We are not separate

I’ve just completed the Monkey Wrench Gang and am now working my way through Hayduke Lives! Astonishingly I have only recently discovered the writing of this lone visionary, Edward Abbey; this Cactus Ed. I love it when life thrusts upon me a wonderful treasure that had somehow been left undiscovered.

While reading the wise words of Cactus Ed, as when I read Daniel Quinn for the first time, It has occurred to me that we; mankind, homo-sapiens, in other words, you and me, we are not separate from this flying globe of rock, water, and flame on which we reside. Our Judeo-Christian mythology tries to tell us that we are not of this world but that we are separate, above it, beyond it. Utter nonsense. We are no more separate from the soil under our feet and the water in our gut than our colon is from the grey matter in our heads. Every part of the body comprises the whole. Every creature walking, crawling, slithering, hopping, flying above or below the earths soil, comprises the whole. We are the planet, the planet is us. Why do so many of us miss this fact? Why are we so anxious to remove ourselves from it?

With the exception of only a very few, none of us will ever be separated from this earth. We can briefly fly above the rock but we can never really tread outside this corporeal realm. Our very lives, our souls, are dependent on it. In the words of Don Henley, “You can check out but you can never leave.” And why would we want to? We are of the earth, by the earth and for the earth. As much as we try and fight it we shall one day return to the dust, the muck, the mud from whence we came. So why do we fight it? Why do we constantly strive to separate ourselves from the essence of what we are?

At the heart of this quest for separation, is our search for a meaning to life. Why does there have to be a meaning to life? Can we not just be? Can we “stand for what we stand upon”?

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Instant Hobo @ Mugshots, Tempe, AZ. Nov 10, 2012

This review is the first in a series of essays that I have written/am writing for many of my undergraduate journalism classes. Enjoy.

Instant Hobo @ Mugshots, Tempe, AZ.  Nov 10, 2012

Reviewed by Mikael Lewis

From its location at the cross-streets of Apache and Rural, near the heart of the ASU campus, I assumed Mugshots would be a typical student dive bar. I was right on the money. Jutting out from the corner of another heartless strip mall, the vomit green neon Mugshots sign foreshadowed the faces of the clientele to be found inside. Opposite the entrance door is an array of police arrest photos revealing the bedraggled faces of Johnny Cash, Keanu Reeves, Bugsy Malone, and Jim Morrison et al; Mugshots indeed! As I ventured past the portrait gallery, I was instantly confronted by the appalling sound of hip-hop karaoke. This was not what I was expecting as the opener for a critically acclaimed Americana band. Not to be deterred, I decided to have a beer to put my senses at ease. As an alternative to the $2 PBR student special, I opted for the frothy hemp ale that was tonight’s tap special. The earthy brew was actually a rather tasty concoction that set me in the proper frame of mind to hear some good ole Americana music.

As the band was setting up, I contemplated the anticipation leading up to this gig. Instant Hobo’s front man and chief writer, John Feula, has been a favorite of mine since hearing him play in a Chandler Coffee shop some 13 years ago. With the addition of drummer James Thorp and bass player Jasun Downing, Feula’s quirky alternative folk sound has been transformed into a powerhouse fusion of old school country, alt country, southern rock, punk, and rockabilly.   Instant Hobo came together some time after I had moved away from Arizona. After following the band from a distance, I was excited to finally see them perform in a live setting.

There wasn’t much of a crowd at this show but there was definitely a feeling of shared appreciation among the gathered few; a sense that they alone were privy to a highly treasured secret. (Feula later quipped that the phrase “There wasn’t much of a crowd” should be used as his epitaph). After working through some technical hitches with a decidedly inadequate house PA system, Mugshots manager, Country, introduced the band with hearty praise; calling Hobo his favorite local band. With this introduction as a starting gun, Feula et al bolted into their set.

As the band launched into the rockabilly/train shuffle of Bitter Biscuit Line, I couldn’t help but notice that the cheap speakers, Radio Shack mics, and minimal crowd did not seem to faze Instant Hobo or minimize their enthusiasm in the slightest bit. I got the feeling that these boys would be equally comfortable playing an arena or a backwater barn hoedown. After Bitter Biscuit came the tune Some Lies Are Worth Living; a sort of pop/country romp extoling the virtues of making the best of a bad situation. The next tune, Strange Old Man, reminded me ofmy grumpy old neighbor Delbert Barney channeled through the likes of Johnny Cash or Ernest Tubb. I could almost picture Delbert sitting on his porch, shotgun in hand, just waiting for some insolent street urchin to step one foot on his precious lawn.

