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Well, if you’ve ever had the urge to quote me on any number of topics, this is your week to gather material. Today’s stop on the Robin Renée Blog Tour is an interview by award-winning author Fran Metzman, whose book, The Hungry Heart Stories, I mused about here. She got me to think a lot about the step-by-step process that happens in the act of writing as well as kirtan’s effect on my singer/songwriter pop music and vice versa.
Read all about it and post your comment here: Fran Metzman Interviews Robin Renée
Tomorrow, the next stop is at Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey.
Today’s blog tour stop brings me to Patti O’Brien’s blog, A Broad Abroad. I have enjoyed following her travels from time to time, so I’m honored she’d take a moment to write a bit about me, highlighting some of the places I’ve journeyed.
You can catch up with Patti’s discovery of Mantra-Pop, my upcoming trip to Canada (Finally!), and more here:
Tomorrow’s stop: A guest blog by Fran Metzman. You can check it out here.
I really love today’s stop on the Robin Renée Blog Tour. My friend Glenn Walker has had This. on his iPod for a few months now, and it is clear he’s really been listening. Coming from a perspective of someone with no background in kirtan, yoga, or concepts from those traditions, he took in the sounds, did a little research, offered his impressions of each song in turn, and gave me the chance to respond. It was a great experience to hear what he had to say and to get a unique real-life glimpse into another person’s encounters, questions, and growing fondness for the music. It was just as cool to take some time to respond to Glenn’s questions and impressions. Even though it was a challenge to explain what, for the most part, lies beyond direct explanation, I still managed to find plenty to say.
Read Glenn’s great blog entry here: This. Song by Song.
Remember to check out tomorrow’s travel-themed blog tour stop @ Patti O’Brien’s blog, A Broad Abroad.
Getting the word out on the new chant CD, This., has so far been a gradual, but purposeful process. The official press release is finally here. I have been sending some info out myself as well as finding more efficient, mental health-conducive ways to let people know there’s new music about. The business of music had me down when I last wrote here. Now I find a great deal of optimism in new approaches, and so today you (and I) have a happier me. It’s a buzzword, but true – I feel incredibly empowered to make different and better decisions, having decided to dispense with the status quo.
I listened to “Keshava,” the first song on This., today, and it made me smile. It is one of my favorite kirtans to share live. Having not been on the road much at all in recent months, I am looking forward to singing this with others for the first time in a while tomorrow evening near the Jersey shore. Another of my favorites on This. is “Blessed Be, Namaste.” It is one of those songs where the lyrics seemed to show up fairly miraculously at the right time and in the right order. Bridging and blending spiritual traditions is important to me, and this one does that. It feels good to enjoy the music again, after a bit of time away from hearing these recordings.
One common frustration I’ve heard other musicians talk about is the need to perform and publicize the current project while the creative impulse has already moved onto the next. I have been taking an easeful approach to the new songs. They are in there, but not yet clamoring desperately. Interesting phrases and definitely some wild dreams have been showing up. I’ll court the REM stage influence for a while longer and find instrumentation I’ll love. Today it felt comforting – not at all a frustration – to immerse myself again in the sounds of This. and embark on finding more ears to hear it and souls to sing along.
It’s actually happening. The finishing touches are finally being put on the new chant recording. A very brief post about it yesterday caused a little ripple on Facebook; in a way it served as a first bit of encouragement from outside the project. While working on This., I felt much more in a vacuum than during other recordings; I am not being coy to say the response was an honest wake-up moment about the coming of interaction with others again around the music. Soon I’ll be touring my way down to Florida and back. I’ll be inviting more people than I ever have to take part in helping the music to be heard. Possibly the most exciting and daunting part for me is that I’ll be working on the second half of the follow-up project, .. and everything else.
Back when I became completely immersed in kirtan, I spent almost a year listening to nothing else. Life was a constant meditation on the drone of harmonium or tampura. I absorbed mantras and melodies and the stories of Hindu deities at such a rate that when people asked me where I learned this or that, I truly had no idea. During that time I wasn’t sure I’d ever write another song. It only seemed relevant to talk about the totality of things. Life stuff was happening, but Om was the only relevant response.
