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It’s hard to say if it hurts or not because it’s been going on as long as I can remember. The hide toughens after it heals from each scar and after awhile pain is almost irrelevant. Some would say that those who keep diving back into the boiling oil are masochists. Personally, I’m not necessarily fond of pain, even though I continue to play with fire. There are some things that I won’t do and some that I will continue to do as long as there is breath in my lungs. For instance, I will not sell my integrity for whatever that’s worth but I will continue to caress the muse for it’s been with me longer than anything or anyone in my life, save for the members of my family that are still alive. Therefore, my skin has thickened into armor akin to the hide of a rhinoceros. If you happen to ask, most folks agree that I’m a pretty good egg in spite of all the reckless years I’ve spent way out on the other side; out on the edge, the fringe of blue collar Americana. There are cynics, though, folks that think I’ll never live up to my potential; I tend to look at these as short-sighted individuals or maybe just middle-of-the-road as far as taste and creativity are concerned. The funny part of all of this is that I can no more refuse the call to write then I can the age-old call to water; my thirsts will be quenched simultaneously when I move beyond this life. Then there is always the question of dues: Have you paid your dues? Will you pay your dues before you make it? My answer to this question is, “yes I’ve paid my dues, and I’ll be paying till the cows come home.” For I live my art, I don’t consider it a job, though it is work, 24 hours a day. I eat, drink and bleed the words, and I get out of it exactly what I put into it. I believed I’d “made it” the moment I realized there was nothing else I could do; the moment I let it take me over, never to return. So what are the options in living up to my potential? Who dictates the measure? I like it when others are able to enjoy the work but that’s not the reason for doing it; it’s done because I can’t not do it. Though it’s only good for this lifetime, it is the greater part of who I am. In my mind, I have no laurels to lean upon so I will continue to perfect it as long as I am able. For those who watch me toil in disbelief, I have but one thing to say: I’m going to get it right, come hell or high water.

I started trying to smoke tobacco in earnest as a young teenager and it took me a couple of years to get the hang of it. I guess I should have taken this inability to comprehend and inhale as my first clue.  But in my true fashion I persevered and before long not only was I cool, that’s what I was smoking—Kools--mentholated cigarettes second only to clove cigarettes as pulmonary havoc-wreakers. Man, this was the fast track to emphysema.


Smoking is but one of the countless stupid things humans do. (Notice how I’ve incorporated everyone to share in that shame, no one likes to be alone in their idiocy.)  Despite the tenacity which I took to this habit, I was never good at it. I would become much too flemboyant, and I developed another habit, frequent hacking and throat clearing. This was my second blatant clue. This too I ignored. I would quit sometimes, for six months, a year, even for a stretch of two years one time.  To give it a fresh twist, I began smoking Dunhill tobacco roll-your-owns.  There were all kinds of triggers. Wake up, smoke. Have a cup of coffee, smoke. Have a meal, smoke.  Have a drink, smoke.  Get on the phone, smoke. Sex, smoke. A pleasurable, disgusting way to christen almost any event but, alas, the times they are a-changing.


It’s not quite as popular or sexy to smoke anymore. In waves from Dublin from San Francisco, restaurants and bars and public buildings began to ban smoking except in designated areas; and, even though I am no longer a smoker, I find this a crying shame. The last bastion of legal vice has been breached--the tavern, the pub, the gathering places where people meet to relax, to imbibe, to discuss politics, religion and anything else they damn well please and to partake of their vices. Even I had taken to smoking outside at home. Twenty degrees, ten-thirty at night beneath the stars, huffing a few puffs before sleep. A far cry from lounging in bed blowing smoke rings.


I was never a good smoker even though I enjoyed it tremendously; but it was killing me, and let me tell ya, my mother didn’t raise many fools.  It only took me 35 years to get it.  It was July the 4th and I had been sick for a few days. Really congested and I stepped out to smoke in the noonday sun. As I see it, I didn’t quit smoking, smoking quit me. Sitting there in 98 degree heat preparing to take that first glorious drag, barely had the smoke been suggested to my lungs when I began to gag and choke. I was instantly on my knees, floundering and heaving in a vomitus eddy.  No more would I contemplate the trials and tribulations of this life with the ethereal hint of a smoke halo above my head. Or ponder the fifth race with a butt socked squarely between my teeth. I don’t know if my lungs will ever be pink again but this time I’m giving it my best shot. 

