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April 22, 2013
At noon, I’ll be recording at a studio in West Hurley, New York. It’s the first recording session I’ve done in a few years where someone else is engineering. When I called to book the session a few weeks ago, I planned on taking a few hours to record some piano music I’ve been writing as well as doing another version of a song called “Heaven” that I recorded in 1999. The original had bass and background vocals on it. Thirteen years of playing it live has allowed the song to grow and morph into a different thing for me so I’ve wanted to get that on tape – a phrase that no longer applies since we mostly record to hard disk these days.
When I scheduled the time with Louie, my friend who owns the studio, he reminded me that we’d need to get his piano tuned for the session. Like any other instrument, a piano needs to be tuned before it’s played. The only difference is that a piano needs a person who knows how to tune it to do the tuning, which costs money. Louie’s strategy is to share that cost with his clients 50 -50 since he gets the advantage of the tuned piano once the session is over. It generally costs a total of $100, so that’s a good deal for both of us. If I were recording for more than a day or two, that piano would have to be tuned again, and if I were recording a whole CD’s worth of music, it might be tuned four, five, six times depending on how the tuning holds up. Normal people probably wouldn’t hear that a piano’s gone out a bit if they hear the piano alone, but as soon as other musicians add their parts, most would hear it loud and clear.
The point of my telling you this is that as soon as I realized I’d be paying for the piano to be tuned, I thought to myself (and this is typical Bar Scott) I might as well re-record a couple of tunes that we recorded last summer that still don’t feel right. That meant hiring a drummer, a guy named Gary Burke, who we thought would be right for the two songs that are fighting us. After I hired Gary, I thought to myself, well, I should probably ask Lou Pappas to join us – he’s the bass player who’s doing the rest of the songs on the recording. Typically, the drums, bass and piano are recorded simultaneously and are called the rhythm tracks when they’re done. If they feel good, the song’s going to work. If they’re recorded at the same time, it’s much easier to get that good feel. The last time I recorded true rhythm tracks was in 1992 on Silence is Broken. Since then, I’ve recorded every instrument separately. Suddenly my three-hour session was a block-booked, ten-hour day that I could really sink my teeth into – and my wallet!
But here’s the thing: when I woke up Saturday morning, my voice was gone. I arrived in Philadelphia with a cold on Tuesday – a cold that had traveled with our friend Ron from Asheville to Westcliffe the week before. Brent had gotten it and given it to me. I was able to teach my workshop on Friday (which was great, by the way. The Woodstock Writers’ Festival was the best ever this year) but by the time Abigail Thomas and I were doing our presentation yesterday morning, I sounded more like Tom Waits than Bar Scott. Not a bad thing except that I couldn’t sing anything higher than a middle C, and the new songs I was playing involved only a few notes that are below middle C. It was so bad that it was funny so the audience was forgiving, but it was a big disappointment for me. Thankfully I’m old enough now that I don’t dwell on these things for too long. A few hours maybe, but not days or weeks.
My voice is still pretty much absent, but we’re doing the recording session anyway. Too many people are involved to cancel; coming back next week or next month doesn’t make sense when I live in Colorado. I’m not worried about Gary and Lou. We’ll get their parts. But if I cough while we’re playing together, we’ll have to start over. Here’s hoping.
Seems a lot of us are sick these days. The winter has been long in terms of that. Spring is sort of here in the Catskills. It’s still chilly, but the flowers are peaking out. It’s so nice to see green. I miss it where I live. When I’m here, though, I miss the quiet of the Wet Mountain Valley.
Take good care of yourselves.
PS I did finish the lyrics I told you about a couple of weeks ago. I say they're finished, but my guess is that I'll tweak them some more before I record the final vocal:
If There’s a Way
If there’s a way to end these tears
so they won’t fall forever after or years
overflow and trickle down on my dreams
I’d catch them all, cast them out to the sea
To find a way
I would lie down before an altar of stone
And watch a songbird flying over the hill
I would follow her, wander off by myself
To find a bridge to cross
I’d learn to climb high above the tree line
To find a way
I would gamble everything that I know
I would love someone, travel far from my home
I would empty all the pockets I own
I would carry the hardest sticks and stones
To find a way
I would try to build a shelter without a border or walls
where I'd linger under a waterfall
Then I’d circle, circle back to my home
©Bar Scott, 2013
Finishing a Lyric
April 8, 2013
It’s a good Monday morning. The dry wall contractors finished the space we’re renovating yesterday so today I start to paint. There are 680 square feet of walls and ceiling to prime so it’ll be several days before we see what the rooms look like in their new colors. In the meantime, lyrics for my new songs are starting to come. I’ll be singing two of them at the Woodstock Writers’ Festival next week so the pressure’s on! Last year I sang a song that was un-finished so that attendees and I could talk about how I/we get stuck and unstuck when we’re writing words. I wasn’t thrilled with the way that presentation worked so I want to make sure I do better this year.
