonal affective solitude. I am left to reckon with this phantom icy demon alone. It is my curse to have been born in California. Only the price of real estate evokes even a glimmer of understanding. This other matter is all nonsense. I know. I will resume my silence now.

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Skyline at Twilight

Women’s March Phoenix, Arizona 2019

Nashville’s famed music district is being dismantled. Nobody can blame anybody. Times haven’t changed but the price of real estate has. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Jazz a favorite idiom frequented by this street act no longer sells. America’s great gift to music exists in the hearts and minds of the musicians. The marketplace not so much.

I am ramping up for shows. If I did not exist the world would have to invent me. I’ve played the parkways and boulevards of America’s greatest cities since 1974.

The gods have tossed sky high real estate, fierce solar radiation, and an ever decreasing value of that famous buck that is supposed to stop here. Dollars do stop but in what quantity and to what useful purpose?

I got my heart set on playing Fort Collins, Colorado. Not now! I’ll arrive and set up shop uninvited. I’ll play as I can as much as I can for a few weeks in June. After I’ll run north with the arrival of summer crossing the border into Canada.

The whole street performing enterprise is scaled to the grass roots. If I can draw a crowd is one thing. If I can keep them until the end is another. Between I play my song, sing my lyric, tickle a few unsuspecting minds with my version of vagabond dreams.

Honesty is our Ultimate Elixir

Andrew Elliott a fine Australian entertainer friend employs the same tactics as I use. We move from place to place landing in the least likely public thoroughfares. Catching a crowd off guard, unprepared…think cultural shock therapy of a kind.

Hit people in the heart. Give a citizen a living example of betting everything. Funny is useful but earnest charm, authenticity and soulful purpose transcends and takes an audience further.

Death in Venice was a movie, hard times falling on Nashville’s music scene is a reality. Street theater, street performing, busking, call it what you will is the ultimate fungible form. I’ll fudge my way into the hearts and minds of the least suspecting.

I’m coming for a thousand clowns and a few thousand altered softened hearts. I’m coming for the better angels and freedom seeking immigrant Russians. I’m coming to alter the fabric of the commons. To bless the youthful dreamers looking for their true path.

As I said if I did not exist they’d have to invent me. I am like Nashville, jazz and the American Musical an indispensable historical artifact of our cultural life.

See you out there.

Abbey Redux

No locked gate at the trailhead here at the Suharo National Park in Tucson.

What part of “He’s a threat to national security…” do you not understand?

Disgust is the automated bot game being foisted upon our citizens. There is a lot of suppression being played so they might tamp down on the outraged and paying attention majority.

We got us a verified Putin puppet boys and girls, men and women, fellow citizens of my country.

You get the benefit of the doubt, I get the benefit of the doubt and he has completely duplicitiously worn his welcome at the no doubt about fresh squeezed for payoff bar of kickbacks and under the table dirty rotten deals.

We’ll attend the womens march in at the state capital in Phoenix on Saturday.

Until then I’ll be hiking here in Tucson, south to Patagonia then north in the Superstitions. I’ll be visiting folk I know that live on a ranch right on the Mexican frontier. I’ll hike out to the fence for look see.

Hope you’ll join me in keeping a close eye on our democracy. Patriots we are right on the edge of risky times our signers of the constitution worried might come to pass.

Long dusty trail in our park

Northwest Scuffing Along Contest

Work took me as far north as Seattle. After I made a turn and put some south backtracking down the Interstate 5. I veered east taking a road along the Cowlitz River. Mount St Helens had been rumbling. An active volcano might be something to see. Rain was predicted as ever to continue without letup.  As the crow flies I was twelve miles north of a volcano I would never see.

Highway 12 would take me over the Cascades to Yakima. My next dates were in Cheney, Pullman and Moscow. On the eastern slope rain, drizzle and fog was forecast to ease up. I transited through brush-steppe country crossing the Columbia River at the Vernita Bridge. Here in a state famous for its lumber was a treeless landscape. Irrigation pivots dotted the rolling barrens. The town of Othello was austere.

I set up for the show at Eastern Washington State College on the lawn in front of the student union building. I drew an audience of three hundred,  a sizable crowd for a no-name, small-time traveling comedy variety entertainer. I caught, built and held the audience. Then there were laughs. Applause points ranged to respectable not more.

My show at Evergreen State in Olympia had been not as big but was more energetic. I am 29 years old. My 60 minutes remained a frustrating work-in-progress. After most of a decade much remained to be done.

