September 2005

BLUEGRASS MARATHON

September 26, 2005

Two days into the new Hawks CD mix at Hyde Street Studios, and it’s going all too well. We’re ahead of schedule, six songs down, seven to go. On day three, Sunday, the Lord rests and Fate deals us a dreaded setback. Car trouble, kick and snare trouble, snaps and pops on a few tracks, and we’re four hours behind. Too early to freak out, but we do have to be out of Hyde Street Studios tomorrow night, never to return at the bargain price mixer Gabe is kindly throwing us.

Onward we soldier, blasting through tunes acoustic and psychedelic electric, even psychedelic acoustic. Late at night we video a look-at-us-in-the-studio sequence, starting with a guy peeing on a car in front of Hyde Street Studios, pan to Rob opening the door, peeing guy yelling, did you get me on camera?, walking pan through the hallowed Hyde hallways to bleary eyed Gabe pondering compression on acoustic guitars.Very late, we return to our temporary SF/Marin abodes weary and fatigued of ear. But still having fun, and only possibly fatally behind schedule.

Monday, Monday. Noon looms as Paul walks through teeming San Francisco streets from Union Square, where he’s staying with wife Victoria and her mom Barbara, who are on a girls’ weekend out excursion, at a snobby and overpriced hotel (The Hotel Palomar, if you must know, and be prepared for snobby looks straight out of a British comedy from the obsequious/snooty staff if you’re underdressed). San Francisco is filled with madness, but the dividing line between the rich and the impoverished is battered, by unavoidable proximity (the automobile has enabled a class structure in L.A. with vicious thoroughness), similar to Manhattan, and by a sense of ownership by the homeless. Just a bourgeois first impression by this author, mind you, but it’s a good feeling. A cappucino chugged at a sidewalk bistro, then fascinating 20 minute walk to Hyde Street in the tawdry tenderloin. Rob drives over from Marin.Gabe’s in high gear at the big Neve console. He’s going to get this done. We blast through a couple of mixes, then Rob splits for the BART, he’s flying back for Katie’s birthday and work the next day. Paul and Gabe switch to an all pizza and coffee diet, and it does the trick. At quarter to 3 (a.m.), fifteen minutes ahead of prediction, the CD is mixed and dumped back onto the hard drive. Gabe, you rock.

Next day Paul gets breakfast with Victoria and Barbara (amazing how inefficient, scattered, and mediocre this overpriced hotel persists in being), meets Brantley and watches him eat eggs and potatoes at his old Union Square steakhouse haunt (circa 1964), and the fiddler and guitar player hit the road.The Hawks get XM radio in their tour Suburban, and have a tour ritual called the Bluegrass Marathon. Whoever can listen to XM’s all bluegrass station the longest wins. Usually the contest ends after two songs as drummer Shawn starts weeping. This day it’s different, as the banjo aversive Hawks are missing. It’s all bluegrass from Oakland to Wasco, on an eerie black cloud September day, gusts of rain on all horizons, and wicked winds blowing Dust Bowl dust across I-5 in perfectly defined plumes. It looks and feels like the black and white prologue in the Wizard of Oz. Strange weather. And the bluegrass isn’t bluegrass any more, it’s 1940’s Bill Monroe, and 50’s Bill Monroe, and 60’s Osborne Brothers, and 90’s Fusiongrass, Jamgrass, retro-Grass, rural references suburban-grass. Is there any other kind of music? Finally, as we approach the 99 convergence, Brantley asks, say, how about that classic country station you were mentioning? The Marathon is over.

Spectacular clouds beckon us over the Grapevine. Sooner than we can believe, we’re home.

Two days out and the sailing is easy. A steady breeze out of the southwest has kept us moving at an even clip. A cool, gray blanket of fog is with us, keeping our nerves easy and our minds calm. Even the spooky San Fancisco night seems oddly friendly and welcoming. It’s like a homecoming, a reunion. And today, as we lunched on full, soft San Francisco burritos, it felt as if I could stay in the Norcal basement for good, like the concrete bunker of our collective hearts where Saddam Hussein, Hitler, and Dick Cheney hide out to evade the fine souls they’ve wronged.

The day moves quickly to night. Around 6pm or so we remind ourselves that the long night is near. We leave the machines and emerge onto the streets for some last minutes of sun. Okay, that’s enough. We’ve got work to do.”Raised by Hippies” is mixed and put to bed, here’s a shout out to Dave Zirbel for an epic 1972 NRPS pedal steel solo. The spirit of 1972 is back, and a fine spirit it is, too, a faery mellow and alive with possibilities.

