My "career" is to keep life’s balance ~ educate myself at being as self-subsisting as possible, provide for myself and my family through honest manual and mental labour, avoid wastefulness, remain gracious to others and humble before a higher power.
Inspired by all that, I write poetry and songs ~ then sometimes travel to share them with welcoming audiences around the planet.
Trying to better the world, one song at a time
…and always singin’ for my supper,
My daughters and I will go downtown to the cenotaph where we’ll stand in the sleet for a prayer.
At 11 am there will be the playing of Taps followed by a moment of silence in schools and workplaces to reflect upon the fallen of the world wars.
Banks and government offices will be closed all day and there will be no postal delivery.
Oh! Will the garbage truck still be by for pick-up?
At the age of three, an aunt gifted me with my first vinyl LP of recorded of music. Until then, I had only enjoyed songs on the radio or through the speakers of my parent’s old phonograph stereo. It was almost liturgical to watch the way my mum would delicately pull out the shiny black disk from it’s colourful cardboard case, place it on the dusted turntable, then set it to spin, gently lowering the stylus down upon it’s edge. The initial crackle of sound through the speakers was like the opening of a door into another world. Suddenly the voices of Johnny Cash or Johnny Denver were alive in our living room ~ singing directly to us it seemed.
My elder sisters too had their own records ~ Olivia Newton John, The Beach Boys ~ and just prior to entering kindergarden, thanks to my aunt, I received my own special record of songs to enjoy. “Pete Seeger and Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.
Sesame Street was not a common part of my childhood, though I was familiar with a few of it’s characters. Pete Seeger and Brother Kirk? I had no idea who they were. But with birthday excitement, my mother helped me christen the gift and as the songs spun out of the stereo speakers, I began to built relationships with the voices I heard. Pete ~ he must have been the slight, bearded man with the banjo on the album sleeve…and Brother Kirk, the tall African American fellow across from him with the guitar. Were they talking to me? Singing to me? They must have been…I was the only one in the room hearing them sing “Hello Little friends how do you do? Hello, hello…hello…”
They carried on harmonizing, telling me story after story through song. Listening to refrains like “Michael Row The Boat Ashore”, “Riding In My Car” and “This Land Is Your Land” (a song, Pete said, was by a “little fellow with curly hair who isn’t around any more…named Woody Guthrie”) gradually made me feel things I had never felt before. As they sang “Guantanamera” in a language I didn’t even know, I felt so alive… as they sang about a man who “had a dream” and was “shot down” (“The Ballad of Martin Luther King”) I felt so sad and emotional…and as they sang a dark, dirty song about “Garbage” I realized how important it was for me to keep the world clean.
The tunes became standards for me between the ages of 3 and 5 ~ melodies and ideas rooted deeply into my mind and being. But as with many items from our early childhood, the album itself became buried in the basement someplace ~ a relic of my toddler days, too scratched to play and too much of a teenaged embarrassment to keep in the same record pile as discs by Bob Dylan, Harry Chapin, Phil Ochs or Natalie Merchant.
By the age of 19 I had taught myself to play guitar and was venturing into live performances with a four piece acoustic band. Seeking new material and inspiration, I ventured back into my parent’s old vinyl folk collection to find one of their old Kingston Trio records. Quickly picking up the chords for gems like “Irene Goodnight”, “Hard Ain’t It Hard”, “Worried Man Blues” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” I began to look more closely at the album’s fine print to deduce the actual songwriters. To my incredible surprise I saw the reoccurring and familiar names… Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. “Could that have been the same Pete Seeger on my old Sesame Street album?” I wondered. Digging into the cellar, I dusted off the dogeared LP and suddenly my life in music, like a spinning disc on a turntable, came full circle and made full sense.
During my fleeting formative years, Pete Seeger introduced me to spirituality, social consciousness, social justice and environmental responsibility through twelve simple songs that shaped me tremendously. In my adult years, reading more about his work and life, I realized that he was a very unique individual and radically different from most other commercial singer/songwriters I had grown to admire. In fact, I quickly came to learn that many of my musical influences and role-models (including the above mentioned Dylan, Chapin, Ochs and Merchant) were directly influenced or mentored by Seeger’s approaches to music and social action.
