Today we are experiencing unseasonably cool and windy weather in the Greater Boston area.
I sit on my back porch (wearing a winter coat for warmth) and listen to the cardinals, robins and mockingbirds who are all taking turns singing from the tops of nearby trees, roofs, and utility poles…
I also savor the marigolds, basil, kale, cilantro, and sunflowers sprouting in pots around me.
Sprouting seeds and growing plants fill my heart with hope.
It is such a weird and wonderful thing that a tiny speck of a seed can transform into a seedling!
To me it feels very similar to the mysterious miracle of how a caterpillar can transform into a butterfly…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
I am deeply honored to learn that last Friday Michelle at Boomer Eco Crusader published an entire blog post featuring my song “We’re Running A Big Experiment.”
I have been reading her blog for a couple of years.
I always find inspiration about ways to improve my life right now — as well as ways to improve the future lives of our children, grandchildren, and all the other beings who will inherit the fossil-fuel-driven messes that we are leaving as our legacy here on planet earth.
If you are not already following her blog, I heartily recommend you check it out by clicking here.
THANK YOU to Michelle and to everyone else who has been listening to — and sharing! — this song after it was officially distributed to various digital platforms earlier this month.
I am aware that music can at times be considered somewhat trivial/pointless/insignificant.
But at other times, it can be a vital glue that brings us together and inspires us.
Greetings after another long pause between blog posts!
I hope you remain well — fellow blogger or visitor from beyond the world of WordPress — and I am very grateful that you are reading this blog post.
I have continued reading (and commenting on) other blog posts during the past many months, but I didn’t have anything I felt compelled to blog about.
When I logged into my account yesterday, however, and looked at my stats, I was delighted to find that people have continued visiting my blog and listening to music even when I am not actively blogging.
It is truly inspiring to learn that — in the first three weeks of May — folks have visited from the USA, the UK, South Africa, Canada, Poland, Australia, Norway, Germany, India, Italy, China, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the Åland Islands (which I just learned are part of Finland at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea).
I’ll say/write it again.
Today’s blog post features a song called “Simple Rules” written by my friend Molly Ruggles.
Molly is a songwriter, pianist, arranger and singer who recently retired from her day job at MIT.
She created this lovely vocal arrangement for her and me and our friend Carole to sing — and we recorded it during a brief lull in the Covid pandemic last December.
Molly, Carole and I — as well as the recording engineer Peter Kontrimas at whose studio we were fortunate to book a session — were well-vaccinated AND wore masks except for when we were in our separate recording booths (connected via headphones with each other and with Peter).
We then fixed/mixed/tweaked/mastered it via Zoom with another great recording engineer, Doug Hammer — whose name will be familiar to many of my blog readers because he is also an astounding pianist with whom I have recorded many, many songs.
Molly’s song has inspired me to think about other “simple rules” that we human beings would do well to honor.
For example, this morning I read details on a BBC website about how many of the staff members at 10 Downing Street chose to ignore the official guidelines for appropriate behavior during a pandemic. One staffer explains that they felt that they were in a bubble (of privilege? of denial?) and thus ignored what the official guidelines were.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
One of my favorite “simple rules” is the rule/fact that we animals breathe out what plants need to stay alive (CO2) — and plants breathe out what WE need to stay alive (O2).
I often feel as though we have done a very poor job educating each other about this profoundly simple rule.
Healthy oceans (full of plants ranging from single-celled phytoplankton to forests of kelp) and healthy forests (such as the Amazon jungle) and healthy agricultural fields and healthy gardens are not optional.
They are vital to every breath we are blessed to breathe — and which we hope to continue to breathe — here on planet earth!
Another simple rule/guideline which bears repeating again and again and again is the profound power of apology.
We all make mistakes.
In fact, making mistakes is an important way that we learn things — about how stoves can be too hot to touch, about how we need to look both ways before we cross a street, and about how lemon extract tastes more burningly bitter than delightfully sour (a shocking revelation which I learned at an early age when experimenting in the kitchen with my sister and one of her friends).
Apologies exist to repair human relationships when one person makes a mistake and hurts another person. Or another species. Or another community. Or an entire ecosystem.
