my whole life, pretty much, i have been a “slow and steady wins the race” guy… up til now, i have been praised and celebrated for such strength and patience and “slow-to-anger” fortitude… up til now, i’ve never really lost anything giant or important or bone-crushing as a result of my slowness… it is supposed to be a positive character trait… a virtue… but i can’t stop regretting a few days of time…

i’ve missed plane flights, trains, boats, ferries, caravans, hotel bookings, art deadlines, birthdays, my own concert(!), other people’s shows, dinners, family events, doctor appointments, awards, and a zillion others…. all as a result of this – my steadfast, true-blue, eye-of-the-storm. but i’ve never really paid any heavy price… being late has always been fixable or repairable without consequence.

thankfully, the end of the world is near. until then…. i’ve been flooding and pushing out a trove of new songs…. and then i will record them…. slowly….

ran out last night with Jeremy to fawn over our dear Everest at the Fonda… that place is like a roller rink, or high school gym theater… just super boomy… cloudy… muddy… always feels like prom night… or maybe it’s just my ears… like the way no two people see colors the same way… and what is color, anyway…

I’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing this week… kicking it, like karate… dreaming of being somewhere else… some other time in the future, maybe… my mother came to visit me today… we sat at the ocean all afternoon…. watching waves… talking some, and dreaming our own separate dreams in silence… counting the albatrosses diving for their take-out…. twiddling in the sand and making art out of the seashells at our feet… I wish seashells were nuggets of gold… I could collect up my daily loot each time I needed to buy my seashack supplies… although, everyone would know, and this place would be crawling with gold-diggers and sand-miners, and they would get so jaded to the sunsets, that they would never look up and notice…

I can’t help thinking about how a couple years ago, I thought my mom was a goner. She was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer… bone cancer… supposed to be the most painful kind, I’ve heard. A real miracle of miracles that she beat it… at least for now. Doctors say it is never beat, but it has gone away for awhile.

My mom’s greatest fault and gift has been her horrendous optimism. Sunshine pours out of her and in the face of any tragedy or misery or life pothole, she has always seen the brighter side of things. I know I got some of that from her…. her teflon conscience and duck-back resilience….

She has been spending a lot of time with her two sisters this summer. Just hanging out and sharing her delusional optimism, as her oldest sister battles her own curse of cancer. I tell her how maybe this is the main reason she ever got cancer herself… So that she could win and share her story to help her sister be strong. Or maybe the cancer knew better and its only purpose was to bring them all together in a nick of time, to resolve and mend any past heartbreaks or chasms between them. Not everyone gets that chance, or dies slowly enough to allow for their healing…. and lucky fortune to forgive and forget.

Seems like a lot more friends and family have been getting sick this past year or so. Nobody imagines they will be the unlucky one… until they are the unlucky one. I know this should be my life altering revelation of how we should all be living like everyone is going to die in the next few days or weeks. But then I forget…


Clara Bell Thompson

 
Clara Belle Thompson
May 17, 1935 – September 20, 2012
My amazing Aunt Clara passed away today. She grew up as a farmer’s daughter and was the sassy, barnburner, black sheep of the family. A real firecracker. At 19, Clara was the hot DJ at KGEM in Boise, ID (Idaho is the “Gem state”), and had her own radio jingle that opened each show that she sang herself (listen above). The show would broadcast from the rooftop of Boise’s hip burger drive-in diner, “Howdy Pardner.”

double bird

The perfect day for remembering… On December 30, 2011, I got a double-bird rammed on me as a truck flew past me on the Grapevine. I must have done something to deserve it, but I still have no clue as to the infraction or err of my ways. I don’t know why, but that little gesture cuts deep into me. I can count on one (no, maybe two) hands how many times someone has flipped me off in my life. There have probably been a million that I am not aware of, but since my fragile little heart has witnessed so few, I can remember each one quite vividly.

A couple friendly teases, a few shocking slaps in the face, some literally in my face, some from a few blocks away… a pair of girls in Manhattan who wouldn’t give me friendly directions – the over-the-shoulder bird (2007)…
a guy peeling out and missing gears in his Datsun as he grinded and clanked up the street – the half-body-out-the-car-window bird (1985)… a sassy kid performing the classic “Wait, I got something for you” as he reached way down in his pocket… slowly pulling out his clinched fist, casting an imaginary fishing line at me, then reeling in the fish as it lifted his middle finger (1984)…

Similarly, I can’t remember more than one time I ever used the flourishing gesture myself… there were many situations where it might have been appropriate, in fact expected, but only one comes to mind.

