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I’ve been telling myself this for a while now, and I’ve started to say it out loud. In terms that sound like what a visual artist might use, I have to say this is my post-kirtan period. In the past, I’ve called my music Bohemian-Glam, and more recently, Mantra-Pop. I guess in a way all those terms remain part of what I do since all that I’ve done will inform what comes next. There’s something that also appeals to me about the manufactured nature of any terms to describe music; they can point to a combination of sound and concept, at best, but you really get to make it up. Maybe I’ll declare “Post-Kirtan” a sound all its own.
This acknowledgment is showing up at a time that in my personal life I am actually coming back to yoga and chant music after a time of separation from most everything to do with it. Staying away was necessary for some shifting relationship self-preservation for a while, but I am glad to reclaim those practices that work for me now, in earnest. I am humbled to hear from so many people about how the work I’ve done with kirtan has had a positive effect. I won’t forget that. I am listening to mantra as I write this.
What I’ve known for a while, though, is that what feels like the peak time in my life to focus on chant, at least in terms of performance and recording, has passed. I have slowly been getting comfortable with this, and talked about it somewhat on the Positive Energy TV show in the summer. That doesn’t mean I won’t facilitate kirtan and other contemplative practices in public spaces at times. In fact, I just booked a concert and kirtan event for April 16th in Plainsboro. It doesn’t mean I won’t record kirtan if it arises again, or sing with the Kosmic Kirtan Posse, if asked. What it does mean is that I’m acknowledging how much I’ve missed being the full-on singer/songwriter, how necessary that path is for me, and it’s the path I set myself back on now. This is the path where the healing and power seem to occur most naturally for me.
It has been mildly traumatic finding the confidence to write again in the way I know I can, and focusing back on club gigs and beyond feels daunting. How did I lose that trail for so long? At least I have some sense of what’s worked before, what definitely didn’t, and some ideas about where I’d like to go. It’s time to ring in the new!
This Friday, I’m doing a two-set café show with Jessica Floresta on vocals and viola. It is a small gig in a very familiar place. I will be very happy to perform there, and I hope you’ll join us if you can. Each bit I do to prepare for it feels like a little triumph; a lessening of the distance between myself and where I need to be.
Come see us Friday, December 4th at grooveground, 647 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, NJ, 8pm.
This summer’s treks to points west were good ones. Over the past couple years, the odd niche of concert performance, kirtan, SubGenius shenanigans, and Devo worship has been fun. It also reminds me that the width of Pennsylvania is substantial, and that a gig or two along the way to Ohio would make for reasonable stopping points. I have made such idle complaints from time to time. For the most part, I am happy to travel, often alone. I’ve taken a lot of life that way.
I still thrive with a fair amount of aloneness. Lately, there has been more time filled by getting emotionally in line with writing than actually writing, but I’ve recognized that as a necessary part of my process. I don’t love this fact, but it is what it is for now.
I am happy to say that the balance of aloneness to togetherness has changed in the direction I’d hoped. Back on 2011 I wrote about preparing a place in my heart, mind, and home for poly family. It has been a long road and for a while it was best to mostly forget about. I didn’t dwell in a state of constant longing or go on a relationship quest. That hasn’t been my way. I have, though, allowed myself to be conscious of the intention.
This summer was the first time I took the mini tour to the Cleveland area with a partner. It was an easy-going, great experience to have a friend and lover (not to mention driver, roadie, and general assistant!) along for the trip. Here’s hoping for many more travels to local and faraway places. I do like to stay in motion, but even more than that I love the prospect of an emotional and spiritual traveling companion – Someone who wants a support system to navigate the twists and turns of the mind and is up for the task of being so for me as well.
I’ve never been set on the configuration my poly family should take. I’ve been one to allow relationships to develop as they will without a lot of engineering from the outside. In this case, I find myself developing deep bonds and becoming part of a family already well in progress. I had the chance to talk about our connection this week at Poly Role Models. There are ecstasies and practicalities, even-tempered positives, and some challenges I do my best to look at clearly. I’m up for all of it.