In fact, I feel that much of the stress which we experience these days — directly in our own lives and indirectly from politicians, business leaders, and other authority figures — is due to past injuries for which no one has ever sincerely, authentically, and heartfully apologized.
Apologizing is not easy — but it is very worthwhile to do.
And if we are able to make amends for our mistake — taking action to make up for what has happened in the past — that is an even more profound act of healing.
Another deep breath in.
And another deep breath out.
I will end with one final simple rule: short blog posts are easier to read than long ones!
I am aware that I have written way-too-many, way-too-long blog posts in the past.
So I will cut this short and end with my customary thank yous… along with a lovely underwater photo of kelp (breathing in C02 and breathing out 02…)
Thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
Thank you to Molly Ruggles and Carole Bundy for their friendship and for our shared love of music.
“Don’t give up the ship — even when you feel it sinking and you don’t know what to do…” writes David Friedman in his great song, “Help Is On The Way.”
I found myself thinking about this song when I heard Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say “Help is on the way!” on TV after helping to pass the American Rescue Plan.
Although I have not been able to confirm this from searching the internet, I think David Friedman created this song during a previous plague — HIV/AIDS.
I wrote about David in a post three years ago which you can read if you are curious by clicking here.
Some were willing and able to ignore the threat of HIV/AIDS when it appeared — as some are still attempting to do with COVID-19.
However, HIV/AIDS left a vast trail of shock and grief for many human beings — as COVID-19 is now doing…
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
I thought of this song again when I was listening to yet another medical expert pleading with us to continue to wear masks, wash our hands, and practice physical dustancing.
“We have the football on the five-yard line,” he said, “and we’ve got to hang in there so that we don’t lose possession of the ball when we are so close to making a touchdown and winning the game.”
His football metaphor was inspired by the fact that many states in the USA are currently relaxing health measures even as new — more communicable and possibly more lethal —varieties of the COVID-19 virus are spreading exponentially around the country.
Apparently we are now in a contest to see if we can vaccinate enough people before we are overtaken by yet another tidal wave of infections due in part to these new genetic variations and in part to us human beings letting down our guard.
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
My heart goes out in particular to the health care workers who — amazingly — continue to care for people infected with Covid whether the infected people had chosen to take Covid seriously in the first place or not…
I’m not a healthcare worker or someone with a job that requires interaction with the public or a senior citizen.
So I’m wearing a mask when I go outside for my daily walks and waiting patiently — as I know many of us are — until I become eligible to get vaccinated.
Singer Bobbi Carrey, pianist Doug Hammer and I recorded this song many years ago as part of a musical program called IN GOOD COMPANY which explored working and business and capitalism using songs and stories.
I consider it to be a quintessential “helps me get out of bed in the morning” song.
And I’ve been needing these sorts of songs in recent weeks — because I’ve been feeling rather crabby.
Maybe it’s the rising spring energy of the northern hemisphere as we struggle — like bulbs — to push our way through the thawing soil towards the sun.
Maybe it’s the fact that a pandemic which we all thought might last a month or two has now stretched past the one year mark…
Maybe it’s an at-times-overwhelming sense of empathy for all of the folks who have already died due to Covid-19 — AND for their grieving family + friends.
Maybe it’s a sense of frustration that we human beings seem to have done an extremely poor job of teaching one another about the formidable power of exponential growth.
One doubles and becomes two.
Two doubles and becomes four.
Four doubles and becomes eight.
Eight doubles and becomes sixteen.
Sixteen doubles and becomes thirty-two.
Thirty-two doubles and becomes sixty-four.
Sixty-four doubles and becomes one hundred-and-twenty eight.
And sooner than one might think possible, the total rises into the thousands, then millions, then billions…
Understanding exponential growth deepens one’s respect/humility/awe/terror for how a virus left un-checked spreads exponentially through a host population — and thus has vastly more opportunities to mutate into new varieties as a result…
This is why we need to be distributing COVID-19 vaccines to every country in the world — even countries such as Tanzania, led by a Covid-denying leader who recently died after an 18-day period of ill health…officially attributed to a heart condition and unofficially speculated to have been Covid-related.
Clearly it is a huge challenge to change anyone’s mind when they have very strong convictions about a particular topic.