One of the songs I’m writing is called “If There’s a Way.” I started writing it over four years ago when I lived in Woodstock. It started on guitar – a simple little piece that I hummed along with. I figured out the final form about a year ago, recorded it with a crooked piano part, and then sent it off to Peter Tomlinson to see what he thought. When I send him songs in progress, the vocals have no particular lyric since they’re generally not written yet. Peter can put what I’ve done into his recording software program, then record his parts on top of mine. On this song, he played accordion and electric guitar, which is remarkable for two reasons: one, he’s really good at both and his tracks are so beautiful that even having listened to them a hundred times already, I want to hear them again. And second: he’s a pianist, so the fact that he plays other instruments so well blows me away.
Peter recorded his parts about a year ago, but the lyrics have continued to elude me. The night I started the song, I was missing my son, Forrest, so the first and only line I sang was, “If there’s a way to end these tears.” But that was four years ago and I don’t need to write about ending my tears anymore. And yet it’s felt wrong to discard the one line that came at the same time as the music. Somehow lines like this one always feel sacred to me and I do my best to keep them. In this case, the challenge has been to figure out how to use the line but write the rest of the lyric from where I am now.
I’m not entirely done. Still need a line or two. But that first line finally led to a second, and a third last week. When I get the second line, I know I’ll be able to finish. It sets the imagery in motion so I can see where I’m going. When I get to this point I can let go of trying and let my subconscious do the work. I’ve done the thinking part, now I have to trust that the words will come. If all goes well, and I think it will, I’ll be finished by two weeks from yesterday when Abigail Thomas and I do our event at the writers’ festival in Wodostock. Peter’s going to join me on accordion when I sing it live for the first time. Thrilling and scary!
Here are the first three lines:
If there’s a way to end these tears
so they won’t fall forever after or years
Or overflow and trickle down through my dreams
The rest of the song has to do with finding my way. Naturally.
It’s the stuff of life, isn’t it? All of us finding our way?
I like days like today when I feel like I’m able to do that.
Have a good week.
April 1, 2013
This morning I got an email letter from my friend Wallace Norman. For the last ten years he’s been the producer and director of a quirky theatrical festival called The Woodstock Fringe. I did some concerts for them years ago so I’m on his mailing list. His letter announced that the fringe would not be happening this summer. He needs to take a break. The festival was exhausting not only his time and creative energy but his finances as well. I could hear his sadness. There’s grief that follows the end of anything. Hopefully during his much-deserved break, he’ll find his next step and walk towards it. I understand how he’s feeling.
I had lunch with my friend Mary on Friday. She’s recently retired and feels a bit lost. We spent a lot of time talking about the difference between working for someone else (which she’s done all her life) and creating a life like mine where there is no boss – only me. Both have advantages. She’s gotten a regular paycheck; I’ve gotten my freedom. Now she’s got her freedom but hasn’t gotten comfortable yet with doing things for herself. I’m an expert! Because of our conversation, she sent me two videos: one was of Dennis Hopper reading the first of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To a Young Poet; the second was the opposite: an animated film where the speaker, Roman Krznaric, advocates for something he calls “Outrospection” – the ability to look outside of oneself and empathize with others. Rilke tells the young artist that in order to create true and meaningful work, he must go inward; Krznaric says we’ll only survive as a species if we collectively cultivate empathy – an outward facing vision. Both are right.
As Mary adjusts to her new life, I’m doing the same. She has to learn how to be alone, to sit quietly, to know her own mind. I have to find out what’s true for me now, not try to re-create or sustain something I did before. I also need to come back out. That’s been hard recently. In the meantime, the world turns. Sometimes I forget that.
Thank you for waiting, for caring, and for being there.