Pete’s life story reads like an epic film. As an artist who is more interested in using music for positive change than using it to simply make a quick buck, his integrity, drive, dedication to social justice and passion for environmental concern have provided me with great hope and professional focus. It is not my intention here to provide his biography. Anyone who knows of Pete Seeger will be well aware of his legendary status as a musician and peace activist. To anyone who is unfamiliar with his name, I would suggest a viewing of the documentary “Power of Song”. The film may be purchase here or watch it on Youtube here.
Not long ago, I was surprised to find Mr. Seeger still personally, professionally and politically active well into his 90′s!
Like any devoted supporter of an artist’s work (OK, I’ll reluctantly use the word “fan”), I sent him a copy of one of my books, alongside a letter of gushy appreciation for all his years of inspiration in my life. To my utter astonishment, he wrote back to my home in Pakistan with a sweet note and the offer of sending me a copy of his book “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”. Too shy to accept his gift (besides, it already graced the shelves of my personal library), I wrote him back with thanks and condolences for the loss of his wife Toshi earlier this summer. As I wrote however, I felt a burning desire within me to ask him some very important questions about my own ongoing struggles at utilizing music as a tool for social change ~ especially within a very unique niche community of English speaking muslims who often debate the matter of music ad nauseam. A condolence letter did not seem fitting for such questions, so instead I sheepishly inquired about the possibility of meeting.
Shortly thereafter, I was gobsmacked to find a gracious post card in my mail box from Pete, humbly dismissing his memory and wisdom, but suggesting I meet him at his community’s pumpkin festival in New York state. While some public figures and musical icons require entourages, agents, managers, label representatives or even security staff to protect their fragile egos and wilting laurels ~ Pete Seeger was inviting me to sit is his car and chat at a pumpkin festival!
Two weeks ago, I rented a car and drove through beautiful autumn colours to the small town of only 14,000 residence where Pete has lived since 1949. The Festival was to be held at a local park on the banks of the Hudson River. When I arrived, tents and tables were being set up for the day’s festivities ahead. Musicians were tuning up to play on a grassy hill under open sky, large pumpkin pie slabs were being set out for afternoon consumption and in the shade of several flaming October trees, ladies sat weaving lovely wild-flowers into garlands to grace the hairlines of the more bohemian attendees expected to arrive.
There, meandering through the late morning dew, was the tall thin man with the white beard who had once seemed to smile at me from a record sleeve, while his banjo rang out in my parent’s living room, teaching me the melody for “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly”.
Introducing myself to him and reminding him of our correspondence, we broke ice over my odd name and casually began walking through the park toward his van, where he felt we would be more comfortable to chat….and once seated, cozy beneath colourful walnut trees, chat we did. At age 94 Mr. Seeger was a wealth of advice, inspiration, information and conversation. He spoke of history, science, politics, religion and the arts, with a memory of crystal clarity and bright blue eyes to match.
During our afternoon, ol’ Pete had me listening intently, laughing hysterically and even singing along with him as he shared his famous song “Abiyoyo” and a comical rap about the English Language while drumming on his steering wheel.
The experiences of meeting, discussing his life, sharing my journey and opening up about some strange struggles of my career with him were all very personal, meaningful and moving. For those reasons, I will not go into too much detail on the specifics of our talks. What I will say is this: Whatever respect I held for Pete Seeger’s character ~ as presented through his work, music, biographies or media articles ~ was intensified a hundred fold after sharing two hours with the man himself.
Our afternoon together went well beyond just theoretical discussion on the world’s many struggles and our suggested solutions. Within only moments of our meeting, Pete was a living example of his passion for social change.
As we strolled through the park to his humble vehicle, Pete stopped momentarily to bend over and pick up something that had caught his eye. A quarter, or button perhaps? I could not tell. A few steps further, he paused again and bent over to reach down a second time. Intrigued, I watched more closely and saw him retrieve a tin bottle top from the grass. He tucked it into his palm with another piece of rubbish he had evidently picked up the first time I saw him bend. Several steps onward ~ he stopped a third time. I traced the paths of his eyesight and stretched arm down to yet another piece of garbage, only inches in size. “People drop things.” He said with a smile as he straighten up and pointed out still another piece of trash in our path. This time, I bent to pick up the plastic scrap before we dusted our collections and hands off into a nearby bin.
In those moments I was reminded of his song “Garbage” from my old Sesame Street record and how it had effected me as a young boy. Over the past several years I had even added the tune to my playlists at schools, naturally also trying to establish a sense of environmental responsibility in the minds of my own daughters. I was so proud that, at age three, my little Maryam would try to pick up every piece of trash she’d see while we were out on family walks. What an honour to stroll alongside Pete Seeger in his mid nineties, picking up trash with the spry spirit of a hopeful child.