Somewhere it became clearer to me that my path continued to be one of staying engaged in the day-to-day and writing down the stories. But by then I’d been through a kind of vortex that made it a strange exercise. I was frustrated over this for a while, but now I am giving myself a break over the times I wasn’t writing. Yes, some of that time away has probably been about avoiding pain or focusing on the minutiae rather than any larger project at hand. I suspect most of us do those things. But even more than that, I’ve been in a relearning pattern. Life feels a little different having been through this particular spiritual vein, and I am ultimately grateful for the shift. While grasping onto stories is still not as easy, they do feel rich and relevant. Lately, I’ve been in a primordial soup of happenings:
My home ashram has been steadily coming into fruition; there was an intense weekend with visiting Tantra teachers (Ran Baron and Monique Darling, with Edie Weinstein on Cuddle Party duties) and more and different events are in the works. Friends have been around sunbathing, picnicking, and enjoying the space. Some old friends seem to have left my life unequivocally, while others remain stuck in uncomfortable balance or misunderstanding. Other old friends have been reappearing in wild, wonderful, wacky, sexy ways. There are stories to fill a volume or two in these changes alone. I’m startled at how physical I want daily life to be these days – I can groove on hours of yard work with pruning, hauling branches, mowing, then swimming or running or tennis or hiking – it’s nearly all I really want to do. That is, if it weren’t for booking the upcoming tour, hopefully through D.C., Raleigh, Asheville, Atlanta, Miami, and back again. Meanwhile I have kept an eye out to see if there’s any way in the universe I can get to the UK for Robin Gibb’s memorial service, and I have met online friends who get why this continues to mean so much to me. I was sad to learn that I will be in FL on the day of a plaque dedication, but there may be another time to gather. I’ve been true to my promise to self to not let summer fun pass me by. Rocking out (well, blue grassing out, anyway) with The Mutant Mountain Boys in oppressively hot Southern Ohio on the 4th of July was a blast, as was rediscovering my love for the strangely wise absurdity of the Church of the SubGenius. I have had some joyful days at Gunnison Beach and a good peaceful time at this year’s Northeast Naturist Festival. Oh, and my friend LauraLynn Jansen and I are planning to co-lead a chant and yoga retreat in Nicaragua, January 2013.
At first, I thought it was ironic that the chant CD is on its way as I feel itchy for a full band, wanting so much to step back into the role of rocker chick. Really, it’s just typical artist stuff, I think. Project done and my being is moving onto the next, to be painted in singer/songwriter/rock sounds and maybe some spoken word. I do ultimately trust that when it’s time to be in the midst of any of these expressions, I’ll show up and be present. I hope This… and everything else together will tell more of the story as an exploration of life – or at least as extrapolated from this particular life – in something close to 360o.
Well, look at the time… It has been ridiculously long since I’ve written here. I’ve written a few poems, done quite a bit of ghostwriting work, finished most of the forthcoming kirtan recording, and I still have fantasies that tease of a novel. For a lot of the time I’ve been absent from this blog, I’ve been thoroughly sick of my own navel-gazing. I never could quite bring myself to share it with everybody else. The CliffsNotes will be much better, trust me.
Since I’ve written here, I’ve tried hard to think of myself as a semi-retired musician. Many months of a seemingly lost ability to tell a story that matters, an economy that ceased to even kinda-sorta support traveling singer-songwriters (at least this one), and a couple gigs in a row too absurd to mention were all contributors to this shift. I asked myself if I am neither making ends meet nor having fun, why am I doing this? “Because it’s what I always do,” wasn’t a good enough answer. So, I set upon the exciting adventure of not doing what I always do.
I’ve discovered that I can’t retire from music. Sounds show up. Words show up. They will become something even when I resist. I decided I wouldn’t spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing performance and traveling without focused assistance. It felt good to take off the bookings hat. I decided I would respond happily to requests while I re-imagine possibilities. Offers do arise while I work on other things. The forthcoming chant CD that I’ve been recording at glacial speed has come back into my heart. I feel the spirit that sings through those mantras and songs again. It will emerge of its own volition.
Casting off the have-to’s has led to more rediscoveries than new discoveries. I am dancing again. Not only at the Sex Dwarf dance party off of South Street, but as much as possible. The beach last summer. Latin Heat class at the gym. When I wake up and Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner” is a leftover earworm from dreamland. I used to walk for miles everyday and it made me inherently happy. I have been taking a lot of that back from the suburban abyss.
I used to write for the absolute love of it. Age-old wisdom would indicate that making the thing you love your business will alter it, perhaps not for the better. More wisdom would indicate that if you do what you love for your living, you are truly blessed. I’d say both are correct.
There will be more music, more concerts, more creative surprises, and new approaches. There will be art for love and art that matters, at least to me. I have begun to write through the gunk and the fear to get to the center, the heart of things. I am reminded of Om Mani Padme Hum – the jewel in the lotus. No matter what whirlwinds I spin around it, there is that.
Eyes strain open above water
Lukewarm, then too warm to escape
This is the science
of my regularly scheduled life
the art of evolving
from surface tension
The memory of arms flailing
to seek the winter sunlight
and keep moving.
One afternoon on Facebook, Preetamdas Kirtana posted something like “F*!k tolerance! What if God practiced ‘tolerance?’ Practice love!” “That should be a T-shirt,” I commented. He said I ought to go for it – and so it is. => here Thanks, Preetamdas, for the inspiration. The Coexist movement is headed in the right direction. I hope this bit of in-your-face yoga inspires many more to approach life from a place of love.
