My Yogi Daily Affirmation

Eve of Christmas Eve, 2020

“Gratitude Leads to Love.”

I like to begin each weekday morning with a cup or two of Yogi herbal tea. While my favorite variety is ginger, there are many others available on the Yogi Storefront on Amazon from which to choose. I prefer to start my morning work routines without the artificial boost of caffeine, and since I often practice 20-hour periodic fasting (no solid food from 7pm in the evening until to 3pm in the afternoon of the following day), drinking nourishing tea supplemented by a mid-morning coffee is critical to maintaining my energy, drive, and focus.

I am accompanying my Yogi Daily Affirmation (“Gratitude leads to love”) this morning by listening to “Suwannee County” by Andrew Combs which is the perfect acoustic accompaniment to the lively, yet relaxing flavors of my ginger tea. Recently, I signed up for three month free trial on Amazon Music Unlimited, and the experience is gradually changing my somewhat outdated views of how best to listen to music. I actually have a large CD collection dating back to the 1990s, and I supplement it with free music using my public library’s Hoopla account, but the nice thing about Amazon Unlimited is how well the predictive algorithm shuffles in new songs based on my likes, lists, and past listening sessions.

It’s not foolproof, by any means, but the more effort you as a user invest in liking, disliking, and selecting songs, artists, or albums you like, the better the A.I. becomes at adding in newer selections from time to time. It’s moved on to John Prine’s “How Lucky,” an Amazon Original recording from 2018. I like Prine’s music, but so to a lot of us, so the fact it entered by playlist is no real surprise. Still, I am grateful it entered the live stream, so to speak, and my Yogi Daily Affirmation reminded me that “gratitude leads to love,” so there you go.

The next selection is totally out of left field: a selection from a 50th anniversary Michele Pittaluga classical guitar competition album. It’s quite impressive, actually. I’m not sure yet if I’ll enjoy the songs that are selected for me each time I press play, but I am open for discovering new things this morning. And what would life be with out the occasional pleasant or serendipitous discoveries from time to time? That’s what I enjoy about my Yogi tea daily affirmations, and it’s what, in the end, I also am enjoying about Amazon Music Unlimited.

This leads me back to my daily affirmation today, on the eve of Christmas Eve. It’s about how we reach a state of love in our lives, the pathways that each of us must follow in order to get there. My affirmation suggests that we start with a feeling of gratitude, which has two components to it: an appreciation for kindness and a readiness to show it in return. Gratitude, in other words, is reciprocal. You have to give it readily in order to receive it properly. And if you practice gratitude enough, eventually it LEADS to love, which is a far more difficult state of bliss and contentment to attain.

Personally, I like this idea. Finding love is hard, even if it were not Christmas season 2020, when personal encounters with strangers are uncommon. I met my wife on a Christmas day 22 years ago, on a cold a snowy winter’s morning in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. I was new to her part of the planet, and during our first few days together, she showed me around museums, cafes, churches, snow-covered parks, and even villages in Transylvania that I never could have discovered on my own. I was truly grateful for those uncommonly kind acts, and I expressed that gratitude to her many times during those early encounters. After all: “thank you” is easy to learn in nearly any language. It means a lot to say it out loud even if you get the accent wrong. And that gratitude led to two of us down a path to love that continues to this day.

Now, I am listening to a song, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” from the album, Rising Son, by jazz trumpet player, Takuya Kuroda. It’s not a Christmas song, by any means, but it captures a sense of togetherness, happiness, and casual sociability that I am missing this holiday season, given the travel and quarantine restrictions in California and elsewhere that prevail. I will be very, very grateful when those restrictions are removed and I can travel again more freely. For now, I am grateful to have engaging music, nourishing herbal tea, a decorated Christmas tree, and someone to love sitting on the couch next to me knitting while I type these words. It doesn’t meet the definition success that I was given as a college student at Williams almost 25 years ago, but it works for me, for the time being. Having the courage to be content is an under appreciated talent.

If you’d like to read more about my winter seasonal tea and coffee rituals, please see my earlier post from last week, which you can read here.

We’ll end today’s Yogi Daily Affirmation with a nod to the great African-American jazz trumpet player, Terence Blanchard. Let it flow, all you cool cats out there. LET IT FLOW. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. Have a blast in 2021. See you soon on WordPress. I hope!

Twelve Days of Amazon Christmas: When the Winter Rains Arrive, I Turn To Tracy to Help Me Think.

A Retrospective Review of Tracy Chapman, Our Bright Future.

Tracy Chapman, Our Bright Future.

The winter rains have been far too slow arriving this year, but there are signs on the horizon that this situation is about to change. Not the harsh rains and hurricane force winds that so often batter the coastlines of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, but a coastal Christmas rain, the kind that dampens the redwoods and signals the end of 2020. Finally. I know what I need to do before the next year arrives. Time to turn to Tracy Chapman to help me decide what to think about next.