I have looked at it long and hard and I have come to one conclusion:  Even though I am still quite sure that I know nothing, in the light it is plain to see things are not what we thought they would be. It’s not that we haven’t tried and in some cases succeeded to build lives and careers and raise families; but as times get harder and the portions of the pie get smaller and smaller, it’s plain to see that somewhere down the line, the calculations have gone askew. And whose fault is that, our parents, our grandparents, the government, religion?


After careful contemplation, it seems there is but one to blame, and don’t fall off your bar stool or pew or ergonomic office chair when you hear the answer. Yes, kids, it’s us, ourselves, numero uno, the ones we have always protected.  And what did we expect? It’s not that some of us haven’t thought a little more about our parents, our children, our significant others, but it’s true. The underlying theme is always, what about me? But that line of thought is unsustainable. For no matter how we were brought up and what corporate logos we pay homage to, the plain and simple truth is, we are connected as a never-ending web.


Though we are only close to a few--our friends, family and neighbors--beyond that we each depend on the other in perpetuity. If one decays, the surroundings take up the slack and mend the web. We can see this by surveying our own little circles, our households, our neighborhoods, our communities, our cities, our states, our counties, the world as it is. We all depend on each other for support. The more we think otherwise, the more we suffer.


 If you think about when you felt the best, most of us--if we are truly honest-- will say:   When I was helping someone else, thinking about someone besides me and myself. When you stop thinking about your own woes or desires, and concentrate on someone else for awhile, their wants, their needs, you overtaken by this warm and comforting feeling. Go close to home and think about those satisfying moments, when you have given a gift to someone you care about, when you’ve helped a stranger jump their car, or find their way when lost. Think about the satisfaction that comes with these small acts.


That good feeling, that warmth and comfort, can happen on a larger scale, if you allow yourself to think about it and move in that direction. This is when our neighborhood becomes safe and strong. When everyone is taking care of each other, communities grow and cities thrive; and when that happens, states and countries began to heal. It’s grass roots thinking, this is how it begins. And if one person in one community thinks about another, who thinks about another, who thinks about another… Things began to look brighter, the future is not so dark and scary.


But please don’t take my word for it; I am but one and there are many out there. Try it close to home and on a small scale. You’ve studied science in school, do an experiment and if you find your experiment works continue. You may be giving to others, but the side effect to this action is that you are receiving benefit, a good feeling. Comfort in knowing that your piece of the web is strong. 

She called me lover, my love, sweet love and a myriad of other syrupy pet names.  I didn’t find this alone particularly offensive at seven thirty in the morning, after 14 hours with out a morsel of food, a drink of water or even a cup of coffee. I rolled straight out of bed and came to the laboratory and here I was, like a zombie, listening to my phlebotomist greet me with words that dripped like honey from her lips.  “Come with me, my love, this way lover.”  She was four foot eight or nine tops, with a relatively small, white lab coat; nothing but her bare legs showing beneath. Her hair was black and pinned behind the ears with faux tortoise shell clips adorned with an image of Tinkerbelle, shoulder-length curls hanging down the back.  She traveled with a switch and a sway. 


I asked if I might put my hand on her shoulder, “Of course my love, be a dear and follow me.”  It was a very sterile atmosphere for such antics but I let my mind roam and kinda got into the groove.  We walked by highchairs with single armrests and several curtains until we reached the corner where behind a partially drawn curtain was my own personal highchair with my own padded armrest. “Sit down, lover,” she cooed, “roll up your sleeve,” and as I skinned my sleeve up past the elbow she seemed to drool, “Ooo what a beauty, look at the size of that thing.”  She stroked the large vein with her finger.  “OK sweetheart this will be very tight for a moment.”  As the vein bulged she licked her lips. My eyes followed hers as she looked over her shoulder, where I noticed three or four stooges hovering in the wings.  “Get me some purple tubes, my love,” she said to the first stooge.  He stepped in as close as he could to her with a grin on his quivering lips and said, “How many would you like, sweet heart?”  “Four or five, love,” she said, as she released the constriction on my muscle.  For the first time I collected my mind from its elaborations and noticed what seemed to be going on.  The remaining stooges hovered with their hands in their pockets and nervous grins; occasionally they wiped spittle from their mouths with the backs of their hands. 


