For the Love of Trains…

Grateful Blog: Day 56: Still feeling the latent effects of the flu today but I managed to get out for a few hours. I had to. There was a train show in town. Basically a show devoted to model train fans and train lovers of all ages. There’s ever imaginable train related thing from toy trains to giant computerized running layouts to memorabilia and artwork. And there’s kids there of every age, some little one’s wanting in a long line to ride on Thomas the Train and others in their 80’s, still looking for that next great ride in life, be it getting on an actual train or building it in miniature.

When I was a kid my Dad had this seriously cool Lionel train layout in our basement. All three of us boys loved going down there after finishing out homework and turning off all the lights and running the trains’ full speed in every direction they could go. Inevitably things went off the tracks and crashed but that was half the fun. Little did we know that were inadvertently damaging what would today be valuable antiques. Somewhere in the early 1980’s, during some particularly hard economic times, Dad sold most of the trains to pay a few months of the mortgage. Looking back I wish he didn’t have to but I respect his decision more than ever because I know what they meant to him.

Still, Dad saved what he’d bought specifically for us boys, boxed them up, and kept it for us. 30 years went by before I took mine out its musty old box and set up a little Lionel layout in my den. It’s up above my head and just below the ceiling and now and again, I run it for a few hours and that whirring/clacking sound and oily/ozone smell brings me right back to being a kid in the basement again. I even got inspired by it one morning seeing a particular boxcar and wrote a song called ‘Take the Central Georgia Home’, a Civil War era train song that’s on my new CD release ‘Ash and Bone’ (That’s Shameless plug #87 if you’re counting…).

But the thing about toy trains is that it’s never bean a means to an end. There’s a bunch of guys who serious collect this vintage or that style and they talk in their very own language in hushed tones like ‘That’s a number ‘6464’ boxcar in the rare Amour yellow and navy color scheme but the condition is iffy because the trucks have been modified with mid-60’s, I’d say 1964 by the looks of it, knuckle couples and the original box is gone too.’ Whoa…While I ‘get’ where they’re coming from it’s never been like that for me. It’s always been an hour or two escape from life’s drudgeries and a love affair with those big, rumbling machines. And there’s something unique about their siren song whistle that calls you to wonder where they’re headed—and wanting to be on them to see what’s around the next bend.

That’s the romance of trains, big, small and miniature. I rarely buy much at the shows/swap meets but I always meet the most interesting people, usually about Dad’s age, who have a lifetime of stories to tell. So today I’m Grateful for the love of trains, model, real or otherwise, that Dad passed down, father to son. And I’m also Grateful for the men and women who still find something incredibly romantic about them. Before I left he show I ran into Michael fromCalifornia, a guy I’d seen and talked to several times before at past shows. He said, ‘Hey, how’s that CD coming???’ Of course, I’d left them I the car, about 12 blocks back, but he gave me a new $25 caboose I’d had my eye on and said ‘Send me a CD, we’ll call it even.’ You know sometimes the money just doesn’t matter, and that’s just another reason why some of us love trains…

