Wednesday, April 1, 2020
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Dear Friends in Music,
I hope this finds you as well as can be. My heart is with so many people in so many places right now, around the world and in our respective neighborhoods. I have been moved by stories of kindness, courage, and compassion. And I have wept to hear of losses both abstract and distant, as well as nearer and more personal.
But I continue to believe in the power of music and art, poetry and beauty to help ease the burden in times of sadness and to help lend joie de vivre to those small triumphs and joys.
Cooking has become a more intentional and meditative practice while sheltering. Daily walks in the woods as I can find them, or on the sidewalk keep me moving and alert and connected to the world. Even at a proper social distance. Video chats and Zoom meeting are now the norm even for the technological luddite, and the digi.verse is sovereign ruler of most efforts to connect.
And through it all, I still see hope. Spring is happening. People are rising to the occasion in so many ways and in so many places. I am grateful for our healthcare workers and grocery store clerks. I am grateful for the sanitation workers and truck drivers and Postal deliveries. And I remain grateful for the tremendous caliber of people with whom I am blessed to be in community. Folk, Roots, Americana, and other music communities, spiritual communities of all stripes, communities of solidarity and action, labor and working people’s organizations and various unions, all have been continuing to do what they aspire to do, love through all things and be points of light shining through the fog. I am grateful.
There have been many concerts postponed and some cancellations. But to a one, every concert presenter has been kind, gracious, and community minded as we all work together to keep ourselves engaged and connected, and try to plan for the unknowable. For that, I am also grateful. A list of reschedule dates is at the end of this email. And more info will be posted about virtual and digital performances in my next newsletter. Stay well, and be kind.
In Gratitude and Song,
What A Long Strange Trip, it’s Going To Be?
Copyright 2020 Joe Jencks, Turtle Bear Music
I was a teenager when I first heard the Grateful Dead song: Truckin (What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been). I remember thinking that I liked the groove, and the melody, and the cadence of the poetry. But I did not understand it. Some of it was related to a culture, about which I could only imagine. Some of it was related to a culture I never wanted to be a part of in the first place. But some of it was about exactly what I wanted to become, a full-time touring road musician.
30 years later, I understand this song on a different level. Especially now, I have begun to resonate with the last few stanzas of the lyrics:
You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel
Get tired of travelin', you want to settle down
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin'
Get out of the door and light out and look all around
Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me
Other times, I can barely see
Lately, it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it's been
Truckin', I'm a goin' home
Whoa, whoa, baby, back where I belong
Back home, sit down and patch my bones
And get back truckin' on
When Covid-19 started making the headlines, I never thought that I would be living out the plot of a Michael Creighton Sci-Fi suspense thriller from the home of friends, or from the front seat of my 2014 Toyota Camry. (201,000 miles and going strong, for those keeping count.) I’m guessing I will have an unprecedentedly small number of additional miles on the old boy this year. Sir William is his name, Bill to his friends. He is a great road companion. ith a regular rotation of various Beanie Babies that reside on my dash-board, we have traveled cross-continent in the US and Canada many times. We have driven from just south of Hudson Bay to the southern tip of Florida, and he’s been a true road-dog and a reliable roadie throughout.
It was Goldie before that, a 2003 Honda Civic (Thanks Deb! Goldie’s previous caretaker.) Before Goldie it was Bessie. Yes, named after Bessie Smith. That was my other Toyota Camry – a 2005. AMAZING trunk space in that car. Good for stashing a lot of road gear. She also made 200K before our ways parted tragically, when she was stolen. I got to say goodbye – but it was hard. And before Bessie there was Bertie. Short for Bertha, she was my 2000 Saturn Station Wagon. I bought a Saturn because Bob Franke drove a Saturn. And he even wrote his Saturn into a blues song of his. Go and buy yourself a Saturn, Get you to the gig on time.
If it was good enough for Bob Franke, one of my all-time favorite writers, it was good enough for me.
Early in the fall of 2000, I took a big leap. I had been touring regionally for several years in the NW, based out of Seattle. But I decided to drop the day gig, and hit the road full-time. I bought a new car while I still had a credible job, bought a brand-new James Goodall - Koa Concert Jumbo guitar, and then quit my job. I have looked in the rearview mirror a few times, but I have never really looked back.
