“The time to live is now,” said my dear late friend, Ho Blair, in February of this year. I took these words– like all his words– to heart. And with this, Kathy and I decided to continue our journey. This decision immediately began to shift the energy of our lives, which is what we realized was needed in early 2017.
And shift it did. One of the year’s major pivotal shifts came via my friend and collaborator, Scarlet Rivera, who generously invited me to join her for an evening of music at the home of Joni Mitchell in mid-July. Needless to say, this experience was an honor, a privilege and a joy. What deepened the meaning for me beyond my connectedness through Scarlet, with whom I share other coincidental path-crossings and connections, is the fact that Joni was the inspiration for me to become a songwriter in the first place, way back in 1968. As several friends have accurately remarked, this was a “full-circle” experience.
I had another personal connection to Joni through Pat Metheny, who played in Gary Burton’s band, the headlining group of Zamcheck’s mid-’70’s Northeast college tours, in which I played bass. I was able to mention my connection to Pat, and to learn that Joni had met Pat through Jaco, which led to a deeper discussion of bass, Moog Synthesizer bass (Stevie Wonder) and back to Jaco. A musical foothold to another part of my life- and hers. Beautiful.
There were 5 musicians present including Scarlet and me. Russ Kunkel (Joni, Dylan, James Taylor, etc) played cajon, and two other musicians unknown to me, an incredible singer-songwriter and sideman to Eric Anderson (Steve), and a brilliant pianist (James).
I opened the music with a solo rendition of “Michael from Mountains,” a track from Joni’s first album- my “songwriter inspiration”– followed by “Sacred Wheel,” my first co-write with Scarlet and her vocal debut. The other musicians joined in on Sacred Wheel, and this began a 75-ish minute joyful and artistically-sensitive song swap between Steve and me, with collaborative accompaniment, in Joni’s large music room, which she referred to as “Noah’s Ark.”
There were three other guests present, including the brilliant Kathy Bates. Here again, as luck would have it, a book-publisher friend who joined her this evening knew Tomie dePaola, the children’s book author, who happened to have been a close friend of my Dad. In fact, and I mentioned this, Tomie and a mutual friend hosted my Dad for his near-final 60th birthday celebration (33 years ago), and Tomie, being Italian like my Dad, wrapped his gift in white paper with red and green cloth ribbons. I’m actually looking at these ribbons in my bookcase as I write this, as I have every day for 30 years now. This coincidence gave us a bit of a personal window to look through and I then felt comfortable enough to inquire a little about Kathy, who could not have been more gracious and engaging. By the way, look for “Disjointed” on Netflix in August.
People have asked me what songs I played. I was playing somewhat in “response” to Steve, the other writer in the group, and my selection was based in part on this. In addition to the above, I played “Piece of Me,” “Tears Run Dry,” “On My Way Back Home,” (which became a sing-along) and “Too Far, Too Long.” (Kathy laughed through the “punch lines” of the verses of this song with me- something no one else has ever done and an experience I’ll never forget) In total we did about 13 songs.
Hard to top this Midsummer night’s experience. To say I’ll never forget it is an understatement. Did I mention that the original painting of this picture was hanging in the music room?
Our Composers Breakfast Club hosted another “Samplifier” at Soho House in Malibu on July 20th with another incredible night of music- jazz, rock and pop from a wide age and narrow talent range– all were fantastic. And we got to celebrate the Emmy awarded to CBC member Daniel Clive McCallum, which he tells us came as a complete surprise. The CBC has continued to grow and expand and the community we have developed, thanks to founder Richard Gibbs, is open, rich and beautiful.
I am finalizing lyrics on a theme song for a new TBS series with composer Andrew Gross, another incredibly talented CBC member. This work is another first for me and I could not have done it without having first earned my “master’s degree” in songwriting under the tutelage of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member John Durrill. John has recently written “Oklahoma Wind” with our longtime friend and producer, Anthony J. Resta, for an upcoming film.
As we pull into August, I have been practicing for our van Gogh Brothers reunion show at Toad Cambridge on August 17th at 7:00 PM. It’s an EARLY SHOW, folks!
In recording news, we finished mixing “One” with Sarah Tudzin and Aleks von Korff at the famed Woodshed Recording in Malibu. We are now ready to move on with this new project, and, as it occurred to me while writing this, 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of my return to music. I’m thinking about making the project a retrospective collection from our 12 albums with the new material as bonus tracks, something I’ve been wanting to do for some time now.
Finally, and coincidentally on several levels, while Kathy and I are in New England on a reconnaissance visit in a few weeks, a portion of my friend Ho’s ashes will be cast into the ocean on the Cape Cod National Seashore, where he spent parts of his life in addition to San Francisco, Paris and Arizona, among other places. This will take place on August 16th. It was Ho who encouraged me to follow my heart at a turning point in my life when we happened to meet in Provincetown in 1997. I was questioning my return to music 5 years prior, and whether I should continue down that path or not. I had left music and songwriting for ten + years between 1980 and 1992- and it had been a heartbreaking and confusing loss. But in 1997, I was torn between my renewed heart and family obligations. As is clear now, I followed Ho’s advice, and of course all was well. But here’s the other coincidence- the day I returned to songwriting in 1992- and I remember the day because my songs all have dates before they have names- was August 16th. Coincidence? I think not.
I hope you are all enjoying these summer days and keeping the energy stirred and shaken. Change is good, and it keeps us fresh and forward-thinking. I look forward to seeing my East Coast friends and family in the weeks ahead.