Sunday, July 22, 2018

This is the life we chose, as long as we get to choose it.

John Craigie

Troubadour: a poet who writes verse to music

We are all born with gifts. With the ability to write, to sing, to master multiple instruments, to summon community and make us all throw our heads back in laughter, John Craigie is the embodiment of gifts and wit. His knack for writing music, founded in both the truth and humor of the human condition, often gives him the depiction of “a modern day troubadour.” But as a graduate with a degree in math from UC Santa Cruz, an avid reader, and a long-time world traveler, it seems that John is much more than his self-deprecating quips would lead one to believe. Craigie is not only an intelligent and skilled performer, but also kind of a party thrower.

The vibe of his concerts allows one to imagine a scene in his living room: friends bantering back and forth, laughing, him strumming his guitar, singing, breathing new life into a harmonica. When I first read his quote, “It’s about transparency… really good music doesn’t make you feel good: it makes you feel like you’re not alone,” I didn’t know what that truly meant. Now I understand. John Craigie reminds us of why it is great to be alive. And even though he insists that "a folk singer’s ideal is a dark room full of people who have recently been dumped,” he did a pretty good job of reminding us that we are together, and if we laugh and listen to music, we’re all going to be just fine.

Craigie’s most recent album Scarecrow was released in April 2018, preceded by his live album “Opening for Steinbeck” (2018) and No Rain, No Rose (2017), with multiple tracks featuring his good friend and fellow musician Gregory Alan Isakov. He also recently toured with Jack Johnson in 2017 and earned acclaim from AXS, SF Weekly, the Seattle Times, and more.

Other albums include:
Capricorn in Retrograde (2016)
Working on my Farewell (2015)
The Apocalypse is Over (2013)
October is the Kindest Month (2011)
Montana Tale (2009)

And now, a brief and personal interview with John Craigie:

Me: Hey John. Thanks for letting me interview you today! So, as you head out for the rest of your tour all over the US, Canada, and the UK this year, what kinds of things do you do to continue feeling inspired?
John: I really like talking to folks at the merch table and most importantly, letting things happen to me. Sometimes when you’re on tour, it can be easy to get bogged down by always being “on the go.” I try to allow myself to be present, to see where situations take me, and then that ends up bringing me inspiration.  
Also, I try to make a point to stay well-informed on current events, especially in the areas where I’m performing. That way if I tell a story or write a song about what’s happening in the world, it will be relevant to those particular people. Much the same way that artists in the 60’s and 70’s wrote about the political climate or the state of the world.

Me: If you could have one other music artist (living or dead) to dinner, who would you choose and why?
John: I would choose Woody Guthrie. I’d want to ask him what he did any time he broke a string on tour because back in those days there weren’t very many music stores. I imagine he would’ve had to play with 4 strings sometimes and just make the most of it.  Also, I love his autobiography, it’s my favorite book, so I’d ask him about that too.
Or maybe I’d ask Nina Simone to have a meal with me, although that dinner would be pretty wild.

Me: What’s one of your most treasured early music memories?
John: I didn’t really grow up being exposed to music in my home, so I sought it out on my own tirelessly. I remember the beginning too, when it all started. One of my good childhood friends played music and put a guitar in my hands. He said “Here. You should learn how to play this, too. You can do it … really, it’s possible.” I realize looking back that sometimes that’s all you need is for someone to say that you are capable, that something you want to do is possible and that simple statement ends up changing everything.

Me: What have you been listening to lately when you get home after a long day?
John: I’ve been listening to a lot of groove lately. A lot of Bill Withers. And Nina Simone, too. Lots of vinyl.

Me: What 3 comedians would you want to have over for dinner?
John: I really like Steve Martin, George Carlin, Richard Pryor. I like these comedians in particular because I think their humor is based on “the truth,” which I try to emulate and am realizing more and more is so important.

Me: What music did you listen to as a child of the 90’s?
John: I listened to Pearl Jam, saw Pearl Jam live a few times, which was amazing. Everclear, Sheryl Crow, Matchbox 20, Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows. Anything Americana.

Me: How was living on Gregory Alan Isakov’s farm?
John: I didn’t actually live on his farm, but there were definitely nights where I ended up sleeping on his couch. He’s an amazing musician, and a great friend.

Me: Thanks again for the interview, John. Great to meet you and hopefully we will catch you in Portland again soon!

I am California

Lucky to be alive

Highway Blood

Don't Ask

Sunday, April 15, 2018

I'd soar to the sun, and look down at the sea. And I sing 'cause I know how it feels to be free.

Nina Simone. The embodiment of gospel, jazz, R&B, soul … and sass. God bless you if you experienced her poetic vocal ecstasy, good luck if you were on her bad side. Her improvisational genius and razor sharp edge fueled the defiance she needed to climb her way through the 1960’s music scene, despite it also cutting through numerous relationships in her life. At a time when female talent was chronically stifled by subservience, Nina became a symbol of power for black women – she charged through the music world marching to the beat of her own resonant drum: loud, clear and for the whole damn world to hear.

Nina (whose real name was actually Eunice Kathleen Waymon) was the son of a preacher from North Carolina. She sore to the sun not only as a musician, but also as a civil rights activist. With dreams of a career as a concert pianist, she molded her life to her ambition. When the time came for her to audition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, she nailed it. Her tryout was received with wide-eyed veneration, only for her to eventually find out she had been rejected based on race. [To make up for it, the Curtis Institute awarded her an honorary degree years later, two days before she died of breast cancer in 2003.] But, music was her love. And as Rumi reminds us:

Gamble everything for love, if you are a true human being. If not, leave this gathering. Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty.

Nina pressed on.

As she continued to aspire to new musical heights, incorporating jazz, blues and “cocktail piano,” her parents’ disapproval grew, too. Eunice was playing “the devil’s music,” according to her family, thus leading her to change her name to Nina Simone as a disguise. In Atlantic City nightclubs, she entranced listeners with piano prowess, but was not allowed a vocal accompaniment. They said, “Sorry ma’am, we don’t have anyone for you. If you want to play here, you have to sing it yourself.” So she began singing as her own jazz accompaniment – a steep artistic challenge that launched her career as a jazz vocalist.

Eventually, Simone was named the 29th greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone and one of the most influential recording artists of the 20th century by The Irish Times. She sold over a million albums, was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

So enjoy some Nina Simone favorites, and when you think about Eunice Kathleen Waymon, remember:

When you go through a hard period,
When everything seems to oppose you,
... When you feel you cannot even bear one more minute,
Because it is the time and place that the course will divert.