Another adventure during our afternoon occurred when Pete drove me up to his hill-top house overlooking the Hudson. He had asked me to accompany him home so we could further our chatting while he fetched something he needed for the afternoon’s event. Along the two-lane highway on the outskirts of town, a tree limb had fallen from a roadside embankment and was slightly obstructing the shoulder of the motorway. Pete became very concerned about the branch and fearful that a cyclist would swerve to avoid it and possibly be hit by traffic.
With the zeal of a teenager, Pete pulled a legal U-turn at a spot where the shoulder widened, doubled back to a drive way where he parked and let me out. Like a well timed scene by a crime fighting duo in some 50′s superhero serial, Pete waited for me in the van while I jogged down the highway toward the fallen tree limb. Larger than it looked while driving past, I was thankful for my Swiss Army Knife and it’s mini saw blade as I cut off the bigger branches and tossed them out of harm’s way. Lastly I took the heaviest part of the limb and threw it back into the woods from which it had come. Running back to the van, Pete was waiting and ready to hit the gas as soon as I jumped in.
So many of us talk a good talk about bettering the world, taking responsibility, helping our fellow humans and working for positive social change. But sadly, we often make excuses for our lack of action. We become mired in mediocrity…complainers and critics instead of conscientious citizens. Pete Seeger ~ just short of a century on this earth ~ still picks up trash in the park, still sings songs of hope, still stops on the roadside to help others he’s never met, still responds to the mail of strangers with sincerity, still chops his own fire-wood and still provides me with an example of what it means to be a person of action…someone who embraces life with passion and hope.
Before we parted I asked him, what I could do for him as a token of thanks. Pete said, “You’re in a very unique situation. Help (people) with humour. Help them see the inconsistencies of their ways. Help them to laugh.”
As one last gift, Pete handed me a copy of the Gettysburg Address. This year marks the 150th anniversary of it’s delivery by Abraham Lincoln and Pete had made photocopies of it to hand out at the pumpkin festival. He closed his eyes and recited it to me from memory.
Around that time, the parked van was shaken by a violent thud on the roof, leaving both of us quite startled.
“It’s our tree branch coming back to haunt us.” I joked, as I opened the door to inspect what damaged had occurred. We both feared a limb had blown down in the wind onto his van.
Instead, there atop his vehicle, were two walnuts form the tree under which we had parked. We laughed with relief as I brought them back into the front seat.
“Should I toss them?” I asked.
“No, save them!” Pete said, “I’ll open them up later and see if they’re any good inside.”
Perhaps we should all follow Pete’s example with fallen people or fallen walnuts:
Save ‘em and look to see if they are good inside before we just toss them away.
“A Piece of Land”
There’s very little I request,
Perhaps a garden patch at best.
Just six feet long, by four feet wide ~
Fertile furrows, tilled side by side.
One for carrots and one for greens.
One for beet roots and one for beans.
Tomato plants, drooping with red,
Grown at each corner of the bed.
Then placed at one end of the plot,
Adding majesty to the spot,
Providing me sweet company ~
A hive set for the honey-bee.
For all the rest of all my days,
I would forsake my wayward ways.
With nowhere else I’d need to go,
Sing while I weed ~ hum as I hoe.
In summer months you’d find me there,
Sun in my beard, dust in my hair,
Whispering bean stalk, drones to drone.
In solitude ~ never alone.
I’d venture there in winters too,
When days are short and crisp and blue.
Stand risking frozen nose or toe,
Deeply in love, knee high in snow.
As time turns each calendar page,
My veggie plants and I would age.
Our colours fade, our skins to crease,
Our rhythms slow, our songs would cease.
Then when I’d fall and lay so still,
Upon the earth I lived to till,
Unclench the shovel from my hand,
And dig my grave within that land.
Lay me down low and plant me deep,
‘Neath sheets of dirt. My last long sleep.
Let mint and meadow flowers spread,
Thick on the ground above my head.
Bid fond farewell on my behalf,
To my dear Queen, her brood and staff.
Leave their apartment there to stand,
Marking my little spot of land.
There’s very little I request,
A sliver of the earth at best.
Just six feet long and four in breadth ~
To sow in life and join in death.