Here’s how it works. I listen to Tracy sing and then respond in written form in some fashion. Today, I decided to listen to her album, Our Bright Future, which I acquired nearly a decade ago. This time, I’ll be playing it using Amazon Music Unlimited, whose 3-month free trial offer is a convenient way to catch up on songs you’ve been meaning to listen to earlier in the year and somehow never managed to postpone. I enjoy revisiting “known known” artists like Tracy at times like this, when the seasons are changing and when I can discover new textures, tones, and storylines to the songs on each album. Songs are like palimpsests. They have layers upon layers, and their meanings unwrap themselves over time.

There are eleven tracks on this exquisite album, Our Bright Future, which was produced in 2008 in a Los Angeles recording studio by Tracy and Larry Klein, who plays electric and acoustic bass on the songs as well. Eleven tracks. Eleven chances to listen to Tracy tell me stories and prod me to think about unusual and precious things. Things like love and loss, and the enduring quality of spirit. A chance to blend history with autobiography and break down the walls that separate objective reality from the subjectively lived life. Eleven opportunities to respond spontaneously, in real time, as her songs echo in my living room while drops of redwood rain fall gently on the roof above. 

And as always, Tracy: thank you for being you. The redwoods and I are happy to listen in to tales of your far from ordinary life once more.

1 – Sing for You: The time to sing for you is now. It is always now. I can hum along to this, but that does not mean that it is a simple thing, to sing for all of us. But maybe it is. Simple, I mean. Perhaps we are all each clothed in the lyrics of other people’s songs in the end. It is only the singer herself who bares her naked soul to the public. We listen from the darkness while you perform for us on stage. Hardly seems fair that way, I realize.

2 – I Did It All: It’s too early for cocktails, Tracy. It’s 11am in the morning, and the fog and rain still linger. Twist my arm, however, and I might relent. Make mine an Old Fashioned. I wonder: would you join me for a drink at Venus Distillery in Santa Cruz to fill me in on what “all” you did since you wrote this song in 2007? Did you do it all again? Have they made that made-for-TV movie about you yet? Maybe someone should speak with the folks at Apple TV+ about it, then. And does Dean Parks play clarinet at weddings and bar mitzvahs as well? He’s really good. 

3 – Save Us All: Yes. He did. And He still does. Loves you, I mean. There are worse meals in life than bread, fish, and wine. Actually, that sounds just like my weekend dinner plans this week: cedar plank grilled California king salmon, homemade sourdough rye bread, and a bottle of Hamilton Family Chardonnay from Big Basin Vineyards from our cellar. Care to join us? Ask Buddha, Allah, and Krishna if they’ll be coming, too. Jesus is coming already. He has a standing invitation at the table, and He can bring any friends He likes. Or join us for New Year’s. You won’t have to play or sing or anything. Just be you. I would really dig that sort of thing, I think.

4 – Our Bright Future: This song took me a long time to appreciate. I had to fail a lot in life before it started to make sense. By now, my failures have accumulated to the point where any bright futures I once anticipated have been buried and left to deteriorate in the dustbin of history.

But the thing is, Tracy: The past and the future, they don’t even really exist, except as conceptual constructs of the ego-centric human mind. Not in the way one usually thinks about them, at any rate. The wars of the past and those of the future cannot stop the encroaching feeling of peace that surrounds us as we inhabit the time of the now. Listening to this song, despite the pain-laced content of the words, it is a peaceful experience for me. How do you manage this act of musical alchemy, Tracy? Actually, having Dean Parks accompany you probably helps. A lot. That Dean guy, the dude can play.

5 – For a Dream: Framed in gold leaf. Or golden leaves? The maple trees in Purisima Canyon are starting to turn gold, Tracy. And the redwood trees are shedding their spent needles in a shower of amber, orange, pale green, and topaz. How would it be if we are  pictured together there, surrounded by the fallen gold of the forest – and not in a dream? Definitely better than the pain. The truth always seems simpler when walking in the redwoods. Do you think that your mother would have agreed? My mother loves the forest trails of her childhood. Maybe she passed that love on, or maybe I discovered it for myself. Never sure if nature or nurture hold more sway in such matters. What do you think?

6 – Thinking of You: Joey Waronker is great on percussion on this track. Did you consider actually howling at the moon in this song? I’ll bet that Sting would have done so, in an instant. No one howls like Sting. Well, the coyotes in the canyon are pretty good at it, too. They have pups this year, the Purisima Creek pack does. For some reason, your song makes me think about them. I hope that they have a warm and dry den to bed down in until the rain stops. Stop thinking so much, Tracy. Start feeling instead. You can learn a lot from young coyotes. Or by listening to Joe Gore play keyboards. Lovely sound you’ve got there, Joe. Pure. Like spun gold.

7  – A Theory: Dean Parks plays pedal steel as well? What can’t that man do? Run for President in 2020, perhaps? Dean 2020. I kinda like the sound of that. But, you know, it’s just a theory. An educated guess. A conclusion not foregone. Why not search for proof? Or just go out for lunch? How about meeting up for carnitas tacos at the Mercado in Pescadero? I’ll buy the beer if you’ll spring for the tacos.