Last week, I was at Jack and Jenn’s working on the preliminary recordings for the next chant CD. As the day to begin work drew closer, I felt as though I was cramming for kirtan. I had to solidify ideas that had been floating along for months. I needed to make decisions about instrumentation. I wanted to strongly suggest to divine inspiration that a visit would be more than welcome. “This is no way to approach bhakti,” I thought. These sounds should emerge whole from pure love, unabated. I was angry with myself for my process. All music should be effortless, right? I was angrier that I had been letting relationships and meekness and random distractions throw me off my game for too long. How long ago had the trail branched off? I realized that Virgo Obsesso, my inner critic, was at it again. I noticed that sometimes I manage to coexist with the process it takes to live and grow and create. Sometimes it feels farther off than that, and I barely tolerate my own mind’s changes. Life is a meditation. The point is to notice the straying, and return to center.
Recognizing that the shirt’s message must first be realized internally – spiritually – emotionally – was a revelation. Seeing this brought on an immediate shift. There is time to remember the breath and time to extend compassion to the inner struggle. Time to remember that music and art and awareness of spirit all show up where there is kindness to self. All of us woo-woo types talk about “You have to love yourself.” It was good to actually get it in that moment. I’m sure I’ll forget again and remind myself. Again. As with any practice, the hope is that the cycle becomes gentler as we move along the path.
I am now quietly excited about allowing the new sounds through. Seven new chants and spiritual songs are in the works. Recording felt easy, as if it was happening of its own accord. I love one song that I am so far calling “Blessed Be – Namaste.” It is exceedingly simple and is a blessing that seeks to make a bridge where the Pagan and Hindu traditions in me meet. The words and melody were sweet enough to show up the night before the recording session. I believe that often the best thing one can do for anything musical or poetic is to get out of its way.
Blessed Be and Namaste. May we be good to ourselves and practice love in our travels. May the reminders harm none and lead us back in those moments when love has been forgotten.
At the end of the kirtan last night at The Yoga Place in North Canton, OH, I mentioned that I like being in the area. Someone said “Why don’t you move here?” My impulse response was “If you move the ocean here, I’ll think about it.” I feel most at peace and most able to uncover a sense of union with All when I am on the shoreline. On the edge of the continent, cool and sandy earth, vast sky, fiery sun warmth, and infinite-seeming water couldn’t be more clear expressions of the makings of all life. Rarely do I ever feel homesick, as I am generally happy to be wherever I am, experiencing what is there. In that moment of remembering the shore, though, I had a twinge of it. It suddenly felt alien to be more than seven hours from the closest ocean. How fitting that as I drove over the Ben Franklin Bridge this evening NPR was playing an interview with Bruce Springsteen on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. It was good listening– I’d never considered his poetry that directly before. Welcome back to Jersey.
All four of the gigs on this mini-tour worked out very well. The people and the vibe to carry the evenings all showed up. I am never sure what my inner experience will be while I’m singing, so I let myself be surprised. Somewhere in the middle of leading chanting in Kent and in Toledo, the bemusement crept in.
What the heck am I doing up here? Why am I singing mantra again? How did all this even happen? Am I here to facilitate spiritual experience? No, I just sing. Whatever – Time to stop analyzing – Sheesh.
It is the old familiar WTF that I try to treat as I would any thought in meditation – see it, breathe, and let it go. It’s not an easy one to let go. Sometimes I need to run through the timeline in my head just a little—remembering the visions, the love, the white light, the dreams that swept me into recognizing that Spirit would be more a part of my music and overall being than I’d ever known.
Why does all this still surprise me?
Thankfully, the surprise washed through and moved along, swept up and sublimated in the ocean of sound. All the events this time out were sweet experiences. House of Yoga in Berkely, MI near Detroit was an ideal in many ways – not the least of which was for the chance to see some amazingly cool black squirrels nearby the next day! But I digress—the musical joy was that I was able to sing nearly an hour set of songs and then the same time was given to chanting. It feels wonderfully dynamic and balancing when these elements are invited together and I intend to develop the show and do more in this format. North Canton was a straight-up kirtan after which there was a sense of exuberance and deep fellowship in the air.
All the people I met or had the chance to see again on this trip are good, good, solid, loving beings. I am blessed to have found a path that leads me to them. Some kind of general positivity swirls for me in the Cleveland area and into some margin beyond. It is where the Devo fans gather for the annual DEVOtional. It is where kirtan connections have led to knowing kind people on rich paths. It is where whenever I am linked up with a musician for a gig, we usually sound like automatic magic. I may be a coastal being, but I will be back to be part of these circles as I am able.