All posts by Dana Smith

Author and Entertainer

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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Cattlemen Association Chaining Pinion Pines

No Such Thing as Free Range

We’re blowing through this decade. I had expected more from time. I got this instead.

Doorbell rings…

“Who’s there?” 

“It’s me, 2020.”

“You mean like perfect vision twenty-twenty?”

“I mean like Mother Nature-Father Time.”

Go away…”

Only going to take about two years.

I’ve got an idea for a new villain. Going to pin some evil doing on cattlemen intent on cutting down more pinion pine trees to make way for more forage for their herds. 

Pine nuts sell for $40 a pound last time I checked. Steak sells for less, when consumed as directed puts users on a path for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. 

Oldest Trees in the World are Located in Nevada

Got a pretty good rotten no good miserable group of folk that come hell or low water are intent on growing more meat and to do that want to clear out one of the most precious tree’s in the world. 

Range in Nevada is a tangle of confused interests. Government doles out grazing rights. Cattlemen bitch about their allotment. Federal land is in theory about multiple uses. Cattlemen believe otherwise.

I’d say I’ve got a pretty good villain. Stripping trees out of the landscape, cow pies everywhere, stubborn mind’s made-up don’t get in my way or I’ll carve your heart right out of the center of your chest and feed it to the vulture types wearing spurs and kicking an old Ford pickup truck around.

Hard not to laugh and cry at this tragedy of ranching overreach. 

That’s the plan. A comedy with a good rotten no good bottom feeding villainous bunch of free grazers running roughshod over the landscape.

Happy New Year

Tavern and Roadhouse Show Biz Wanderlust

Troy small

Piece of the Seldom Seen Northwest

A moneymaking sidewalk show in Fisherman’s Wharf was one prong of a multiple pronged business plan. After four months playing the pavement I trucked to the Northwest. Instead of fifteen minute shows I’d be presenting my one hour set. Instead of a sidewalk I’d play college campuses.

I traveled solo with my performing dog, chicken, cat and goldfish. I had a sleeping bunk, cooking gear, suitcase, shave kit, typewriter,  costume and set of mechanic’s tools. I cooked off my tailgate. The price of gas was my mortal enemy.

I was hopping from date to date. My California plates were a tip-off. Provincial types reckoned I was an infiltrator. Alternately cognizant citizen’s saw me for the dreamer I was. Six hours from Stockton and I landed in Ashland, Oregon, six hours more and I’m asleep in my bunk in Corvallis.

At the end of any day I might have not spoken to another soul. Touring can be bittersweet lonely. I encamped between dates along lakes and rivers. I’d stock up on supplies get out of town and sit still. Weekday’s out thirty miles from any population center was quiet. I made small talk with local ranchers. Sometimes a highway crew was repairing a nearby roadway. Most days I didn’t see another soul.

I polished the skillful means of being comfortable in my own skin. I had a good bed in my truck and screened windows. I’d wash my pots and pans, brush my teeth. The dog, cat, chicken and goldfish all rested easier once I settled in for the night. I’d try to finish my chores before sundown then curl up on my bunk and read.

Castle Valley

Let’s Get Away From it All

Once you’re out on the road the pace of life takes a few days to get into the rhythm. The idea is to not fixate on your destination. You will want to appreciate all those in-between moments, make peace with each leg, the journey itself becomes a feature length wide screen spectacular. Waking up, making coffee off the tailgate, caring for the animals, getting the truck started, leaving plenty of time to get to where you are going, this is remaining centered and exercising a self respecting sense of composure. You can’t let emptiness rattle your nerves.

I’d learn from incidental conversations about the places I was passing through. If I needed a nap I’d pull off climb onto my bunk and sleep. You want to take the time and make the effort to fill the five gallon jug with spring fed drinking water. I did all my own oil changes, kept my brakes adjusted, greased all the zerk fittings. The idea was to keep ahead of trouble and fix something before you had a breakdown.

I’d play a date and after go to the local bank where the check was drawn. When my wallet was flush I’d send the other checks by mail to my bank back in California. I’d pull off and use a pay phone to check in with my answering service. I’d practice juggling and hand balancing in parks. Product development required staying in shape and coming up with new tricks  I wrote music and lyrics for the ukulele. I tried teaching the dog a thing or two.

I corresponded with clients. Letters were composed on my Smith-Corona manual typewriter. I kept a calendar with potential appearances penciled in, once my client confirmed I inked the date in. Once I had a booking I queried the surrounding communities for more work. Festivals, fairs, schools, libraries, fraternal organizations and park and recreation departments were all targets of my advertising campaign. Once I had taken care of matters related to my immediate survival I would turn my attention to finding an engagement for tomorrow. A sober eyed fiduciary responsibility to keeping the show afloat filled seven days a week.

blowout

Glamour and Glory of the Biz

I had met members of Charlie Musselwhite’s band at a bar in the Bay Area. The players were moving north with the spring. I’d pulled into Eugene and so was the band. Tacoma same thing. Between sets I’d drink beer, shoot pool and small talk to Charlie’s sidemen. My juggling business and touring amused the vagabond musicians. They were envious of the simplicity of my running a solo entertainment enterprise. They traveled by automobiles and stayed in economy motels. Charlie seemed older than the hills even if he wasn’t. Musselwhite and his band all drank hard. The Chicago harmonica bluesman was punching out one night stands  up and down the west coast trying to keep food on the table and a roof over his head. Charlie’s band was rarely asleep before dawn. You could be a blues player, do all that drinking, smoking cigarettes, skirt chasing tom catting but that was hard on a body  and you’re bound to wear out sooner than later. Charlie eventually stopped drinking. Sobriety is a lot to do with why he’s still alive today.

Charlie’s guitar player had quite the way with the ladies. He had two or four aching to be his one and only. He’d come and gone through Tacoma enough to have made some sort of lasting memories with his throng of heartthrobs. He’d tried taking one on the road. Hard as he tried the guitar player couldn’t make that kind of arrangement stick. Guitar playing seems to be more soulful when powered by heartbreak, two-timing and everlasting unfaithfulness. Charlie’s band was versed far more completely in all of these matters than some upstart one man variety show act. Even a better than fair looking comedy juggler was no match when going up against a quartet of rhythm and blues infused Don Juan’s.

Edited Red Star