8 – Conditional: Not for free? Know what has no strings attached? Hiking in the redwoods in the rain. Meet me at the Purisima Creek trailhead, and we’ll try to forget about all those things about yourself that you still cannot accept. Unconditional love, that is what the trees in the forest promise. No qualifiers. No liars. Just a lot of banana slugs, especially when it’s wet. And plenty of quail and rabbits when it’s dry.

9 – Something to See: Ah, the soothing sounds of Larry Goldings on Wurlitzer. And organ. What a talented bunch of musician friends you’ve got there, Tracy. Rock Deadrick is great on backup vocals as well. Know where’s no war and no grief? In the redwoods. Especially when it rains. Just try not to step on the newts. Tiny little guys, those newts, but very determined creatures. Have you ever seen dozens of newts emerging from their summer hibernation when the autumn rains begin to fall? Well, I have. Dozens upon dozens. Now THAT would be something for you to see!

10 – The First Person on Earth: I have a confession to make, Tracy. This song has long been my favorite on the album. I loved listening to it on long solo car trips from California to Montana and back again. Driving early in the morning on desolate dirt roads in eastern Oregon, you do really feel like the first AND the last person on earth. The first person awake, at any rate. When you’ve got 400 miles to go before you can set up your tent at the next campground, you tend to start your day early, before the dawn. And this song, it’s perfect for mornings like that. Love Carla Kihlstedt on violin on this track, by the way. And Rob Burger on vibraphone and pump organ. And Joey  W. on percussion again. Dang, Tracy. You play with some good people!

11 – Spring: This is a song about spring, obviously. But it works with the early winter rains as well. When the rains return to the California coast each year, it’s the start of a new growing cycle. The wetness brings new growth, new sounds, new trickles and traces of life. Like the first of spring, you might say. I do like the fact that you’ve done this song with only Michael Webster on piano, Larry on acoustic bass, and you on acoustic guitar. It’s just that you end it all way too soon. I’d have loved at least an extra verse. 

Let’s talk about it over fish tacos in Pescadero, why don’t we? Or cocktails and light snacks at Venus Spirits in Santa Cruz. Take your pick. Here’s to more bright futures for us all! COVID-19 can’t be the end of the story, can it? I doubt it, but I have been wrong before.

Time to wrap this post up. Thanks, friend Tracy, again for letting me listen – and for helping me once more to think.

Twelve Days of Amazon Christmas: Setting Your Sights on a New Horizon

A Retrospective Book Review of Barry Lopez, Horizon.

As the Christmas holidays continue their path forward into the New Year, I am prompted to revisit some of my book and music recommendations from 2020 for retrospective sharing. This one is about a book Barry Lopez published earlier in the year. It has grown on me ever since.

Some books startle you with their brilliance, as if you are gazing directly into the sun. You cannot believe the words that appear on the page. The way they are perfectly paired and linked and strung together to form thoughts, ideas, and scintillating insights; the mixture of ultra high definition details and incredibly abstract – yet lucid – concepts. How did a human created from the same DNA as you or I manage to pull off this tremendous feat? An act of genius? The luck of good timing, lots of practice, and the perfect place? A life of privilege, education, and opportunity? A really great editor? A publisher who believed in the idea even with the author herself didn’t?

Barry’s newest book, it ain’t like that. At all. It’s no Of Wolves and Men. It’s not even “Dances with Wolves.” Most of its hundreds upon hundreds of pages are Barry’s field notes from highly privileged scientific observer missions to the Canadian Arctic, Antarctica, Australia, the Pacific, and East Africa. Trips funded more often than not by U.S. taxpayers, courtesy of the NSF, the NEA, or other prestigious “writer in residence” programs. Barry, he’s hanging with scientists and getting up close and personal access to remote, windswept, curiosity-inducing places. And we get to read about him writing about all those personal journeys.

In the end, the parts do not add up to a narrative display of sustained creative brilliance, the way that Barry has managed to do many times before when he was a younger man and less self-ruminative writer. Think Arctic Dreams. This time, Barry writes about himself and his fellow humanity by resuscitating older journal entries lightly edited and refreshed with periodic rants, philippics, and jeremiads at the destructive behaviors of humanity writ large. Our shared histories of colonialism, abuse, and environmental catastrophe. The way we dig in the dirt, or drill into the snow, for bones, fossils, rocks, and meteorites from the far reaches of outer space. Why? Barry doesn’t really seem to know. He’s just pleased as punch to have been there to watch it all happen.

The thing is, a five star rating on Amazon isn’t reserved for the brilliant books alone. They also honor five star efforts. They honor the work, the blood, the tears, the anguish, and the reaching for the stars that generally results only in passing sparks and flashes of creative, emotive power. Barry does this dozens upon dozens of times in the pages of Horizon. He writes about Charles Darwin and James Cook and many other people you’ve never heard of.  He takes you into his home office and tells you about the enigmatic objects that are like amulets to him. He talks about his childhood and the pains and pleasures it held. He acts like a grandfather; he rages like a liberal; he upbraids and defends the value of wildness even as he amasses a huge carbon footprint by flying to some of the world’s most audacious places.