In 1972 I graduated from Loyola High School, went on a 14 day backpack down the John Muir Trail, and moved into the dorms for my freshman year at UCLA. I was reaching eagerly for the gossamer tail of the hippie revolution, and I surfed it for all it was worth until it vanished under the 1976 avalanche of Bicentennial belt buckles, coffee mugs, flag decals, and a bizarre groundswell of pre-Vietnam red white and blue fervor, like a zombie you thought you’d killed but is rising again from a moldy crypt.Ah, but 1972: all was bright green, and blue cool breezes. I met legions of longhairs in my dorm or jamming on bluegrass in the submerged lawn behind the Engineering building, and I plunged into psychedelia, culmination a peyote trek that still haunts my days; a protector faery always nearby. Life was easy. Rent was nearly free, and you could save your money for hitting the road. No one watched TV, ever. The turntable was our guide to our souls.

In my senior year at Loyola H.S. I prepared diligently for my upcoming service in Hippie Nation, growing my hair as long as the Jesuits and my Nixonian dad would tolerate, started playing guitar and reading Whole Earth Catalog.Everyone at Loyola High School was enlisting in Hippie Nation. Some had achieved surprising long hairedness, and many played folk rock on acoustic guitars. Instead of Thomas Aquinas, Douglas MacArthur, or John Kennedy, senior quotes quoted Jefferson Starship, Cat Stevens, Captain Beefheart. Our football team had its only disgraceful season in the history of the school. It just wasn’t the time to pound heads, compete, get uptight. It was on to better way of life.

For the hippie culture was going to grow and grow and grow. There would be millions of us, and peace would cool America like a summer shower. I had no doubt. We would all read Whole Earth Catalog, order farm implements and seeds, live and grow organic food on a commune nestled into a mountainside. With two friends I built a towering Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome for the Loyola end of year school fair. The dome was a spiderweb structure of thin steel rods, startlingly strong, like a beanpole tai chi master who can spin you off on a long arc, pure idealism. Father Koch, a nihilistic Jesuit, brilliant and artistic expositor of physics, an utterly free soul in a black cassock, was our guide. As ethereal thoughts illuminated his eyes in the middle of a lecture, we knew he was not gazing upward, but outward, to the horizon of our possibilities. I hope we meet again.

The instructions for the geodesic dome were to be found in the Whole Earth Catalog, and I absorbed it like a comic book, seeing the totality of gray water irrigation, solar heating, composting, nonviolence, wind power, I Ching coins, and country rock. The catalog sold all things practical and visionary, everything a hippie needed cultivation, harvest, preserving, sheltering, and amusement in a techno rural paradise.Summer of ’72 brought The Grateful Dead and New Riders Of The Purple Sage to the Hollywood Bowl, and herein I passed over to the brother and sisterhood, mellow and ecstatic in carefully patched jeans and skull and roses, patchouli and backpacks. As I entered UCLA I tacked difficult subjects–geology, Virgil’s Aeneid, Berkeley and Descartes–but the guitar captured my will, my focus, my purpose.

A last big anti-war rally with ritualistically angry cops, a giant dormroom hookah on a Persian rug, sifting seeds on a Santana album cover, stuck in Santa Barbara with the other hitchhikers, on the way to bluegrass festivals and Sierra trailheads; mescaline, motorcycles, Mexico, a last pair of bellbottoms and big leather hiking boots. And then the hippie dream was adrift, bleached out, and floating away. It was over. Ford pardoned Nixon. We stood in line for gas and became enraged. The tall ships sailed under ambitious Bicentennial fireworks in New York City. I came back from vagabonding folksinging in Europe and got a temp job. The distant ’80s already rumbled.Ah, the ’80s. I was eight years old when they arrived. I was at a New Year’s party with my family at the home of my parent’s friends the Mair’s. Dr. Mair was a kind Pediatric Cardiologist. He was almost entirely bald on the top but he stubbornly maintained a barely passable comb-over. He and his sons took my father and me along on a few fishing trips to Canada. Dr. Mair’s father was Lester. He was well into his eighties at the time of our trips. He was grizzled and gruff in contrast to his son. He drove a huge gold 1973 Cadillac and us kids would ride three across the huge back seat on the drive up. One time we flew on a pontoon to a remote lake in Ontario. The plan landed and coasted up to the dock of a well-supplied island cabin and dropped us off for a week. The cabin had several sets of bunk beds, propane lights, and a cabinet full of canned beans, corn meal, flour, oatmeal, lard, onions and potatoes. We’d fish for Walleye all day, jigging our weighted lures on the bottom of the deep glacial lakes. And we’d catch ’em too. Lots of ’em. Whenever anyone got a bite Dr, Mair would call out, “Fish On!”