- Dawud Wharnsby
It was a beautiful, 90 minute drive out past the small town of Exeter to Ferguson Apiaries where I picked up my nucleus (nuc) colony of bees.
With windows down and wind in my beard, the demos to my new CD were whining out from the CD player as I enjoyed the drive through lush, green South-western Ontario countryside. I figured I might was well “work” on my new album a little en route to collect my bees. Listening and re-listening to song demos, hundreds of times ~ especially while driving to do errands ~ has always helped me build mental arrangements for what I want the finished versions of the songs to sound like.
Once I arrived at the farm, I was greeted by the proprietor’s young grandson who waved to me from his motorized, home-made go-kart. He pulled up next to my jeep, stopped his engine and climbed out to show me his vehicle’s new “paint job” ~ which he proudly explained he had done with a gold spray-bomb just the day before. His grandfather had built him the ruggedly enchanting puddle-jumper and just seeing it brought out the 8 year old in me. In fact, building my daughters their own go-kart (foot powered) from some old bicycle wheels and a large antique, wooden soap box I acquired last spring, is on my own summer “To Do” list. Though this young fellow’s hot-rod gave me some great building ideas, all too soon we were walking to his grandparent’s shop and shifting conversation from mud-buggies to bees.
Within in the little store ~ full of honey jars and bees-wax related merchandise ~ I was finally introduced to Mr. Ferguson and the colony of bees he had packaged up for me. Suddenly the reality of having my own hive was buzzing before me in a thin box, with only a mesh opening in the top. Through the screen I could see hundreds and hundreds of little black and yellow insects ~ building, working and warning me with their communal hum to watch my every move.
It was daunting ~ but with some basic instructions from a pro and a bold “bismillah” under my brave breath, I tucked the box beneath my arm and took them out to the car.
Before leaving the farm, the young lad with the go-kart was eager to give me a ride ~ even offering to let me drive! “Nope,” I told him, “these are your wheels. You drive!” We were off and across the lawn, down the lane-way toward the road, through some mud and back over to my car ~ me wishing I could swap him vehicles and drive back home in true style.
Heading home to Kitchener, the bees sang loudly in their temporary hive. The music was beautiful, but admittedly, also somewhat ominous ~ reawakening memories of the old 1970′s horror film “Killer Bees” I had seen as a kid. Regardless of the beautiful day, the sun, the sky, the fields passing me by ~ as I drove, all I could see in my mind were imaginings of how I would transfer the nuc into the hive I had built and painted earlier in the week. Would they attack me? How many times would I get stung? Would they fly up my sleeves? Up my trouser-legs? Up my nose? Would I be able to get the bee smoker working well enough to calm them? A million worries wrinkled my forehead ~ as the bees just hummed with the breeze through the windows.
Attempting to ease my fears, I concluded I should talk to the incarcerated passengers ~ they were, after all, leaving their secluded country lifestyle to take up residence in the city. Imagine how they must have felt? Being in a car for the first time, hearing sounds they’d never heard before, wondering if I was going to help them or harm them. They buzzed so loudly that, even with my windows open, I could hear them all the way from the back of my Jeep each time I stopped at an intersection.
Back at home, I set the empty base hive in a permanent location behind my garage and prepared to transfer the bees from their travel box to their new domain. Donning a heavy, hooded, corduroy frock (which I lovingly refer to as my “Bilbo Baggins attire”), a screened veil and some gloves, I took my smouldering bee-smoker in hand and went to the hive.
The experience was incredible and all I had imagined it would be since my youth.
The moment I lifted the lid of the transport box, there was an initial rush of anxiety through my veins, as hundreds of bees flew up and around me in excitement. With their wings whirling near my head ~ singing in high pitched harmony ~ I reminded myself to remain focused with nothing to fear. A cool calm fell over me as I inspected the four frames to be wedged free from the box and transferred to the permanent hive. With my hive tool I loosened the frames, gently lifting them up and out ~ trying to be ever so cautious not to harm the queen. Quickly examining them ~ I realized the bees (slightly stunned by the puffs of smoke I had washed over them upon opening the nuc) were not agitated by my stirring of their colony. In fact, they almost appeared to step out the way for me to work. Using a soft brush, I swept them off the edges of the frame corners and within only a few minutes, the transfer had been made. All four frames of bees and brood were settled in their new hive.
That was fourteen days ago.
