Let’s Talk Music

Hey Tuesday! Oh yeah! Made it through another week….and here I am. I started writing this blog post about a dust-up I had with a (now) former friend on Facebook over the idea of early openings here in the United States. While that would be quite the Bardic thing to do, its really not the direction I want to take. Just know this – I am against the idea of these openings, not because it would make President Trump look bad (he does a far better job of that then I could ever imagine myself doing). I am just not willing to put peoples’ lives on the lines for political expediency. #TwoQuid

Anyways, I thought I would do something that was a bit more fun. I have seen a ton of these “Top Ten (insert genre here) Albums” all over the internet. I decided I would do the same thing…the Top Ten Albums in Tommy’s Opinion. Now, these are not the top ten albums ever made. These are ten albums that I would wear out if they were in cassette or vinyl form. In other words, these are my favorite albums.

So, in no particular order – simply because I would have too much trouble trying to put these in any order.

Van Halen – Women and Children First

Van Halen was one of the first bands that I listened to when I was first climbing into the music scene. This album is raw and full of energy. The album opens with “And the Cradle Will Rock,” a song that I swear was written about my teen-aged years. The beginning sound of the song is actually a full can of beer being rolled along a keyboard, according to the mythology of the album. Other standout tracks on this album for me include “Fools” which has one of the best rhythm riffs I have ever heard, “Could this Be Magic?” and “In a Simple Rhyme” which are the last two tracks on the album. Don’t mistake this album as a highly produced gem…its styling is very raw and un-produced, a knock that music critics laid on it at that time.

Black Sabbath – Live Evil

This was the first “real” Black Sabbath live album. The previous live album was a bootleg that had been produced and released by a small company in Europe in the late 1970s. It has since been repackaged and released as “Past Lives” in the Sabbath catalog. Ronnie James Dio is fronting the band in this concert footage, and the “Heaven and Hell” version in here is not to be missed. For me, this was the first live album that I ever bought, and I instantly fell in love with the music stylings of Iommi, Butler, and Appice. While I know Bill Ward was the original drummer of the band, Appice is such a better drummer.

Warlord – Deliver Us

In the mid-1980s, there were tons of bands coming out on the smaller independent labels. And me? I was completely in love with this movement. Bands like Steeler, Mercyful Fate (coming up), and Slayer (also coming up) were getting their feet into the metal marketplace. Bands like Metallica, Trauma, and were showing up on compilation albums that were designed to showcase these new, seemingly unheard of bands. One of the best, in my opinion, was the unheralded band Warlord. This album is a little over-produced and even muddy sounding in places, but the excitement that a new band has is evident in their playing. This album has the haunting ‘Mrs. Victoria” as well as the title track that are amazing standouts for me. I bought this album in late 1984, and played the cassette until I wore it completely out. I have bought it numerous times since then – until CDs came out. 🙂

Pantera – Cowboys From Hell

Pantera created a wild style all their own. I have strong memories of this band. I used to hang out with them from time to time, when they were still on the Dallas music scene. Not only were they some of the best folks to party with, they were also some of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. “Cemetery Gates” is probably the most well-known song from this album, but I also have a lot of love for “Primal Concrete Sledge” and “Message in Blood”. The album is just an awesome classic.

Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath

At one point, I slipped into the black metal world, and it was this album that was my introduction. Probably the most sinister looking cover I have ever seen on an album, and some of the most fiendish lyrics ever – this album is a literal gem. If you are looking for a scary song to play during Halloween, its definitely “The Oath”. This was also the album that caused my mother to believe I was dabbling in Satanism, a common fear amongst most parents during this particular time frame (1984-1985), as it was the beginnings of the moronic Satanic Panic. Lots of Baptist ministers swindled a lot of money out of their parishioners utilizing much of the heavy metal music world as a scare prop.

Slayer – Haunting the Chapel (EP)

There’s a lot of good Slayer music to pick from, but for me its the very beginning. Their 1983 Extended Play is what I considered as Slayer at their very best. Probably one of the fastest (in terms of playing) that I had heard at this time, this band was essentially the jet-engine of the metal scene, when most bands were following the slow, plodding style of Black Sabbath’s early 1970s style. For an example of that, see the band Trouble who have several good albums.

Buffy Saint-Marie – I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again

What? You thought my entire world was heavy metal? It might seem that way, but I traveled all over Europe in a Ford Pinto, listening to nothing but 1950s and 1960s country. All thanks to my father. This was one of his albums that I really enjoyed. Buffy’s lyrics are upbeat and fun. Her voice is pretty and pure. The styling is the typical back beat, guitar and fiddle that was so prevalent during the time. But this album takes me back to sunny days, laying in the field, and watching the clouds drift by.