Here in the USA the Covid-related death of a newly elected, incoming, 41-year-old congressman from Louisiana — Luke Letlow — has done little to change the mindset and behavior of some of his Republican colleagues regarding the severity of the risk of Covid infection.
Yet another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I don’t entirely believe the message of this song — although I WANT to believe it because it gives me hope.
My favorite line is probably “from friends we may not have met yet.”
I feel that way about some of my fellow bloggers, and also about some of the photographers on Pixabay.
Now that I have started including their names underneath their beautiful photographs, I have begun noticing that certain photographers have taken a LOT of the photos I’ve used in past blog posts.
David Mark is one of them.
Many of the images in this blog post were taken by him.
Thank you to Doug Hammer and to Bobbi Carrey for their heartful musicianship.
Thank you to all the “friends we may not have met yet” — who are growing our food, developing new vaccines, taking care of us in hospitals, working in grocery stores, delivering packages, etc. etc. etc.
Thank you to Pixabay and all of the photographers who generously share their images there — and allow me to travel far and wide around this extraordinary planet earth without leaving my living room.
Thank you to the cardinals who have been singing and singing and singing in my neighborhood in recent days.
Thank you for the return of spring here in New England.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.
I’ve re-designed my website in recent months to include a LOT more music — and you are always welcome to visit there.
The version I am sharing at the top of today’s blog post is a stripped down piano + vocal recording I made with the wonderful pianist Doug Hammerat his studio north of Boston.
There are so many things one could write about recent events here in the USA that I find it hard to know where to begin.
Here are just a few thoughts that have jumped out at me…
Many white Americans I have seen on TV (and heard on the radio and read online) who have been attempting to make sense out of what recently transpired in our nation’s capital have said things like, “This is not who we are as a country.”
And many people of color have responded — respectfully and persistently — by saying, “Actually, this IS who we are as a country. This IS who we have been as a country for hundreds of years.”
I have found that when I listen to the news nowadays, all I want to hear is what people of color are saying, thinking, feeling and yes — for what must feel like the umpteenth time to them — explaining to the rest of us.
They have lived with violence and threats of violence and terrorist acts — such as public murders/lynchings — for generation after generation after generation.
And — as one woman’s extraordinarily articulate and passionate viral video this summer further explained — they are not (amazing to me…) seeking vengeance.
They are seeking justice.
In recent days I have heard several African-American college historians explain, and re-explain, and explain yet again how every advance made by people of color in this country has been met by a huge — and terrifying — backlash from unhappy (and extremely vengeful) white folks.
They have pointed to our recent election of the first African-American/South Asian-American woman as vice president as well as the election of the first African-American and Jewish-American US senators from the southern state of Georgia as being one of the precipitating factors in the white mob take-over of our Capital building last Wednesday.
Ashton Lattimore, in a recent Prism report explains:
“Any flex of political power by Black and brown people in the United States (is) followed by a reactionary white supremacist show of force. The pattern of racist white backlash to the barest hint of racial progress has persisted since the earliest days of the republic up until now, from antebellum white mobs attacking free Black people essentially just for existing, to the Civil War itself and post-Reconstruction violence punishing Black self-determination in Tulsa, to the violent resistance to the civil rights movement, and then the enraged, panicked genesis of the Tea Party and the Trump era immediately after the election of the first Black president. Against that historical backdrop, the white insurrectionist takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was as predictable as a pendulum’s swing.”
My brain now turns to is something I read earlier today.
A Republican congressman was explaining why many of his colleagues in the House of Representatives continue to support the charade of voter fraud even after an angry mob had burst into the Capitol building and sent them all into hiding.
According to him, they are scared about the safety of their family members.
That’s what terrorism does.
It makes people scared.
I empathize with these scared congressmen and congresswomen AND I want to say to them, “Do you get it now?! This is what people of color have been living with for hundreds of years! Do you get it now?!”
I wonder if any of them do or will.
I have certainly been slow to get it — or at least to begin to get it…
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
I chose photographs of sunrises for this blog post from the Pixabay websitebecause I am guessing that most of us have already seen more than enough disturbing images from our nation’s capital.
I hope you are finding ways — going for a well-masked walk, stretching, visiting with loved ones via Zoom, singing, praying, writing, cooking, etc. — to keep well during this seemingly-ever-more-challenging time in our lives.