It took me weeks – months, actually – to finish reading this book. And I skipped a few pages from time to time. I got that Barry had done amazing things with his life, and I got that he was working hard to share those experiences with all of us, his readers. Even as he realized the words would never capture the feelings and moments and ebbs and flows of his soul as he literally felt the planet’s pain – repeatedly – while trying to be a good observer of the people with whom he traveled. He wants us to get angry at the elites who wreck the planet to make profit, but in the end, he leaves us on the side of the road at the edge of a continent watching as a “madman” ignores his passing vehicle. He tells us not to trust in miracles or our own cultural assumptions. He wants us to love each other and seek out wisdom in unfamiliar places. He reminds us of ancient knowledge and traditional ways, while also aiding and abetting modern scientific inquiry. He’s so good at writing about animals and wild nature, but when he tries writing about himself or his fellow humans, he keeps circling back to known tropes and trickeries. 

I love the rawness of Horizon. I love the loose ends and sharp edges. I like the fact that it’s been edited and fact checked but also left somewhat messy and ambiguous. After all: who is going to tell a writer as accoladed as Barry how to write? Not this Amazon reviewer, I can assure you. I’ve heard Barry speak once in Missoula, Montana. I’ve bought his books. I’ve probably assigned them or recommended them to my former students. But Horizon I checked out from my local public library. I read it in bits and pieces, sometimes over a glass or two of craft beer at the Fieldwork Brewing Company’s beer garden in San Mateo, California. I read some parts in bed using an LED reading light. I’ve read some parts outside at picnic tables under the shade of coastal redwoods. I’ve read some standing in my kitchen preparing garden grown vegetables for a shared family meal. Each time I did so, I felt the power of Barry’s desires to connect, to communicate, to create a shared body of neo-modern wisdom that his grandchildren and many others’ grandchildren might one day use to make a better, less destructive, less wanton world.

Barry, my friend, I salute the effort! And I award you five Amazon stars to do with as you see fit. Even if you never publish a book like this again, I get why you tried to make it all work. Cheers for that. A Fieldwork hazy IPA of your choice awaits you in San Mateo if you ever decide to take up the offer. Message me on Yelp, and I’ll meet you there at their Bay Meadow Biergarten, in less time than it takes for a single beat of the human heart.

My Yogi Daily Affirmation

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

“Be fearless; know that all will be provided at the right time.”

Tigor the baby tiger with a box of Yogi Ginger tea.

I like to begin each weekday morning with a cup or two of Yogi herbal tea. While my favorite variety is ginger, there are many others available on the Yogi Storefront on Amazon from which to choose. I prefer to start my morning work routines without the artificial boost of caffeine, and since I often practice 20-hour periodic fasting (no solid food from 7pm in the evening until to 3pm in the afternoon of the following day), drinking nourishing tea supplemented by a mid-morning coffee is critical to maintaining my energy, drive, and focus.

I am accompanying my first cup of ginger tea this morning by listening to a Windham Hill flamenco guitar collection, which is the perfect acoustic accompaniment to the lively, yet relaxing flavors of my ginger tea. Recently, I signed up for three month free trial on Amazon Music Unlimited, and the experience is gradually changing my somewhat outdated views of how best to listen to music. I actually have a large CD collection dating back to the 1990s, and I supplement it with free music using my public library’s Hoopla account, but the nice thing about Amazon Unlimited is how well the predictive algorithm shuffles in new songs based on my likes, lists, and past listening sessions.

It’s not foolproof, by any means, but the more effort you as a user invest in liking, disliking, and selecting songs, artists, or albums you like, the better the A.I. becomes at adding in newer selections from time to time. Yesterday, I browsed through the albums of Passenger and came across several ones for my song list today, including The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I’m not sure yet if I’ll enjoy the songs, but I am open for discovering new things this morning. And what would life be with out the occasional pleasant or serendipitous discoveries from time to time? That’s what I enjoy about my Yogi tea daily affirmations, and it’s what, in the end, I also am enjoying about Amazon Music Unlimited.

If you’d like to read more about my winter seasonal tea and coffee rituals, please see my earlier post from last week, which you can read here. Thanks for the time! Hope to see you again real soon.

Twelve Days of Amazon Christmas: Guitar music to soothe the soul and celebrate the season in style.

Windham Hill’s Holiday Guitar Collection on CD.

Guitar music isn’t just for flamenco, or for rock n’ roll. It’s totally in the spirit of the winter holidays and Christmas season. That’s why this guitar-centric Windham Hill holiday album is at the top of my “12 Days of Amazon Christmas” playlist for 2020.

Why? The guitar, baby. It’s all about the guitar. These players are well known in the world of jazz, New Age, and adult contemporary music. Alex de Grassi. Will Ackerman. Tock Andress. Manuel Barruecco. And more. The songs are classic, but with lovely twists. Sure, you’ll recognize ones like “Winter Wonderland” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” but others, like “The Holly and Ivy,” “Carol of the Bells,” and “Christmas Time is Here” sound distinct without the trademark lyrics. This is music of the highest order, but an album you can play as sonic background for meals, on weekends, on when you’re deeply engaged in meaningful conversations.

