Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Papers: Franklyn Ajaye

"James Brown was a genius. Took six words and made 50 songs out of 'em."

On the turntable: Willie Dixon, "I am the Blues"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cumbia de los Muertos

This place, this America, this country of death where we are so afraid of death that we squander our lives, living in a way that is like running to get home quicker so that our shoes don't get dirty.

On the turntable: Jefferson Airplane, "Loves You"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Papers: Scott P. Phillips

"Ritual is a way to make the unconscious conscious."

On the turntable: The Move, "Looking On"

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tones on Tale

Summer ain't summer without a festival. A festival ain't a festival without weather. It was only June, but rainy season had come on stage early. Jakob Dylan had just finished his set and Robert Mirabal's guys were setting up for him. Despite this being the Taos Solar Music Festival, the clouds had come over quickly, with lightning falling skittishly all around. I wondered how many concert fatalities occur each summer due to electrical storms? I remember back to a Dead show in Vegas, circa 1993 I think, where a guy in the parking lot had been struck. I wondered if he'd been tripping, and if so, how would he know what had happened to him? But I too had been tripping at that show, and may have imagined the whole thing. Anyway, here in Taos, Dylan Jr. had put on a great set, but nothing prepared me for Mirabal. I'd intended to watch it from my camp chair, expecting some mellow Native American flute music. But the guy ripped, his band working through a set of hard blues, the guitar player all tall and black and cool in his cowboy hat and boots, Mirabal nearby spinning and swirling, mostly on one leg. I was dancing up front again by song number two. He put on one of the best shows I've seen in a while, and I was sad to hear that it may be his last, but props to the guy for wanting to spend more time with his young daughter. The main event was Michael Franti and Spearhead, who I'd been wanting to see for awhile. I started out up front again, getting more and more caught in the crush. One guy beside me started to pick a fight, not liking how I was crowding his lady. I said, hey brother, who isn't getting crowded up here? I assumed that this guy was probably prone to pot fueled brawling, for the girlfriend got really pissed at him and quickly rushed away, him following and pleading. I alternated between my usual feelings about how violent this society can be, and the irony of someone starting a fight at a Franti concert. The rest of the set went peacefully, Franti rocking out with his band of look-alikes: Robbie Robertson and Comic Book Guy and Fred Egerer from my college days. The latter had only been with the group a few weeks, and he had this MASSIVE grin on his face, like the happiest boy in the world. By the second hour, I grew tired of the crush, and retired back to my chair to watch the sky. I hadn't been to a big time rock'n'roll show in awhile, preferring smaller, more intimate club gigs. So, I sat in my chair, watching the stars disappear to the flash of lightning, as dozens of kids bounced up and down on stage, way past their bedtimes.

Taos again, this time the 2nd Annual Mountain Music Fest, held up at the ski grounds. Until I'd arrived I hadn't really gotten the name, wondering why Gov't Mule was headlining. Then I turned around and saw Mt Wheeler towering over us and I thought "Oh, right!" We'd chosen Out Back Pizza over the opening acts, but arrived just in time for Yonder Mountain String Band to inspire us to make every muscle twitch in time to their bluegrass twang. Between acts Miki and I watched the kids playing in the play area, on mechanisms I'd never seen before. Then Gov't Mule took us into night, giving us a Whole Lotta Love...

There were also shows closer to home. Lyle Lovett closed out the Paolo Soleri, though whether it is for good remains to be seen. I had thought they'd never let the Paolo die, that some benefactors would come up with the required amounts for renovations, until a wise friend mentioned that the Natives who own the place don't care about the sentimentality of rich white people. Lyle's band was very large, including these backup singers who swung low through the gospel numbers. When I say low, I mean low, for the baritone sang in such a low register that I half expected his voice to get road rash. Lyle kept up the stage banter, the highlight being for me the bluegrass quartet stepping to the mike to take a verse.

A surprise gig was at Buffalo Thunder Casino up on the Tesuque Rez. It was private invite only thing, with us on the list. Miki had befriended a woman in town who is married to a born-in -Japan percussionist, and his band was putting on a short set, the day before playing the music festival on the following afternoon. I ran into the wife at REI the day before, saying that I'd been thinking of going to the festival, since I wanted to see Ozomatli. She laughed and said, Ted, my husband's band is Ozomatli. And they provided, our feet off the floor for half the set, as the hipsters raided the free food table behind us.

There was non-rock going on too, with devotional singing on a chilly night with Deva Premal and Krishna Das. And later in the summer, Miki and I scored 29 dollar nose bleed tickets for "The Magic Flute" at the Santa Fe Opera, where half the fun was tailgating in the parking lot and people watching. Mozart's classic surprised me in how anti-Christian it was. The locals gods apparently agreed, tossing lightning onto the desert behind the open backed stage.