Rocket Man
I was hurdling through side streets and neighborhoods in a taxi, racing to get to the port of Tunis in Tunisia. The ferry from Tunisia to Naples, Italy only ran once a week. I HAD to get back to Rome or I’d miss my plane home to the states. With the wind in our face, and the taxi’s cassette stereo blaring middle eastern jamz like a fire engine siren, we blazed to the shipping docks to catch my ferry. Innocent pedestrians be damned, we ran every light and cut every dirt corner, as Muhammad, my driver, repeatedly assured me he could make it in time.

It was a 30 minute rollercoaster hell-ride, but with real obstacles (people) and actual near-collisions that are only scripted or choreographed for professional stunt drivers. But we made it. Indeed. I jumped out of the taxi, asked more directions from the policia at the loading gate in my cluster of broken French-English-Arabic… only to find out… we had raced to the opposite side of the bay… there were two port stations… and we blasted into the wrong one… in our frantic miscommunication and chaos, we did not clarify this important minute detail…

I jumped back in the taxi, and the Mr. Toad’s Ride continued for 20 more minutes, all the way to the other side of the bay. I ran through all the security check points, past all the police with automatic rifles, finally, panting and hacking, I was stopped at the final gate. Outside the giant wall of 3-story windows, I could see my ferry still docked. Relief. Until the administrator with important credentials told me it was too late to board. The doors were sealed. There was nothing she could do for me, she said.

After I caught my breath, and after we argued for 18 minutes while the boat sat there right in front of both our faces, after all my pleading to speak to the captain or anyone on the ferry to please let me board… it slowly pulled away… slowly… chugged out of the harbor… and we both watched silently. Her important manager’s position still intact. She walked up some stairs and into her office. I followed. The door was open, and I entered as she sat behind her desk.

She regurgitated all the rules and regulations to remind me she was doing her job, and doing it well.

I then carefully and calmly told her how great of a job she was doing and that it was an important job and that she was amazing and a credit to her profession. Then… after a pause and some silence, I started to walk out of her office… stopped… slowly turned around… I had a Christmas look on my face, like I suddenly remembered something… held up my pointer finger, like I had something to give her… and I reached deep into my pocket… my tongue firmly licking my upper lip and my eyes looking upwards at the ceiling in concentration… I dug around like there was a lost treasure to unearth…

Out came my sealed fist… slowly… with a precious jewel clinched inside my hand… pause… pause… I then shook it, 3, 4, 5 times, as if it were glued and stuck closed and I couldn’t get it open… until, I shook out… and revealed… a beautiful, erect, middle-finger bird… sort of like a magician pulling a dove out of a silk… then I raised it up like a candle lighting a darkened room… or a world-peace torch…

I turned and continued walking out… she followed, scolding me and shaking her head with a mother’s scornful disappointment…

Perhaps it is like any muscle in the body, the more you use it and exercise it, the easier it gets to use. Over-use it, and it loses its punch and flavor. Or, like a magician’s dove-silk trick, if saved for the perfect rare unexpected occasion, the shock and awe remains. I guess I am averaging about one bird a decade. Which means I am long over-due. and entitled to a double-bird… the perfect day…

We broke open a new song tonight, “Free Hearts Always Get Used,” at Kulak’s Woodshed in N. Hollywood. I’ve been writing some songs with John Hawkes… this one’s sure to be a big hit. John righteously dropped in to sing with us for this special christening occasion… ever since I got back from Morocco, seems like life is moving at half-speed… slow motion…
As an experiment, or a way to trick myself into making some new art, this year I decided to try something strange that I’ve never really done before… writing songs with other people… I thought it might help kickstart the year… the year that is now half over… truth is, these writing sessions have mostly turned out as great excuses to be hanging out and exorcising life-riddles with my amazing friends… so in a sense, the year has been very productive so far…

A very sad day…
My friend and mentor, guitarist Ronnie Montrose passed away today.
He helped shape my musical universe when I first started to play guitar… he took me under his wing and helped me make some important life decisions… and made me believe in music… and that I belonged… his giant heart influenced and inspired so many people… and it will always be inside me. Off to guitar heaven you go, Ronnie.