I’ve finally started doing something I’ve wanted to do for like the last year: Sundaysong Singalong. The idea is simple: have a singalong instead of church. Put another way, it’s like an old Pete Seeger-style folksong singalong, just with a Sunday-morning sort of setlist: songs of  love, beauty, gratitude, wisdom, work, wonder… songs that evoke higher powers, that are sacred without feeling sectarian.

So yesterday I finally gathered a small group to test the concept. A dozen of us gathered in my living room where I projected the lyrics on to a sheet hanging from the hearth. I didn’t snap any pics — the one below of Gray and I playing at the back of the room was by Dan — but I did have my recorder going. Here is a medley of seven of the songs we sang to give you a flavor of the morning’s songs:

j-gray-singalong-7-20-14Setlist

Rise Up Singing Songbook

  1. This Land Is Your Land (p.5)
  2. Moonshadow (p. 30)
  3. Big Yellow Taxi (p. 34)
  4. Day-O (p. 49)
  5. The Times They Are A’Changin (G)
  6. The Water Is Wide
  7. Rivers of Babylon (p. 63)
  8. Lean On Me (p. 66)
  9. With A Little Help From My Friends (p. 68)
  10. Keep On The Sunny Side (p. 87)
  11. Amazing Grace (p. 92)
  12. I Shall Be Released (p. 102)
  13. Blowin In The Wind (D) (p. 115)
  14. Imagine (C) (p.116)
  15. Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore (p.62)

Beatles Songbook

  1. Let It Be (p. 206)
  2. All You Need Is Love (p. 18)
  3. Across The Universe (p. 10)

We only made it through #12 before it had been an hour and we called it quits, chatted by the fruit and the donuts, and went our separate Sunday ways. The whole thing was an easy success judging by the effortless joining of strangers in song, the sharing and the smiles.


Last weekend I inaugurated the first Sundaysong Singalong’s touring version, because we were in Houston for the weekend to catch the Magritte exhibit at the Menil. I invited a few Houston friends to join us on the lawn of the Menil for the hour before the museum opened at 11, so at 10 AM, Maile, Anais and I spread our blanket beneath a shade tree and laid out our picnic. Before long Ritiban, Jasmine, and their boy Ian had joined us. Before we were done another mom and her girl had found and joined us.

While Ritiban and I strummed, the kids drew with sidewalk chalk and the mothers watched and talked. (Ian had to be chased down the block several times as he made breaks for it.) It was a wonderful hour after which we all went into the  gallery to roam around in the cool surrealism.

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I’m a bicycle nut. So when I picked up a sweet old vintage bike at a yard sale this weekend for $40 I had the double-delight of finding a precious ol’ pedal for a pittance. I love classic old 3-speeds like this. And it didn’t take much to get it going. Pumped up the tires and made a few adjustments, added a bell and a front basket for my commute.

Today I found a site that dates it at 1953! This thing is in great shape for 60 years old, hardly any rust, the parts in good working order.  I rode it home from work today feeling smooth and stylish.

Cool touches: The fenders are like pinstriped fins on a 50′s car with a silver hood-ornament at front. Arrows down the forks. The white on black motif with solid black chainring and guard with white  stars punctuating the italicized bike name.

So I’ve got another great commuter… and I am supposed to be getting rid of bikes!

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Jody (Maile’s lil brother) is getting married Aug. 9th and he planned a trip for all his groomsmen for us all to go to Estes Park, CO, where he was a YMCA councilor for two summers after college and has returned several times. There is a hike there that he takes everyone he can get up there to do with him.

So we were all in a cabin, me and five late-twenties athletes, Thurs – Mon. It was a great bachelor-party weekend that revolved around a killer hike we did Saturday. When I say killer, I mean it was stunning terrain, AND it nearly killed me. I’m exaggerating, but I was certainly at the edge of my ability for most of the hike and am amazed I completed it uninjured.

Our cabin was at 5K ft. We drove to 9K ft. to the foot of the mountain and ended up hiking to 12K ft and back over 8 hours. From the beginning I was just trying to keep up with these competitive athletes. There was snow and rivulets running across the trail almost immediately. We all carried about 20-30 lb. packs of food, water and clothes for the changes in conditions.

