Tuesday, January 15, 2019

All My Heroes are Dead or Gone

They first came whispering to me in the early morning hours before the world was awake. It was only a satchel of newspapers, miles to trudge before breakfast and me. They came in music and song and words of wisdom that no one else had bothered to share with me. They spoke of wondrous things that filled my malleable mind of twelve with dreams of imaginary places.

The messages came through a salmon-colored transistor radio, one of the first to be sold in my town. In summertime, it hung from my shoulder and shouted great songs into my ears. During the bitterly cold winter months, it was buried beneath layers of clothing but with enough volume to etch through the layers and still reach my ears.

In a world devoid of parental guidance and direction, the words spoken carried tremendous weight. It was a world of someplace else. It was cool cars and hot chicks. It was love gone wrong and finding the girl of my dreams. It was us against them. It was a whole new world opening up right before my ears. It was a language that spoke to me. A language I understood while most adults didn’t.  I got it. They didn’t have a clue. I knew what cool was even though cool was out of the realm of my tiny world.

The words and music continued as I grew, changed, and grabbed hold of my vapid future whatever that was at the time. It carried me through grade school, high school, college, the Army, living in Europe, back in the states and always, always seeking.

Now years later in the autumn of my life, I realize the words and music were all manufactured and manipulated and packaged for young minds made of putty and clay. They were singing the songs but few had actually lived the story. There were cars but they were rentals. They had the chicks but that never lasted very long. They themselves were more often than not fragile, broken and dysfunctional just like me. They brought forth their message but (figuratively speaking) died in the process. Welcome to the real world of rock and roll and music from our youth.

Over the years, I’ve stumbled across film clips, biographies, books and magazines articles about the pop stars, singer-songwriters, and musical groups of my youth. Almost without exception, they were taken advantage of, screwed out of their contracts, had their musical creations absconded, stolen or compromised by the very agents, music publishers, and associates who were supposed to support them.

Literally and figurative, they are all gone now. They’re either dead, disappeared or sadly still trying to cling to some semblance of what they once were. What does remain is a body of work that still resonates within my soul. Even after knowing the reality behind the music’s creation, it still speaks to me. It still draws picture-stories in my mind. It still stimulates my imagination in ways that no other medium can. The torchbearers are gone but their message remains.

When he was growing up, Hank Williams was warned about ‘risin above your raising.’ The idea that we are all in this together and any idea, notion or hankering to move above that socio-economic level was being disingenuous to one’s fellow man. It was a message I also heard at family gatherings. Knowing one’s place was as important as getting a good job, a steady paycheck and church on Sunday.

It was a philosophy I didn’t buy back then and still don’t today. It is abhorrent to the message I preach to my grandchildren all the time. A quest for better that knows no boundaries or geography. A belief in self even if the world around you is clueless. A vision quest that will never be reached but still attained in the trying. Sadly, those messengers of old knew what they were singing about even if it didn’t ring true for most of them. The same can’t be said of me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Living On Board

There is nothing like being ensconced on a riverboat for two weeks to get a real flavor of the countries you’re sailing through. River cruising is a world apart from cruise ships and their thousands of passengers living density to its fullest. There is a quiet serenity on those flat-bottomed boats that sets them apart from other forms of travel.

Passengers still face a daily routine with regimented meal times, off shore travels on foot or by bus and the nighttime entertainment and education. It’s a format that seems to work well with the senior crowds these boats attract. Most of the passengers are seasoned travelers and know the routine by heart. Conversations with any of them bring on an encyclopedia of world adventures.

The boat’s lobby is a grand pass-through where everyone comes and goes on their daily travels around the boat and off-shore. There is the usual merchandise for sale, the obligatory message board, a coffee maker in a corner and on-going front desk activities.

Our cabin was the standard size for river boats. It held two fold-down beds, a large picture window and adequate shower / toilet facilities. Over a fourteen-day period, it worked out well for a party of two.

Our port window was like a mirror to the world outside. Docked in harbor, it provided an ongoing Disney reel of swans, ducks and commercial river traffic floating by. Under route, it mirrored a continuing kaleidoscope of shore scenes, passing boats, harbor activity, and the pastel countryside sailing by.

In the spacious lounge area there were nightly port talks, the standard cocktail hour, entertain-ment after dinner, card-playing, a library, internet time and for many of the old men, napping in the afternoon.

Daily meals were always first class. The service was excellent and usually too much to eat. Mealtime was always the perfect time to meet new folks and share travel experiences.

The top of the ship was a superb spot for watching the countryside slowly go by. It was a quiet respite from the world around us and the daily onslaught of bad cable news and rude weather back home.

My ‘quiet time’ came each morning when I would nest in the lounge with my internet connection and peruse my world outside of the stem and stern. It let me escape the regimented group think and ponder future writing projects. And how very lucky I was.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Little Bohemia Among the Pines

California is awash with artists of every ilk - some well known and others hidden from the public eye. We’re all familiar with the Golden State’s famous enclaves of art but it’s those unlikely caldrons of creativity that fascinate me the most.

San Francisco has a long history of intermingling old bohemians with new-agers - each professing to have found a new take on life. Now they meditate alongside foodies, Buddhists, poets, anarchists and the beautiful people, each nudging one another for their rightful place in the life-altering California sun.