I offer my (perhaps now familiar) thanks for food, for shelter, for employment, for electricity, for internet access, for running water, for soap, for friends and family, for Doug Hammer, and for my fellow bloggers.
Let the day unfold… this life is wide open.
Every plan we make… can be broken.
We’ve got to find the strength to lose some of our cherished point of views…
We’ve got to have hope… it’s not over!
ps: I am aware that the correct grammar for the chorus of “Let The Day Unfold” is “cherished pointS of view,” but that didn’t rhyme as well.
pps: If you are wanting to hear even more music which might comfort and/or inspire your spirit, you are welcome to visit the mini-websitewhich songwriter Barbara Baig and I have started to honor her (similarly titled) song “Let Me Be Strong.”
It was originally written for a 1931 revue called The Band Wagon — which was notable for being one of the last times that Fred Astaire and his sister Adele performed together on Broadway.
The lyrics feel like an existential poem to me.
They were written by Howard Dietz — who also co-wrote the script for The Band Wagon with George S. Kaufman — plus music by Arthur Schwartz.
Dietz went on to become the head of public relations at MGM movie studios.
He is reputed to have chosen their lion logo as well as their motto: Ars Gratia Artis (art for art’s sake).
While based in MGM’s New York office, he wrote co-wrote songs for decades with Arthur Schwartz, including “That’s Entertainment” for MGM’s film version of The Band Wagon in 1953 — which again featured Fred Astaire, who performed with Cyd Charisse while…”Dancing In The Dark.”
The message of the song seems particularly appropriate in the days leading up to a very important national election here in the USA.
I have been limiting my exposure to radio and TV because most of the news is simply very high-octane speculation.
However, I was happy to learn that early voter turnout is very high.
People are engaged with the political process!
But I am also concerned that gun/ammunition sales are very high (although I have been told this often happens when gun-using folks in the USA fear a Democratic victory which might lead to future firearm regulations…)
The state of our democracy can seem very dark these days — with our president repeatedly saying that he may not honor the results of our upcoming election while simultaneously casting seeds of doubt about the voting process itself.
And he continues to hold large public rallies during a health pandemic — after one of which his ally (and former presidential candidate) Herman Cain died from COVID-19.
All the while hospitals in cities around the United States fill up to capacity…
And nurses, EMTs, and doctors — who are working 12 hour shifts day in and day out to save the lives of their fellow citizens — continue to plead with us to wear our face masks, wash our hands, and maintain our social distancing…
I am truly amazed by our health care workers’ dedication, selflessness, and love for their fellow human beings.
I am amazed that they show up for work — day after day and night after night — while putting their own lives AND the lives of their loved ones at risk for catching this virus.
I am amazed that they treat the folks who deny the threat of Covid-19 and refuse to wear a mask with as much compassion as they treat the folks who wore a mask and still got sick.
What they are doing is astounding.
I don’t have adjectives to describe how I feel about the virus-deniers.
Or at least adjectives that I want to put into print.
I do sometimes wonder if the extreme dysfunction unfolding in our country is a symptom of mother nature getting serious about reducing the number of human beings who now live on (and some might say over-run and infest) planet earth…
Denying the science of how a virus spreads and multiplies — exponentially! — is a form of madness which has already killed hundreds of thousands of people here in the USA…
I see it as being very similar to denying the science of climate change.
One can deny it all one wants…
Yet the scientific processes — such as the fact that a virus can spread exponentially if unchecked and will swiftly overwhelm the staff of your local hospital — will continue to unfold whether one denies the scientific realities or not.
The fact that our earth’s atmosphere is changing due to our human (mis)use of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial era is also undeniable.
In fact I recently saw a reprint of an article from the early 20th century in which scientists described and predicted how our increasing use of fossil fuels would alter the earth’s atmosphere.
Some people have been aware of this challenge for generations!
The fact that climate change is increasing the severity of storms, increasing the frequency of forest fires, and changing the patterns of how ecosystems around the planet do (or don’t) stay in balance is undeniable.
It’s all over the news in the USA.
It’s what hundreds if not thousands of scientists have been warning about for decades.
Will we as a species continue to deny it is happening?
Will we continue to live our lives as if nothing huge and profound is changing?
