Busker’s Lament.

July 16, 2017 § 2 Comments

Buskers, those street musicians wearing tragic hats and faded jeans, are the filter feeders of the music world, gleaning pocket change and an equivalent amount of attention from a busy, going-somewhere audience.

The signals that let listeners know, “Hey, this is a big act! These guys are hot!” are absent.

No band bus.

No stage.

No entourage.

Just a guitar, a shaker or two and that gaping guitar case, begging for the recognition of loose change, and the occasional buck that has to be kept from blowing away.

It’s a hunger that will never be filled.

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Back Home.

May 28, 2017 § 4 Comments

For me, songwriting usually begins as a back-and-forth with my guitar. Noodling around, I find a loose thread of melody and give it a tug to see if a song is attached.

Then a bit of lyric comes, the melody choosing the subject it will take for a ride. Little by little, the song reveals itself. The message of the song may be powerful, emotional, but the process isn’t. It is the equivalent of doodling, or casting a line into dark waters to see if anything bites.

But once in a great while a song wells up. It pours out as if from a reservoir I didn’t know I was carrying. This uncontrolled outpouring is always triggered by an emotional disturbance so profound it overwhelms the logical it’s-okay side of my brain.

Back Home is that kind of song. (The title is the link to the video).

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July 18, 2016 § 4 Comments

IMG_0850It’s not that I am ready to die.

Or even to be old.

But I accept that there is a certain fairness to both these outcomes.

I have had a wealth of days, and far more than my share of kindness and lucky breaks.

As a kid I had the luxury of believing all families were loving and durable and did their darndest to protect, teach, and give a child an advantageous start. « Read the rest of this entry »

The little things.

October 3, 2015 § 7 Comments

Once in a blue moon, cha-ching,  you win the lottery, fall in love, visit Paris! Think back, when was your last breathless-with-amazement day?

That long ago, huh?

Ordinary days are the substance of our lives. Those of us with a glass-half-full temperament find a wealth of little things that make us happy.

While the big-ticket sources of human joy are easy to list, I bet the small sources of happiness are far more idiosyncratic,  like:


Almost anything I need will fit in one. When I’m unsure, pockets provide a place to hide my hands. Although modest, pockets provide warmth, utility, and comfort. « Read the rest of this entry »

Jackie gonna dance.

July 25, 2015 § 7 Comments


Most of the songs I write begin on the drive home from practice with Craig Reeder, the other half of Hot Tamale.

After singing for three or four hours, it takes a while to go back to not singing.

I clutch the wheel, singing randomly, but with great intensity. Sometimes I find a loop of melody. If I pull on that short thread I often discover it is attached to a song.

Jackie is the name of one of my library kids. Driving home the name just fit that moment’s little bit of found melody…Jackie gonna dance all night long.

But the picture in my mind was of an old man dancing in a neighborhood bar, the kind where everyone knows everyone and the jukebox plays.

An old guy dancing? This is going to be a silly song, I thought.

Silly is one of my two general songwriting categories.

The other is Serious, as in heartbreaking, life-affirming, truth-revealing.

I gave Jackie lots of traits selected off the silly pile, but as the song took shape I realized this was a serious song dressed in silly clothes.

Jackie is an old guy, old to the point of being humorous, even pitiful to anyone watching him dance. He is also brave, alive, and persistent–traits worth hanging onto even if it means losing his dignity in the shuffle.

When I sang Jackie to Craig he said it sounded not too bad as a poem. So here it is, stripped of melody, one improbable dancer who, despite significant losses refuses to be written out of life.

 Read it aloud like you have a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. Do not use your fancy Poetry voice.

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Perhaps memory…

April 27, 2015 § 4 Comments

Long Island Summer.

Perhaps memory is a string of beads

we add to day by day.

My brother has that kind of memory.

Thorough, sequential, detailed.


Perhaps memory is an old home movie

Clicking through a projector,

the color shifted

toward gold.


Perhaps memory is a stone

lying on the riverbed so long

all the rough edges

have worn away.

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Songs from farther down the road.

January 17, 2015 § 6 Comments

Sunnyland CD front.

Slow Dance Journal is a Sunday publication.


I’m posting this week’s edition today, Saturday, before I hunt down the ironing board to press the silk dress bought at Goodwill.

Before I drop the guitar strap over my head and tune up one last time.

Before I look out across the What? Cafe’s motley assortment of chairs, probably all acquired at the same place as my dress, and see whether friendship and Craig’s shameless promotion have brought out an audience for the launch of our first-ever professionally recorded CD.

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Following the light.

September 27, 2014 § 4 Comments

Sunflowers in Maine.Watch a field of sunflowers.

Like an audience, the flowers turn, tracking the progress of the sun across the sky.

Heliotropic, sunflowers always follow the light.

Once, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I saw dozens of ravens, each in the top of a tall pine.

All faced into the storm, oriented to ride the whip of that wind.

Like the sunflower, like the raven, each of us seeks a direction to face that makes our lives possible.

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The Project (with a capital P).

August 9, 2014 § 6 Comments

The Lady and the Unicorn.

The Lady and the Unicorn.

I remember my mother sitting on the couch, night after night.

Between glances at the TV show the rest of us were watching intently she did needle point, stitching reproductions of motifs from the medieval Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

Stitch after stitch, sitcom after sitcom, she worked.

When all six labor-intensive pieces of needlework were done, my grandfather stretched them, painstakingly, over the chair seats at our dining room table—then covered them with plastic, which took away a little of that Medieval quality.

But he had seen the work that had gone into giving us something to sit on that would ennoble the usual beef and mashed potatoes of Sunday dinner.

My mother’s needlepoint had some of the qualities of a Project: it required time and dedication, but some of the essentials were missing.

A Project worthy of that capital P involves the risk of failure–often spectacular failure.

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The Florida Folk Festival: future perfect.

May 22, 2014 § 9 Comments

Turned out, four times was the charm.

Craig and I (Hot Tamale) finally made it into the Florida Folk Festival. Through three years of rejection we imagined what it would be like–imagined and hankered.

Tomorrow it will become real. But until we roll into Stephen Foster State Park, our guitars in the back, the Florida Folk Festival will be…


three hazy humid days of old guys in plaid shirts picking with calloused fingers.

Young up-and-comers playing impossibly hot licks.

Banjos ringing, dulcimers thrumming.

The clack of spoons and bones.

Voices will breathe life into songs that traveled in steerage across the Atlantic, or wandered south from Appalachia along unpaved roads, and songs that were born in slave cabins accompanied on a washboard that still served its original purpose.

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