Easy Way Won’t Help

March 4, 2015

Why Buddha told us the Four Noble Truths is to destroy our easy way of understanding of life, scientific understanding or philosophical understanding. Those understandings are the easy way, you know. Without any effort you can read books [laughs]. Even though you are lying down you can study. Very easy. But it will not help you, actually will not help you.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (from David Chadwick’s site about Suzuki Roshi, cuke.com)

Not My Way

March 3, 2015

For several days I’ve wanted to post something about Netanyahu. But I’ve been unable to get past contemptuous feelings and obscene phrases, which are not my way. So I gave up.

Plum Blossoms Again

March 3, 2015

Outside the dining room window
I see plum blossoms again.
The tree is misshapen
from ancient bad prunings.
Because it no longer puts out fruit
I keep suggesting that we cut it down,
replace it with an apple tree.
But my wife says no.
The birds like it, she says.

Different, I guess

March 1, 2015

Taking a break on a long road trip,
sitting in the sun
in an outlet mall parking lot
in Gilroy, California
comparing two Italian translations of
The Catcher in the Rye

Progress Report #96

February 20, 2015

The world is going crazy so fast that it’s impossible to keep up with all the developments. Every time I plan a post, it’s made obsolete by something new. Putin and the Ukraine, the Islamic State, Climate Change, Greece vs. Germany, Republican (as in GOP) insanity, fracking. It never ends. You have to arrive at a deep point of view to say something that can’t be washed away by our contemporary lunacy. Maybe if I could post every day…But I’ve been hard at work on my book, and I’m going to confine myself to that for the moment.  I do have an idea for something I want to say that can’t be washed away by the madness. And I do hope to get to it soon. As for Street Song

I recently finished Chapter Four. Finished. I’m making real progress now. I have found my approach and my voice. All I need to do now is to keep moving forward. I’ve just had to abandon the sequential order of the chapters for a little while, though. My agent wants me to work up some sample chapters from the latter half of the book so she can have something to shop around. I’ve already started that work. The first one I’m working on deals with my first days as a street singer in Berkeley, which was the point where I began to stake my life on making it as a musician. I had a firm rule: I was not going to make any money other than through my music. I would sink or swim with it. The other chapter will begin from a point some time after I sank, namely my first weeks on the streets of North Beach in San Francisco with no money, no home, and no job—not even any ID. Some of that material is in the book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. So after all these years, Street Song is finally moving forward in a real way. There will be no going back, no prolonging of the work. My aim is to get it finished.

I recently received a copy of the Japanese edition of Wild Parrots. I don’t understand a thing, but it’s nice to look at. I’m having some friends who can read Japanese look at it for me. The only thing I know right now is that the credentials of the translator are impeccable. I’m told that he’s the Japanese equivalent of a Harvard professor.

Swimming in the Rain

February 12, 2015
Swimming in the Rain

Mark and Judy Go Swimming. Photo by Emily Wick

In the drink

In the drink

A Word on Terrorism

February 2, 2015

I care about language. I don’t like to see it abused or misused. I don’t like what has happened to the word “awesome,” for instance. The word has lost its meaning. You have to go hunting for some other word to take its place. Recently I was trying to compose something that touched upon the shootings in Paris and I found myself deliberately avoiding the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” They’ve become propaganda terms, used in the same way that “communism” and “communist” were once used: They’re intended to stop all debate. Which of us isn’t against terrorism? A common line of reasoning is “I don’t care why they’re doing it. There’s never any justification for terrorism.” If you say, “No, there’s never any justification, but there are reasons it happens,” the subtlety goes right past them. You’re dead in the water. You’ve become a “terrorist sympathizer.” It should be pointed out that, contrary to the way the media uses the word, terrorism is not a philosophy. It’s a tactic. And it’s a tactic that the United States Government is not above using. The military described the opening days of its assault on Bagdad as employing a strategy known as “Shock and Awe,” which did kill many civilians along with military targets. What is Shock and Awe if not the very definition of terror? And we decapitate our enemies, too, but from a distance with remote-controlled missiles. How is that any less barbaric? So I avoid using the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” You end up playing some ideologue’s game when you do.

Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m free to say what I wanted to say in my original post. Next time.

