When I took that fateful bike ride at Animas Park in Farmington and saw those two red long stemmed roses floating in that eddy by the riverside I knew there was a song in it.
I finished the first one (see “Two Roses” blog below) and Cynthia smiled and in her knowing way said: “That’s really pretty … but there is a ballad in there somewhere and you need to find the story.” Now any song I am part of creating is like one of my children and I love them all. Having said that I also have learned over the past 20 years to listen to Cynthia and do what she says. So I sat down and listened to the muse and woke up one morning a few days later with the thought of the river and all the “precious cargo” the river carries over it’s long life. The two roses were just one bit of that “precious cargo”. At the same time I was experimenting with a short capo (introduced to me by Ken Gaines and made by Kyser) that I had used in the “Wolf Song” but this time in a different position. This time it in effect tuned the guitar to an open A tuning. As I messed with that tuning, a chord progression took shape and the story began to flow. With the rhyming pattern and the chords for structure I found the story began to emerge but each time I thought I knew where to take the story it headed somewhere else. Clearly this tale was out there waiting to be told and I had no choice but to listen and get it down right. My writer friends talk about the story and characters taking on a life of their own and how exciting that is. Now I know what they mean (thank you Deborah Kai and Kevin Hearne). I hope you find the story as captivating to listen to as it was to discover.
One of the great pleasures in my life is the opportunity to collaborate with friends in creating songs and performances. One of the those special people in my life is Nikki Combs. She got me my first paying gig back in 1994, was there when I met my partner in crime and life Cynthia Whiddon Green and has supported, crewed and just plain made my music happen and find an audience. She has been selfless in supporting and promoting so many talented people over the years.
Now flash forward 20 years.
I am now in Farmington, New Mexico and I was taking a bike ride beside the Animas River one fall day. My attention came to rest on an eddy at the bank of this fast flowing river and two long stemmed red roses floating there. I couldn’t help but wonder about their story of how they came to be there. I am doing a project now that is primarily blues and jazz oriented and thought it would make an interesting song. No matter how I pushed though it wouldn’t go there and I found myself stuck. I had a first verse and chorus but it definitely wasn’t blues and it was missing “something” so I put a quick note out on my Facebook status and asked for suggestions. Low and behold Nikki came back with the idea that not only gave me a complete verse but gave me the overall structure and concept that pulled it all together. Nikki may be the best stage hand in the business and definite the best tour manager but it seems she also would make a great Jungian Analyst and Philosopher. So from the Animas to the San Juan River and into the Colorado River and on to the Pacific Ocean and to that place beyond time and space is the story of “The Two Roses”
We had completed the Wolf Song CD project and as I was cleaning up the loose ends to file and I discovered a song that was started but unfinished. I had been captivated by the idea of the fences and wondering who was more contained, the wolves at WolfWood or the people. Who was really the keeper and who was the kept, the teacher and the student? Our fences in our human lives may not be as visible but perhaps are even more restraining. As I began to work with the song I was struck by the holding of the opposites in our society and the growing polarity in our culture today. That’s when I realized that these magnificent animals who could no longer live in the wild could live a life of dignity and acceptance…a middle way between the wild and death from poison or gunshot or starvation. And the beneficiaries of the lessons taught by the wolves and wolf dogs are the volunteers who both care and are cared for at the same time. The images in the video are a combination of pictures taken by Susan Levin, Charles Stacey, Jaqui Jacobs, Paula Watson and some of the volunteers at Wolfwood.
In January 2014 I did a house concert in Austin, Texas and for the first time I was able to sing “Grandpa’s Pocket Watch” to two of my grandsons, Greyson Gomez and Joey Stacey. Watching their smiles and how they enjoyed sharing the spotlight was a particular treat. Earlier I had included my oldest grandson, Christopher Talon Green, in my song “Living on the Dark Side”. I have commented that you could tell the age of the singer/songwriter by the subjects we write about. We go from dreaming about our first love then progress to our wife and on to our first child. Then we begin to write about our kids growing then our growing older and then on to our grandkids. As I was editing the video from the house concert I began to think about my grandfather and his stories of his dad. I turned my thoughts to continuity/immortality. I recalled a comment of how the acorn contains the full oak tree in that small seed. Then the image of a bug frozen for all time in amber - the fossilized drop of tree sap. Both maintain though the ages but one is living and one has form but no life. It was a short jump to seeing songs as “the seeds of the songwriters soul” and wondering what my grandson’s would take from my songs and pass along…not the song but their creative process. If that isn’t something for a folk song nothing is.