With the comedic No Room For Pie, Feula croons through such words as “My back is aching for seconds of bacon.” (Feula, 2010).  This strolling jazz numberhad me laughing out loud with its goofy, Bugs Bunny/Mel Brooks style sexual innuendo. The tune Marshall Pass continued the jazzy themebut drove it into more of a  punk/jazz style reminiscent of the Dead Kennedy’s tune We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now. Just as I was snapping my fingers to this punkish jazz shuffle, Hobo switched gears and launched into a dueling bass/guitar section that reminded me of Marshall Tucker or Molly Hatchett at their raunchy southern best. Then, just as quickly as he had come, Feula’s Southern Rock Hobo handed the reins right back to his virtual old school Ernest Tubb before I even knew what had happened. The musicality inherent in a band that can change directions so quickly without losing the audience boggles the mind. As I looked around the tiny room it was obvious, from the broad smiles and tapping feet, that the crowd was every bit as enraptured as I was.

After rolling through obvious crowd favorites such as the hilarious Two Story Outhouse, Mojo’s Funeral, and Rock Island Rocket, Instant Hobo completed their set with their latest tunes Gator Queen, South Americana, and Out From The Ashes. Gator Queen, athumpingSouthern Swamp Rock gem of a tune, findsFeula returning to his Florida roots as a swamp rat in search of his ever elusive reptilian nemesis. I’d not be surprised if this tune were to surface on an episode of The History Channels Swamp People. They certainly couldn’t find a better suited tune. When questioned, Feula confirmed that he did have the show in mind when writing the tune. It has been submitted for inclusion in the show but Feula has yet to receive any word.

The tune South Americana continued Instant Hobo’s new Southern Rawk theme. The song’s lyrics seem to plant tongue firmly in cheek with words expressing the virtues of cheap beer, jacked up pickups, and redneck attitudes. I have a feeling though, that this tune would be beloved by the very folks it is berating in the same way that Springsteen’s Born in the USA or Dire Strait’s Money For Nothing have been.

The boys concluded the show with their latest single;craftily penned by Hobo’s bass player, Jasun Downing. Out From the Ashes is an inspiring tale about getting back on your horse after a heartbreaking tumble. This tune certainly channels the bands beloved American southwest landscape much like an Ennio Morricone film would do. If ever there is a full feature film about the ill-fated young Southwestern explorer Edward Reuss or the anarchist writer Edward Abbey, then Out From The Ashes should serve as its theme tune. Perhaps Instant Hobo could even host the premier and finally receive the size of crowd that they surely deserve?

For more information about Instant Hobo, visit their website at http://www.instanthobo.com

References:

Feula, J. (2010), No Room for Pie [Recorded by Instant Hobo], From the album Honey the Horse [Compact Disc]. Mesa, AZ, Instant Hobo Records (November, 2010)

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August 28, 2012 · 1:09 pm

I am back!

Hey folks,

Sorry about the absence. I’m back now. Thank you for being patient and sticking with me. My little family has just moved from NJ to AZ. Anne (my lovely wife) and I have started new jobs, I’ve planted a vegetable garden (yummy), and John Feula and I have revived Bucket of Witches, the musical project John and I started some 12 years ago. We’ve written a couple of new tunes and have been re-learning the old ones.

Anne has had several health issues lately which has kept me quite occupied. She suffered a transient eschemic attack (or mini stroke). It was then discovered that she has a blood clotting disorder. Thankfully they caught this before it turned into a more serious matter. She will be on blood thinners for the rest of her life. At least this will control the clotting problems. She also suffered a gall bladder attack and has had the GB removed. Poor girl. She’s been a trooper though and is doing relatively well. She returns to work next Monday.

Sitting in medical waiting rooms has given me some much needed reading time. Since moving to AZ I have discovered and have been devouring the writings of the late Edward Abbey. Abbey has been referred to as the Thourea of the American Southwest, a modern day John Muir, and the father of the modern environmental movement. His work inspired the establishment of the environmental activist group EarthFirst!. Abbey was belligerent and often corrosive but had a wonderful way of transporting the reader to his most treasured and hidden desert haunts. I’m embarrassed that I grew up in Utah and had not discovered Abbey until now. He is an outstanding writer whom I would set side by side with the great Mr. John Steinbeck. (Some of you may know that Steinbeck has long been my favorite author; so placing Abbey on this pedestal is a big deal for me.) I strongly recommend Abbeys work to any reader. You might want to start with his most celebrated novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. I started with the Abbey edited, “The Edward Abbey Reader” and am slowly, absorbingly, making my way through the rest of his work. Ed’s work has also inspired me to get out more and enjoy the desert. I’ve been spending some time in the Superstition mountains just East of Phoenix. Beautiful country. There is nothing quite like the solitude of the great outdoors to help a man gain some perspective. Works for me every time.

As a writer and songwriter I have discovered that my periods of creativity are always preceded by periods of intense reading. If that pattern follows suit, I should be bursting with new material soon. I hope it holds true to form. Watch this space to see what follows.