Halestorm – Vicious

There is no way in the Nine Hells that I am going to leave off my favorite band. Lzzy Hale, AreJay Hale and the rest of the band are so much fun to listen to. Tons of sexual innuendo, lots of great rhythm guitar…it was hard to pick any one album over the other. So I went with the album that has my favorite song from the band, “Do Not Disturb”. Other awesome songs on this album include “Killing Ourselves to Live”, “Uncomfortable” and “Heart of Novacaine”. This band rocks…and Lzzy is one gorgeous woman who is very sure of herself and her self image – a truly deadly combination.

April Wine – The Nature of the Beast

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t save the last two spots for a pair of Canadian bands that I absolutely adore. The first of these is April Wine, and an album that just doesn’t have any throw-away tracks on it, at least as far as I am concerned. “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” is probably the most well-known song on here, but I am far more partial to “Big City Girls”, “One More Time” (A great song to end the album on), and “Caught in the Crossfire.” There’s also the minor hit “Just Between You and Me”. I own several albums from this band, and I have to say I really love all of them. They have fun playing, and don’t take themselves too serious – a mix for success in my book.

Rush – Permanent Waves

Of course, I cannot leave Rush out of this list. This has been my go-to band for many years. Each album has fantastic songs with extensive time changes and incredible lyrics written by the late Neil Peart. Each member of this band were masters of their respective instrument. Permanent Waves is my favorite album because of two songs – “Different Strings” and “Natural Science”. “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill” are far better known and excellent songs to. But the last two songs on this album are just incredible pieces to play back-to-back. Really, there’s not a terrible album among their entire history.

I left several of my favorites bands off of here, including Phish, and the Grateful Dead. Their music is a part of my daily life, but not for their albums – rather for their live music, most of which I have gathered through bootleg materials. As such, I did not add those to this list.

During this quarantine period, I have found that music is my solace. I have spent a lot of time going through some of my older music and reliving periods of my life through the songs. For instance, Adam and the Ants, as well as The Clash, the Buzzcocks, and the Sex Pistols tend to take me back to a time of living in Europe as a pre-teen and in my younger teen years. I never really understood the songs, but loved the stylings…even though my parents hated it, as most parents tend to do with their children’s musical tastes.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my little stroll down memory lane…make your own lists…share them here if you want…or on your own blogs (and share the link here). We will all have very distinctive musical tastes…I think it would be a lot of fun to explore those…

–T /|\

Thinking About Music

Music has always been a driving force in my life. My earliest memories of life are associated with 1950s and 1960s country music, thanks to my father. My mother’s tastes were a bit more contemporary for the times, as evidenced by my memories of Abba and Gilbert O’Sullivan. In my high school years, I was introduced to bands such as Van Halen and the Eagles. In the last two years of high school, I found the indie labels such as Megaforce and Metal Blade records, and my introduction to an extremely harder edge of metal music was started.

I drove a two-speed Honda Civic in those days. That vehicle was a lot like driving a golf cart that could get up to 80 miles and hour. I bought a tape deck and a pair of speakers. Nearly every single day, you could hear the sounds of bands like Mercyful Fate, Black ‘N Blue, 45 Grave, Hurricane, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Richard Hell playing from my little sardine-can car. It took a few more years before I was introduced to the Grateful Dead, and much of the 1960s and 1970s rock scenes, which I spend a lot more time in these days.

When I am at work, I have a small Bose speaker that looks like a cube. Usually, I have some kind of music coming from that little speaker – playing on my phone. Especially when I have a difficult piece of code to work on. Music relaxes me – physically, mentally, and even spiritually. Some days, I need a shot of fast-paced music to let my brain travel in ways that I normally don’t think. For that, I either have Motorhead or Eloy coming through the speaker. But, in my very conservative office area, the vocalization of Lemmy Kilmister are not exactly a welcome form of music, so I have a pair of bluetooth speakers I will move to for this.

Now, its likely been noticed that I haven’t listed any Pagan musicians as my go-to choices. I have a handful of these artists in my collection, but rarely do I play any of these in the workplace or when I am looking for something to help me focus and concentrate. I didn’t grow up with any of these artists, so my brain isn’t wired to those sounds the way it is with the music I have described above. When I am looking to concentrate and focus, not even my beloved Grateful Dead is a go-to choice.

Photo by John Beckett

I have been reamed over saying that before. Yes, there are some folks who believe it to be a level of blasphemy that Pagan artists are not at the top of my choices for constant music listening. My typical response is to shrug and walk away. I honestly do not need to have that shoved into my face. Music is an art form that is appreciated by the listener. While I dearly love the vocal stylings of several Pagan musicians, their music touches a different part of me than the music that I listened to back in high school. I pick up Pagan music when I am feeling down and need something that picks up my mood. Something that reminds me of who I am as a Druid, such as Damh the Bard’s “Green and Grey”.