It’s a good thing that calls for appearances have been making room for themselves in the midst of my quiet intention toward personal life and personal growth. I have a few gigs coming up – one at the Center for Relaxation and Healing in Plainsboro, NJ on November 6th and one pending for Collingswood in the same time frame. I’m also gearing up to kick off the 2016 Caldera Pagan Music Festival in LaFayette, GA this coming May. I’ll be putting together a string of East Coast gigs to make my way south and back. I may have companionship for a few of those gigs, and by circumstance, I’m likely to also take on some alone. Those logistics are still some distance away. Either way, I have a sense of mutual support in my life these days, and that makes all the travels feel grounded in the heart space. It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt quite that way.
I thought it would be cool that my article on Joan Armatrading’s Track Record would come out on a day coinciding with LGBT Pride weekend in NYC. I had no idea how *perfectly* timed it would be!
Thanks to the wonderful folks at Biff Bam Pop! for the opportunity to write a bit about why Joan Armatrading is a musical joy and a cultural inspiration.
… and Happy Marriage Equality to one and all!!
Back in the early 2000’s, I wrote for several different Central Jersey newspapers. It was never a style of writing that I loved exactly, but I learned I was pretty good at finding the formula and building what was needed. One of the best things about this kind of freelance work was discovering I could request interviews with all kinds of amazing, well-known people. Within a few days I could be in the midst of a great conversation with someone I admired all my life. I would sometimes suggest writing about shows I knew of and had a personal interest in covering, but just as often I’d pick up assignments. I felt blessed – and quite a bit nervous – when I was given the opportunity to interview B. B. King.
He was coming to The New Brunswick State Theatre, The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, and The State Theater in Easton, PA in January 2004. We had a brief phone conversation and I captured the quotes I needed to construct a few paragraphs and let readers know he was coming to town. At the show in New Brunswick, what I remember most is how little I was able to say to him in person. I am not generally starstruck, but then again, here was a legend beyond legends. What could I really say? I remember talking to a few of his band members and being impressed by how crisply they were dressed and how they referred to him solely as Mr. King. When I got through the meet-and-greet line I shook his hand and let him know I was the one who spoke to him for the show preview. He smiled and said he’d been curious to meet me. I got a quick autograph, then realized I was without words. I slipped back into the room and just observed for a little while before leaving. I’ve come to remember this show in a way similar to how I recall seeing Ravi Shankar perform in Philadelphia. In each case it was incredibly moving and mostly beyond descriptive language to hear and witness an absolute master.
Here is some of what I wrote by way of announcing the shows in 2004:
On the cover of his latest studio CD, “Reflections,” B. B. King, with eyes closed, looks absorbed in sweet concentration, like a man offering a loving prayer, or an artist fully consumed by the music we will find therein. Yet, the 78-year-old guitar pioneer thinks of himself in simpler terms. “I’m kind of what you call a country boy. I was born and raised on the plantation,” he says of his origins in Itta Bena, Mississippi.
A simple country boy, perhaps, but with a difference: He can play the guitar like nobody’s business. He sings with deep conviction that retains that hint of hurt and grit that only authentic blues can deliver. The “King of the Blues” will rule the land Tuesday at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, and at Easton PA’s State Theater on Thursday.
“Everybody has, believe it or not, a soul, and everybody feels something… I play things that I feel and enjoy doing,” he reveals during a telephone interview before a concert in Quebec City.
Revered by rock favorites like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, his profound influence on the face of music across genres and decades continues. In 1948 he left farm work for Memphis, Tennessee, and he had his first hits, “Three O’Clock Blues” and “She’s Dynamite,” by 1951. His signature song, “The Thrill Is Gone” scored his first Grammy in 1970. King paired with Clapton on “Riding with the King” in 2000, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
King recalls the making of “Reflections,” his 32nd album. “I think we got some pretty good work on it. I don’t think I’ve ever made a perfect CD,” he says modestly.
I am even more astounded by his humility today than I was then. This quote is so startling:
“I always find faults in nearly everything I’ve done, but still people seem to give me compliments…and I accept that. I think the people’s judgment is much better than mine.”
I don’t believe it was false humility. I do hope he ultimately knew and truly experienced his own brilliance and the joyful sounds he brought the world.
Rest well, Mr. King.
I love the periodic opportunity I get at Biff Bam Pop! to wax poetic about one of my favorite obsessions. Today, they published my piece on Steely Dan. I share some of my favorite tunes and some experiences in fandom. Check it out!
Biff Bam Pop! and The Dream Between would both love your shares and comments. Thanks!
I wrote a piece on one of my favorite albums for BiffBamPop.com. Here is a description of the column.
Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love. This week, BBP contributor Robin Renee talks about Gary Wilson’s You Think You Really Know Me.
Check it out and let me know what you think:
I’ve been getting ready for a show this Saturday at The Soma Center in Highland Park, NJ, very much in my old stomping grounds near Rutgers University. I really like how Jessica sounds on vocals and viola. I think we have a good combo in sound and personality. This past Friday we played a mini house concert that served as a good dressed rehearsal for this weekend’s show. I didn’t feel quite ready to play one of the songs from the new material I’ve been writing, but I definitely want to get “Everybody Does the Best They Can” on Saturday’s playlist. Songs always feel like works in progress for a while after I start letting them out into the world, anyway. I do think they have to be let out in order to grow into their strongest form. Saturday will be a 2-for-1; after the concert will be Bhakti Dance! – an event I have been creating over the past year in Pennsylvania and in Ohio. I am hoping for a good “hometown” crowd for it this time. All this should feel more or less like part of the usual program; even better in a place where I am most at ease. It is actually a bit more complex at the moment, though thankfully not profoundly so – at least not anymore. 2014 has been a very weird year. I won’t write a book about it here, but suffice it to say that this year I found myself in close proximity with some practices and beliefs that were very off-putting (That would be somewhat of an understatement.). It was being called yoga, and it looked like yoga. I suppose it is yoga of a sort, but not one with which I care to interface. I can’t claim to know the inner life of anyone else, but it seemed to be a yoga of doctrine over discovery. It was clearly of mind over heart – a kind of academic belief in interconnectedness, but profoundly lacking in compassion. I could go on, but there is no need. There has been so much more to the journey than this, but one of the effects of opening my intimate circle to this bizarre detour has been to have to question all, to move through a real, but thankfully temporary fear of yoga and spiritual practice in general. I have had to rediscover for myself what these things are and what parts of them, if any, I want in my life. It has generally not been a good feeling, but it surely is powerful to tear everything down (or to have it torn down) to rebuild what is good and what matters. For a while, I wasn’t sure if I could go back to the part of my world that has been about facilitating kirtan and other yoga-related practices. Thanks to the help of genuine friends and my own journey through these months of decompression, reading, and sorting out what is helpful and for the highest good and what just isn’t, I have been teasing out and rediscovering all the elements of a contemplative, spiritual way of being that do resonate: Balance and integration are everything. Knowing and feeling the value of all beings is truth. The yoga that guides me and that is my daily way is doing the work of growth and finding the perfection in the messiness of real, everyday life, not in the aloof or abstract, but the embodied. Yoga is nothing if not about getting to the heart of love. I am relieved and quietly joyful to get back to my own daily meditation practice and my writing. The concert and Bhakti Dance will be so much fun on Saturday. I am glad to say it will come from a genuine place of opening to joy and enjoyment, finally unafraid.
Saturday, December 6th 6:30pm Soma Center *concert and Bhakti Dance! 511 Raritan Ave, Highland Park, NJ 08904 732-777-9642 w/ singer/violist Jessica Floresta Concert performance 6:30-8pm Bhakti Dance! 8:30-10pm $12/either event, $20/the evening Bhakti Dance! is a fun, transformative, alternative social event – Think of the high school dance only with great kirtan, mantra dance music, an uplifting party playlist, and none of the drama. Refreshments available.
I got to see Berlin @ World Cafe Live in Philadelphia last night. It was an excellent show. Postponed from May 1st because of severe weather that knocked out the venue’s power, this time there was an intense downpour to contend with to get from my car to the building, but no big deal. I went to the show with my friend Andy Campbell, who suspects Terri Nunn may be a rain goddess.
I could wax poetic about the show, which really did go above and beyond – Her voice is in excellent form, the new songs were very good, sometimes surprisingly emotional, and I really liked the way they revamped the classic tunes, especially “Pleasure Victim,” stripped down, so to speak, to piano and voice.
My friend Andy, who said he could barely remember winning anything, was chosen for the after show meet & greet in a random drawing. I was happy that he chose me as his +1, and just as happy that the show actually happened this time. We were waiting for only a short while by the stage until Terri came out to say hello to the small group of waiting fans.
Andy complemented her on the show and had a brief but deep conversation about the life and death of her father, actor Larry Nunn, about whom she sang in “Blame it on the World.” When I got to the table where she was chatting and autographing, she asked me about my choice of T-shirt.