Stooge number one returned with his collection of purple-top tubes and stepped in uncomfortably close, as if wishing to become more familiar than this setting would allow.  Handing them over, he said, “Here you are, four purple-top tubes, my sweet.”  These boys in waiting made my skin crawl a little. I seemed kinda sick to my stomach. I’m not sure if it was the hour, the side of the bed I got up on, or the lack of my usual quad-shot espresso that made my head swoon, but her boys-in-waiting were a little more than I could handle. The whole thing seemed surreal.  The cute talk, the out-and-out sexual tension, the room; for Christ’s sake, couldn’t they find anything for these guys to do?  Wiggling away from him and to the task at hand she patronized, “Thank you, precious.” 


Looking up at me, she warned “It’s going to be very tight for a moment, lover.”  I clenched my fist and the big vein bulges as once again she ran her finger over its length lightly and then again with a swab.  “You’re going to feel a poke.”  She had very steady hands, the stick is barely noticeable.  She began to attach the tubes, siphoning them full one after the next, as she told me how much she adores Tinkerbelle.  She has a Tinkerbelle lunchbox she brings with goodies for her break time, “Tinkerbelle pillows, you ought to see my Tinkerbelle satin sheets.”  She has a small Tinkerbelle statue on the dashboard of her car. Tinkerbelle panties and even Tinkerbelle wings she wears on occasion. 


“Ooo this is the one we’ve been looking for, last one my dear.”  She released the constriction from my muscle, extracted the needle and applied light pressure with a square of gauze to the vein.  “When you come back, sugar, just ask for Tinkerbelle. You know I’ll take real good care of you.”  “Well, I’ll give you this,” I said, “you are very good at what you do, whatever that is.”  With a giggle and a blush she removed the gauze and placed a band-aid over the vein.


I attempted to get out of my high chair, looking forward to that first cup of coffee.  She placed her palm against my chest and pushed me back down while digging in her pocket where she retrieved a roll of stickers. “What’s this?”  “I want to give you a kiss,” she said.  She peeled back one of the small stickers, resembling a lipstick kiss on the mirror, and affixed it to the band-aid on my vein.  With a very light drag of her knuckles on my cheek, I was dismissed with the kiss, a smile and a “Good-bye, lover.”  

There is a place just outside the killing floor and before you reach the pens in the back; an area where they keep the guts and horns and hooves and hides and bone meal until they can be picked up and moved to their next destination.  The bone meal is taken and used as extra protein for cattle feed and we wonder about mad cow disease.  The hides are hauled off and tanned and turn into a myriad of products that we wear and use everyday.  You’ve probably seen horns and hooves in pet stores for chew toys or in road side stands along the freeway as curios.  Everything else is taken along with the dead and dying; those too sick and infected to be used for human consumption; and sent to the rendering plant, where it is put into a cauldron and boiled and stewed until it is a fine-enough consistency to be made into dog food.  Not one hair, not one sinew wasted.  This holding area with its bins and barrels and platforms stacked high with refuse is so pungent, so ripe, so foul that it would take a person of considerable constitution to pass through without retching.  Many an unsuspecting soul touring the slaughter house has fallen to his knees in such a vomitus state as to lose everything previously ingested that day and then stager off heaving, seeking fresh air, all this beneath the gaze of the undocumented workers who are sharing their lunch and snickering.  

