May 2009

So we’re ready to vacate the Yosemite Bug and its towering trees, to leave our cool mountains for the hot and dry San Joaquin environs. We’re not eager to enter the rural smog zone. In the last moments in our cabin on the ridge, Rob’s doing a Lyndon Johnson in the bathroom (there’s not much choice–only a curtain separates it from the bunks), as the two Paul’s chart out Richie Lawrence’s fiendishly complex simple songs for our show at The Palms tonight. Then we roll.

We drop down through the hills, the evergreens melt away, then the oaks, now we’re in agro fields, now we’re on the 99 north. Rob’s feeling an espresso in his immediate future. If we can find a Starbucks Rob will pull his scam: order an iced doppio espresso. When the drink is presented, casually ask for a bit of soy milk. This used to go smoothly but of late the reluctantly proffered soy milk carton comes with a warning: “We’re not supposed to give away soy milk for free.” Feign innocent surprise, pour the soy milk. Voila! The $1.85 iced au lait. Rob is doing his part to bring this over-entitled union busting behemoth to its knees. Are you?Whoa! Speak of the corporate devil! Starbucks sign to the right, beacon in desolation! We make exit 195, over the 99, we pull in to the Atwater Arco/Carls/ISC Tractor Supply/Starbucks empire, black asphalt sulking in hot sun. We’re in. Rob earns his soy doppio without incident. We blog. It’s air conditioned. Why leave? Why not stay till closing time, abandon responsibilities of gigs, career, musical friendships, challenges? Why not sit here and blog, surf the web, read our friends’ Facebook musings, post musings, musings upon musings, read friends musing comments, respond with further comments, engage in comment banter, check Yahoo, check CNN, read of the latest explosion, abduction, bankruptcy, back to Facebook, wow, more comments. Why can’t we all just hang out? Let’s give it a try. Here in Atwater on the 99 amidst hardworking farmers and their overworked fields we are taking a stand for Facebook. This is how we will survive. We will camp along the monolithic parking lot wall, enter at 6 a.m. when Starbucks opens its doors, bathe in the bathroom. We will earn money on the Starbucks internet. Are you with us, brothers and sisters?

Day two in the Sierra foothills above Mariposa begins with the various low frequency rumblings of men waking in bunk beds, said frequencies bouncing off the wood walls of our cabin nestled among dry grass, wildflowers, and oaks and firs in their centuries long competition for this 3,000 foot altitude transitional zone. Our cabin is perched on a dry grass ledge overlooking a steep drop to the little creek valley below. On the opposite valley slope are the Bug hostel cabins poking through the dense tree cover. It’s a beautiful and silent spot. Just gazing out at the trees in morning light is a healing for the addled Angeleno.

We get good eggs and okay coffee at the Bug dining hall, pick up a mic stand we’d forgotten, and head back to our little wood aerie. Rob and Paul L scramble down rocks and red dirt, scratching themselves and picking up several ounces of foxtails, and find the creek and its enchanted waterfall and swimming hole. It’s far from the Bug cabins and tricky to find, plus the hip global tourists are safely on their sleek buses for Yosemite park. We are primeval man. The rocks sloping down to and into the pool are sedimentary, shiny green sculpted slabs with brown veins running through them. The water is cold. RW scales the rocks in bare feet to a rocky perch 20 or so feet above the pool. In a vain attempt to recapture his lost youth he steps into the air, aiming for the narrow deep center of the pool. Adrenaline floods his synaptic region and for a brief moment he is 20 years old again. The icy waters and the weightless fall act a natural defibulator. This time it works and he doesn’t even break his leg. Youth is still in reach. DSCN9058.JPG

We scale the steep and crumbling rocky cliff back to our lovely Gypsy Cabin. Indeed we ourselves are gypsies and fit well in this tiny architecturally improvised cabin, section tacked on to section as needed. We dress and head over to the Carter Ranch festival, 7 miles down Highway 140, left at Triangle Road, 2 dusty dirt road miles to the banners and the meadow and the hippies young and old in tents and campers and pickup truck beds, kicked back on the grass listening to a local folkie. There’s the teepee we Hawks spent a sleepless night in back in ’07, awaiting fresh innocent victims. Jembe and leather goods vendors and great smelling barbeque pits ring the upward sloping meadow. This is good vibes. The weather is perfect. A dry humidity.Carter Ranch Fest’s musical lineup is an unwitting (or is it witting?–fest booker Adam is a mysterious and complex cat) sampling of the rootsier elements of the experimental LA music scene, with its roots in the alternative to punk pioneers of the late 1970’s. Double Naught Spycar is here and Carlos Guitarlos, the Atomic Sherpas, and the Hawks. It’s odd to see Carlos and Joe Berardi, strangers to unpaved dirt and portajohns, out here among the trees and hippies. But it’s oh so grand.