“Sex Geek,” she read. “Well, I guess people ask you, right? Why are you a sex geek?” I explained with a winking smile attitude that I like to know as much as I can about the things in life I enjoy the most. I told her it is actually a T-shirt design by my friend Reid Mihalko, a sex and relationship educator. “What does he teach?” she asked. I wasn’t expecting to give Reid’s elevator speech in that moment, and I don’t remember exactly what I said. I think the words “openness in sexuality, honesty, and integrity” were involved in what I felt was likely way too concise a description. She smiled, said “All right!” and gave me a high-five.
I gave her a download card for All Six Senses, which is the older recording of mine I seem to enjoy the most these days. She seemed genuinely psyched that I am also a musician and I gave my music elevator speech (NOT my elevator music speech), which was probably even more truncated than the one I gave for Reid. I handed her my cassette copy of the Pleasure Victim album for her to sign. She laughed. “A cassette! Do you actually listen to this?” “Not lately,” I told her, also laughing. “It is quite an artifact, isn’t it?” She agreed.
I got my photo op and we said goodnight (I wish I had been standing more straight ahead so it doesn’t look like my shirt says “SEX GEE,” but oh well, it was in the moment.). “Keep playing,” she called out as we were walking away. I intend to – in all good ways possible.
(This piece was written by my “cousin-in-law,” Max Mania. In it, he mentions Dale, who is his wife/my cousin.)
…And they’re gone. With the death of original drummer Tommy, all four of the original members of the Ramones are gone. Even in death, the Ramones have done it their way, the pure way. I mean, think about it…A lot of bands have had some of their original members die (the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Doors, the Beach Boys, AC/DC, Nirvana, etc.), but how many have had all of their original members die? Talk about four the hard way, y’know?
Needless to say, the Ramones meant a lot to me, and to countless other people around the world. Driven by the insistent rhythm instituted by Tommy, they embodied equal parts fun, insanity and an unequaled purity of vision. In the end, they embodied everything that makes rock and roll so compelling, boiling it down into two minute bursts of perfection that were as American and as addictive as potato chips. You can’t stop with just one.
As someone who loved the Ramones when they were still a functioning unit, it’s been fascinating to watch their stature and reputation grow in the two decades since they called it quits. When I saw them for the last time, on their last tour, they were headlining the Warfield in San Francisco, capacity around 2,000. Their final studio album, Adios Amigos, was, of course, tanking, and the talk of their impending retirement didn’t seem to be causing more than a tiny ripple in American popular culture.
The Ramones circa that last year, 1996, were remarkably similar to the Ramones of 1974, the year that Tommy, Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee started the band. The Ramones often got knocked for this perceived “lack of ability to change or evolve.” I think the members of the band would have simply said they got it right the first time, so why mess with success?
And, in the end, their formula unquestionably was a success. The end of the band itself, and the beginning of their truly fatal bad luck, was, perversely, the beginning of their wider recognition and mainstream popular acknowledgement. Joey, not quite making it to his 50th birthday in 2001, also just missed the band being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – an honor bestowed upon them by their peers the very first year the band was eligible. By the time poor, tormented Dee Dee died the next year, you were starting to hear Ramones songs creep their way into commercials.
By 2004, when Johnny died, the Ramones tribute industry (for lack of a better term) was in full swing. The Ramones tribute album, We’re a Happy Family, featured a pretty stunning array of million-selling, superstar artists – U2, Metallica, Green Day, Eddie Vedder, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and most perfectly of all, KISS – performing covers of Ramones songs. At New York Yankees games, you would hear their fans chanting Hey Ho, Let’s Go! In Glasgow, locals tweaked it to Hey Ho, Glasgow! The band was a staple on charts and articles about The Greatest Bands Ever, The Greatest Songs Ever, The Greatest Fill-in-the-Blanks Ever. The adulation seemed to have no end.
Now, with both the regularity that you see the band evoked, hear their music everywhere (Dale has heard I Wanna Be Sedated at Safeway), and see the attention given to Ramones when they die, their transformation from outsiders to insiders is complete. The way they are respected and represented, you’d think they’d been actual Top 40 pop stars all along. In their article about Tommy’s death, here’s how People magazine sums the band up:
“The band influenced a generation of rockers, and their hit songs I Wanna Be Sedated and Blitzkrieg Bop, among others, earned them an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.”