There are many things about me that those outside my close karmic circle aren’t privy to. I guess this is what compels me to tell the tales I tell. And I do this knowing that there are those who are completely uninterested. Nevertheless, I’m hell-bent to tell them anyway. For a blind, diabetic, transplant recipient, I feel pretty good, considering. This being the case, I’ve taken on a multitude of projects fully intending to finish them; and if I haven’t, I will. So when the general malaise set upon me, and I found it harder and harder to extract myself from the couch and harder yet to pick up my guitar, I chalked it up to depression. I don’t know from depression, but Lauri agreed that this seemed like my diagnosis. Having some experience with the dark feelings, I moved forward on this premise and sought relief in the form of anti-depressants, the “happy pills” that supposedly made life worth living again. In doing so I felt that I was on top of the matter, and I settled in to await the new arising. The new me, a healed me, felt conspicuously similar to the couch-ridden slug I had been before; not quite so crippled, but suspiciously lethargic and uninterested in my calling. Needless to say, this was very disappointing. They told me that six months is the minimum trial period for these wonder pills, so I rode it out till spring. Six months came and went, and I decided to get myself out and enjoy the warming weather--gardening, hoeing, digging, planting trees and making plans for our permaculture summer. Ah yes, the best laid plans. Come to find out, my mental state had more to do with my body’s ills than with my mind’s. It seems that my transplanted kidney received 18 years previous was showing the strains of forty years of diabetes and almost two decades of immunosuppression drugs, not to mention the rigors (or shall we say abuses) of a very colorful life. Now one would think that this would be enough to sink a battleship and for a while I went with that; for crying out loud, who would think anything else was wrong? But forty years of diabetes pulls no punches! On June the 1st, 2011, we were leaving Dallas after a solo performance the night before when I became violently ill, stopping every 20 to 50 miles so I could heave my guts out. There was nothing in there. This went on for the duration of the 10 hour trip. My kidney was giving fair warning. Thus began the wretched summer culminating in August with a week-long stay in the hospital. Things weren’t looking very good for the kidney, and my blood pressure and cluster headaches were on the rise. When I was released from the hospital, still no one--me or anyone else--was any wiser to the coming events. Until the middle of one night in September when Lauri found me face down on the kitchen floor, seemingly from a grand mal seizure. I blew it off as a low blood sugar episode, although more extreme than I have known before, and continued believing that I could pull out of this any day. Lauri left for a trip to New York later in the month and had only been gone a week or so, when it happened again; and this was no mere blood sugar episode nor was it a seizure. I had been lying on the floor of my rehearsal room for a full day when I began to come to. Crawling around on my elbows trying to get to the back door to let the dog out, unable to rise, speak or even know exactly where I was when the phone began to ring. Who knows how long it had been ringing. Someone was trying to get through, over and over they called and then after a while--nothing. I’m not sure how much time had passed when I began to hear my neighbor calling from the front door. I tried to call to him; the only word I could get out as I yelled was “back, back!” And soon he came to the back door, which was open. (I had somehow been able to reach up and open it to let the dog out.) He came in and found me in my miserable state, unable to rise. He helped me to the couch and with a little juice and stimulation soon I was able to get some words out, but still unable to grasp the full gravity of what had happen to me. It seems that through all this, my daughter Sommer had been contacted and was on her way up from Las Cruces; a few hours later, there she was with me. Back on my feet, I had taken a licking, but here I was still ticking. The next day we walked into my doctor’s office in the hospital and they began trying to decipher what had been going on. This of course led to my being admitted for another hospital stay. Congestive heart failure is when your heart begins to function so poorly that your lungs fill with fluids, and this is what has been happening to me over the past months. After several days of lying around, waiting for something to happen, one day I began to gasp, unable to breathe any longer. The charge nurse took matters into her own hands and declared a state of emergency. Things were hectic, I can barely remember anything; just having the bi-pap oxygen mask (which forced air down my throat) shoved on my face as I was declaring my last breath. This lead me to the intensive care unit where I finally began receiving the care I had needed for months. Adding insult to injury, my kidney had also taken its last breath. I was sent down for an angiogram where they also placed a vascular catheter in my neck so I could began dialysis. The angiogram showed that yes, indeed, I had suffered a couple of heart attacks and that the three main vessels from the heart were occluded. At that moment, I had thirty percent heart function. The treatment they suggested was triple bypass surgery. At this point, I felt like I have been run through the ringer. Thank goodness for Dilaudid. Over a period of three weeks, I had deteriorated to a mere 145 pounds, this was at the least twenty five pounds below my regular weight and I was beginning to wonder if I would survive the hospital stay. At last a dialysis chair was