Here are links to the videos that Mary sent:
The Power of “Outrospection” — A Way of Life, A Force for Social Change — Explained with Animation
March 18, 2013
Breathe in, breathe out. It's like I'd forgotten how to breathe until today. I used to do yoga every morning. A few years ago I decided my practice was getting stale so I started to hike in the mountains instead. I needed to sweat more than a gentle stretch could give me. What a forgot to do when I started hiking was to breathe in a conscious way.
Last Monday, I finally went to a yoga class here in Westcliffe that several people had told me about. I spent my first class remembering how to stand straight, do legs lifts for core strength, and quiet my thoughts. This afternoon I remembered how to breathe. It sounds so basic, and it is, but boy oh boy if no one's there to remind me, I forget real fast. My shoulders get tight, my eyes spend more time wide-open than calm, and I tend to talk too fast and too much. When I remember to breathe fully, I feel much better about myself. I don't cut people off mid-sentence, I walk slower, talk slower and generally function more slowly, which is really really good for me.
Mid-way through the class I remembered that I hadn't written here today. Normally I would get all wound up and frantic about when I'd find time to write. When I thought about it in between Down Dog and Plank position, I let it go. It wasn't important in that moment. Keeping my breath quiet and steady while my arms held my weight was what I was doing. Writing my blog was not.
Wally's asleep in the corner. Tasha's downstairs hiding under a table. She's also asleep. The wind is howling outside and they don't like it. When I offered to walk them after my class, they went off in their corners to let me know they'd prefer to stay inside. I like their honesty.
It's time for me to be the bad guy, though. They need to go out whether they know it or not. So I'll get all wrapped up in my wind-breaker clothes. Once they see that I'm dressed for a real walk (not just a pee break) they'll jump right up to go out. It's time.
Enjoy your week. Feel the wind!
For the Joy of It
March 10, 2013
We went snowshoeing in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains this afternoon. Two feet of snow fell up there last night so we were anxious to hike around in it. We left our car about half a mile below Brent’s mountain property when we couldn’t get any further without it being dangerous. It was an uphill climb from there. Because we’re in the Rocky Mountains and because it’s still winter, we both carried packs with extra clothes, water, and goodies to eat. Wally and Tasha, our huskies, led the way. On the way up, my thoughts went in and out of worrying about the (slight) danger we were in and the thrill of being somewhere I never thought I’d be a couple of years ago.
We hiked for about two hours. Thankfully, I’d worn just the right amount of clothing so I was warm from my body heat but not so warm that my sweat made me cold when we stopped to rest. On our way down the mountain - Humboldt Mountain to be exact - endorphins from our workout made striding through the snow a real high.
When we got home, Brent got a link to a video that spoke loud and clear to us about joy. The kite choreographer in this video had spent days, weeks, years, perfecting a hobby that’s clearly motivated by the joy that comes from creating something beautiful. It reminded me that I want to do the same whenever I can. Hiking today was like that. I was afraid at first. I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to hike so far in such deep snow. Having done it, though, and having allowed myself to enjoy it, I feel satiated this afternoon. I’ve given this life of mine all I have to give today and sure enough, it’s given back.
Last night we watched the film What the Bleep Do We Know? Maybe that’s why I’m more open to joy today. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. I’d watched it a few years ago but I was better prepared for it last night.
As I write this, Brent is making dinner in the kitchen. Wally and Tasha are conked out in their mutual corners. The front doors are wide open, letting the Rocky Mountain air in. Soon I’ll have to close them before the night air chills us again. I can’t ask for more.
Here’s the link to the video:
I hope it brings you some joy too.
PS Here's some hard-to-see photos of Brent with Wally and Tasha with me. At least you get the sense of the beauty of this place.
Thoughts, no thoughts
February 27, 2013
Some days there’s just nothing interesting to say. This week, I’ve had three days in a row like that. I wrote here yesterday and felt like I was filling space. Today I feel much better but I have no time. I’ve done my yoga (just started again after a three year hiatus), walked the dogs, showered and had my breakfast. In a few minutes I’ll talk with a friend by phone, then we’re off to the races picking a tub, a shower, sinks and tiles for a bathroom renovation. By April we’ll have a real bathroom VS the dorm style bathroom with stalls, multiple showers and years of users before us that we have now. I can hardly wait, but the upheaval will make life even more nutty. No complaints! Just sayin’.
Have a good day, a good week. It’s minus 7 degrees here this morning. I hope it’s a little warmer where you are.