Continue to drive our SUVs and pickup trucks as many miles as we (or our credit cards) can afford?
Continue to travel as much as our budgets (or credit cards) will allow?
Continue to refuse to put solar arrays on our roofs?
Continue to consume more resources than can be sustainably grown/harvested/produced here on planet earth?
Fundamental patterns and cycles here on planet earth will continue to tip out of balance regardless of what our leaders may or may not be saying.
There are scientific processes and realities at work which can’t be denied or spun or ignored until they go away.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
It is indeed an extraordinary time to be alive…
I hope and trust that we will persevere.
That enough people will wake up to the realities of science.
That enough people will realize that wearing a mask and continuing to practice social distancing is in fact a very loving and respectful thing to do for one’s self, for one’s family, for one’s co-workers, for one’s neighborhood, and for all the folks who risk their lives working at one’s local hospital.
And that we can continue to dance through this period of darkness, keeping a sense of love and light and fairness and respect burning in our hearts as we cast our ballots.
Thank you to Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz for writing this song during another very challenging era in our country’s history…
Thank you to pianist Doug Hammer for making music and recording music with me for the past 20+ years AND then for fixing and mixing songs with me from his home studio via Zoom in recent months.
Thank you to all the photographers at Pixabay for these glorious images.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts!
I truly treasure our community of WordPress bloggers and readers and commenters…
We share them at public libraries, retirement communities, memory cafes, and coffee houses.
Our latest program features songs written for — and/or made famous by — Bing Crosby.
I had known very little about Mr. Crosby before requesting several biographies about him via our local inter-library network (which includes the terrific Robbins library pictured above in a photo by Jinny Sagorin).
Mostly I remembered him for singing an incongruous but lovely duet with David Bowie on a Christmas TV special.
I also knew that he loved golfing and had sung “White Christmas” — which became one of the highest selling recordings ever made.
And I was aware that at least one of his children had written about how challenging it was to have him as a father.
After reading several books about him, my perspective on Mr. Crosby has become much more complicated and fascinating and human…
To begin with, I hadn’t understood how HUGE a star Bing was.
His weekly radio programs reached millions of listeners for decades.
He was in the top ten of Hollywood box office money-makers for decades.
His recordings regularly topped the charts for decades.
He was definitely one of America’s first “superstars.”
He was also a devoted Catholic, following the spiritual path of his mother (who had requested that Bing’s father convert to Catholicism before they were married).
He sang an extraordinarily wide range of songs — from cowboy to Irish to jazz to pop to show tunes to hymns to Americana.
Although a Republican, he had a huge hit during the early years of the Great Depression with Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s empathetic lament for the common man, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” — which hit the airwaves right before FDR was elected to his first term as president.
And he was one of the first recording artists to release an album of Christmas holiday songs.
One of the many Christmas songs Bing recorded — “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” — has become a new favorite of mine.
Bing recorded it on October 3, 1956, and it soon became a holiday classic.
I recorded it earlier this month with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA (and our version is included in the player at the beginning of this blog post).
I discovered on Wikipedia that the lyrics were written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1863 while the USA was in the middle of our astoundingly horrible and bloody Civil War.
He lived in Cambridge, MA — a couple of miles away from where I now live — and one of his sons had left home to fight in the Union Army.
You can click here to learn more about Longfellow’s poem on Wikipedia if you are curious.
He experienced many deep losses during his lifetime — his first wife died after a miscarriage and his second wife died from burn wounds after her dress accidentally caught on fire — and perhaps as a result, he developed very empathetic heart.
Many different composers have been moved to set this particular poem to music over the years.
In 1956 Johnny Marks — a Jewish songwriter whose creative output also includes “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” “Run, Rudolph, Run,” “Silver and Gold,” “A Holly, Jolly Christmas,” and all of the other songs from the Rudolph holiday TV show — devised a lovely tune for a few stanzas from Longfellow’s poem.
I’m not sure why this song touches me so deeply…
Perhaps it is an echo of Longfellow’s broken-heartedness and faith reverberating from the depths of America’s civil war to our present moment of cultural unrest…
I am grateful to be reminded of the gentle power of words and music during this season of short days and long nights.