Such attitudes, which I find off-putting at the very least, remind me of the Southern Baptist, Christian ministers who shot me dirty looks when I pulled into the church parking lot with Stryper or Ressurection Band or Jerusalem playing on my speakers. Those bands are all Christian hard rock or heavy metal bands. But because their dress style was similar to that of the hard rock and metal bands of that time (early to mid 1980s), they were judged as being “Satanic”. When I play these albums out and listen to them today, I hear musicians playing a style of music and finding ways to explain the message of their faith. While I am not a Christian, I can appreciate their desire to sing about something that deeply resonates within their being. I find that to hold true with Pagan musicians, as well.

Overt dogmatic practices quickly turn me off. Truth is found in the individual and the manner in which they connect to the world around them. Music is one of the purest ways to relay this. When I hear Pagans tell me that Pagan artists should be at the top of my personal playlist, all I hear is the same tone I heard from Southern Baptist ministers who condemned Christian artists that accessed a style of music to relay their messages of how Christianity brought them hope and comfort in a confusing world.

As I noted overt dogmatic preaching of the Christian faith really turns me off. But nothing makes me feel more ill than a dogmatic Pagan trying to convert the masses to Paganism of one form or another. I have always viewed the Pagan Path as one where adherents come willing, seeking out of curiosity or a desire to find something that fits their understanding of the connectivity of the world. I certainly don’t want to see people come to the Path of Paganism out of fear of what will happen to their soul in the after-life (one of the few concepts that you will ever hear me bash Christianity over).

Before I step off the trail of this post and head down a rabbit hole I did not intend to go, let me pull this back together. Music means a lot of things to me. Its the background of my day. Certain music touches my soul in certain ways. But regardless of all of that, music is an ecstatic piece of freedom contained within the storytelling mode. The lyrics provide wonderful stories combined with musical aspects for punctuating. Done well, those stories stay with us forever. How many of you can “Witchy Woman” with the Eagles when you hear it on the radio? How many of you can sing the lyrics by memory? Think about that for a moment. Those lyrics are memorized and a part of your unconscious thoughts, and that story is easily recalled when you hear the first strains of guitar in the song.

Music is a part of us, provided by very talented people. They have a message or story that they are trying to tell you. Some delivery methods do not lend themselves to being well received by the listener. For instance, I do not like rap music. Nothing presented to me in that format is memorable for me. For others, its quite a different story. The same can hold true for Acid Jazz, a music form that evokes strong emotions for me, but can be described as “noise” by others.

So, crank up your speakers, put something on that brings you joy. Don’t worry about what others might say. The music is for you. Its there to calm your soul. Its there to place you into a particular frame of mind. And who cares whether its something associated with your Spirituality or not. This is about you, your emotions, the way you feel…that’s what matters.

Guitarists That Inspire Me to Learn to Play

Way back when I was younger, I played the bass guitar. I had some really high-level heroes too. The late Cliff Burton was my primary hero….I want to play like Cliff. I never really got there. But recently, I decided to take up an instrument again…this time, I moved over to the acoustic guitar. So, since other folks are tossing out their top tens of this, that or the other…I figured I would toss out my top ten favorite guitarists….or, if you prefer, the guys I would love to emulate – if I manage to get better with this….

And while I would populate this list with guys like the late Randy Rhoads and the amazing Alex Lifeson…I’m limiting this to guys that play acoustic guitar for the most part…though there’s a few that play electric guitar as well. I just don’t want to populate my list with shredding masters…though I do admire their technique and ability quite a lot.