Northern Lights bookstore, started by Lawrence Ferlingeti, is still selling its unique mixture of poetry and obscure readings alongside the newest best sellers. North Beach has changed over the years but its lure of cheap booze and free thoughts still linger on.  Jack Kerouac has left the saloon along with fellow poets and philosophers and drunks but a new generation of the in-ebriated and celebrated lost souls continue to seek redemption at the bottom of a bottle there.

Haight Ashbury has come full circle. The hippies began their ‘Dawn of Aquarius’ in the mid-sixties then ended it a short time later with their funeral march for the ‘Death of the Hippie.’ Now a new cauldron of social revolutionaries is starting to stir up the community waters once again.

Los Angeles still sports its tinsel town moniker even as huge global interests continue to seek the perfect business plan for movie magic. Storytellers continue to spin their fantasy tales meant to capture our imagination and often leave nothing to the imagination even as bean counters massage the almighty bottom line.

San Jose morphed into Silicon Valley and became a harbor for technology dynamos. Palm Springs has its Uptown Design District, backstreet Art Corridor and El Paseo. Even the high desert got into the creative act with the Joshua tree art community and those desert denizens who seek solace in the desert heat and stillness. Both the LA Times and New York Times have dubbed Joshua Tree “the new Bohemia” and a “Mecca” for the arts.

Mountain towns pepper the granite sentinels that run the length of the state. From Big Bear to Lake Tahoe, tiny hamlets lay sequestered among the high ranges of the Sierras and other less-notable mountain chains. Lost among these more familiar collection of creatives is a small community of like-minded artists high in the San Jacinto Mountains.

These little communities seem to attract the loners, those seeking solitude among the pines and others who find the granite peaks and wooded enclaves a welcome retreat from the rest of civilization. Somehow, the little town of Idyllwild has attracted more than its share of artists, writers, musicians, and poets.

The little mountaintop community sits nestled in the San Jacinto Mountain chain. On the surface it seems little different from the dozens of other villages that lay scattered about the San Jacinto’s or other surrounding mountain chains such as the San Bernardino’s or Santa Rosa Mountains nearby.

There is the usual fa├žade of cute craft shops and art stores. Three-two taverns and mom and pop restaurants lay hidden among the pines. Bait stores and gas stations line the mountain lakes. But in Idyllwild, something is different from the norm.

If you take the time to scratch beneath the surface, a whole new world awaits the casual visitor. Behind the scenes live the dozens if not hundreds of real artists who make up the character of Idyllwild. It isn’t Greenwich Village or North Beach or the Uptown Design District but it still has a unique character all of its own.

Among the early settlers to the area was a Michigan-born man by the name of George B. Hannahs who arrived in Strawberry Valley in 1889. He and his wife, Sarah, built a sawmill on upper Dutch Flat. Then in the summer of 1890, they opened a tent resort just west of Strawberry Creek and called it Camp Idyllwild.

The camp prospered and continued to draw visitors to the area. In 1900 a Los Angeles physician named Dr. Walter Lindley along with a number of other doctors created the California Health Resort Company. They built a two-story structure called the Idyllwild Sanatorium on the upper end of the valley. A post office was established in 1893 and the town began to grow.

Idyllwild’s artistic history goes back to the early 1940’s when the first artists came and stayed to live and hone their craft. About that time Idyllwild became home to a summer camp offering education in all forms of art and music. Over time other artists arrived in the hamlet with their paints and sketch pads and well-worn guitars. They carved a living out of the pine and granite and overwhelming beauty of the place.

Complementing the visual arts, other disciplines began to hone their craft and grow their own businesses there. Film makers, theatrical entrepreneurs, actors and musicians all added to that cauldron of creativity. Like some spontaneous combustion of talent and mindset and welcoming environment, Idyllwild became a mecca for those seeking the solitude of the forest and the comradery of like-minded souls.

“Art is a language that everyone speaks in one form or another.” So says Cat Orlando, just one of a number of artists who have opened galleries or their own exhibits recently in Idyllwild. Together they present a kaleidoscope of form and function, color and texture, whimsical and serious, composition and symbolism. There are works of art in acrylics, oils, stained glass, pottery, metal works, alcohol ink, pencil drawings, photographs, 3-D and dottilism objects…to name a few.

Idyllwild Arts Academy is one of only three independent boarding arts high schools in the U.S. It has over 300 hundred students from 33 states and 25 countries. Ansel Adams and Meredith Wilson were among its founding faculty.

With over eighteen different arts organizations, Idyllwild hosts a number of festivals each year that focus on the arts and nature. Complementing the visual arts scene is a plethora of live music and theater events. Film festival fanatics find a perfect venue in the January Idyllwild International Film Festival with between 175 and 180 films playing at different venues throughout the community. It’s a community I want to know better.

From one of the many overlooks I can see a faint blur that is the Inland Empire nestled in the valley below. The Valley is awash in a blanket of muted colors that mask the true character of the place. It’s alive with traffic and commerce and mind-numbing activities. Yet here amid the pine lies a peace and quiet that not only soothes the soul but fires up the imagination. I can understand why the artists love it up here.

This place speaks to me in much the same manner as my mountain tabernacle does. It’s quiet and serene and yet bursting with mind-expanding thoughts and ideas. Storylines seem to come alive here in the rarified air and scented forests. I’m sure I’ll be back soon. The quiet calls to me.