I am grateful to Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons and Stephen Fischer and Jinny Sagorin for the images in this blog post.
And I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.
May we experience more peace and empathy in the new year!
I recorded the song “That’ll Do” when I was part of a vocal quartet called At The Movies many years ago with fellow singers Nina Vansuch and Michael Ricca plus singer/pianist/arranger Brian Patton.
All the songs we performed were related in some way to the film industry.
If you are curious, you can click here for a link to the CD we made together called Reel One.
“That’ll Do” appeared in a movie called Babe: Pig In The City — which was a sequel to the movie Babe.
Both of them featured extraordinarily well-trained animal actors plus a few human actors who illuminate heart-breaking lessons about ostracism and community, betrayal and faith, love and loss.
“That’ll Do” was written by Randy Newman — who has crafted songs and soundtracks for a bunch of movies including the Pixar Toy Story series.
And it was originally sung by Peter Gabriel — who is also a great songwriter as well as a globally-engaged rock musician.
I love the wisdom of this song.
It feels like an antidote to many of the forces wreaking havoc on our cultural, political, and environmental landscapes these days.
How easy it can be to overlook the gentle power of kindness…
In an age of instant gratification, how reassuring to be reminded of the value of perseverance.
My mind immediately connects the concepts of steadiness and balance with boats — canoes, kayaks, row boats, and sail boats.
One doesn’t want to tip too far to the right OR to the left — unless one wants to capsize.
And one has to communicate and cooperate with any other beings (human, dog, cat — yes, our family even took our cats sailing with us on occasion) on the vessel, or else everyone aboard runs the risk of capsizing.
Space exploration notwithstanding, for the foreseeable future planet earth is our shared vessel, our shared home, our shared ark.
And some of us (almost all HUMAN beings) are making choices each and every day that are tipping ALL of us closer and closer to some epic/epoch capsizings.
What choices could each of us make differently which might lead us back in the direction of balance?
How might we live more simply?
How might we consume fewer shared resources?
“That’ll Do” reminds me somehow of social justice, too — of folks who are brave enough to show up and engage in non-violent social protests.
I am pretty sure steadiness is a hallmark of non-violent protest.
As is kindness.
I also appreciate that “That’ll Do” doesn’t espouse perfection as a goal.
The next blog post I write, or music class I lead, or song I create doesn’t have to be perfect.
I do not need to be cowed into inactivity by the powerful illusion of perfection.
Finally, “That’ll Do” reminds me of the humble — yet powerful — concepts of “enough” and “gratitude.”
I am grateful for the extraordinary blessings of today — such as the hundreds of people who work to bring food to my table, water to my faucets, power to my electrical devices, and peace to my neighborhood.
What I have right now is more than enough!
I am grateful to Michael Ricca, Nina Vansuch and Brian Patton for the hundreds of hours we spent rehearsing, performing, and eating home-cooked dinners together.
I am grateful to Randy Newman for writing so many terrific songs, and to Peter Gabriel for putting his heart into the original recording of this song, and to the extraordinary cast and crew of the Babe movies.
I am also grateful to Pixabay for most of the images in this blog post.
And I am grateful to you for reading and listening to another blog post.
Let’s show up with a kind and steady heart… and see what happens.
“Here’s To Life” is a song I recorded with pianist Doug Hammer many years ago
It was written by Phyllis Molinary and Artie Butler and first recorded by Shirley Horn in 1991.
Sometimes people say, “They don’t write songs like they used to.”
I respond that many great songs ARE still being written.
But the era of different pop stars each recording their own version of a particular hit — with different versions of the same song riding up and down the charts simultaneously — are long gone.
So a song like “Here’s To Life” is savored by a few rather than beloved by multitudes.
I had not known anything about Mr. Butler and Ms. Molinary until I started poking around on the internet.
Mr. Butler is a composer, arranger, songwriter, music director, and record producer who has worked on an extraordinary range of songs — including Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”
He was inspired to write the tune for “Here’s To Life” after watching Johnny Carson interview George Burns on The Tonight Show.
He gave it to a few different lyricists before Phyllis Molinary (about whom I have not been able to learn much of anything…) wrote the set of lyrics which became “Here’s To Life.”