Since that time I have gone out several times to supply my new friends with mason jars of home-made syrup (a 50/50 blend of sugar and water), providing them with strength needed to build up the initial hive, and also as a means of weaning them into their new environment. Today I costumed up once again to open the hive and inspect the brood, shifted the frames around a little in preparation for the the additional boxes (supers) I will add in coming weeks for honey deposit. The bees and I seem to get along ever so cordially (I think they like me?) and from what my amateur eyes can asses, it seems the queen must be fine, as new cardboard coloured brood capping fills most of the comb in each frame and general hive activity is high.
Each visit to their little apartment has provided me with such joy. I head back to the short stack of white boxes with excitement, anticipation and a romance I have only ever associated with youthful courting or the rush of bashful, giddiness felt when my wife and I are reunited after too long apart.
Which reminds me ~ I must begin packing and preparing to travel once again. Next Monday I leave for Pakistan to be reunited with my wife and daughters after two months apart.
Here comes that giddy, school-boy excitement again.
One of the many smells I love most in the world: cut wood.
The lumber I ordered yesterday just arrived this morning and is now piled up in my garage, awaiting me to begin building a modest, semi-sound-proof recording studio. Yes indeed friends, when I start to make a new album, it takes more than just songs and guitar strings ~ it takes a saw, hammer, nails and good ‘ol fashioned sweat.
A few years ago, while living in Pakistan and working on my Picnic of Poems book/CD I began wondering on why many musicians these days feel they must surround themselves with excessive entourages of support staff. In simpler times, a few friends with instruments would meet up in somebody’s tool shed, basement, bed-sit or barn and just “sing”. We would create refrains inspired by experiences, books we had read, films we had seen, journals we had kept or people we had met. We would build songs like temples ~ constructing their foundations, crafting their arrangements, embellishing them with ornaments of sound the way we decorated the bedrooms in our parent’s houses with posters of our musical heroes or memorabilia of our individual lives.
These days however, I make appointments to meet young artists eager for advice and inevitably greet the budding singers, shielded behind three or four “associates” ~ introducing themselves as mangers, agents, representatives or by some other administrative title. Often before ever having the experiences of learning how to play an instrument or working with other players to create actual music, many of these per-professional performers with raw talent are ushered into quests for stardom by supportive friends, family or financial backers… their “backing bands” being comprised of iPad drumming or Blackberry strumming business men, singing the praises of their prodigy in three part harmony. The artists themselves have no bassist, percussionist or pianist to embellish their expression or marry feeling to their self-penned poetry… they are only accompanied by the endless droning of their worker bees hyping them up, feeding them sappy lyrical lines to sing, fashioning them in stylish hats and with weak waxen wings. God forbid they soar too near the sun like Icarus.
Indeed, it seems that many of these 21st century musicians sadly underestimate their own creative potential and feel they are without artistic validity if they are not being carried to fame by writers, PR reps, studio engineers, producers, web designers, make-up crews, hair stylists or clothing sponsors. They underestimate the power and devotion of a loving and supportive audience, drawn to them for their honesty, individuality and dedication to the craft of good song-writing.
Pondering the reasons for and dangers of these peculiar trends, I assessed how I too had even succumb to such production hoop-la in my own “career” over the years ~ becoming dependent, from time to time, on financial backers, the opinions of producers, session players and label representatives. I set to work on my Picnic of Poems songs by taking a step back in my own life to a simpler time when I would simply plug in a mic and record my performance. (It is interesting to note that the most lucrative and furthest reaching recordings I have ever made have been the ones I did completely on my own from soup to nuts, for budgets that are simply laughable by today’s music industry standards.)
The entire collection of thirty tracks was written and recorded in my own home studio with nothing more than a laptop, basic multi-track software, a microphone, an on-line sound-effects library, a basic rhythm loop library and a phenomenal number of diverse percussion instruments.
After two years of work, I emerged from my musical laboratory, much the way an exhausted sculptor, potter or painter would step out of the dust and debris of their studio with a moist new canvas, chiseled bust or glazed urn ~ presenting it to my audience for their pleasure and approval as an independent gift of my heart and product of my calloused hands, saying, “Here is my offering, take it or leave it.”
The experience was life-changing. It simultaneously broke me down emotionally and built me up creatively, empowering me to push even more introspectively toward deeper wells of creatively still untapped even after two decades making music.