The Wild Parrots Go to Japan

January 12, 2015
The Cover for the Japanese Edition of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

The Cover for the Japanese Edition of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

The translator for the Japanese edition of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Masayoshi Kobayashi, sent me an electronic image of the cover this weekend. The book has been printed and will be released between January 15 and 20. I’m very happy about this. It’s my first overseas edition. They changed the title to Observation Sketches (Record, Description, Notes) on the Wild Parrots in the City, thinking that Telegraph Hill wouldn’t mean anything to most Japanese. That’s fine with me. There are a number of references to Japan and Japanese culture in the book—particularly Zen. I hope it resonates. I would like to thank Masayoshi who read my book in English, liked it, and took it upon himself to find a Japanese publisher. I’ll be getting my own copy in a week or so. Looking forward to that!

End of Year Progress Report, #95

December 31, 2014

This has been a difficult year for work on my book Street Song. Chapter Two proved to be a problem of sorts. There is a Preface and a Chapter One, and both were much easier. Chapter One is more a chain of impressions and images than a narrative. Chapter Two was the first long chapter of story, so it was where I had to struggle to find the voice and approach I want to use for the rest of the book. It took an incredibly long time. But I’m satisfied now. I’m working on Chapter Three, which shouldn’t take too long. And then it’s on to each chapter in succession. I’ve been working on this project for a little over eight years now. I figure that means it will end up either very good indeed, or else it’s an impossible pile of crap. I’ve shown what I’ve finished to a handful of friends, and it’s been well-received, which gives me hope. I intend to make strong progress this year. I also want to turn my attention back to this blog some. Out of necessity (the book) I’ve been neglecting it. But I have been thinking about it and what I want to do with it. Unless work on the book insists on my full attention, expect more frequent posts. There are certain things I’ve refrained from saying here, and I’d rather not do that anymore. Things are getting “seriouser and seriouser” in this weird old world. We need more frank discussion.

In the meantime, my best wishes for a happy New Year. May all beings flourish.

The Joy of Real Music

December 6, 2014

I haven’t posted here in quite some time. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say. Most of my thinking, though, has been focused on what a dark and insane time it is we live in. Every time I’ve gone to write my thoughts, I’ve pulled back. I haven’t wanted to wallow in negativity. I’m sure there will be more of it in the future—analysis of what’s going on in this nasty old world of egotism, racism, and greed—but I can’t bear to do it at the moment. I had a nice memory float up today, so I’m going to write about that instead.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I was a regular at a cafe here in San Francisco called The Tattoo Rose. The cafe was a very nice scene. There were poetry readings, open-mike nights for singers and songwriters, and the food was cheap, so it was a good hangout for people with unusual and interesting ideas. Several years before, I’d abandoned my old dream (a fantasy really) of becoming a musician. I still liked to play, though. I’d never taken the time when I was ambitious to learn music theory properly, so I took advantage of the atmosphere within the cafe to teach myself the nuances of chord construction and scales. The best instrument on which to study theory is the piano, and happily the cafe had one—a piano that was kept in tune and all of whose keys worked! I was a guitar player, but I knew which note was which on the piano, so I was able to work on my favorite aspect of music: chords, harmonies. But all I could do was play block chords. To avoid disturbing customers with my primitive skills, I only worked on it when business was slow.

One of my favorite musicians was Ray Charles. I loved the way he altered the chords to other people’s songs—songs like “Georgia On My Mind,” “Come Rain or Shine,” and “You Don’t Know Me.” He always came up with appealing, jazzy voicings that I could never figure out. All I knew was folk music and rock and roll. None of the Ray Charles songbooks I saw ever used his actual arrangements. They usually published the songwriter’s original version. One rainy afternoon, I was in a music store and found a Ray Charles songbook with the chords that Charles had used. Excited, I bought that book and hurried back to the cafe. When I got there, I found that the place was packed. I couldn’t stand to wait. I had to play those chords now. I took a chance and went to the piano, and when the cafe manager made no effort to stop me, I opened the book and started running through the chords—simple block chords, played very, very softly. People kept talking—it didn’t seem to disturb them—so I kept going. It was such an incredible pleasure to sound out those chords! I felt ecstatic. Nevertheless, I kept the volume low, barely audible. A lot of the chords were unfamiliar to me—flatted fifths, sharped ninths, and so on—and to keep the flow reasonably smooth, I had to slow everything down. I didn’t want to press my luck, so after about twenty minutes I shut the book and stood up to leave. The moment I did, the entire cafe broke into applause. It wasn’t merely polite applause; it was the kind of applause you get when you do a show and the audience has actually enjoyed your performance. As quiet as I’d been, they’d heard my joy—and all those beautiful chords.


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