UntitledAfter about 3 hours, I could definitely tell the air was getting thin and by the time we stopped for lunch, not too far from the top, I had to breathe so deep and hard that it felt like hyperventilating. As long as I focussed on not getting dropped (reminded me of cycling days, sticking to the wheel – now the heel – of the guy in front) and breathing as deeply and rhythmically as possible, I could keep nausea and a headache at bay. If I exerted myself too much or even just stopped the huffing to talk I would feel one or both coming on.

By the time we were approaching the top the winds were 60+ mph and I was now literally drafting off the last guy, trying to not let a foot come between us. As everyone else on the trail turned around, we made it over the switchback top to a flatter area where the trail ended.

Now we were all making our own ways across rocky fields and I took a spill, pushed over by the wind and exhaustion. Though I hit my head mildly and was afraid I sprained my wrist catching myself, I was OK. When we made it across the plateau we arrived at a steep dropoff covered in snow. This was part of Jody’s plan that I had seen videos of: slide down the snowy embankments.

The slides (two of them) were fun, but also soaked our butts and socks and pant legs. Walking in the snow was harder than jogging down it, so I made it out of the snow first, elated that I’d made it past the top, the hard part. And then it got harder as we were really without a path now.

We crossed a boggy area filled with runoff streams and fallen trees, climbing through, trying to find the easiest way, in vain. It just kept getting harder! Then we had to make our way down rocky forested hills trying to find the trail again. Finally we found it, took a break to replace wet socks and pants, and it did finally start to get easier.

By this time I was TOTALLY spent but elated to have made it and not: got hurt, bonked, cramped up, blistered, quit, or got sunburned. The one thing that I seemed to get right was drinking and eating all day. My legs, back and energy held out.

Now I could literally breath easier and the scramble down the trails was a blur of exhaustion and pride. When we came to the .5 mi. marker till the end, we were all relived and then tortured one last time with one last .5 mi. climb. I was encouraged when everyone else was as pained by it as I was by the end.

We fell into the van,  found a Mexican cantina and gobbled down cokes, beers, chips, queso and buffalo tacos and enchiladas. I was comforted that everyone else  seemed to as ragged out and sore for the next two days.

Below is a slideshow of all my Colorado pics posted at Flickr.

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WTF

by j on June 19, 2014 · 0 comments

in art and artists I appreciate

I have become a compulsive WTF listener. WTF is Marc Maron’s podcast. He started it in his late forties, does it primarily from his L.A. garage twice a week, and just passed his 500th episode a few weeks ago at 50. The format is a 10-15 min intro of his obsessive schtick (with commercials that he does for his shows, partners and sponsors woven in), a 60-90 min interview, usually with a comedian, musician, or actor, and a few final closing minutes of wrap-up and plugs.

marc-large-photo

I talk about WTF with most of my close friends now - Doug, Maile, Earl, Sam, Gray – because we’re all big fans inspired by its insight. And I’ve started recommending it to people regularly now, so I thought I should document its influence with an explanation. Here are things I love about it:

  • he started it himself and still does it largely himself, without needing anyone in the industry’s approval, no middlemen, he is in complete creative and strategic control
  • he started it relatively late in life, as a way to make things happen when they weren’t, and now gets millions of downloads a month
  • having struggled 25 years in stand-up, he can talk shop and the history of the scene with the best comedians, but also with musicians and actors because of their commonalities and love for those cultures
  • he’s a refreshing antidote to uptight interviewers like Terri Gross and is so unpretentiously authentic that even my old favorites like Ira Glass and Jad Abumrad come off as snobby hipsters in comparison
  • his Woody-Alleneque obsessive insecurities combined with his David-Lettermanish self-deprecation and humility make him a genuinely interested and compelling interviewer who consistently gets people to open up and engage on a deep level
  • he uses his own resilience and slow rise to fame to get his guests to map out exactly how they made it, fucked up, and learned from it
  • he uses his own drug and alcohol experiences as well as his 14 years of sobriety to relate with his guests, talk addictions, recovery and both laugh at and address demons and self-destruction
  • he is a guitar player with a rich history of music love, favorites artists and opinions about music history which he frequently uses to connect with guests, especially the musicians with whom he is a true fan not just a critic

I did not like Marc Maron the first time I listened to WTF, and skipped over the intro segment several times till I grew to know him from the interviews. But I soon came to appreciate the seamlessness of his evolving personal stories and even how he weaves in into his plugs and ads.