Clearing my Throat…

Grateful Blog: Day 52: I don’t normally fall asleep in the middle of the day but today I did. I woke up groggy and a bit perplexed but the news was good. Back in December I starting having weird issues stomach issues in relation to an ongoing battle with acid reflux that seemed to have morphed into sudden weight loss and periodic bouts of not being able to keep food down. Around Christmas I was fairly debilitated, almost confined to bed and understandably frightened. So while I’ve been working my usual 60 hour weeks and frantically planning every last detail of the CD release, I’ve had this looming medical procedure called an ‘Endoscopy’ hanging over my head. It’s pretty simple really: They knock you out, shove a tube down your throat and take pictures. I was pretty calm about the whole deal until this morning and my blood pressure told that tale pretty easily.
The other night during the CD release was so magical for me. There were so many friends and family and fans there to support me. It could not have been better. I was fully present in the moment and I think in the pictures folks are posting on Facebook you see the joy I was having. I tried as hard as I could to put this morning’s procedure whatever implications it might have had out of my mind. It just about 100% worked but nothing in life, as we all know is 100%.
So this morning, I went in, they knocked me out and I slept while they took their pictures. Fortunately I woke up to the same world and the same diagnosis that I had before I went in which is essentially this: “You’re gonna live. Probably a long healthy life.” The lesson that we always seem to learn from these episodes is to never take any single day from granted. They’re too precious. So from Saturday night’s magical show to Tuesday afternoon’s diagnosis, I’ve been living in 2 worlds but we all know better, it’s just one life that we get to live. So while I’m Grateful for such a wonderful show, I’m equally Grateful for some good news today. And in the mean time, I’m Grateful for the not so gentle reminders that every day is magic, that every day there’s something to be Grateful for. That’s why I write this blog. And more importantly, that’s what I believe. Peace—and Good Health to you and yours!     

The Road to ‘Ash and Bone’: Gentle Souls, Poets and Healers, Priests and Clowns…

Grateful Blog: Day 49: About 4 years ago today, keeping a promise I made to myself 5 months earlier when turned 40 on September 11th, I played my first open mic. It was let’s just say a perfect storm of awful and terrifying. When I got up on stage the MC said ‘where are you from?’ so he could announce it as such. I think I mumbled ‘Vancouver’ until I was up there myself and then I explained to the audience of 2 that actually I wasn’t ‘from’ Vancouver, I was from New York. And specifically I was from ‘Western’New York. If you know me it may not surprise you that I followed that with a 7 minute story (I gave ‘em the abridged version—seriously!) of how I got from Western New York toVancouver. Then the guy running it came up and said ‘You only have 3 minutes left, you should probably play a SONG right NOW. And make it a short one’. I remember what song I played. I remember I played it too fast (and yet it was STILL too long), forgot some words and generally sucked. It was terrifying. I was awful. And I vowed to never play in public again.

But then I met this guy named Dan Dover and with our wives we had dinner and he brought his guitar and we traded some songs. Turns out he was another closet basement songwriter. Soon enough we went on a spree of open mics together, sometimes 2 in a night. By then I was hooked on the adrenaline, the strange and magnificent people you met like my good friend Lyman Louis, and the sheer ludicrousness of bearing your soul in front of perfect strangers and occasional hecklers. It made no rational sense why anyone would expose themselves as such but then again nothing else in life made sense either, so it was just OK. In fact it was better than that. Suddenly it was fun too.

The thing is, tonight, Saturday night, about 4 years since that beautiful open mic debacle, I’ve got a sold out debut CD release show in front of a whole bunch of friends and fans who I never, ever would have had the great fortune of meeting had it not been for meeting Dan and his wife Cheryl Mitzlaff tat night. I don’t know about you, but it’s often true that as you get older it get’s harder to make real and lasting friendships. But I feel like ever since I got past that first 7 minutes of that first open mic, the point of the distinction about being from ‘Vancouver’ vs. ‘Western’New York, that my life has opened up exponentially because I’ve allowed myself to open up. There’s this large, thriving, talented, and endlessly creative, beautiful music community here inPortlandand the surrounding area. And I only occupy a tiny corner of it. But my tiny corner is chock full of Amazing People: Gentle Souls, Poets and Healers, Priests and Clowns.

 There’s not a lot of THINGS that I believe in. But I believe in the goodness of people. I believe in community. I believe in falling in love. I believe in connections. I believe that music and songs along with people and community and love have the power to heal and change the world. I know they changed mine. I’m not even sure how anymore. But I do know that at some point Saturday night, up on stage, I’m gonna tell that story how I got here, starting in ‘Western’ New York, and somehow it’ll all make sense. I am so, so, so Grateful for that. And one more thing, don’t forget to believe in yourself. Trust me when I say this, if I can do it, ANYBODY can do it!

Gratefully, dan