secured at a local clinic as well as an appointment with a cardiothoracic surgeon. I began dialysis and in two weeks meet with Dr. Peter Walinsky and was extremely impressed by this confident, guitar-playing surgeon. He promised me no grand outcomes and also informed me that what I thought were seizures in September were actually heart attacks. And he was so nonchalant about this being an elective surgery that I thought fleetingly, “why would I need it at all”? But the words “you will never get a kidney transplant without this operation” sealed the deal, and I haven’t looked back since. Heart surgery went well, a textbook example of how this procedure should look, no problems from the start. My heart pumping like a freight train and a returned sense of ambition and ideas, not a bad birthday present. It has been a slow recovery by music industries standards. I figure I’ll be back to my old self in about 12 weeks, and I am patiently putting one foot in front of the other until then. It’s been a long arduous trip since the beginning of this total deterioration. I can pinpoint the noticeable decline beginning September 2010. Cole Mitchell and the Curs’ last stand. It was an outdoor gig under a pavilion, 92 degrees in the shade. I was unusually nervous, we hadn’t rehearsed much, but these are very seasoned musicians, there shouldn’t have been a problem. A few songs in I began to feel my blood sugar dive, I had had this problem the previous show as well. I was starting to get concerned. About half way through an hour set, I called for a Coca Cola to try to regroup, but it never happened. I barely gasped the vocals to the end. The band held their own, this was my worst show ever. I had tried to blame blood sugar issues throughout this yearlong ordeal when actually it was congestive heart failure that was bringing me down. Hindsight tells this story and who knows how long it had actually been in the making. That was then, and this is now, and actually for a blind, diabetic, transplant, dialysis patient and triple-bypass recipient, I feel pretty good. 2012 should be full of surprises, stay tuned kids.
The way one comes to be a musician or a songwriter is generally tied to a lineage of family members who play an instrument and pass it on, or to a specific mentor or friend who introduces an instrument to you. And while my mother and grandmother played the piano and there was always one in the house, I was never interested in it, and no one ever seemed to be interested in teaching me about it. I’ll save the tedious stories of struggle and disappointment for another time. Suffice it to say that I was always extremely interested in music, in the words and songwriting. I could have become a poet early on and possibly saved myself a lot of headache, for I never had a teacher or mentor, family or otherwise, to show me how to write a song or play the guitar, which I loved dearly. So... Mel Bay and my favorite recordings became my teachers…. Skip ahead past my first bands and the beginnings of my wandering minstral lifestyle. Though I never set out to travel so many dark avenues, it seems that’s where you find the brightest jewels. Early on, I took to searching for used record shops in each city I would find myself in. Or shopping the cut-out bins of mom-and-pop record shops, whiling away hours upon days flipping through others’ rejects. I was driven purely by karma. I came to understand this much later, but it’s the only logical explanation for the way one’s life lays out. In my early 20s, while rummaging through a cut-out bin in an obscure record shop, in a city I can’t recall, I stumbled upon an album with a price tag of a buck fifty U.S. currency, called “Obituary”, by George Gerdes. Karma being what it is, this was in my price range. I took my booty home, not yet knowing the gravity of this serendipitous moment. The needle hit the groove and “You should come out to California where I’ve been living in the trees…” So far so good, this one would be added to the collection I hauled around in milk crates. And then it hit me like a 100-pound sack of cottonseed meal. “Sweet Janine Taylor, she sings just like Sophie Tucker, and if you want her you can find her in the back room of the North Beach bar room ballroom floor. I don’t need no other ladies, you can keep your sexy Sadies, cuz sweet Janine, she pleases me and takes me on a voyage, over far and distant waters, sweet Janine you know I need ya, can’t you hear me call, as I’m heavin’ and I’m weavin’ over here inside the bathroom stall.” The structure, the imagery, the way it flowed. I was immediately enrolled. I went to school on this handful of songs. The darkest alley is where you’ll find the brightest jewel. And that’s how I came to consider George a mentor and an inspiration. I’m certainly not a parrot--I never cared much for being a mimic, and to this day I only have a handful of covers that I pull out once in a blue moon for no other reason than to cleanse my pallet after constantly quoting myself. I’ve never known anyone who could turn a phrase like my friend double G, very clever, but never trite. The media was looking for the next Bob Dylan and that’s how George fell through the cracks in the early 70s after only a couple albums on Arista Records. He is certainly no Bob Dylan, and guess what neither is anyone else. And Bob Dylan is no George Gerdes. Many a good songwriter has been lead out in to the ring over the past 30 or 40 years and been touted as the next Bob Dylan, and either stood on their own, or drifted into the oblivion. After all there’s only one Bob Dylan, one Hank Williams and only one George Gerdes. Creative people, creative geniuses if you will, always suffer the contempt of the media. Creative vision comes, more times than not, ahead of its time. And this contempt and lack of creativity, which is driven by corporate lust for the almighty dollar, leads a vast public like lemmings over the cliff to its Stepford conformity. But I digress--sorry for the dark clouds. There are an ever-growing number of discerning pallets whose embers have always been aglow, who appreciate artistry ahead of its time, or harkening back to its roots, done with moderate to small success for the sheer sake of being an artist. When this is the case, there is no option not to create. My original introductory copy of George Gerdes “Obituary” has been lost in the shuffle of converting a music collection from vinyl to CD to who knows what next. But the bright side of this bittersweet nostalgia is that karmic connection. My new-found old friend, the wonderin’ double G has kept himself quite busy over the decades as an actor and troubadour and is still as I first knew of him, an excellent songwriter with a razor wit.