After my show a friend waited to say hello. I’d come to know her six years back from shows I played in Fresno. Her family had been a stopover for the small circus I’d traveled with. Striking the rigging, packing, loading, then hanging out, dinner and  an evening of conversation followed. Raised by a family of generous and good natured parents she extended her hospitality. I had a place to shower and sleep.

I had been out on the road one month. The hour long set had been much changed by the hundreds of sidewalk shows in San Francisco. New and better material was the result of the Fishermen’s Wharf experience. Next goal on my infinite to-do-never-finished list was putting my best thirty minutes together.

Mount St. Helens continued making news. US Geological Survey had instruments measuring the mountains bulge. Uncertainty prevailed. The volcano might not erupt at all. Then again there was no predicting how big an eruption there could be. A National Public Radio station from Spokane reported on the unstable volcano daily. I was well over three hundred miles east.

I rolled south by two lane highway atop the Columbia River Plateau. The distinct Palouse began to dominate. Overlarge dunes and hills are planted and dry farmed in wheat. Towns of less than one hundred citizens anchored by silos dot the landscape. The steep contoured landscape required ingenuity to cultivate and harvest. Clever equipment had been invented to take advantage of the fertility found in the regions undulating soils.

A Bay Area friend was studying in Pullman. Her current project included the creation of a series of sculptural pieces inspired by divinity and motherhood. My artist friend identified with my intensity and offbeat show. We were two misfits. Conversation cut to the marrow. I misunderstood the multiplicity of her moods and soul states. I was not nearly so multidimensional. I didn’t know what to make of a feral spirited nature. Intuition laced with impulsive spontaneity frightened me. I was not so unbound. I had emotions where she was emotion. My risk taking appetite was a fraction of my artist friend.

By calendar it was May but there were patches of snow persevering in the frigid shadows and chill wind. Rain was here and there in the forecast. A sharp crisp slap in the face wind made performing outdoors uninviting. My friend Susan lived with her mother and the two wanted to help keep my spirits high and my menagerie coddled. The doors to their home were opened. I had my own bathroom and bed. The two had a knack with animals. Thursday I performed in Pullman and the next in Moscow. Both days shows took place against the elements for paltry crowds.

Moscow just east of Pullman had morphed into a regional center for a younger more progressive non-farming population. In 1973 the Moscow Food Co-op was founded. Peace activists and draft resisters immigrated here. After my appearance we walked through downtown. Posters had been hung advertising a weekend crafts fair. We tucked into a tavern. After we found dinner on W. 3rd Street.

A mandolin player I thought I’d recognized appeared from out of the thin cool night air. His face was familiar but I could not place him. The musician towed along another three or four. This was the era of denim, knee high leather boots, crushed velvet vests, tie dye shirts, long haired unshaven men and granny dressed women.

I kept mulling where I had seen this mandolin player before. Where did I know this man from? Where had we seen each other before? How can I travel to furthest reaches of Idaho and end up recognizing a familiar face in the crowd? I had imagined a more remote and far flung world.

After running out of businesses on W. 3rd Street we turned and retraced our steps back on the other side of the street. A wooden arbor covered with thick bare vines was fitted between two old brick buildings. Antique street lights lighted the outdoor space. Patrons sat on benches while four or five played bluegrass.

I placed the mandolin player’s face.

“He set up across the street from where I was doing shows in Fisherman’s Wharf.” I explained to Susan. “He wore whiteface makeup.” This curious wisp of a man would stand still, like a statue, if and when someone stopped all at once he’d fiddle and jig step in front of his open carrying case. After so long he’d halt and freeze, wait and when he judged the moment right he’d resume his strumming and jigging.

I overheard someone call him by his name. His friends called him Crow. Crisscrossing the northwest for some years the itinerant musician played where and when he could find a crowd. He’d made the weekend fair part of his regular stops.

“Crow?” What kind of name is that? Seemed coined in recognition of his style of moving from one place to another. I had been nibbling at an unconventional life where this man seems to have swallowed the same path whole. By my eye the mandolin player seemed to be the lead picker.

Crow had by self determination scratched together a performing life of countercultural success. His non-mainstream incarnation and formula made a big impression. Just getting to Moscow is an achievement. I had thought I was near as could be determined one of the few street performers doing this kind of grassroots traveling and entertainment. All of sudden I find out that I am not the only one out here. I am not the only hot shot one man street act that knows how good the audience in Moscow can be. Crow was doing just fine thank you very much and in fact he had coined an even more inspired nickname and had an even more complex interwoven band of local artists he was working with on his visits here to this out of the way corner of the northwest.

If envy was worth anything then I was now a rich man.

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Author-Entertainer