Uh, needless to say, those songs were very much not hits when they were originally released as singles in the 1970s. But now, with some 20/20 hindsight and a pinch of revisionist history, hey, the Ramones were right all along. (Related digression: I was called away from writing this by Dale, who let me know that NPR was doing an extended piece about Tommy passing away.)
And so it is that, with a perfect piece of Ramones luck, Tommy lived just long enough to see the Ramones first album, the seminal Ramones, finally be certified as a Gold Album earlier this year – 38 years after it was released. Though the music of the Ramones was generally fast and furious, their acceptance into the mainstream of the American music business is closer to the old adage: Slow and steady wins the race. Thus, not only can you hear a Ramones song in a recent Cadillac commercial, but in that same commercial the Ramones themselves are invoked as a great, original American creation.
They were that, and so much more. In all of the thousand possible ways I can think of to describe the effect the band has had on me, and my life, I think the simplest is probably the most appropriate. No matter how many thousands and thousands of times I have heard their songs, I still find it impossible not to physically respond to them. So there I was a few minutes ago, listening to Blitzkrieg Bop on NPR, tears welling up in my eyes, my foot bouncing up and down in time to Tommy’s drumming.
As the band might have put it, the mental patients have taken over the asylum, and popular culture, for better and for worse, will never be the same again. I loved the Ramones for all of their lives, and I will love the Ramones for all of my life.
The Ramones are dead. Long live the Ramones.
I am planning my eclectic summer – feeling like it’s going to be a good one. Bhakti Dance! is on Saturday –It is one of the events I look most forward to these days. Dancing, in general, continues to save my life. My new partner is completely immersed in salsa and African dance – Maybe this New Wave chick will be learning some new moves.
Earlier this season, I was getting traveler’s blues in such an intense way. I didn’t have any major plans for a tour but I was seriously missing being on the road and started dreaming of taking a summer or fall cross-country drive. I was especially missing my friend Carol in Kansas City, and lo & behold, she wrote to see if I am coming out that way this year. No official plans yet, but with another call in for a potential show in Corvallis, OR (I won’t jinx it by saying more), I can start to envision something exciting coming together for this year.
Some of the usual fun stuff is on the horizon, with treks to Ohio for kirtan and DEVOlved bluegrass with the Mutant Mountain Boys. Before then, I’ll be happy to be part of the Hub City Music Festival again. Val at Rainbows of Healing has set up some more kirtan in the venues she works with in PA, and I feel good about keeping Bhakti Dance! going as a regular thing. Looks like I may head up to MA as well – Where is my teleportation device?
I still don’t know if this year will look like a tour or a bunch of excursions, but it is sure looking like I’ll be back in motion before too long. Want to help me in my travels? If you have or know of a venue, concert series, or alternative space that will host a concert, kirtan, or other event for this summer, the rest of 2014 and beyond, please do let me know ASAP: email@example.com. The schedule will be growing, and I’d love to add your city to it.
Saturday, March 15th 7-9pm 1/$15, 2/$20
10 N. Main Street, 3rd Fl.
Yardley, PA 19067
For more info: http://rainbowsofhealing.com/bhakti-dance/, About YogaLove: www.LiveYogaLoveLife.com
Come out on a Saturday night for a little bit of chanting and a whole lot of free form movement. Bhakti Dance! is a fun, transformative, alternative social event – Think of the high school dance only with great kirtan, mantra dance music, an uplifting party playlist, and none of the drama! Snacks and drinks will be available for purchase.
Friday, March 28th 7-8:30pm $10 suggested donation
10 N. Main Street, 3rd Fl.
Yardley, PA 19067
For more info: http://rainbowsofhealing.com/kirtan-with-robin-renee/, About YogaLove: www.LiveYogaLoveLife.com
Wednesday, April 9th 6:30pm
Hub City Music Festival
7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
w/ Sounds of Greg D, Adam Bernstein, and Barbecue Bob
benefits Elijah’s Promise
Sunday, April 27th 4:30-5:30pm
The Peace Center
102 West Maple Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047
17X-Day @ Wisteria Campground
w/ The Mutant Mountain Boys!
*performance date/time and more info TBA
Saturday, August 16th
w/ The Mutant Mountain Boys!
15711 Waterloo, Cleveland, OH 44110
*more info TBA