The Monday night open mic at the Mucky Duck was a regular hang out for a great group of singer/songwriters. It was a place to try out new material, as well as give and receive encouragement. I had been a regular there since shortly after I began writing my own songs. I was bound and determined to sing from memory and improve my not so great memory. The open mic’s are a place where the music is done for the music but is also a place of dreams and hopes and possibility and I had always heard that I should write about what I know. “The Troubadour” wasn’t just my story but the story of countless other singer/songwriters at countless other open mic nights. It was less than a year after immortalizing the troubadour that I got my first paying gig (The Red Lion in Houston) and it wasn’t long before my trips to the open mic became fewer and fewer. The summer of 2012 Cynthia and I went back to Houston and between recording sessions and a House Concert that reunited us with old band mate Ted Miller. Ted and I took out time to take a trip down memory lane and went to play at the Monday open mic. It’s still the best gig in town!
In 2000 Cynthia and I were invited to perform at a gathering just outside Memphis. At that festival we made one of those cosmic connections with Paul and Kelly. He was an over the road truck driver and had gotten discouraged with music and put his guitar away. We were invited back the next year and jumped at the chance to go. Kelly and Paul were there and Paul had been inspired to get his guitar out and get back to writing. He was upbeat and excited inspite of having run into some tough times financially. There had been a dip in the economy and a spike in gas prices and his truck had been repossessed. With his indomitable spirit and optimism though he had been hired by the repo company that took his truck and now he was out doing the repo work. We expressed our concern for his safety but he smiled and explained that if he was up front and sympathetic with the drivers they understood his job and would not give him a hard time. We headed home after a great weekend of music and conversation but less than a month later we got a call from Kelly and Paul had been murdered while repossessing an 18 wheeler. The person had chased him down and shot him in cold blood and to make matters worse the DA had declined to press charges on the shooter. In the sadness and sense of loss we were all trying to make sense of what seemed like such a senseless waste and I did what I so often do and took the guitar to a quite place and sat down and asked Paul to explain. What came out almost fully formed and not sounding like anything I had done before was “Shadows from a Shooting Star”. I gave Paul the co-writer credit and still get chills when we sing what has become one of the more requested songs in our repertoire. That picture of Paul and Kelly became the major art for the cover on the “Voice of the Veil” CD.
For my birthday I have tried to write Cynthia a song to celebrate the day and honor an old Kiowa tribal tradition where the birthday person gifts special people instead of the other way around. I was bound and determined to write a simple song but of course that just isn’t how my mind works so instead I wrote the promise to someday write “A simple Love Song”.
I was having a typical multi-faceted discussion with Cynthia about 1) the quantum nature of consciousness and how in fact all reality is in our head - a mosaic created by our brain from both external sensory input and equally as internal images from memory. The brain can’t tell the difference between the internal and external reality; 2) with that knowledge, the challenge then of living our life outside the box - or said another way: living a life not trapped within the confines of mother culture and what we believed was an objective reality and finally 3)what a difference punctuation makes in expressing and idea - the location of the comma can change the meaning. Put all that together and let it germinate in the mind of a songwriter and you get “Life Outside the Box”.
Cynthia and I were on the back porch and our discussion of current affairs, politics and human nature had us pretty “bummed out”. We decided that what we needed to do was make a list of things that were positive to balance the list of things that were certain like death and taxes. What we came up with included the old railroad pocket watches, single malted scotch and our grandkids smiles. And the muse smiled.
"One Step" is a song that mixes non-fiction and fiction. I was a cameraman (non-fiction) but thanks to having polio as a small child was 4F with my local draft board so I didn’t get to go to Viet Nam like so many of my classmates. My first rodeo to film was in 1970 and just before the bull riding event a fellow in clown suit introduced himself and he explained that he was the bull fighter and his job was to distract the bull and draw him away from the cowboy at the end of the cowboy’s ride. He remarked that I must be new to the rodeo filming business and I asked why he would say that. “The cowboy boots give you away” was his reply. I responded that this was a rodeo and what else would you wear. “Cowboy boots are for riding, tennis shoes are for running - and you will need to be running” was his answer. He explained “the bull is meaner than you and faster than you and he wants very much to hurt you” but his is how it works. You film till the cowboy is bucked off then stop and begin to run because my job is to get the cowboy away and when I do that the bull will look around and you are the next thing he’ll see. No matter how fast you run, he’ll be faster - BUT - this is what you do. Run with your hand back and only run as fast as you can comfortably run. When you feel the breath of the bull on your hand you know he has caught up with you and you slap at his nose. All you have to do is make contact. He’ll stop, plant his feet and hook his head because he thinks he got you. But you keep running and you stay one step ahead - BUT - ALL YOU NEED IS ONE STEP.” He continued: "As soon as I can I’ll come and engage the bull and then we’ll have some real fun.” I tried it and it worked and I always thought it was also the most amazing advice for dealing with life. It took a number of years to finally put all the pieces together. The Viet Nam images I took from narratives of friends and co-workers who were there and the last part about seeing the light I just made up. The young bull fighter turned out to be Quail Dobbs who went on to become one of the most famous and beloved of all rodeo clowns and bull fighters.