The Mair sons were Scott and Todd. Scott was older than Todd and me by a couple of years but they both seemed to know so much more about everything than I did. It was easy for them to have fun and this was a real revelation to me. Fishing was torture for my dad, He hated being stuck in the boat, couldn’t bear to sit still. It wasn’t clear to me why we were there. Mixing is not too different from fishing. Both activities take place in a boat, of course, but they also share the lures, the tackle, and the long periods of downtime. Away from families and sequestered away from women allows a man the space to let his mind wander. The boat, the submarine, and the studio are all places which nurture this subconscious reverb. We’re far from shore now.

The Neve console in Studio A (where we’re mixing) looks as if it could have been used to launch John Glenn into space in his Mercury capsule. The faded red and black and white knobs are reassuringly big and heavy and they make a satisfying clicking sound when Gabe twists them. A red sunset has us worried about the weather but tomorrow, rain or shine, we fish for Slash.

WALLY AND JERRY

September 16, 2005

It’s a beautiful mid September day in San Francisco, and the Hawks are tucked into Studio A at venerable Hyde Street Studios, home of musical legend and lore.
It’s been a pleasant late night drive up the 5 to the Bayaria, Rob, Paul L., and Brantley listening to an amazing Wynton Marsalis CD in the toxic farmland darkness, and a reasonable night’s sleep in Marin.

Gabe Shephard, who recorded and mixed the Hawks debut CD, is back at the Neve console, and whilst Gabe downloaded the songs from our 160 gig hard drive, Rob hit the streets in search of victuals, and returned with brilliant success: Laphroaigh single malt, Murphy’s Stout, bananas, ginger echinacea lemonade, mixed berry fruit laces, and Scharffen Berger 60% dark chocolate. We’re ready to mix.The first tune, “Hard Times (Are Here Again)” went great, featuring Hyde St.’s famous subterranean reverb chamber and some large old compressors knocking the tune into CD territory. We have four, er, now 3.5 days to mix 13 tunes, so there won’t be time to quibble. This is a good thing.

“Take My Rest” came next. Paul Marshall’s smooth, mature baritone sounds beautiful. The groove is flawless. Gabe is revealing the true spirits in the tunes. Equalizing their frequencies, coating them in ancient chamber reverb, tweaking their nipples. “Motorcycle Mama” takes to the road. We’ve carried the load and it’s getting to be time to lay back in the lord’s big musical chair. Relax at last in the pleasure mellow vibe. Christ is not king he’s just a halfway decent guy who’ll loan you his pickup since he’s got one on moving day.

Faeries are not necessarily small, and can vary their size when presenting themselves to the shaman, or ordinary person thrust into shamanic experience. A near death experience is often the price of admission to the faerie realm. Perhaps only the human who grasps how poetic and passing is our link to this green earth is worth the faeries’ time. Like all of us who commute to a job with questionable purpose, the faerie probably wonders if it’s worthwhile imparting knowledge and powers to the clumsy earthbound clods who stumble into his emphemeral lair. But he reveals the purpose of St. John’s Wort; she explains why the bog harbors spirits.It’s evening, and we’re feeling the ghosts of this cathedral of San Francisco rock, this Studio A in Hyde Street Studios (formerly Wally Heider Sound). The young spirits of John Fogerty, Carlos Santana, Grace Slick and Marty Balin, Van Morrison, Phil Lesh and Jerry dart through the halls and sleep in dark recesses. A Leslie speaker whirls in the big room, and the ghosts do the same, like faeries teasing, raising a dust devil on a summer road in County Kilkenny.

Jerry. It all comes back to Jerry. The visionary who gorged himself on Americana, the murder ballads and the chromaticism, the banjo and the steel, the mountaintop and the valley below. Jerry let us all see the eternity in the church lick, holiness in the three finger roll and the harmonies stacked recklessly. And above all, harmony, with dissonance only as answering vinegar, the flat seventh as daily doom haunting the green paradise Jerry spun from his six string. Jerry was a holy man, and pity the soul who knows him not.American Beauty was recorded in the room next to our mortal beings, and it haunts us. Will the faerie recognize our longing effort and reward us with a glimpse into the Hollow Earth? We practiced so hard.