Since that time, between travels and miscellaneous smaller recording projects, I have been eager to begin work on another full album of original material for adult audiences (my last being the 2007 CD “Out Seeing The Fields”.) Sifting through hundreds and hundreds of song scraps that have been piling up since the days when I had shoulder length hair and baby smooth, beardless cheeks, I was able to decide upon a good selection of material to demo earlier this month. Listening and re-listening to the rough recordings and doing lengthy re-writes has made me very anxious now to develop the audio sketches into polished songs.
As destiny would decree, the new place my family and I moved into several months ago has a huge garage out back. Huge is an understatement. Picture the biggest garage you could imagine in your mind…then triple it in size and you may come close to understanding how big our garage is. The previous occupants had built the structure to house their bus sized recreational vehicle during the winter and as my family and I only have a small jeep, three bicycles, one tricycle, two foot scooters, a wagon, a manual push lawn-mower and a wheel-barrow, you can assure we have a lot of extra space to play with. The facility has thus become a workshop for tools and a creative place for fixing, painting, puttering and preparing frames for the bee hives.
Now, with my shipment of lumber asleep for the night and anticipating the arrival of my hammer and I tomorrow morning, the garage will also house an intimate recording studio.
Young songwriters who may want advice from an old man like myself on how to get started in the music business: Lock yourself in a workshop and learn to use a hammer. (Build a dog-house, bird-house, tree-house, go-kart or chicken coupe ~ whatever you wish) Practice the aim of holding the hammer by the lower end of the handle and using it to strike a thin nail into a board. Practice the skill of avoiding your fingers as the hammer falls and hits the nail on it’s proverbial head. Don’t pound with the tool as if you are trying to swipe at a moth ~ focus, aim and let the tool do the work for you, but guide it with your intuition and care ~ don’t waste your energy. Listen to the echo of the sound, the chime of steel on steel and find it’s pitch. Embrace the meter it makes. Count with it’s strikes. Breathe with it’s rhythm. Sing out loudly in accompaniment with it’s percussion and the ring of it’s musical key. Master the craft of building something you are proud of ~ that represents your time, skill and craftsmanship ~ and then replace the hammer with a pen and the wood with paper. Now repeat the process as you plan and construct a good song, strong voice and honed sense of timing.
Tomorrow I will begin my new CD and it will commence with rhythms of screwdrivers, nails and saw teeth through 2 x 4s…you can be sure I’ll be singing along in time.
Sweltering summer weather in Southern Ontario, but it was still a joy sweating in the kitchen, stirring over the stove for my first attempt at Rhubarb Jam.
Here is the recipe I used (Courtesy of Allrecipes.com).
If you have some of the colourful, sour sticks growing out back, give this a try for tomorrow’s toast. If a kitchen-klutz like me can do it, anyone can can rhubarb jam.
Ingredients (Makes 16 servings US Metric)
• 1-1/4 pounds fresh rhubarb, chopped
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
• 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons orange juice
• 1/4 cup water
In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, orange zest, orange juice and water.
Bring to a boil, then cook over medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until thick.
It will thicken more as it cools.
Ladle into hot sterile jars, and seal with lids and rings.
Store in the refrigerator.
Several times each year I leave the stillness of my home to travel, sharing my songs with audiences in various parts of the world. Though somewhat strange for a “professional musician”, I have never made it my habit to solicit performances or even proactively promote myself as other singer-songwriters do. My life is truly rooted in devoting time to my family and my passions for being outdoors, writing and recording music. If/when I am invited to sing for audiences, it is an honour to oblige, however (with all due respect to supporters and concert goers) I am much more comfortable in my back garden hanging laundry to dry than on a stage. Very much an introvert with frequent bouts of agoraphobia, it is always a struggle for me to mentally prepare for highly social events and the environments associated with the life of a roving minstrel: airports, train stations, community centres, theatres, universities, schools, green rooms and the like.
There have been many tours over the years where I have held out 15 or 20 days, only to emotionally crash ~ having to be whisked away to gather myself together in privacy before carrying on with public demands. Over the years I have tried to minimize the stress by marking my territory with simple but private hotel rooms, ensuring appropriate time between venues for walks alone with my pipe (in nature preferably) or rest. It has also proven helpful to be rigid with a healthy diet while on the road (cutting back over the years on candy bars, sugar, coffee, meat, excessive eating or late meals), and strict with myself and others about catching enough sleep. Getting older, I’ve found that tight routines at home and while on the road, really help me to keep balanced. As a result, tours these past few years having been going very smoothly ~ that is to say, I’m pretty sane embarking upon travel, somewhat sane during travel and relatively sane upon returning home.
