Bron-Yr-Aur and Creativity

10 07 2014

DCF 1.0I am a guitarist.  I took up this amazing instrument in the mid ‘70’s.  I saw a friend of mine play three songs—“Time In A Bottle”, “Dream On” and “Smoke On the Water”–the riff that launched thousands of guitarists in those days.  I freaked.  And fell in love.  The love affair continues thirty-eight years later.

I owe a great deal of my early formation as a guitarist to Led Zeppelin in general and Jimmy Page in particular.  I learned a lot of the classic rock Zeppelin tunes in those days.  But I was especially drawn to their acoustic work.  It was just so interesting.  Rare chords.  Alternate tunings.  Mandolins.  J.R.R. Tolkien in the lyrics.  A world of wonder and colorful sounds.

A fair amount of Led Zeppelin’s creativity in those days emerged as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retired to the Welsh cottage pictured above.  Bron-Yr-Aur.  It was here that music was inspired and created that endures to the present day.  Pastoral. No electricity. They even named music after this quaint locale.

Where are your creative spaces?  A cottage?  Water?  Forests (my personal favorite)?  Urban life?

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Just Practice? There’s No “Just Practice”

9 07 2014

Just PracticeI read a story some time ago that, while sad, was not at all surprising.  Former NBA standout Allen Iverson has fallen on hard times.  He made millions but is now broke.  It is a tale oft-repeated about people in popular entertainment (and make no mistake, professional athletes are, in fact, entertainers).

I recall watching his now-famous press conference–video gone viral–after he’d been fined by his team for missing practice.  He repeated over and over again, “It’s just practice.”  In other words, “when I’m playing the game, I’ll be all there.”

Really?  Try selling that to Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, or Magic Johnson.

God alone knows how this capable man went from riches to rags.  His career spanned the period of the mid 1990′s to 2010.  It’s a sad story, one that could happen, I suppose, to any of us.

I’m going to be candid.  I can’t help but wonder if Iverson’s dismissive attitude towards practice didn’t play some part in things going south for him.  Again, God only knows.  But ideas and mentalities have consequences.  Blowing off practice or refusing to run out an infield fly ball in baseball (something we’d have gotten benched for in the 1970′s) says a lot about a person.

I get bored very easily.  As a guitarist and pianist, I’m not content playing the same things over and over again.  Stale food.  No thanks.  So I have to do things that keep me growing and sounding interesting.  I don’t want to bore my wife or anybody else with ears.

In recent years, I’ve been doing some different things that have helped me play and think differently on the guitar.  And I’ve been having a blast doing it as well.   So I thought I’d share the wealth.

Play in alternate tunings.  A few Autumns ago, I got totally inspired watching Jimmy Page demonstrate how he plays Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes) in the outstanding documentary It Might Get Loud.  Jimmy came up with this years ago while playing around in an alternate tuning: DADGAD.  Operative phrase: Playing around.  It’s profoundly simple and cool.  (I’ve been playing “Kashmir” a lot and my wife digs it.).  With alternate tunings, you get a lot of voicings not available in standard tuning.  If you’re into this, learn a song by artists who’ve used alternate tunings a lot—Crosby, Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, Phil Keaggy, Pierre Bensusan, The Rolling Stones.  Better yet, create your own.

Play musical theatre.  A good deal of Broadway music is very involved, sophisticated and colorful.  Usually written by brilliant composers on the piano.  As a guitarist, you will find this extremely challenging.  Here’s something fun—learn really complex chords at various positions all over the neck.  You’ll love the colors.  Pick a show you like (A Chorus Line, Wicked, West Side Story, etc.) and go from there.

Learn a song by one of your heroes.  Eric Johnson used to learn—and I mean really learn—a song a month by Jimi Hendrix.  Eric would take the song apart like a car engine and study it.  His own readings of Hendrix classics are quite good.  Years ago, I’d learn songs by sitting next to the record player and picking up the needle, over and over and over again, and repeating the song until I’d nailed it.  Digital technology makes this so much easier.  Whether your hero is Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Satriani or Tommy Emmanuel, find something you love and learn it cold.  You’ll find that eventually you’ll develop your own voice and style.  It’s what millions of guitarists have done for the past sixty years.  Join their ranks.