There used to be a place called Jack’s, just west down Central Boulevard from the University towards downtown, which was one of the last bastions of true alcoholism in this land of political correctness. Where you could walk in at the crack of noon and order up a glass of whiskey and get a complementary short pull of beer to back it up. Hell, you could do the same thing at seven a.m. if you wanted or needed it; and if you did, you wouldn’t be by yourself. Jack’s was a place where you never had to drink alone. The world just doesn’t seem to be as cold when you got someone to drink with, whether you speak or not. In this den, you could find all the vampires, drunks, junkies, working girls and the like. It was a den of contemplation; whether you were reviewing actions taken, regretting a past squandered, or plotting some illicit scheme, believe me, you weren’t the first. Many waited day upon day, night upon night for that elusive opportunity that never appears, they waited nervous but patient, until they starved out or some small opportunity opened up to change their luck. They were interchangeable, one would leave and another one would show up to take their place. Every day it was the same, on the throne at the bar or in a booth at the back, we were holding court, seeing and being seen. There was a space in time when someone had discarded a mattress by the dumpster behind Jack’s, and the garbage truck would come each week and dump the dumpster and leave the mattress. It was out there in the back of the parking lot for what seemed like months. One Navaho woman used it to turn tricks until she earned more money than she could drink up and bought a bus ticket back to the reservation. There is a thread running through each of these stories that makes everyone the same. Strip away how unique each of us felt, the suffering and silence or the obvious screams of pain. Each and every one was there for refuge, for rescue. Each was asking for forgiveness, reaching for help, saying throw me line, someone please throw me a line. Pull me in from this raging sea of suffering. The comical aspect of all this is, through all the routine comings and goings, some never even knew they needed or wanted help. Now take this dismal scene and transplant it… anywhere, Anytown USA, any town throughout the world, and there will be those who feel they are trapped there, trapped like flies stuck to a strip of fly tape hanging from a west Texas gas station ceiling.
Kicking rocks down the road of a thousand sins may or may not be a legitimate form of education but an education nonetheless, and only the keenest of the road scholars will survive with their hearts intact. The alumni are many: some have chosen but most have unwittingly stumbled into their studies; a few have received one or more degrees from “legitimate” universities before realizing that life is as treacherous as it looks. Fiction and textbooks are far more forgiving. Any way it happens, our students begin wandering the laboratory of life. The lowest percentile think they are teaching themselves, that they are learning life’s lessons all on their own; while the middle percentile accept the fact that for learning to occur a teacher is generally needed, and they spend their time searching for qualified instructors. It is only the cream of the crop, the upper one to five percent of the school of hard knocks, life’s university, the true road scholars who are able to realize that everyone they meet, every situation they find, every success and every failure, are their teachers. I guess I found myself enrolled unwittingly and for awhile I thought I was under my own tutelage. Although I was a good student, it took awhile to realize where the teachings where coming from and where the focus should be trained. This may sound like I rolled out of a sleeping bag one morning with a light bulb glowing above my head or arose from a meditation cushion with profound realizations. Let’s not be hasty. I’m as ignorant as they come about many things, and while the early years of my study where filled with arrogance and foolhardy mistakes, I was led by a mind of passion and a contradictory kind heart. Living by your wits ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and not nearly as romantic as the retelling of these events may lead you to believe (films, novels… folk songs?). The lessons, though, have been profound; and after ruminating on the consequences of my actions I can see how some may have believed I had no conscience. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, so this became a joke to protect my integrity. I would say I was living the no conscious blues, and I ignored the ones who put this label upon me as if it didn’t matter. If you’re following me, you’re beginning to understand how tough exteriors, promiscuous leanings, and an out-and-out defiance of authority are merely walls. These structures are feverishly thrown up to protect us, seemingly, from those around us but really from our own minds. Of course this appears to be going on without our knowledge and this is where it begins, the testing process. This is the most difficult part for a road scholar, for you need to slow down for the lessons to catch up with you. You have to go inside and take inventory. If ever … most of us only get to this point on our death-bed. And so for me, imminent death and blindness are what it took to cool my jets, and let the passionate mind mix with the kind heart. Now I believe I am in the testing mode for the duration, writing my thesis, throwing out the bad ideas and highlighting the good ones. Getting rid of the no conscience blues facade and replacing it with tales from this rough and rocky road that’s got me here. Wisdom coming, although I’ve got a long way to go…………………….