  1. Declan Sinnott – Declan is here because he just has a way of making a guitar sing whatever emotion he’s trying to emulate for you. He mostly plays support for Christy Moore, along with a few others – but he’s quite awesome on his own.
  2. Trey Anastasio – Trey makes stuff fun. He is not the most accomplished player on any list, but he is definitely an excellent player. I keep watching for Trey or Phish to come to somewhere near me. Apparently, north Texas ain’t a usual stop.
  3. Damh the Bard – Damh is fun to listen to. His playing is always a perfect harmony to his voice. And for all I know, he can shred right along with Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden.
  4. Allan Holdsworth – this guy is just downright amazing to watch. He’s got some freakishly long fingers and some very deft ability on the fretboard. I have watched a few videos that he has on YouTube, and he is just mesmerizing with his ability. I could never aspire to be as good as this guy.
  5. Pat Metheny – no surprise here, especially if you know me well enough. Pat is not only an incredible player but an out-of-this-world songwriter. Another one of those players I could only dream of being as good as.
  6. Pete Townsend – now, I did say I didn’t want any shredders on this list but I have to include Pete. Not for his lead guitar work but for his rhythm guitar work. Listen to any song from The Who or any of his solo albums, and you will find that guitar riff that all the rest of the music just holds on to. I’m particularly fond of his work on the album “Face Dances”.
  7. Tommy Shaw – another master of the rhythm guitar. Again, listen to his solo work or what he has done in Styx, and you will hear some wonderful work. It is this rhythm work that I really aspire to learn. Maybe one day, I could emulate what Shaw and Townsend do in their rhythm work.
  8. The Edge – this guy is just sheer genius. None of what he does is overly difficult, and yet the phrasing is just amazingly distinct for what U2 does. He is a study in how simple riff work can be magnified into excellence when done in an understated manner.
  9. Craig Chaquico – sure, the stuff he does in Jefferson Starship sounds great, but its his guitar work on his solo albums that is just out of this world. These are jazz albums, so there’s not a ton of singing (if it all) to the tracks – unless you count the way he makes the guitar sing his “voice”. Much like Sinnott, Holdsworth, and Metheny – his styling is other-worldly for me.
  10. Bran Cerddorion – I just cannot make a list without adding the guy that inspired me to get back to playing an instrument – even if I am not that great with it. I’ve seen Bran live plenty of times…and he has a way of playing his instrument in a way that makes you believe that the guitar is the same instrument as his voice. One without the other just does not sound complete.

So, there’s my top ten….its not a list of people that I think are absolutely out of this world with a guitar. There’s a whole host of players I would have in this list, such as Rhoads, Abbott, Moore, Santana, Satriani, Vai, May, and so many more. This list is about the people that inspire me to continue to get better with the guitar….and have fun doing so….as with any top ten list – people will likely disagree with me on many of the choices. Yeah, I get that. And I am so very alright with that. Hopefully, you will be alright with my list being different from yours.  🙂

 

Here Comes Sunshine

Line up a long shot maybe try it two times, maybe more
Good to know you got shoes to wear, when you find the floor
Why hold out for more

Yeah….more music related stuff.  Sort of. The song, for those who don’t know it, is “Here Comes Sunshine” by the Grateful Dead from their 1973 album “Wake of the Flood“. For me, the song is the a great song to listen to as the sun is rising, but far from the perfect one. For me, that song is “Island of Life” by Kitaro (with Jon Anderson) from his 1992 album “Dream“.

Yes, music is a huge part of my life. Its the background of everything that goes on with me. When I am working, I have my iPhone playing songs I downloaded specifically for that week. When I am home, I typically have something playing in the background. Sometimes louder, sometimes softer – just depending on what purpose it serves for my activities at the time.

As a podcaster, quite a few of the Pagan musicians have gifted me with their music. Usually, they send it to me via mp3 in Email. Sometimes, I get the CD. Regardless of how I get it, I always turn around and pay for a copy. That’s right, even when the musician gifts me with their music, I turn around and purchase their music. Why? Because I know they need the money to survive, and in turn, they will return that favor by making more music, or eventually coming to a place near me for a concert – where I am more than happy to purchase a ticket to their show. Its a circle of reciprocation. And it works quite well.

A little over two years ago, my friend John Beckett gifted me with two CDs that he had gotten from a pair of musicians –  Sharon Knight and Winter. While I did appreciate the gifting from John, I went out and purchased the same two albums. Because, in my mind, it was the correct thing to do. No one twisted my arm. No one coerced me into doing it. I did it because I believe that supporting independent musicians is important. Particularly in this cut-throat day and age in the modern music industry. I personally could give two shits about any of these musicians making any “top-something chart”. I enjoy their music, and the handful of them that I have met – I thoroughly have enjoyed talking with them. The same holds true for Pagan authors. Even when gifted with a pdf review copy, I turn right around and purchase my own copy of their books. And the authors I have had the time to talk with – I have had some of the most incredible discussions with. In that regard, I count myself as being granted a handful of blessings from the Gods and Goddesses.

…and now I get to brand myself as a hypocrite, of sorts. I run a podcast. Upon a Pagan Path is a manner to bring interviews, lectures, and discussions from other Pagans to the forefront. I have had some incredible guests on, and have been proud to play the music of musicians I adore (Wendy Rule, who was the first musician to graciously assent my request to play her music on my podcast). The end of the calendar year 2015 marks the finish of my tenth year of podcasting. In all that time, I have carried the cost of keeping the podcast up and available for download. Only when I was unemployed for two years, did I ask for monetary assistance, and was given that help several times over by listeners.

I don’t ask for monies, nor do I seek advertising for the show. Until this recent Wild Hunt Fall fundraiser. The new year will bring the podcast’s presence as one of the Fall donators. The Wild Hunt needed money to run, I get advertising that may help bring listeners to the show. The more important part of that is me giving money to the Wild Hunt. I’m not worried about how many people come and download the show. That’s not what I do the podcast for. I’m on the podwaves to showcase how other people believe, how they practice their Pagan paths, how we are all no different than anyone else. We live our lives, just as anyone else does. We work jobs. We have families and friends that we hold dear.

