My pensieve

by Steve, September 15th, 2010

musicLife is funny and time is fleet of foot.

Twenty-one years ago, I moved to Oregon with a band of hippies, trying to make my living playing the bass and singing country- and reggae-hued psychedelia.

That band broke up soon after we disembarked from the ’63 Chevy Step-Van in Portland, and life took me through some twists and turns, including work in the colorful world of organic produce and stints as a band instrument repair man, sheet music sales clerk, and side man in a tex mex band.

After about eight years of mix and match, scraping the rent together somehow or another, I got engaged and decided I needed a career with a future. I retired the axe and got a cubicle job shuffling bits on computers, and dedicated myself to raising my two children. When they hit school, I got ridiculously entrenched in school politics and citizen journalism, which eventually spilled over into way too much civic involvement. I also got back into skating and started playing a lot of pickup hockey, which I likened to music in many ways.

After deciding the City of Portland and Portland Public Schools are hopelessly anti-child, we moved to the suburbs, where it was decided I should withdraw from politics and return to my music.

The funny thing about my brain is that while I present as well-adjusted, I’m a little OCD. I’ve had a couple of unfinished songs going through my mind for nearly 20 years. So even though I had veered into cumbia, salsa and Latin jazz when I dropped my musical career on its head thirteen years ago, I was unable to get back to that without first going back further and purging my mind of the country- and reggae-flavored songs from the early 90s.

I set up my studio with a Macintosh and started using it as my pensieve (for you non-Harry Potter devotees, a pensieve is a place to store memories, thus uncluttering one’s mind).

First to be extracted and stored away was “Falling off the Mountain,” a song I started writing with my friend Tony on Thanksgiving circa 1990 while hiking and camping in Oregon’s Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. I’m not much for lyrics, and Tony never did send me that second verse. So, as they say, “last verse, same as the first!”

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It’s like magic… that song doesn’t go through my head anymore since I’ve committed it to bits!

Next up was a little flat-picking ditty I started writing after seeing Doc Watson at the Melody Ballroom, also in 1990, I think. It was right after Totem Soul broke up after our acoustic trio (the Holistic Ramblers) had a gig from hell at Portland’s Laurelthirst Public House.

Nancy‘s always saying she likes country music “cuz the men are always sorry and the women are always leaving.” With that in mind, I wrote a second verse and pulled “The Dark Desert Sky” out of my head and deposited it in the pensieve.

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Now that those are out of my system, I want to write some stuff in this vein:

Banda Brothers (Ramon and Tony and friends) playing “Dime Caridad” (by trombonist/arranger/composer Francisco Torres) from their most excellent album Acting Up.

It’s amazing how much time I have, now that I’m not researching and writing in-depth exposes and going to school board meetings, urban planning meetings, community meetings and rallies. Now I can help my daughter discover the joy of wind instruments and ensemble playing. If you want to see me now, I’ll see you in the band room (not the board room), clarinet in hand.