I would imagine that if you live in or come from a metropolis or any town or village with a thousand-plus population, you may not be familiar with the rustic side. I would wager that if you are rushing off to work in the morning in a suit and tie or business skirt and heels, that you aren’t familiar with the pristine air that fills your lungs as you are walking outside your front door at 8,000 feet with the clouds swirling around your head, like fog rolling in off of the ocean. The scent of pinõn and juniper that boils out of the stove pipe in this thin atmosphere can be breath taking, with nights so clear that the stars stand out and it seems that you can touch them. Twinkling like diamonds against a black velvet sky and on a full moon evening, the terrain is lit up so clear that man and beast alike move freely, unobstructed by the night. These are just a few of the beauties of the rustic side of life. I’ve done time on some backed-up boulevards and spent hazy days when you couldn’t see the sun and long surreal nights where the stars were outshone by manmade lights. There’s beauty in the warm neon buzz and the short horizons of a city skyline, and I’m fortunate to have seen these sights and to have lived among and observed those who inhabit these landscapes, whether it be Sunset Boulevard, Market Street, or the Great White Way. Few have known the absolute awe inspiring beauty of the Gila Wilderness or being on horseback where no motor driven vehicle has ever rolled a tire. In this setting you can just as easily scare up an elk on the edge of a mountain and before you have the wherewithal to decide if you want to shake out a loop or take a picture, the bull has slid on his hocks down the face of the cliff. Maybe you’re riding up a draw that empties into a canyon; you ride back and rim up on an untraveled path. Reaching three quarters the way to the top you come upon a small cave opening. Standing on the sheer slope of the mountain you peer in to see a simple metate, with the grinding stone still in it that no man has seen since it was last used by the native who left it there. These are sights that people in populated areas cannot fathom. When one is struck by beauty in any form the mental picture snapped by that individual can’t be duplicated; it can only be described second hand or be reconstructed as a museum mockup. So as I am giving you my second hand description of the rustic side of life, the point I am driving home is that we should live life to its fullest and see whatever we can see, whether it be lying on your back near the edge of a cliff at 9,000 feet with your pony hobbled behind you and seeing two military fighter jets swoop past you barely fifty yards above, or walking in the middle of San Francisco’s seven square miles of absolute beauty amid the swirling sights and tastes of most of the world’s cultures. It could be considered a true act of generosity to take a mountain man into your home in the great city of New York and let him live and experience your life, or to take an L.A. girl into your two-room cabin in the middle of the wilderness and allow her to experience the grandeur of your life there. For someone who has lived a pretty colorful life—to be polite—I have lived my travels close to the bone, existing in the places and with the people I’ve come across. After living this way most of my life I still find it exhilarating to wander among new people in different places, like taking a room a couple of flights up on Rue Claire in Paris and breathing the air, tasting the food and hearing the way my guitar sounds in a foreign climate. Such are the dilemmas of a chameleon, and I don’t use that term meaning to hide; I use it meaning to get along with all and get along with every culture. Walking in the middle of the punch westerns—the cowboys, the rancher types—they always said, “Why, you are kind of a hippy-looking son of a buck aren’t ya?” but I knew the code, and I was capable and talented in their world so I walked among them with only the occasional raised eyebrow. Then there was the dirt hippie crowd; the rainbow people. I walked freely among them because I knew their lingo and I had a lot of the same proclivities and conversed comfortably with them. So when I walked among them I was hardly recognized or maybe wholly recognized famous or infamous…what’s the difference? I also have many life-long brethren from the biker faction and here I got along famously: although they rode horses of iron and worshipped that lifestyle, I rode horses of flesh and knew how to handle both. For this reason I have been constantly pulled from the rustic side, the way of life I was born into. I’ve studied at the heart of the human condition and been able to empathize and feel a person’s plight. Because of this I’ve gravitated towards the populous to tell the stories that are engraved upon my mind like ancient stone etchings. That, and my ambition to have the world hear these stories, is what keeps me in this technological age, mingling with those who have inspired these tales and the hungry ears who long for their retelling.

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