Indeed, I have always taken the experience of traveling to share my music with audiences as a great privileged and blessing ~ regardless of how many people may or may not be in attendance. Admittedly though, as my travel anxiety and stress grew over the years I became very fixated on just “getting through” the tours… ticking off the days in my notebook and counting down the number of clean sock changes before I’d be back on a plane to home. That didn’t sit well with me. Others telling me how much they would love to travel as much as I do would remind me of how blessed I truly am, while simultaneously tweaking guilt in me over how often I grumble about immigration hassles, lost luggage or being bitten by strange insects in nasty hotel rooms.
These last few years that my journeys have been noticeably less chaotic and better managed (thus, less stressful), I have made it my intention to enjoy the process of travel with more graciousness, humility and renewed sense of adventure.
On my last tour to the UK (35 shows in 20 days ~ bouncing up and down Queen Lizzy’s glorious Isle) I had many delightful stories to document, of which four seemed fitting to report here:
1. Between performances in Luton, a dear friend whisked me away to the former home of writer George Bernard Shaw in Hertfordshire. Upon his passing, Shaw left his estate to the Nation Trust as a historic museum, with the stipulation that nothing should be excessively changed. As a result, Shaw’s Corner has been immaculately kept, with the author’s bedroom, office and even his writing hut (uniquely built on a turntable, to be rotated manually with the sun’s movement for optimum lighting) all appearing much as they would have been during his last days. It was pleasing for me to learn about some of the author’s interesting life-style choices, many being similar to my own: his love of simplicity, his passion for writing in nature, his pastime of photography, his vegetarianism, his year-round choice of wool for blankets and clothing…and of course, his delightfully long beard. We also shared similar opinions on gender equality and rights safeguarding the working class from exploitation.
2. Between venues in Manchester I had the pleasure of visiting Shakespeare House Community Centre’s fabulous garden allotment. Upon my I arrival, there were several families all digging, weeding, watering and worm-wiggling with smiles on their faces and picnic sandwiches in their hands. It was sweet to meet such earth loving moms, dads and kids ~ all excited about their gardens and growing together as a community.
3. Landing in Glasgow, with three hours to kill before my sound check, a gentleman sent by venue organizers to meet me at the airport, greeted me for the first time in my life. Within seconds though, I felt as if he had been a long-lost, childhood friend. With the spirit of Zorba The Greek and the accent of Harry Lauder, he insisted on going somewhere special for lunch as he mocked the egg-salad sandwich I had purchased after disembarking from my flight. “Loch Lomond!” he exclaimed as he fired up his mobile phone and told the stage manager that he was taking me out for a meal on the bonnie banks of the famed lake, 20 minutes north. All of my backpacking trips through Scotland in my early 20′s were by foot and rail, with the trek to Lomond’s shores too far off the beaten track for a 110lb kid, slouching under a 40lb back-pack and carrying a 15lb guitar case. 20 years later, my new friend and I drove through the scenic Scottish hills under a bubblegum blue sky to enjoy plates of incredible fish and chips at a restaurant overlooking the gorgeous lake I had so often sang about but had never seen. Kicking off our shoes to wade in the legendary body of water and skip stones after lunch was the fruition of a personal desire and a perfect way to prep for an evening performance. (Incidentally, I later gave the egg-salad sandwich to a thankful sound engineer who hadn’t eaten all day.)
4. The tour finished and I had one day of perspective adventure left before heading back home to Canada. A good friend and talented artist Jag Lall met me in central London where we meandered in Soho guitar shops and stumbled upon The Phoenix Garden, hidden down an alleyway in amongst brown stone buildings. The hide-away was in full bloom with colourful flowers, birds, bees and blessed conversation between us about our ongoing independent and collaborative work. Parting ways, I caught a 45 minute train north for a meeting with a sweet soul mate I had not seen in over two years. We drank green tea at a charming old inn, nestled amongst stone cottages with thatched roofs and discussed life, faith and the beauty of friendship that rekindles warmly, even after life’s drizzle has left one feeling as if all sparks of hope have been drowned.
Back at my home now in Canada, I have been diligently at work on fortifying my vegetable garden from hungry rabbits, preparing to launch into the recording of my next original CD and ~ at long last ~ commencing one of my life long dreams ~ a hobby also shared by Mr George Bernard Shaw: Bee-keeping.