At least once, make the effort to listen to the album from start to finish without doing anything else, like sipping mulled wine or a rum hot toddy. Just key in to the music. These musicians are so worth it! 

MDNA+ aon= 5 stars on AMAZon.com

MDNA on CD. This is a library copy, but you can purchase your own as well.

A retrospective music review of Madonna, MDNA, originally posted as a customer review on https://amazon.com

In an ideal world, there would be no need for an album like this one. MDNA is Madonna’s 12th studio recording, released in 2012 following an ended marriage (to Guy Ritchie, in 2008) and a film directing effort that was not a commercial success (“W.E.” in 2011). In such a world, there would also be no need to write 5 star reviews on Amazon, nor would we rely upon multi-billionaires to shape our politics, influence our economic lives, and manipulate the way that we process and produce popular culture.

It’s not that we wouldn’t need Madonna; of course, we would! She is a creative force of nature and tireless performer, and our world would be less vibrant and vivacious if she ceased to sing, dance, and entertain us. 

Without Amazon, we’d survive as well. But we would miss Jeff Bezos. His drive. His keen intelligence. His risk-taking. His vision. His desire to reach for the stars. But, we’d still get our stuff delivered. We’d still figure out for ourselves what to get our kids or grandkids for Christmas and Hanukkah. We’d entertain ourselves with no need to stream. But we’d miss having Jeff around, because human beings like him are special, no matter how much money they manage to accumulate in a single lifetime. 

The standard edition release of MDNA has two wonderful songs, tracks #11 and #12, both produced with William Orbit, a legendary figure and long-term Madonna collaborator on some of her most memorable albums. “Masterpiece” was created for the movie, “W.E.” and plays with the credits, while “Falling Free” is a ballad about the liberating sensation of being free – from an unhappy marriage, for example, or a movie career that never quite panned out the way one expected. Listen closely, and you will heard the sound of forgiveness – of one’s self and of one’s other. These are Madonna’s most beautiful pair of songs, ever, in my opinion.

The other 10 tracks on the standard release album are a mixed grab bag of musical genres and production styles, recorded in studios in London, Los Angeles, New York City, and Las Vegas. They are classic “middle aged Madonna” musical partnerships with young, hip, edgy artists of diverse backgrounds. They are danceable, as is the case with virtually all of Madonna’s music, but they are loud, pulsating, and profane works of art. “Masterpiece” and “Falling Free” are so different, in tone, tempo, and texture, it’s like switching from gin tonics to a chilled glass of high quality Chablis. You shift more gently in your seat, or slow down the pace of your dancing, and you reflect for a few precious moments about the fact that MDNA is only an album, while “aon” is a real, flesh-and-blood woman. A woman with feelings, who has hurt and can hurt, who isn’t simply a provocateur and pop culture power broker. 

I think I really like “aon,” more than I do MDNA. I would share a bottle of really good Santa Cruz Mountains wine with “aon.” I’d invite her into my home, I’d light a fire, play some gentle music on the stereo, by Mandolin Orange perhaps, or Martha Scanlan, or Last Leaf by the Danish String Quartet. Or the acoustic version of Passenger’s “All the Little Lights.” I’d give her the guest room library to sleep in, filled with books and warm, Pendleton wool blankets. I’d wake up early, at 5am, and start to make sourdough pancakes. I’d brew a pot of Mighty Leaf orange blossom tea. I’d let her wake up naturally, as the fog drips from the redwoods onto the roof of the cottage. I’d have a pair of Sorel men’s wool slippers and Coyuchi organic bathrobe ready for her. I’d smile and welcome her to breakfast, and I’d have a pair of hiking boots ready for walking with me into the nearby redwood canyon, once the sun had risen and morning fog had started to dissipate. 

“Aon,” if you are reading this, know that there is no such thing as an ideal world. There is only the world of illusions. But at its core – at your core – there is a scintilla of pure, radiant light. It never fades. It is a masterpiece of creation. It is what it feels like to be falling free, forever, into eternity. MDNA is all well and good, but “aon” is infinitely better. A place at our breakfast table awaits, friend. This offer will never expire.

They called it Johnny Mathis “Gold” for a very good reason: IT IS !!!

Johnny Mathis Gold 50th Anniversary Christmas Collection

For an album that was originally recorded in June 1958, the Christmas songs that Johnny Mathis first recorded as a gift to his mother is worth its weight in gold each and every winter holiday season. That’s why it’s my #2 selection for the Twelve Days of Amazon Christmas 2020 edition. 

Maybe it’s the quality of his voice at such a relatively young and tender age, and the expert accompaniment by Percy Faith and his orchestra. But then, again, maybe it’s the 1963 recording of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that follows as Track 6. Or the host of classic recordings from 1986 that come after that, arranged and conducted by Ray Ellis.

By the time you get to Track 14, a 2004 recording of “O Tannebaum” performed with the aid of Mannheim Steamroller, we’ll the Christmas vibe is fully in swing. And the, suddenly, there she is: Bette Midler, in duet with Mr. Mathis for a superb rendition of “Winter Wonderland” from 2006, with beautiful orchestral arrangements by Patrick Williams.