 

Cheers

Mikael

 

 

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Re-evaluate

OK. I think it’s time to admit that my original goal of 365 words everyday was a bit more ambitious than I thought. It’s at least a bit too ambitious for me to fulfill at the present time. But that’s OK; It is said that pilots are constantly altering their course in order to keep themselves on track. If it’s OK for pilots to do this then I think it’s OK for me as well. And so it’s time for me to re-evaluate. In light of this, I am going to slightly alter my goal and this blogs title. I am still going to write 365 words each day for 365 days but I am no longer going to try and force these days to be consecutive. As Richard Dreyfus told Bill Murray in “What About Bob?”…Baby Steps.

Yes, I know this is a bit of a cop out on my end but I have good reason. The purpose in starting this blog was to get me into the habit of writing and to generate and focus my ideas so that I will have the ability to write more interesting material on a regular basis. And you know what? So far the plan has worked very well. I just don’t want to get into my old familiar habit of beating myself up when I don’t reach the goal on a daily basis. This usually leads to me getting frustrated and giving up. I refuse to do that this time. 

The other reason I am altering the goal is you, the reader. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy day in order to peruse some random rant from this twisted little head of mine. I want to make that time worthwhile so that you’ll come back again and again. So if you promise to keep coming back, I promise to make it worth your while. Is that a fair deal?

Cheers,

Mikael

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Lewis Hooper-Running

Lewis Hooper stared intently into the abyss that he perceived his life to be. His soul yearned to be extraordinary, bigger than life itself. He ravenously devoured books in hope that some grander purpose could be found within their pages. Hooper wrote poetry, prose, and songs that he would earnestly play on his acoustic guitar. This was an attempt to exorcise his inner demons. He often clambered to the mountaintops just to get a glimpse of the impossible. He was a man in constant motion. In his 40 short years, Hooper had seen and lived in more places than most folks would ever see in the space of three lifetimes.

During his stint in the Rockies, Hooper had spent his spring and summer months riding his 1978 Honda to one of a hundred mountain trailheads. He would then run the ragged single-track trails for hours. There was an inner peace in those surroundings that could clear his thoughts and temporarily calm his focus. Throughout the harsher winter months when the trails were covered with snow, he had spent his time sliding down the side of a mountain. He bitterly hated the cold but the rush of adrenaline from those black diamond slopes would always whip his focus back into shape.

Hooper should have been the happiest man alive. His trouble however, was that he just couldn’t settle into this easily captured state of bliss. Deep within his soul was a perpetual fear of stagnation. Triumph for Hooper was always alluded to but never quite attained. His perception was that he had never succeeded in any of his endeavors. Perhaps the problem was more that his definition of success had just never been articulated. He could envision his ends but the means he could never grasp. His span of attention was just too short.

The act of running generally does not require definition. It is simply the rapid forward movement of muscle, tissue, bones and blood. It is not this movement that requires definition; it is rather the intent behind the movement that seeks clarification. In search of this elusive answer Hooper often asks of himself: are you running toward something or are you running away?

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Media Induced Sea Change

Modern mass media is by its very nature ubiquitous. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, 24 hour news outlets, mobile worldwide news, Google, Yahoo, and even Internet Shopping sites such as e-bay have disintegrated borders and shortened the distance between peoples and cultures all over the globe. I can now easily purchase coffee from Turkey, musical instruments from Japan, and prayer books from Tibet with just the move of my mouse and a few short key strokes. In fact I’m boiling bosanska kahva in my cezve while playing Buddhist prayers on my Shamisen as I type this blog. (OK, not really, but I could be.)

This very day Egypt had its very first democratic election in history. Arguably this sea change in the political structure of the Egyptian government would not have happened without the aid of media “weapons” such as Facebook and Twitter. The resistance movement in Egypt literally mobilized through the use of these social networking sites. The Egyptian Government was certainly aware of this threat when, according to Britain’s Daily Mail, the government allegedly shut down Facebook, Twitter and Youtube feeds in a bid to disrupt the protestors organizational power in the midst of the January 2011 coup d’état. (Daily Mail, 2011). Thankfully their disruptions didn’t work. It’s amazing that a handful of angry but determined Egyptians with cellphones can achieve in a matter of days what the US military might hasn’t yet achieved in over 10 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. (But that’s a whole other blog.)

In these modern times the influence of media penetrates almost every culture. This shift is changing the societal structure of most, if not all, of these cultures. I have mixed emotions about this change. On one hand I think it’s wonderful that oppressed peoples are able to take their lives into their own hands, immobilize and change their government with relatively little bloodshed. On the other hand it breaks my heart to see Starbucks and McDonalds popping up on Afghan streets and putting local tradesmen out of business. I have to stop and wonder exactly who is this change good for?

Perhaps that barista in Kabul will sell my new Shamizen solo cd from his Starbucks counter?

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