After discovering recently that there are a bunch of pirated episodes on YouTube, I’ve been putting them on while I work. Here’s a perfect example of a great WTF interview, with his old friend Louie CK. (For access to his archive pay $9yr for premium access via his site or app.)

This interview has a lot of the stuff that you will not find anywhere else.

  • A long shared history with the guest and the scene
  • The reconciliation of a friendship scarred with Marc’s bitter jealousy and the patient sense of humor with which he can discuss the past, admit his faults, and come to some resolution (or live with the ambiguity of the friendship). Many of his episodes end with his asking of the guest, “We good?”
  • His genuine expression of love and admiration and modeling of how two men can wade through a lot of pride and hurt by unpacking the past and seeing it from the other side

Ultimately WTF is a success story about how to make it as an artist, how Marc is making it, and how each of his guests made it. Instead of the usual emphasis on the breaks and the milestones, Marc maps out all the stuff artists like me need to hang in there, get out of our own way, and do our own thing.

No other interviewer  brings or brings out so much of the mess that everyone else is trying to hide. And it’s exactly what we need to hear. Bless this what-the-fucker for hanging in there, getting clean, doing his own thing, putting it out there and connecting with so many other artists and fuck-ups, from his guests to fans like me. Boomer lives!


7/1/14: I’d like to add this incredible interview with Todd Hanson (Onion writer) as an example of the type of raw reality that Marc illicits and facilitates. This is therapy.

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DIVERSIFY

by j on May 16, 2014 · 0 comments

in my music and performances

I had my appendix out a few months ago and when I got home from the hospital there was a card signed by a bunch of my coworkers. On top of that, they pooled $70 and pledged it toward my next song on Patreon. I was so touched. So I wrote a song for all the folks I work with fitting as many names and division acronyms in as I could.

It’s the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (at UT-Austin), so I called it DIVERSIFY, and spelled it out imagining everyone singing it with me as an anthem. This week we had our all-division staff meeting and I had a chance to sing it to over 200 collegues. As you can see below, it was a lot of fun and folks got into it. Listen to the the studio version on SoundCloud.

DIVERSIFY

D-I-V-E-R-S-I-F-Y
Don’t you know that if you want to grow got to diversify
D-I-V-E-R-S-I-F-Y
Don’t ya know that we’re here to show it to the university

I’m not just talkin bout color
Not just talkin bout race
Talkin bout gettin out of your bubble
And seeing it another way

Talkin bout your teachers
Talkin bout your staff
I’m talkin bout your leaders
You do the math

Talking globalization
And what will keep us strong
’bout difficult conversations
That help us get along, making us strong

D-I-V-E-R-S-I-F-Y

Sherri’s got the plan
Betty Jeanne’s gonna teach
Stella got the research
Simon gonna do IT

Ralph is gonna hook you up
Tatiana is doin the books
Helen and Heidi are holdin it down
While Milly and Thais are spreadin it round

Leslie’s got the story
Ron’s got design
J gonna make some web sites
Virginia got write some lines

Erica is on the board
Dr. V. is on the scene
Ruth has got the proof
Hannah’s got the VIP

Susan is writin the points
Patrick is takin it on
Jennifer is runnin it right
Leonard is fatherin sons

Maurice is puttin it on
Suzanne is writing it down
Robiaun’s making friends in high places
Angie’s putting smiles on all the kid’s faces

D-I-V-E-R-S-I-F-Y

We got the MEC and the GSC
with a space where you can truly be
LCAE, LCSP and NLP
gonna keep em goin to the university

The OIE and the CCRT
gonna make sure we got some equity
The triple A, B, PE and the HFSA
gonna make sure we got all kinds of faculty

The SSD got our ADAA
The UIL gonna run the race
The HOGG keepin us mentally healthy
The CEC gonna rock the East

The RFL is gonna find you funds
CDSI gonna make you rich
The LCCE gonna sign you up
The SJI make you an activist

D-I-V-E-R-S-I-F-Y
Diversify your money, diversify your mind,
D-I-V-E-R-S-I-F-Y
When you get out of your comfort zone you’ll know what it is to be alive

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