And the summer was equally defined by the shows I missed--Telluride Bluegrass and Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Aspen Music Festival and Primus up at Red Rocks. But I know that they, and the music will be back next summer too.

On the turntable: Bob Marley, "Burnin'"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Days Away

This was a summer of sacrifice, but there was still time allotted for road trips. Early in the summer, we drove the short drive out to Pecos National Monument, following the Santa Fe Trail where we could. The clouds were low but it didn't detract any from this valley's beauty, between the tall, squared mesas, and the softer, higher peaks where the gods dwell above the trees. We wandered the ruins for most of the morning; above the open grassy field where tribes once came together to trade; around the ruined, roofless Pueblo looking like a game board; and in the shadows of the crumbling mission church standing imposing on the bluff. One could imagine the sight of this place, abandoned and forlorn, from a wagon lumbering slowly along the Santa Fe trail.

Our admission ticket enabled us entrance also to Fort Union, so on a day far hotter we followed the Trail up its northern spur to that monument, now little more than a handful of wooden dwellings lined up in rows of rotting frames of exposed wood pointing out in random displays of geographic possibilities. We were beyond the mountains here, where the plains stretch away for a thousand miles east. It was exposed and very hot, as we walked what were once roads, our eyes open for snakes. There was very little to see, but it was quite romantic to imagine the town that once was, and the soldiers' families who tried to fake a semblance of a life in a place well beyond civilization. Most appealing to me was the parallel lines ground into the earth, the Santa Fe trailing ambling off toward Santa Fe. Back in the visitor center we watched a film in a room that looked like a funeral home, then walked among the exhibits which helped me fill in the blanks about the place I was now living. Earlier in the day we'd stopped at a bizarre little DIY monument at Glorietta Pass, marking where the westernmost battle of the Civil War had been fought. It was no surprise to see here that Arizona had been confederate, especially with the recent immigration laws controversially playing out in the press.

On the way home, we stopped at Las Vegas, NM. We walked the old town that is just down the hill from Highland U. While most of the traditional architecture remains, horseshoeing around a lovely little plaza, the businesses inside have not. Many of these shuttered businesses had fliers or posters from 2005, announcing pride in the place and the intent to restore this little town to its former glory. But the economic downturn had done its thing. Las Vegas, 2005-2010. RIP. A few blocks over we found some life in the old timey Spic'n'Span diner. As we were pulled out, a well-to-do white couple was pulling a small Indian girl (SW Asia, not SW US) along by the hand, her eyes turned in the direction of the Ganesha sticker affixed to our front bumper.

Later still in the summer, we drove south for an intended hike up to 10000 foot Monzano Peak, which I'd never climbed but had seen daily from the house where I'd grown up. After a night visiting with mom, we drove south, turning east onto Rte 60 toward Mountainair. A forest fire had devastated the hills out here, including the trail where we'd hike. Where the scenery had been burned away was now the lair of aggressive bears looking futilely for food. Perhaps the hike can wait. Mountainair itself was charming enough, with an old hotel which, like most of its vintage, had a look seeped in history, a menu filled with comfort food (though not for poor vegetarian Miki), and a resident ghost rattling around upstairs. After lunch, we lurked awhile in the aged shops filled with aged merchandise, had a malt at the pharmacy counter, then moved out to explore the trio of Salinas ruins near town. The name Salinas comes from the huge saline lake on whose banks mammoths were once hunted. Water still plays a part out at Abo, in the form of a stream cutting across the rocky desert floor. Wildflowers filled in the arroyo with color, while above, a reddish mission church was in a bad state of ruin. Unique to this place was the kiva built within the mission itself, hinting at a semblance of religious understanding between the natives and the Spanish conquerors. Some archeology students from UNM were hard at work at restoration, but they could do little for the pueblo itself, most of which had been reclaimed by the clay earth. The discoverer and original preserver of this site lay buried beneath a lone cottonwood at the streams edge. A long drove to the south brought us to Gran Quivira, isolated and lonely out on the storm-swept low desert. I stood out on the bluffs at the edge of the site, watching storms play above the mountains further out. What better metaphor for the dangers presented by the Apache and Comanche tribes which continually harassed this place until the residents moved west to mingle with the Puebloans of the Rio Grande. How did they survive out here, far from any visible water source and on land that looked like it gave up little but the salt reminder of that long dead lake. To complete the trilogy, we visited a site who's name had me punning badly: Quarai (For the Straight Guy). It was in a more hospitable place, nestled in some low mountains beside a lovely stream lined with cottonwoods. Miki and I walked awhile beneath the trees, happy to finally get out of the sun. Like at Abo, the ruins here are unexcavated, giving up little but the crumbling Mission, sticking up literally like a sore, red thumb.