So, yes, I am a bit of a hypocrite, in that I do not ask for help for what I provide to the community. But…I do get something back. if even one Pagan gets comfort in knowing that they are not along – then I have reached what was necessary and needed at that time. And, that is enough for me.

IMG_0507This morning, I woke to see this sunrise. My bedroom window is just to your left in this picture. I had stepped outside to the west end of my backyard pool to take this. As I stood there, marveling in the momentary beauty of this morning, I know that these last ten years of podcasting have been a complete joy. I have enjoyed bringing the podcast episodes to you, and will continue to do so. After all, in the words of the Grateful Dead:  “…its the same story the Crow told me…” — and I have truly been told. Thanks for reading, and hopefully listening to. Here’s to another ten years….

Portable Music – Magickal Memories of the Past, Present and Future

Continuing in the vein of having some non-spiritual fun….

jazzWay long back, I had a listener (of the now defunct podcast “From the Edge of the Circle”) ask me what I had on my iPod. Well, these days, I don’t carry an iPod with me – though I still have my red iPod in a drawer somewhere. These days, I carry my audio stuff on my iPhone. And typically when I am walking through the neighborhood, I have the ear buds in, and something is playing.

In fact, there’s typically some kind of music or speaking stuff is playing out of speakers near me. Even at work, where I stream Pandora Radio from my iPhone on to my little red Bose Color Speaker. I find music to be rather soothing, although I will shut off my music to listen to the wind in the leaves of the trees or the sound of s stream rushing by. But that auditory sense is always something that I have to have going. Even when I am reading — though I am a little picky when it comes to that. It can’t have words. I guess I get confused between what I am reading and what I am hearing.

But back to what’s on my iPod….err….iPhone. Currently, I have the last four episodes of The Wigglian Way, the last two episodes of Down at the Crossroads, and the last four episodes of Druidcast….all of which I have yet to listen to (and thus the reason that they are on my iPhone). Then follows all the music…and there’s a lot of it….

  • Amaranthe — Massive Addictive (album), The Nexus (album), Amaranthe (album), and Leave Everything Behind (EP).
  • Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe – (self-titled album)
  • Chick Corea – Friends (album), The Mad Hatter (album), The Leprechaun (album), Return to Forever (album), Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (album), and Tone’s For Joan’s Bones (album)
  • Coyote Oldman — Compassion (album), and In Medicine River (album)
  • Craig Chaquico — Follow the Sun (album), Midnight Noon (album), Shadow and Light (album), Four Corners (album), A Thousand Pictures (album), Acoustic Planet (album), Once in a Blue Universe (album), and Acoustic Highway (album)
  • Craig Chaquico and Russ Freeman — From the Redwoods to the Rockies (album)
  • Damh the Bard — Sabbat (album), Antlered Crown and Standing Stone (album), As Nature Intended (album), Tales From the Crow Man (album), The Cauldron Born (album), The Hills They Are Hollow (album), Spirit of Albion (album), and Herne’s Apprentice (album)
  • Douglas Spotted Eagle — Closer to Far Away (album), and Legend of the Flute Boy (album)
  • Duane Deemer — Windhorse (album)
  • Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians — Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars
  • Eloy — Chronicles I (album), Metromania (album), Performance (album), Planets (album), Live! (album), and Ocean (album)
  • Emerald Rose — Archives of Ages to Come (album), Celtic Crescent (album), Rants & Rambles (album), Bending Tradition (album), and Emerald Rose (album)
  • Epica — This is the Time (EP)
  • Eric Johnson – Ah Via Musicom (album)
  • Fiona Davidson — The Language of Birds (album), and Fonnsheen (album)
  • Florence + the Machine — How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (album), and Ceremonials (album)
  • Giant — Last of the Runaways (album)
  • Glass Tiger — The Thin Red Line (album)
  • Grace Potter and the Nocturnals — The Lion, the Beast, the Beat (album), and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (album)
  • Grateful Dead (every single studio album they ever made)
  • Halestorm — Into the Wild Life (album), The Strange Case of… (album), and Halestorm (album)
  • Hardline — Hot Cherie (song)
  • Jim Faupel — Here Be Dragons (album), and Reinventing the Wheel (album)
  • Kellianna — Traditions (album), Elemental (album), and Lady Moon (album)
  • Omnia — Musick and Poetree (album), Wolf Love (album), World of Omnia (album), Paganfolk at the Fairy Ball (album), and Alive! (album)
  • Paul C. Newman — Passing Fayre (album)
  • Rush — (every studio album they have made)
  • Sara Evans — Restless (album), and Three Chords and the Truth (album)
  • Yes (every studio album they have made)

As you can see….my tastes are quite eclectic. Depending on my mood, I will fire up any of these albums at any given time. And if I find that none of them match my mood…I have tons more to pick from off of my external hard drive back at the house. Music is a driving force in my life…each song tugs at a different string in my soul, evoking a different moment of magick within my life. Sometimes its a piece of magick from the Past, sometimes a piece of magick that just happened, and sometimes its a hint of magick yet to come.