Practice.  Yes, proficiency on a musical instrument involves drudgery.  Faithfulness outside of the eye and applause of the crowd.  Your fidelity to practice will absolutely show when you hit the court.

Now go play.  And remember:

It’s not just practice.

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Dan Fogelberg: An Appreciation

3 07 2014

Dan Fogelberg - A Living LegacyI first wrote this the night Dan Fogelberg passed away. December 16, 2007. An artist, whose art still inspires.

_____________________

My writing on this blog is usually of a more hortatory nature.  These reflections are personal.  I am saddened this evening as I’ve just gotten word that Dan Fogelberg—an artist of rare and exquisite musical gifting—has passed away after a three year bout with prostate cancer.  Dan was 56 when he died this morning in Maine, his wife Jean at his side.

I am a musician—in fact, a musician long before I ever stepped into the ministry.  Dan Fogelberg’s music has molded me as a musician probably more than any other musician living or dead.  He played both the guitar and the piano beautifully.  He had a lilting voice and an artist’s soul.  He was discovered as an art student in Champaign IL playing in clubs.  Dan had a way with poetry and lyrics that remind us all just how powerful the spoken word is, especially when set to music.

I first gravitated toward Dan’s music with the Phoenix album, which gave us a number of memorable moments, among them “Longer” and “Face The Fire,” Dan’s powerful rebuke of our dependence upon nuclear power in the aftermath of the accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, PA. Dan was never shy about weighing in on political matters with his gifts.  He was adamant–as am I–that there are better ways to go about settling our international differences than by killing one another.

But it was when I first heard Dan’s moving tribute to his father—Lawrence Peter Fogelberg—that I became a fan for life.  “Leader Of The Band” has been for me the most powerful piece of non-religious music that I have ever known.  His father was a jazz musician and orchestra conductor (teaching band in high school).  His mother was trained in opera.  Dan paid tribute to his parents by thanking his father for his gift of music and his mother for her gift of words.  What they passed on to their son has enriched me for nearly 30 years.  The Innocent Age, the album that gave us “Leader Of The Band” was a double album when released in 1981.  It is called a “song cycle” and is a masterpiece.  Fans of the writings of Thomas Wolfe (Of Time And The River) will be very much at home with the material on The Innocent Age.  And so will many others.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about Dan when he was young and moderately successful.  He was living in a house on Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon, outside LA.  He rented a grand piano at his home.  His photographer and friend Henry Diltz remembers one day hearing some of the most incredibly beautiful music he’d ever encountered floating through the canyon, all night long until dawn.  He asked his girlfriend, “Who is this guy?”  Dan had been at it, with discipline and beauty, all night long.  That was Dan.  Vintage Dan.

I was privileged to see Dan in concert once—in June,1985, Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, MI.  The temperature that evening was in the 40 – 50 degree range.  Dan came out in that cold, drizzling evening—Pine Knob is an outdoor venue—and played for over two solid hours, first solo and then with the Chris Hillman Band.  He’d just released High Country Snows, an intelligent foray into bluegrass, which he loved.  It was an outstanding show, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The world is a little colder, a little lonelier, a little less friendly this evening.  I leave you with the lyrics to “Leader Of The Band.”  Dan, you will be sorely missed by this middle-aged troubadour.  Thanks for the music and the memories.

Leader Of The Band
An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay
A quiet man of music denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once, but his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love through discipline—a thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand

(Chorus)
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band
My brothers’ lives were different for they heard another call
One went to Chicago and the other to St Paul
And I’m in Colorado when I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chose and have come to know so well
I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.
(Chorus)
I am a living legacy to the leader of the band

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The Joy of Discovery

30 10 2013

Discover for YourselfI first picked up the guitar in 1976.  I was a sixth grader and the guitar was a borrowed Harmony.  I set out, at first anyway, teaching myself using a guitar method (records and books) by Kenny Rogers, then a member of the First Edition.