On the turntable: Derek and the Dominos, "Let's Play Domino"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Papers: Noam Chomsky

'In the phrase “North American free trade agreement,” the only accurate words are "North American."'

--Hopes and Prospects

On the turntable: Ozomatli, "Embrace the Chaos"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


This summer, my brother and I started a editing services company. In addition to our main site, New Wordsmiths, we also started a blog where we'll post flash reviews of books and short stories. My first contribution is here:

Spiritual Memoir and Eat, Pray, Love

On the turntable: Albert King, "At Montreux"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Papers: Santa Fe New Mexican

Published March 2, 1914


The New Mexican does not wish to be unpleasantly or unduly critical, but there is a dead rooster at the corner of Palace and Lincoln Avenues which has lain unburied for three consecutive days.

There is no doubt about that rooster's death. No physician's certificate is required, as the passerby may testify. He has passed away. Now, while one rooster occupies comparatively little space, and while the casual visitor to the city might not notice him, the principle of the thing is wrong. One tourist might see that rooster and fail to see the Old Palace; and his report on Santa Fe would feature the fact that it had no facilities for interring or removing defunct roosters.

Let no visitor to the Oldest-Newest city in the United States see unburied roosters on our street corners. It is the little things that go to make the big impressions. Every rooster removed and buried makes Santa Fe one rooster the cleaner, one rooster the brighter and more attractive.

Let us let no dead rooster escape--or any other debris, animal vegetable, or mineral, on the streets of this beautiful capital city of New Mexico."

On the turntable: Alex Chilton, "19 Years"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Peace in the Valle

The next day was even more brilliant than the last. We drove north through Taos, stopping at whim. Ice cream in Embudo. Mexican food in Questa. A mile shy of the Colorado border, we turned down a road that would remain dirt for the 50 miles that it passed through the Valle Vidal. I'd been expecting some pretty hard road, having read that I'd need a spare tire, and shouldn't expect to get out of second gear. But this was nothing like the road leading from Madrid out to Bud's place, a road that continues to set the bar.

We followed a fast stream as it zigzagged around the parked 4x4s of flyfishermen. Further in, horse trailers were left at scattered parking areas, their inhabitants out in the deeper woods, ridden by bowhunters seeking the elk that are protected during the 7 months that the Valle is closed off. (Prior to the trip, a friend had mentioned that the elk travel in 100-head herds, and the sound of them moving past is like thunder.) We moved further and further in, each meadow more spectacular than the last. In the true proper Valley of Life we found Shuree Pond, glimmering at the head of a drainage that flowed toward Mt Wheeler far to the south. Nearby, we topped out at The Rock, from which we found an amazing lookout over the entire eastern half of the Valle. The road switchbacked down, and before long we found our campsite. A few horse trailers were parked near the entrance but the back of the campground was near empty. We chose a site, and began to get to work. A minute into putting up our tent, one borrowed from REI, one of the poles irreparably broke. This was particularly ironic since this night out was to be a gear test of sorts. Plan B was to sleep in the back of our Subaru, another trial. The new Jetboil stove and GSI cookware worked great, and as darkness fell, we built a fire using matches borrowed from our boyscout neighbors. (Forgetting matches while camping is a terminable offense at REI. But, hey, I thought I had had a lighter.) As our fire began to sputter and die, the moon rose full through the trees, bringing with it coyote song, and the baritone accompaniment of snorting horses.

We hadn't slept too well, with the moonlight and a narrow sleeping space. (Though I have no qualms about sleeping in that car again. It passed the test.) We left as the sun rose, with the frost still streaked along the western edges of the wooden rails lining the road. Deeper in the forest, we herd the bark of elk and a lower-pitched growl of some predator in pursuit. Seeing nothing, we wound back out through meadows that narrowed into canyons, with classical music setting the tone. After an hour or so, we reached the Valle's eastern edge, the next 500000-acres belonging to Ted Turner's private Vermejo Park Ranch. Just where the blacktop began again, a herd of buffalo grazed. I stood there in the warm morning sun, eyeing the buffs as I took pleasure in peeing on Turner's land, my stream arcing through an electrical fence that tried to prevent me from doing so. (No politics at all in my action. I strongly admire ole Ted and his conservation efforts.)

A few miles up the road was Cimarron, which got me paraphrasing a Neil Young song. We saw more wildlife here, in the form of deer wandering the narrow town streets, and a gaggle of turkeys strolling the amongst the boy scout cabins at Philmont. The real wild life used to be found at Cimarron's St James hotel, gathering place for famed names of the old west and the site where 26 lesser-known names were gunned down. We had a quiet second breakfast here, enjoying our coffee and toast under the glazed eyes of a couple dozen trophy heads hanging from the walls. (These people must really hate animals here.)