My Favorite Albums….At This Moment

While I enjoy writing about topics on spirituality, from time-to-time I like to add some different stuff as well. Some of that comes in the form of book reviews – more of which will be coming soon, now that I am dedicating particular periods of time during every day to just reading and relaxing. But a bigger part of my life is music, which I want to talk about now.

Music is always on in the background. At work, I shuffle between online streaming services that I pull from my phone, and mp3s from my home collection that I put on my phone specifically for the week. Every Sunday, in the late afternoon, I will spend time adding specific musicians/artists/bands to my iPhone. Sometimes, I pay attention to what I am wanting to accomplish at work. Other times, I pick music based on what I am looking for in my mood.

My musical tastes runs the range of insanity. I have Jazz, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, R&B, New Age, Folk, Pagan-Folk, Pagan-Rock, Country, Alternative Country, Classical, Swing, Pop/Rock, Progressive Rock, and a lot more. Sometimes, I put all of that on shuffle, just to see what happens. And yes, I certainly do have a lot of music. And yes, I am adding to it all of the time. Typically, I will get the question on which are my favorites.

This is typically when I pause. Not because I am thinking on how to answer the question. Because I am frozen in fear of having to pick. Asking me which of these are my favorites, is liking asking a parent to pick which of their children they love the most. However, in the fairness of the moment — I will attempt to pick my favorite ten ALBUMS of right now, and say a little about each.

10. Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne. This album was a seminal moment in my youth. The playing of Randy Rhoads is absolutely inspiring. His death shook me more than any other musician, with the sole exception of Cliff Burton. For me, the two “slowest” tracks on the album are the primary definers. “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” is lyrically a stuff it up your ass moment, though it is musically the weakest track on the album, in my opinion. However, its the title track that really makes this album for me. Lyrically, its a standout. Musically, its an amazing song, as it rises from a single guitar into the full tempo of the band, adding to the anguish of the tortured soul in the lyrics, as he puzzles out where he is in his state of mental being. For me, an absolute stunner of a track.

9. Long Road Out of Eden by The Eagles. The album is definitely the about the band coming back to their roots. Playing the musical stylings that made their first two albums such wonderful works of art. But I pick this album over both of those, simply because of the politically charged title track. Super hard, biting lyrics about the involvement of the United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan played against a backdrop of over-consumerism, and capitalistic greed, while showcasing the difference in what most soldiers were thinking about (being able to go home). Lyrically, this particular song comes closest to how I feel about the political world around me – politicians clamoring for my vote by making promises they know they won’t fulfill – and that I am well aware that they will not either. There are other wonderful tracks on this album, but this particular song is one that always makes me stop, and remember….

8. Soaring Through A Dream by Al Di Meola. Technically an Extended Play with only six songs on it, it is a masterpiece of musicianship. In a manner of speaking, it is a big step away from Di Meola’s known playing on such albums as “Land of the Midnight Sun”, and “Electric Gypsy” – it certainly showcases his ability with an acoustic guitar. The title track is a track that I have utilized for meditation backdrops before.

7. All Jacked Up by Gretchen Wilson. I know, most people are going to raise an eyebrow here. But I actually love the energy of the whiskey-soaked songs that Gretchen brings about. To be honest, I probably couldn’t dance worth a smeg to any of her songs, but it certainly is some good toe-tapping stuff. And I am certainly glad that she ain’t a California Girl…

6. Master of Puppets by Metallica. Cliff Burton was the bass player I wanted to be. He was incredibly proficient with his instrument. In fact, there are some songs that I thought a guitar was being played, and found out later that it was Cliff Burton playing on his bass. The album is gritty, nasty, and very under-produced. A very raw sound. This makes for good workout music for me, since it gets the blood flowing. The standout track for me, however, is the instrumental “Orion” with Cliff’s incredible bass leading the way through the entire track.

5. I Sing the Body Electric by Weather Report. A Jazz “supergroup”, I could easily place six of their albums into my top ten. But I will cut that down to this one album. The musicianship in this band is not only incredible, it is downright unbelievable. Each player is a master at their particular instrument, and the manner in which they all coalesce together to produce such wonderful works of fusion is just jaw-dropping at times. No soaring solos here, just a melding of musical instruments to convey a feeling or emotion. The standout track here, for me, is “Second Sunday in August”.