So, you see, it’s not Johnny’s gold we’re talking about here; it’s 50 years of musical accomplishment, recording, mixing, and remastering. It’s the whole package. It’s a supreme studio song, showing how Christmas songs change from year, even as the spiritual and festive core of the words and music stay the same. If that isn’t what Christmas music means to me, then I don’t know what else to call it. If you’re yearning for a Christmas sound for your holiday season without a trace of sarcasm, cynicism, or irony, look no further than Johnny Mathis Gold. You can always act like a Grinch next year!

A Flea Market of the Mind, One Torrent at a Time: A Review of Ani DiFranco’s Memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream.

Arguably the Best Musician Memoir Published in 2019.

There are only two ways to write a rock star memoir; you do it yourself, despite the torpedoes, or you seek help. Guess which one Ani D. chooses? You got it, friend. She does it her way. How else would this thing go down?

Memoirs that are written with professional help have flow, structure, and a discernable narrative arc. They “feel” like the stories we already know. They have a beginning, a middle, a moment of truth, a climax, a resolution of climax, an end, and then a reflection upon that ending in the form of an epilogue. Sometimes, they even have a foreword written by another famous writer or celebrity you actually know.

Ani’s memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream, which basically stops around 2001 or 2003, well before she remarried, had two kids, moved to New Orleans, and entered middle age, isn’t like that – at all. It’s like a flea market of her mind, with bits and pieces of treasure that you as reader can own for a pittance, and other scraps of memory that are worked over, glorified junk. Nice-looking junk, mind you. But junk nonetheless, which is not a bad thing in my world. I grew up in a family of hoarders, and we kept our junk in the basement. And the closets. And under the back porch. We kept it all, because we never knew when it might come in handy, and after all: we bought it, so we owned it and hesitated to let any of it go, until we had no other choice.

That’s how I feel about Ani’s memoir, which is an honest reflection of a precious portion of her mirrored life: she bought it, and now she owns it, and she doesn’t want to throw any of it away. Even if she’s failed to mention a lot in the process of compiling it into a single, coherent, and highly readable text. For each one of its 306 pages, she keeps us (and her editors at Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC) on the knife’s edge. What will Ani do next? Who will she sleep with? Where and how will she go wrong, and with what lasting consequences? Where will her endless life-on-tour take her next? How will her song-writing be shaped and shifted by the convoluted, intertwined pathways of her professional and private lives? Did she even like Missoula, Montana? Or Idaho? Or Utah? Who the heck knows? Ani sure doesn’t. She’s such a Buffalonian, such a New Yorker, such a guitar playing alt rock folk-singing rage-against-the-machine goddess, it’s all water under the bridge. A blur. A hazy, cannabis-inflected memory. A crashed bus. Or motorcycle. A husband or lover left somewhere on the road, waiting for a phone call that never comes.

There are only a handful of rock star memoirs I truly love and recommend to other Amazon readers (the Prime ones, and all the rest. I don’t judge). Sting’s Broken Music is so well written, it hurts. But, that’s Sting for you. He’s not going to put his (invented) name on just anything, and he isn’t afraid to be himself; being so self-confident/egomaniacal can sometimes be an asset as a writer. Phil Collins’ memoir, Not Dead Yet, is so intimate and revealing, it’s embarrassing. You feel each hurt, each botched relationship, each empty bottle of vodka, rum, or gin broken and cracked on the floor of life’s regret. It’s all there in true colors. Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run autobiography? Well, let’s just say that he got his money’s worth from whomever helped him write and edit it. It’s classic Bruce: cool, crazy, and compelling. You can’t take your eyes off him, and he knows it.

Ani, she does it all DIY; she meanders. She has tangents to her tangents. She goes deep, as in menstruation and procreation deep. She’s fearless when it comes to putting words on the page. She may be only 5’2’’ in stature, but you’d never know it from this text. She’s a giantess. She’d score with Shrek. The Jolly Green Giant would be even more jolly after hanging out a few days with her. Xena would hand over her “warrior princess” title to her and gift Ani a horse or two as sign of her infatuation.

Do you learn anything about Ani DiFranco the artist from this book? A little bit. You learn that she busts her body on touring and playing and has a tough time finishing songs. But beyond the obvious things – father issues, mother issues, too early sexual encounters and aborted pregnancies, gritty urban living and early adulthood raging against corporate/government greed and venality, it’s all about Ani, the individual. The singer. The activist. The little woman who could. Who stares down patriarchy in ways that Madonna wishes she could actually manage, if she weren’t so filthy rich and privileged.   

Ani’s memoir deserves to be wrapped up in gift paper and given as Christmas and Hanukkah presents to good little girls and boys all over this planet. Or for your niece’s upcoming quinceañera. It is something you could proudly display on your IKEA bookshelves in your new graduate student co-op. You can give it to your “OK Boomer” friends and see if they finally wake to the realities staring them in the face. It’s not a harsh book, nor a hard one to love. It’s just not what you expected. And I’m sure that’s exactly as Ani intended it to be. 