Before long, I found a teacher on the recommendation of a friend.  Don taught me to read music (The Joe Fava Method for Guitar for guitar fans).  But he also taught me the songs of my heroes:  Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and others.  Don had an incredible ear for music and taught me note-perfect rhythm and solos.  Remember, this was long before the days of the internet, YouTube, tablature charts ad nauseum and the like.  There were, in fact, very few songbooks for the music I loved.  Led Zeppelin Complete was the exception.

Don learned all sorts of songs by ear and taught them to me.  You have to go back into a time capsule to appreciate what this entailed:  Listening, over and over, to songs on a 33 and 1/3 vinyl album, picking up the needle and starting over, etc.  until you got it.  From his work, I learned songs like “Don’t Want You No More” (Allman Bros. Band); “Roundabout” (Yes); “Ten Years Gone” (Led Zeppelin); and “Purple Haze” (Jimi Hendrix).  It was exhilarating.

In subsequent years–again before the avalanche of information, courtesy of the digital age–I followed the same method, dragging out records and listening to them over and over again to get a song just right.  I remember doing this with “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg.  The exhilaration only heightened.

There’s something about digging things out for yourself, mining your own vein of gold and connecting the dots via your own sweat that having something handed to you just doesn’t cut.

Challenge:  Whatever your vocation, hobby, avocation, etc., pop the hood, get inside for yourself, explore, experiment, play around.  It’s kind of like apple pie:  Why is it that apple pies made from apples from your own apple tree just seems to taste better?  It’s the same idea.

You’ll be delighted with all the cool things you figure out for yourself!

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Influences and Inspiration

9 10 2013

Influences and InspirationsI read an interesting article some time ago about Viggo Mortensen and his influences.  Viggo is an actor of no mean accomplishment and a Watertown native.  He spent a number of his growing up years here in the North Country.  People who frequent neighboring Clayton see him from time to time as he comes back to visit family.

The article was not so much commentary as it was comprehensive lists.  Being a list junkie, I found it fascinating and invigorating.  You can read about it here.

I heard a wise speaker remark once that we are all composites of the people who influence our lives, whether directly or through their work.  I resonated with this observation and it helped put to bed the nagging urge to “be an original.”

So I thought I would list some of my own, collected over forty-eight years.  I’d be interested in yours if you choose to comment.

Guitarists:  Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee, David Russell, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, Chuck Berry, Andres Segovia, John Williams, Earl Klugh, Larry Carlton, Ted Nugent, Paul O’Dette (lute), Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Slash, Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Joe Fava, Konrad Ragossnig (lute), Tommy Emmanuel, David Gilmour, Rick Foster, Angel Romero, Wes Montgomery, Jacob Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anthony Phillips.  And many more.

Music, Artists, Performing Arts: Dan Fogelberg, Keith Green, Richard Souther, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Paul Clark, The Beatles, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Donovan, Honeytree, Sara Groves, Vineyard Music, Maranatha Music, Hillsong Music, James Taylor, Larry Norman, John Michael Talbot, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Jethro Tull, Randy Stonehill, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Kemper Crabb, Lamb, Peter, Paul & Mary, Michael Bublé, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Twila Paris, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Card, Miles Davis, Bob Bennett, Twyla Tharp, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Brian Doerksen, Debby Boone, Kenny G, Norah Jones, Diana Panton, Andrea Bocelli, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Brubeck, Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Jascha Heifetz, Glenn Gould, Malcolm & Alwyn, Phil Ramone.  And many more.

Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Gaspar Sanz, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Erik Satie, G.F. Handel, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Jimmy Webb, Francesco Da Milano, Henry Purcell, Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky, Harry Gregson-Williams, Domenico Scarlatti, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Michael Praetorius, Joaquin Rodrigo, Antonin Dvorak, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Jerry Goldsmith, Rachel Portman, Felix Mendelsohn, James Newton Howard, John Williams, Mychael Danna, Stephen Schwartz, George Gershwin. And many more.