4. Opium by Ottmar Liebert. Ottmar is perhaps one of the most incredible musical talents I have ever seen with a guitar. His style changes from album to album, but his perfectionist stylings certainly do not. This particular album has two aspects to it – “Dreaming” and “Wide-Eyed”. Both are absolutely stunning. I have used this for long distance driving (sound to fill out the quiet), and it has proven to be a super incredible soundtrack to the movie passing in my windscreen. Its hard to pull a single track as a standout, but I do have a heavy preference for “Montana Walking”.

3. Live at the Castle on the Hill by Wendy Rule. Anyone who has known me for any length of time, knows how much I adore Wendy and her music. And while her studio albums are absolutely wonderful works, its her live album that absolutely captivates me. Two particular songs, back-to-back on this album, just tend to fill my soul with energy and love. “Radiate” and “Artemis” are both standout studio tracks for me, but on this particular album, both of these songs just come alive. I have yet to see Wendy live, but I am certainly hoping to get that particular chance in the near future, In the meantime, I have this album to hold me until that time.

2. The Cauldron Born by Damh the Bard. Believe me, its a fairly close run between Rush in first place, and this album. My favorite album of Damh’s – though all of his albums are just amazing pieces of work in their own rights – its standing is due to four particular songs. “Land, Sky, and Sea”, “Imramma (A Soul Quest)”, “Green and Grey”, and my favorite song of his “Pagan Ways”. Each one of those songs draws me in, not only lyrically, but also musically. I will catch myself tapping my foot on the ground or floor in time with each. I was lucky enough to listen to Damh sing around a camp fire at this year’s East Coast Gathering. It was an experience I will not forget. That man is not only a charmer, but he is also friendly – and gives wonderful hugs.

1. Power Windows by Rush. The reason that Rush gets the top spot, is that this album was a huge part of my first years in the military. Its a reminder of a wonderful time in my life, as well as a reminder of a time where I had to compromise who I was to stay alive. The standout track for me now, is “Mystic Rhythms” which has some of the most incredible lyrics contained within it. However, when I had first heard this album, it was “Middletown Dreams” that was the primary track. But to be incredibly honest, it really does not matter. I still play this album to death – particularly when I am coding or working with SQL. It is certainly an album that narrows my focus that well.

Well, there ya go. Its certainly not a complete list of anything. I left off a lot of bands and musicians that I love – The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Bran Cerddorion, Paul Newman (the awesome musician from the UK, not the actor turned salad dressing king), and many, many others. Doesn’t mean that I love their music any less. Just means that at this moment, their music is pulling at my earbuds. One thing I know for sure…what’s pulling at yours will likely be something different….

Music, for me, is Essential

Like I noted in the last blog post, music is a big part of my life. Well, today and the 9th are a pair of interesting days for me. Today, August 1st, is the birthday of the late-Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. The 9th is the day that he passed away, back in 1995. This morning, in my Facebook feed, I found a post from Mickey Hart – the awesome drummer, and all-around genius – in my Facebook feed. The title of the post is “Dear Jerry” and points out that Jerry was a catalyst for a lot of people discovering how music can touch nearly every aspect of their lives. The previous day, Mickey had posted a quote from Jerry that I re-shared to my wall:

You need music, I don’t know why. It’s probably one of those Joe Campbell questions, why we need ritual. We need magic, and bliss, and power, myth, and celebration and religion in our lives, and music is a good way to encapsulate a lot of it.  –Jerry Garcia

This is one of those quotes that you stumble across, and realize the potency of what is being said, and for me – how much it encapsulates what makes my life “GO”. Even when I am at work, I am playing music. Currently, I have my iTunes on a full-mix rotation. Its been playing as I am typing this. This morning I have heard Tom Petty, The Grateful Dead, Jewel, Fiona Davidson, Spiral Dance, and .38 Special. I play this type of rotation when I am in no particular musical mood. Usually, I have a particular artist in mind, and I focus on them. But music is always there.

jazzWhen I walk, I typically have a large number of songs from a single artist stuffed on to my iPhone. Its the background music that I am wanting to listen to in order to help focus my mind on a single thought. Yes, I meditate when I walk. Its also one of the reasons I need to stop walking in my neighborhood, since this is a heavily urbanized area, and there’s always traffic around. Its fairly easy to come close to being hit by a car, even when you are not distracted by anything else.

Music permeates nearly every moment of my day. There’s always something on. Plus, I am looking into taking guitar lessons as well, so I can get back into playing music with my more musically inclined friends. That’s the first time I have had a serious desire to play music since March 20th in 1982 when I found out about the death of Randy Rhoads from the previous day. That’s the day I set my bass guitar down. And to be perfectly honest, I won’t be the greatest guitar player ever. In fact, I’ll likely be “ok” at my peak. But its not about being the absolute best, its about being able to share that music with my friends.