Our drive south took us through the impressive Cimarron canyon, past the lakeside Eagles Nest, and over the ski resort of Angel Fire. Outside the latter, we made a brief stop at this country's first Vietnam memorial. Built twenty years before its better-known DC cousin, the chapel and memorial are built in the shape of a large white dove that looks over the valley. Ironically, hawks circled high overhead. Even more ironic was the sight of a few orange-garbed convicts working in the hot sun, while the words "freedom' repeated endlessly from the media room not far away.

The road took us again, down to Moya, where alpaca grazed with wool newly shorn. A crow perched atop the chimney remains of a long gone homestead, and beneath us, a huge scorpion crossed the road looking like a lost crab. In town, we enjoyed a nice lunch followed by ice cream. Not far away was another stop, at La Cueva for some raspberry jam and raspberry salsa. Back on the road, past a rope swing tied to the bough of a cottonwood weeks away from coming into color. On the grounds of a neighboring farm was a large trough written with the words, "God and the USA," the iron, and the sentiment, slowly rusting away. It wasn't far from here to Las Vegas and the Interstate, which demarkated the true path home.

I returned to the house happy and pleased with the fact that I still had two full days in front of me, as the words began to gather like clouds and sentences formed in my head.

(Miki's view, with photos, is here.)

On the turntable: Mumford and Sons, "Sigh No More"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The High Country: Deception Peak

A month ago, Miki asked me how I would spend a week off. Without thinking, I immediately answered, "four days in the mountains, three at my desk." It hadn't even occurred to me that I could do this. Which frightens the crap out of me, how accustomed I have become to my heavy schedule, as if it is perfectly normal to do little else but work.

So I cleared a week for my own use. The first day, Miki and I hiked the Bear Wallow/Borrego loop, my eyes scanning the forest floor for that massive vertebral column I'd see on this trail a few weeks ago. The air was cooler, and the trees coming into color made it seem a whole different place. We arrived back at the trailhead to meet a few of my fellow REI employees and the rangers who would lead is in a full moon trail clean-up. We were given our matching T-shirts, hard-hats, and glow sticks which we tied to our shoelaces. Not far down the trail we got to work, smoothing down small rises and creating channels for a more efficient water run-off. Being a guy, I had good fun using a couple new tools, a double sided axe called a 'Pulaski', (which I continually referred to as a 'kowalski,') and a heavy, metal rake thing called a 'MacCloud (though to me it was a 'McMillan and Wife'). After an hour or so, we moved off trail down to a camp area, for a campfire. With the autumn moon rising through the pines, we celebrated not in the usual Japanese way with tsukimi dango, but with the more American s'mores.

The following morning, Miki and I were once again heading to the high country, to meet Derek and Amanda for a hike up Aspen Vista. The trees that give this trail its name were ablaze with yellow. The hike took us up a fire road and into blue spruce country. Near the ski area, we had lunch under one spruce, as camp-robbers flew near to get a hand-out. We were happy to oblige, tossing stale bread into the higher branches. It was a perfect autumn afternoon, with the birds above and most of northern New Mexico far below. We stayed below the ridge until it curved downward like the crook of an elbow. From here, we shot straight up to Raven's Ridge, with Nambe Lake far below and winking at us until we got above tree line. From the summit of Deception Peak, the beauty of the deeper Pecos was revealed to me once again. The crumbly knife ridge over to Lake Peak teased, as did the trail further on to Penetente. Resisting these temptations and chose to instead sit in the sun up here awhile. Far across the high desert, canyons of deep rock led into those nooks where the Anasazi thrived. Within a month, when the snow once again takes the high country, those canyons will be our sole playground.

We could resist the colors far below no more. Heading off trail, we shot straight down the mountainside, into a riot of white and blue and gold. It went from summer to autumn within minutes. We eventually found a small trail, as a large dog bolted from between the trees. The previous winter must've been hard up here, for dozens of trees had fallen across the trail, with us climbing over or ducking under, in a back-country game of pick-up sticks. Back on the main trail again, we wondered if it were possible that the color had deepened even more since our ascent, as dozens of hikers passed us, kids and dogs in tow, heading one last time toward higher ground before the snows of October once again cover it all.

On the turntable: Ozomatli, "Coming Up"
On the nighttable: Robert M. Utley, "High Noon in Lincoln"

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Papers: Edward Abbey

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."

On the turntable: "Parliament, "Tear the Roof Off"