Film: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Steve McQueen, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Sir Laurence Olivier, James Caan, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Zandt, Jim Caviezel, Franco Zeffirelli, Francis Ford Coppola.  And many more.

Writers: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Eugene Peterson, Morris West, C. S. Lewis, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Will & Ariel Durant, Viktor Frankl, Chaim Potok, Ralph McInerny, M. Scott Peck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael D. O’Brien, William Manchester, Dan Brown, Daniel Silva, Leo Tolstoy, Randy Alcorn, Joel Rosenberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel, Sol Stein, Mitch Albom, Mortimer Adler, Will Strunk & E.B. White.  And many more.

Leadership and Self-Development:  Jim Rohn, Peter Drucker, Michael Gelb, John Maxwell, J. Oswald Sanders, Jack Canfield, Dean Karnazes, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, Warren Bennis, David Schwartz, Zig Ziglar, Warren Bennis. And a few more.

Politics and Economics:  George Will, Henry Kissinger, Abba Eban, Ronald Reagan, John Kenneth Galbraith, John F. Kennedy, George Schultz, Thomas Sowell.  And a few more.

Science and Technology:  Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, E.F. Codd, Stephen Hawking.  And a few more.

Enough for now.  Who inspires you in your talents, work, avocation, and hobbies?

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“Leaves Are Falling All Around….”

4 10 2013

Leaves Are Falling All AroundIt is Autumn once again.  Fall.  The daylight hours have diminished.  “Leaves are falling all around….” to quote Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (“Ramble On”).

Autumn is a season for reflection, for learning, for walking.  You can pick up the smell of decaying leaves in the chill air.  It clears the head.

I was born in Autumn, 1963, a month before our thirty-fifth President had his life taken away by an assassin’s bullet.  I also met the love of my life and became engaged to her.  Again, Autumn.  This time 1988.  We’ve been married over twenty-five years.  Our union, like fine wine, gets better with age.

There is color everywhere, a feast for the eyes.  Our blood thickens with the cooler night air and we sleep better.  For many of us, it is our favorite season of the year.  Sure, the cold of Winter shall follow.  And snow.  But Autumn is a time to be savored.

The late Eva Cassidy gave us a haunting rendition of the classic “Autumn Leaves.”  Enjoy.

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Addison’s Walk

2 10 2013

Addisons WalkI’ve been thinking about and appreciating anew Oxford scholar and author, C. S. Lewis.  Earlier this year, I read his classic–one of many–The Screwtape Letters.  He was a remarkable thinker and writer.

Addison’s Walk is a pathway around Oxford’s Magdelen College.  Lewis used to indulge his peripatetic urges with friends on this footpath, among them J. R. R. Tolkien of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring fame.

When one walks in nature, it gives one time to think about things, especially these days when we are bombarded with stimuli from numerous sources, a product of the digital age.  Sometimes it is helpful; sometimes it hinders through noise, interruption, and distraction.

Lewis never fully entered the 20th Century.  And I think we may well be the richer because of it.  He never owned a wristwatch; learned to drive only later in life and rarely; wore the same clothes to the point of threadbareness.  I’m not sure he would’ve integrated gracefully into the 21st Century.  But no matter.

But he gave us The Chronicles of Narnia.  And Mere Christianity.  And The Pilgrim’s Regress.  And a whole lot more.  I’d be willing to bet that these contributions were a by-product of these walks and talks, many of them occurring on Addison’s Walk.

Take some time to walk.  I’m sure you have your own pathways, perhaps similar to Addison’s Walk.  Think.  Meditate. Ponder.  And see what is borne of such activity.

Phil Keaggy, deeply inspired by the work of Lewis for about forty years, wrote this piece called, appropriately, “Addison’s Walk.”

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