When you listen to a certain song, do you get the chills and thrills up and down your spine when you hear it?  When you know that this is the song that defines a specific moment in time – or that this song will always remind you of these musicians? Or that this song expresses this moment so perfectly? In my opinion, that’s part of what Jerry means in his quote about “magic and bliss” — where a certain song can literally define that moment for you forever. And when you hear that song, you are immediately transported to those feelings. I have a metric ton of these memories.

I know that there are folks who may not understand or agree on the importance of music. To be honest, that’s perfectly fine. This is something that definitely works for me. And something that is a very deep part of what and who I am. So, as Wall of Voodoo is reminding me about “Mexican Radio” – I’ll go ahead and close this post. Here’s to hoping that you’re having an excellent day, morning, evening, night – whatever.  🙂  /|\

The Background Track of My Life

There are so many sides to creativity…so many different ways to express that burning desire that resides deep down inside of one’s deeply interwoven self. My way to express myself is through Poetry and writing.  More so the Poetic side of me, but I do have moments where the written word comes from that intense inner fire. But there are so many other aspects of personal creativity that can stoke that fire and make the flames lick ever higher inside me.

View From Medicine Wheel
View From Medicine Wheel

There is the gorgeous beauty of the world around me. The breath-taking view of the surrounding area from Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming moved me to a sense of pure awe and joy. The serenity of that moment has stayed with me for a little under a year now, and I sincerely yearn to return to Medicine Wheel and spend a much longer time up at that very moving place. There’s also the artistic aspect as well. I can spend hours in a museum and marvel at the beauty of works of art – particularly paintings and sculptures. The photo I have here is of a recreated sculpture of “Capricorn” by Max Ernst. Many people I have talked to about this particular work of art get a little

Capricorn - Max Ernst
Capricorn – Max Ernst

creeped out by it, but I find it completely fascinating. A piece of Surrealistic sculpture done in bronze, it captures little ripples in my thinking in such a free manner. When I saw this at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, I was literally spellbound for several moments. There’s also the moments of acting brilliance, such as Robin Williams’ portrayal of the fictional John Keating in “Dead Poet’s Society” – a movie that still excites me today, particular as I have started along my Path as a college professor.

But despite all of these – its music that remains my primary love, and the truest part of inspiration for me. And my taste in music is quite eclectic. At one time, I can be listening to Damh the Bard, Fiona Davidson, or Spiral Dance. The next moment can find Queen, Rush, Epica, or Kamelot piping through my speakers. Other times can find Al Di Meloa, Yanni, Kitaro, Coyote Oldman, or Douglas Spotted Eagle playing softly in the background. It all depends on my current mood and frame of my mind. But rarely do I not have music playing on my iMac’s speakers. Currently, I have Judas Priest’s “Out in the Cold” playing as I am typing this.

For me, music sets the stage for my mind. Hard-driving music gets my blood pumping, and makes for a good companion during my walks through the neighborhood. When I am trying to write, I typically have some soft instrumental music in the background – usually First Nation in flavor. When I am grading papers, my choices are normally the various “sounds of Nature” tracks that I have. Even the sounds of animals making their typical noises, and the wind whispering in the branches and leaves is a form of music for me. And a form of inspiration I can draw from.

I also find music is a good form of bonding with my fellow humans. I cannot relay the number of times I have had lengthy conversations concerning musical artists with people I barely know. Nor can I count the number of times that the same strain of conversation becomes the opening line for a second and third meeting with those same people. There’s a connective matter at hand there – and connections are so very important.

At one point, I was attending the Dallas Summer Musicals every weekend. It was enjoyable. That Summer, it happened that my favorite musical – The Phantom of the Opera – was being performed on my birthday. It was absolutely amazing – I sat in the dark and marveled at the story I knew so well, being played out before my eyes – and the sounds of the songs I know so very well. I think I may have to look into attending the Dallas Summer Musicals again next year – this year, I have a trip to NASA in Florida planned – and that would eat into the schedule significantly.

Yes, there is a music of the Elf – to slightly twist a musical phrase. Its an eclectic mix of hard rock, opera, First Nations, New Age, Classical, R&B, Classic Rock, Country, and Pop music. But its more than that – its a background to my Life. Just hearing the opening strains of “Heart of Rock and Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News will instantly remind me of a long road trip to Ruston, Louisiana with friends. Epica’s “Unleashed” reminds me of several scenes of me – dressed strangely and in manners I have never done so. Whether its touching some strange dream I had or something else, I cannot say for sure. But it certainly does touch something that seems to be a memory.

Music has power. Music brings stimulation to memory. It can be a powerful addition to a ritual or a personal meditation. It really is the background to my Life…