Ani, if you’re reading this, know that the invitation I made in my Canon review on Amazon still stands. Hope that you rocked it out at the Wilma Theater in Missoula, Montana the last time you played there. Love that stage. Love that place. And love this memoir, as much as I adore Phil’s, admire Sting’s, and marvel at Bruce’s. You’ve done it, Ani. You’ve entered the pantheon. What, I wonder, will you do next? How many rabbits do you still have up your sleeves? Where will the circus go next? What will emerge from the darkness when you next pick of your guitar and start the strings a’ humming?

Christmas comes once a year, but Craig Chaquico’s magical holiday music will last forever.

Holiday, by Craig Chaquico.

Seriously, how hard must it be to craft a creative album of Christmas and winter holiday music? Craig makes it seem almost easy. At first listening, you are struck by how much of this music isn’t Christmas-y at all. It’s blues. It’s jazz. It’s New Age. It’s classic Chaquico, in other words, but with an even more playful, vibrant, fun-loving edge. This was Craig’s last recorded album with the Higher Octave recording team, and maybe there was some impending sense of loss involved. Higher Octave would be sold by Virgin Music and end up being downsized into near oblivion by its new owner, UMG/Vivendi, where it’s now part of the Blue Note label.

Fortunately, you can listen to nearly all of Craig’s solo work on Amazon Music Unlimited, whose 3-month free trial would be a perfect holiday gift idea for those members of your family who love holiday music but may want to wait a few weeks (or longer) before committing to a music streaming service in 2021.

As always, Craig partners with Ozzie Ahlers, whose childhood winter picture in a full-body snowsuit is almost worth the cost of the album, period. Baby Yoda has nothing on this kid!

While there are a few classic tunes here, like “Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas,” and “Silent Night,” I’d say that these songs are 75% original Chaquico compositions with long guitar solos, and 25% traditional melodies. It compares well with Jingle All the Way by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in terms of mixing an original sound with a songbook of conventional Christmas delights.

Play this album a few times, and you’ll start to see the light. It honors the sentiment of the Christmas season while broadening its appeal beyond the classical musical canon. Very few artists would have the courage and creativity to pull this off. Craig does it brilliantly!

“Jammin’ with Jeff Bezos™” – Episode 3: Gabriel-Glas -Austrian Crystal Wine Glass – “StandArt” Edition @2Bears Pop-up Wine Bar.

Gabriel wine glasses, Anderson Valley wines by Lula and Phillips Hill. Bears sold separately.

Unofficial transcript of a conversation between Amazon founder and world’s wealthiest man, Jeff B., and Amazon Associate, Bradley N., food and drink coordinator of @2Bears pop-up wine bar.

(Recorded live in San Mateo County, California on December 19, 2020).

Jeff: Hi everyone, and welcome to Episode 3 of the new Amazon Studios series, “Jammin’ with Jeff Bezos™.” In each episode, I’ll be visiting Amazon Associates around the world, and I’ll invite them to tell me about one specific product they recently purchased online from Amazon that literally changed their lives for the better. And remember, folks: when you are jammin’ with Jeff Bezos, you are always “primed and ready for a really great time.”® 

Let’s get right to it, shall we? As you can see from the gorgeous redwoods in the background and the delicious looking spread of food and wine in front of us, we’re back in the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of San Francisco, speaking with Amazon Associate, Bradley N., who is in charge of the food and drinks program at this remarkable pop-up wine bar, @2Bears. It’s called that for a reason, as you can see from the cute little bears seated next to us. Isn’t that right, Bradley?

Bradley: That’s exactly right, Jeff. These two cuddly little plush brothers are the namesake “two bears” in our name, @2Bears pop-up wine bar. Our guests just seem to love them.

J: I can see why! They are adorable. 

B: And not for sale on Amazon.com, I might add. 

J: No, definitely not. And their wool sweaters are custom made, I assume?

B: Yes. From merino wool mixed with a touch of cashmere. They have summer-weight models and ones for winter. Although truth be told, our summers here along the Northern California coast can get downright chilly because of the Pacific fog.

J: Yes, I’ve experienced the so-called “San Francisco summer” on many an occasion. But that’s not the case today, is it? The weather is just gorgeous!

B: Sunny skies, a gentle ocean breeze, and afternoon temperatures in the mid 60s with very little humidity. That’s exactly the time that @2Bears pop-up wine bar opens for the public, but usually only on weekends by prior reservation for no more than about a dozen guests daily.

J: Well, thanks for making an exception for me and my recording crew so that we can record this episode on a Saturday before Christmas. We’ve brought a healthy appetite and are excited to try some new wines. That’s the whole point of your pop-up wine bar, isn’t it? To try new wines paired with small bites of locally sourced food, as I understand it. 

B: Yes, that’s how @2Bears works. We specialize in California wines, which we pair with local meats, seafood, eggs, vegetables, mushrooms, and baked goods, like artisan breads and fresh Mexican-style tortillas. 