PL slips away into the woods with Joe and a camera. An artist and his muse alone in the woods, anything could happen. Time to get the “Joe in Nature” photo shoot underway. The two return with sheepish grins on their faces, proud of their work and then it’s time for the musicians to go to work.** Spycar takes the stage and rocks the meadow with their avantarded musical madness, the idiot-savant of all instrumental bands. Who else would be fearless and twisted enough to give their songs titles like these: janmichaelvincentrehab.com, Marina Del Hayride, Journey to the Center of Guitar Center (Sherman Oaks), or Arrangement with a Dung Beetle? The crowd is delighted and surprised. A new musical paradigm has landed in Carter Ranch.

The Hawks are up next. It’s 4:30 and a nice lazy afternoon vibe is in effect. Shaded by the 300 year old oak above the stage, the Hawks stretch out the solos, jam a bit, and step through the rockers, the two steps, and the waltzes. It’s a friendly crowd, we’ve played up here several times now and there’s lots of old friends in the audience. After the show the Hawks linger beneath the oak and listen to Carlos howl his blues to the appreciative crowd. Somehow Carlos is always louder than anyone anywhere, and will not rest until all eyes and ears are upon him, onstage or off. And he’s great, we reluctantly admit. From there night begins to fall. The Atomic Sherpas, a fierce uberurban band with tight arrangements, funky bass, and powerful horns get the dance party underway. Doten is sitting in with the Sherpas on psychedelic synth and he’s mad, mad mad. Twenty year old Herculean twins on bass and trombone are pushing the Sherpas to a new level. The crowd flips. These hippies came to dance. Then the Tresspassers and their new fiddler bring it home with their haunting modern gothic songs and presentation. This is a new form of hoedown, a new generation sleeping in the dirt. Strangely familiar, and not familiar. There’s more people here than ever before, the Carter Ranch Fest is growing. Back to our Gypsy Cabin and quiet mountain sleep beneath the half moon.

**you can view Joe Berardi In Nature on Paul L’s Facebook page, in all its alienated glory. Here’s a tempting sampling:DSCN9071_2.JPG

Why should we change? Gas is $2.87 a gallon. It hurts but a little. So we eco talking Hawks are not going to walk this walk. Shawn driving to our shows in the Sierra foothills in his Exploder with his family. PM is driving a load of gear in his Astro van up to his daughter PJ who works the summers in the Park. Which leaves PL and RW to pilot the Yukon to The Bug hostel outside Yosemite, first stop on our summer northern tourette. It’s luxuriously empty in the Yukon. One of us can sprawl out in the back seat and sleep while the other drives. Ah, cheap gas.

It’s summer, time of the hippie festival circuit. We’re Carter Ranch Festival bound, 5 to 99 to 41 to 140 to Triangle Road, currently coming down out of the Grapevine with lack of coffee on our minds. And freedom. Paul L’s longstanding job has come to an end, as Actuality Productions, maker of such shows as Modern Marvels and documentaries of both higher and lower brow, crumbles into the corporate earth. Rob’s unshackled from USC till September. Freedom. No responsibilities. No need for sobriety, decency, shared values. We’re on the road. With much time to muse. Muse we do. Let’s muse upon, for example, two grand mind altering plants of earth, and their dual nature. Coffee is Arabica and robusta — mellow and flavorful vs. caffeinated and astringent. Cannabis is, if you believe the new generation of licensed connoisseurs, of two main types — sativa, the head high, and indica, the body high. Are there other dualisms in the pharmacological kingdom? Medical Marijuana has changed California for good. Our state proposition system has nearly brought the state to ruin but the super silver purple kush lining is the de facto legalization of weed. It comes in all flavors now and it’s high tech and strong. And reasonably priced. If you’re a musician you can bet you are one degree of separation away from a buddy with a card if you don’t have one yourself. What will be the result of this tectonic shift? What happenes when most Californians are stoned? We will soon find out.

Speaking of propositions, California’s method of slow suicide, consider the possible closing of state parks. Yes, there will be permanent campers with perhaps less than savory health practices and perhaps lacking social skills and even a rudimentary moral code. But the militarized rangers in the gleaming white pickups and SUVs lumbering up the access roads will also be gone. Trails will deteriorate, and the wilderness will be for the wild. Bring it on, say the wilder elements in this vehicle. We’re our of the Grapevine, engulfed in the wide flatness. The hills are already brown, with much less of the yellow mustard that painted the slopes last year. We turn pensive.Have the Hawks been coasting on their tried and true point of view? Is it time to shake our psyches, muddle our minds, focus on distant horizons, the future for to see? Is the sky blue? Does the new Pope sleep in the genetically modified woods? On the 5 north, of courthe, in the flat San Joaquin Valley, for the hundredth time, we truly feel home. Puffy clouds spare us the sun’s almost summer wrath. The air is mysteriously hard to describe. It’s a dry kind of humid. We hit the 99, and the terrain gets much more interesting. Funkier farms, old businesses that can’t possibly still have customers–yet off to the right is a giant Flicks candy display tube, still spinning on its mount, in a dry abandoned factory field. Mysterious.