On my first truly national tour, which was a marvelous success much to my own surprise, I brought along some of my favorite CDs. The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, and Working Man’s Dead. Queen, Jackson Brown, Bachman Turner Overdrive, America, Willie Nelson, Jim Croce, Tret Fure, Bob Franke, and many other recordings that had ignited my imagination for life on the road. But I digress.
What I really wanted to know, was if those songs and records made more sense to me now that I actually WAS a touring road musician. I felt good, listening while I was driving. And touring from Seattle as a home-base meant that I did a LOT of driving. In ways, the songs did make more sense to me. Especially Jackson Brown’s Running On Empty. Portions of those performances were recorded live, on the tour bus, while they were driving. I resonate with that whole album more and more as I continue to grow into my years on the road. A certain sincerity resides in the recording that transcends the Zeitgeist of time and place, and sings into any given present moment, uniquely and authentically.
Buddhist meditation is at its heart, a practice of letting go of our past worries, releasing the unknown future, and bringing our consciousness into the present moment. Many of us are afraid of the future, and miss out on the present moment because of it. Many of us are afraid of the present moment and the chaos and uncertainty it seems to hold. But for most of us, the present moment is benign. The present moment is resident in each breath we take and each thought we have. And in some small but important ways, we can shape the next moment with how we spend this one.
We can choose to take a deep breath, notice the song of a bird, notice the laughter of a child, the sun on our skin or the wind in our face. We can choose to notice the blossom of a flower or the art hanging on the wall. We can choose to notice the abundance of resource we still have access to in our homes, and in the world. We can remember that our ancestors survived many trials and tribulations to bring us into this moment. And we can honor them by actually being in this moment. Again, and again.
That is what music is and what music does. It brings us into this moment, whether we are playing and singing or listening to a recording or broadcast, we can become lost in the expansive and ever eternal NOW.
Jerry Garcia discovered scuba diving late in his life. He did not know it would be late in his life at the time. He was only five years older than me when he died. Sobering. But the point is that he spent a lifetime searching for the eternal NOW. He found it in music, and he found it in mind-altering substances and experiences. But when he found scuba diving, he said that he wished he had found it years earlier in his life. I heard him say once in an NPR interview, “I would never had had to use all those drugs, if I had known that such beauty and serenity existed just a few feet below the surface of the water.” How about that?
Jerry was always Truckin’. But he did find the eternal now in many ways. And he encouraged younger people to try and find it without so many drugs. He passed no moral judgement on himself or others for substance use or abuse. But he was aware that it had taken a toll on his body and longevity. I am aware that people just assume if you’re a fan of The Dead that you also partake. Maybe, maybe not. Your call. What matters is the spiritual principal that Jerry was chasing, and that I chase every time I pick up an instrument, sing a song, go for a walk in the woods, get lost in making art of any form, or settle into the Zen of cooking a really good meal.
But, especially when we do something kind for another, we are residing in the eternal now. Because we are transcending our own suffering and offering our consciousness to be in service to another. In those moments, our mind is no longer chained to our regrets or fears in the same way. We are busy being in this moment. We are in the now, and very likely adding to another’s joy in the future. We are banking tranquility, or equanimity as the Buddhists call it, for when we need a little more ourselves.
There is always now. It is a comfort and a solace. And now is the only time in which I can become a better musician, author, artist, recording engineer, cook, or chase any other desire or idea. I can prepare for the future, I can plan. But we have all seen what happens to our plans when we hit a major road bump. But in this moment, in the now, this is when I exist.
So, I made some art last night. I cooked some good food. I will pick up an instrument when I am done writing, and bank some practice time. I will offer up any discomfort or difficulty I experience with the intention that my efforts will bring someone else a needed moment of solace. And when I perform that piece of music I labored over, I will not remember the effort, I will live in the eternal now, trying to sing and play just a little better than last time.
I encourage you to sing, create, and play your instruments more frequently as well. It is such a marvelous practice. It relieves stress, and helps us bring beauty into the world. Even if you are a beginner, make some music. It will help ease whatever is dragging your mind into the past or future. It will help you notice this moment. I promise!
I won’t be scuba diving anytime soon. And I do feel in some moments like I’m, Running on Empty. But there is always the eternal now. And I will make it back home eventually, or redefine what and where home is. Either way… I’ll keep Truckin’.
I hope you will too!
Truckin', got my chips cashed in
Keep truckin', like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line
Just keep truckin' on…
April 1st, 2020