J: Sounds great! But the reason we’re here is to discuss an item you found on Amazon that you’d like to share with other Amazon Prime customers. What product is that?

B: Wine bars need really good wine glasses, to showcase the wines. That’s why we decided to invest in Gabriel Glas “StandArt edition” Austrian crystal wine glasses. They are perfect for all the wines we serve, from old vine Zinfandels and Napa Valley red blends to Anderson Valley Pinots, Gewürztraminers, and Rieslings, to more unusual varietals, like Chenin Blanc, Valdiguié, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, sparkling Albariño, and more.

J: Interesting! The same wine glass for them all?

B: That’s what makes Gabriel wine glasses so versatile and unique. They are wide at the base but taper near the top, so you get a natural decanting effect and concentrate aromas, which is especially important for flavorful, rich, and often higher alcohol by volume wines from California. We don’t necessarily serve “fruit bombs,” but we’re not afraid to serve bold, big wines, either. The key is the right food pairing and the right stemware.

J: And Gabriel Glas “StandArt edition” Austrian crystal wine glasses are the right choices?

B: Yes, 100 percent. The gold edition hand-blown models cost twice as much, almost $70 per glass, and we can’t justify the expense. The machine made models each weigh about 5.25 ounces empty, which is comparable to many Riedel models used for whites and lighter bodied reds. And compared with the balloon style glasses used for Pinots and other aromatic reds, which can weight 7.5 ounces or more, they actually feel fairly light.

J: And when filled with wine?

B: Well, we do standard pours of 4 to 5 ounces, so you’re still only holding 10 ounces or so in your hand, which is quite reasonable. The Gabriel glass fits easily in your hand and can be held gently to swirl, sniff, and sip. And we wash them simply with clean water and a bit of lemon juice or distilled vinegar, rather than run them through the dishwasher using detergent. And drip dry. It’s as simple as that!

J: Sounds great! So what are we going to drink and eat with these wonderful Austrian-made crystal wine glasses?

B: Here @2Bears, we generally offer two courses, a vegetarian/vegan as well as one with locally sourced meat or seafood, and we pair them with two different wines – the same varietal from the same AVA growing region. That’s it. The wine is selected to enhance the food, which is simply made with an emphasis on flavor, pleasant textures, slow cooking methods in the oven and on the grill, and freshness of our ingredients.

J: I like the concept! We’re trying to do something similar at the Whole Foods cafes and wine bars we’re developing in major cities and select suburban markets. People really seem to like the small bites and by-the-glass wines idea, especially since they encounter this style while traveling or at higher-end food trucks that often show up at wine shops and tasting rooms these days.

B; Exactly right, Jeff. That’s why we here in the Santa Cruz Mountains are always able to attract appreciative guests, usually from San Francisco or Silicon Valley, and sometimes foreign visitors who stumble across our Yelp page, Twitter page, Medium writer’s page, Tumblr feed, or Instagram feed.

J: I’m convinced! I can’t wait to try out my Gabriel Glas “StandArt edition” Austrian crystal wine glass. So what’s on today’s menu?

B: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir wines from single, named vineyards made by boutique wineries in very limited production numbers: a 2017 Day Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir by Phillips Hill, and a library selection 2013 Costa Vineyard Pinot Noir by Lula Cellars. Really nice wines that exhibit classic red fruit flavors with touches of rose petal, herbs, food friendly acidity, soft tannins, but firm structure. 

J: What’s the food pairing?

B: We went with Northern California takes on the classic carnitas taco, using freshly made corn tortillas from La Estrellita tortilleria, in nearby Redwood City. Pinot Noir is sometimes regarded as a sophisticated wine, but at its best, it loves rustic, hearty, and flavorful fare. So, we sourced wild boar shoulder from Golden Gate Meat Company and did an eight hour braise with juniper berries and wine in a cast iron Dutch oven and then crisped the pulled meat on the grill with a fresh salsa made of early girl dry farmed tomatoes, organic cilantro, cipollini red onion, and diced grilled padron peppers. This we pair with the Lula Cellars Costa Vineyard Pinot.

Next, we do a morel mushroom “carnitas” with foraged redwood sorrel and wild nettle crema, along with fresh dill, a touch of thyme, and cast iron roasted sungold cherry tomatoes. This pairs perfectly with the Phillips Hill Day Ranch Pinot.

J: Wow! And the wines are served in the Gabriel wine glasses?

B: Absolutely. We even offer an aged sparkling wine as well, with fresh strawberries and olive oil poppyseed cake with blood orange zest and fiori di Sicilia citrus essence. The wine we serve is Roederer Estate’s 2009 L’Ermitage Rosé, a superb aged California sparkling wine. Served in a slightly chilled Gabriel glass, it’s a fantastic way to end the meal.

J: My mouth is watering already. Cheers!

B: Cheers! Hope that you’ll enjoy drinking your Anderson Valley selections in the Gabriel Glas “StandArt edition” Austrian crystal wine glasses as much as I know I will.

J: (nods head vigorously in agreement).

[end of transcript].