We pass the Tulare city sign, and 50 feet behind it is an old primered fighter jet displayed in a brown field. If you are bedraggled, you display your fist first. At Fresno we hit the 41 north, six lanes at first to accommodate high volume summer Yosemite traffic. Riding through the foothills of the Sierras. Green oaks over yellows grasses. Windows down and stoney early summer breezes fill the Yukon with the scent of freedom. Bare granite peaks in the distance. Memories of trips past. Carter Ranch ’07, Mariposa County Fair ’08. RRW forgot his stage shirts and discovered Big Red in a thrift store off highway 41. U-turning the Yukon he nearly killed a biker who appeared on his Harley right out of the blind spot. Killing a biker is never a good idea but it’s particularly bad on Labor Day weekend on a scenic highway. They’ll come for you quick. It’s one of the things they’re waiting for. Luckily we only near grazed him. Tonight it’s back to our old friendly Yosemite hostel, the Bug. We’ll play to mostly Europeans then sleep the high altitude sleep of the traveler. Waking to long lines in the Wi-Fi breakfast room. Coffee, internet, conversation. Let the trip begin!

Later that evening. Bug. We came in we ate trout we set up we sat down we stood up we said hi we tuned up we sang songs we played drums we strummed chords we plucked bass we sat down we stood up we said hi we played songs we said bye we packed up we drove out we found house we unpacked we hung out we did blog.It was a very mellow, yea subdued evening, not in the wild barn at the top of the hill but in the Yosemite Bug dining cabin, a great wood walled hangout with herbal tea, damn good food served at the far end counter, and mellow Europeans and Japanese strumming acoustic guitars on couches. We did did a mellow, mellow set. In a mellow, mellow room, with mellow, mellow trees and breezes. And the Lakers won and beat Melo. All is well.

Summer

May 19, 2009

Hit the bong
Hit the bottle
Shaquille O’Neal
Is Aristotle
Sto-ney
Stoney Summer

Thus begins a never- but someday-to-be-finished Hawks song on the particularities of the L.A. summer. It’s always summer in the Southland, with brief interruptions of autumn-like weeks in December, a bit of rain in February, a chilly day in April. Time is marked by your friends’ daughter suddenly turning four, or finding an old newspaper with a sour old story. The blue skies with mysterious white traces tell you nothing about the passing of your life.

Memory disintegrates. When did what happen? Milestones are obscured in the heat waves. Is it May? What have we been doing?What have we been doing? We played an Earth Day fest at the Armory Arts Center in Pasadena, got shocked bigtime on the bad wired outdoor stage, then our amps got fried, and we retreated indoors, to the small stage amongst hundreds of toddler Angelenos furiously creating art at long tables, where the electricity again toyed with us and we wound up singing acapella to a good vibes Earth Day crowd. Yes, we can do with out coal fired Fenders and microphones. It’s going to be just fine.

What else? We’re working on a children’s record, spearheaded by our drummer Shawn, with all the Hawks, wives Sherri and Victoria, Mike Stinson, David Jackson, the Chapin Sisters. It’s a family affair. We’re playing on Susan James’s new psychedelic folk CD. We were supposed to return to Ireland and UK, but the global economy says nay.

We’re goofing around. Rob and Paul L have a bunch of new songs, kinda gentle and melancholy, and an epic 6/8 tune written with Paul M, “I Fell In Love With The Grateful Dead.” Rob and Paul L took the Dead tune and the other infant songs out for a spin at a duo show at the Redwood Bar. Mark Follman, bassist from the late great The Magic Of Television came down and jammed with Rob, Paul L, and Victoria slamming on drums, and it sounded like something, so we’re calling it “That And Wood.” Paul L is practicing his dobro and getting his guitars refretted. Someday he’s going to sell a bunch of junk on ebay. Shawn is obsessing over recording gear. He just bought a summing box and a Masterlink that only Tape Op readers can understand. Paul L can’t get ProTools to work on his new computer. Rob and Paul are using GarageBand to make demos in his garage.

We’ve been tweaking our website, got our videos up at iseehawks.com/videos, launched a No Depression web page with lots of songs.We played Ronnie Mack’s Barndance. Six years ago at our first Barndance out in the Valley we were timid oddballs amongst true country band veterans, but we did get the attention of L.A. country kingpin Paul Marshall, who’s been a Hawk ever since. In ’09 our oddballness is part of the scene, and the Barndance feels like home. Bless you, Ronnie Mack. We had a fine little set and King Cotton followed and was mighty mighty, in peak form with a kickass band. On, King, you mighty huskie!

After afternoon rehearsal Paul L was enticed Tom Sawyer style into digging up a raised bed in the Waller yard. We made “X” furrows in the newly turned soil, dumped in seeds randomly, and covered them up. Two weeks later, the miracle of life appeared in the shape of green “X’s” in the soil. That’s a lot of spinach and lettuce.A night of summer magic came early in May at the South Pasadena Eclectic Music Festival. Don Preston and Joe Berardi, Double Naught Spy Car, eclecticism personified, and as the sun sank, the Hawks played a love fest to a big crowd spilling in from Mission Street east of the train stop. Sweet summer. Stan Ridgway and his magical band followed, breaking into “Don’t Box Me In” as a full moon breached the South Pas irregular horizon. So good, so good.

Two earthquakes in three days. Enter stoney summer. We hit the road at the end of May, what some would call early summer, for the Sierras, Winters, and the Bay Area. Come with us.