And now we are all blessed with this wise and elegant song…
It reminds me of a birthday party I recently attended for a vibrant eighty-year-old who has lived much of her life in western Massachusetts.
Before dessert was served, many of her friends shared stories about their relationships with her.
In her understated, thoughtful, generous, organized, humorous, and wide-minded — as one woman from South America described her — way, this woman has touched thousands of her fellow human beings in significant ways.
She taught for many decades at her local college, serving as the head of the psychology department (if I am remembering correctly) and also overseeing the college’s counseling center.
She has advised several generations of students, mentored countless faculty members, led the campus teachers’ union, been very active in town politics, and on and on and on…
I know her mainly as a very faithful cousin-in-law.
She always visits during the winter holidays, bringing gifts for everyone and sharing stories about a web of family and friends she has accumulated around the planet.
And she shares her perspectives on what is happening locally — what options her town is exploring to mitigate an underground plume of contamination that the water department has recently discovered, for example, or how a new local restaurant (which she, of course, is eager to support) is faring.
She has a gentle finger on the pulse of her town…
Her birthday party was held at a local retreat center which is run by a very ecologically-minded order of nuns.
As the festivities were winding down, we were invited and encouraged to explore the property.
They have converted a huge carriage house — originally built in the late 1800s by the Crane family, who earned a lot of money making paper (including the paper which is still used to print US currency) — into a function hall.
On the second floor of the carriage house they have created many different areas where guests can make art, meditate, read, pray, explore eco-spirituality, marvel at the miracle of evolution, and rejuvenate their souls.
Outside the carriage house are fruit trees, free-ranging chickens, a labyrinth, a cathedral of very tall pine trees, a huge community garden, and lots of flowers.
I found these great photographs on Pixabay, and I am grateful to all of the photographers who have shared their images there.
I am also grateful to Doug Hammer, for his exquisite piano playing and terrific engineering skills.
And to the birthday woman whose life is an ongoing inspiration for how to move through the world with empathy and wisdom and generosity and balance.
And to the Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center for inviting us to roam around their property after her birthday gathering.
And to Art and Phyllis for writing such a lovely song.
And to you for reading and listening to another blog post.
A healthy and happy summer to you — full of berries and flowers and friends and family (unless you are reading this from somewhere in the southern hemisphere, in which case I wish you delicious winter adventures instead…)
May all your storms be weathered, and may all that’s good get better.
Although Ryan Zinke held much more conservationist views when he was a Montana state senator — acknowledging climate change as a significant threat to US national security, for example — now that he is Secretary of the Interior, he is working hard to remove burdensome regulations to industry on public land and in our coastal waters.
He even reversed a recent ban on lead ammunition in wildlife refuges designed to protect birds that eat carrion.
The article concluded by saying that — while it is possible future elections will nudge our leadership back in more sustainable and respectful directions — the damage already being done to our public lands and wildlife will take decades to re-balance or repair (which, of course, is not even possible when a plant or animal becomes extinct…)
Somehow this article has thrown me into what I trust is a temporary tailspin of depression and hopelessness.
As lyricist Fran Landesman once noted, spring can really hang you up the most…
Obviously there is SO MUCH that we human beings need to do to reduce and re-balance our patterns of consumption and destruction as soon as humanly possible.
And yet so many of us — me included — are unable to change a lifetime of habits and assumptions and behaviors in order seriously to address the coming environmental challenges/catastrophes/opportunities.
For example, many of us who are blessed to live in countries such as the United States continue to think, “Of course I deserve to travel as much as I can afford.”
And even if we can’t afford a plane trip to someplace warm (or intriguing or affordable or colorful) we are strongly urged by our morally bankrupt financial institutions to pay for it using a credit card…or two…or three.
How many of us are basically indentured servants to our credit card companies, making minimum payments yet never paying off all our accumulated debt?
Another assumption I find odd is that most of us continue to think that we deserve to have one — or more — cars.
Of course, this is often related to the fact that many of us think that we deserve to live wherever we like — places which may not be located anywhere near public transportation, for example — so, of course, we have to have a car in order to get to work, to shop, to visit friends and family, to drive to the gym (the practice of which I truly don’t understand… why not ride your bike or walk to the gym? Or ride your bike/walk/run instead of joining a gym and donate what you used to pay for your gym membership to a deserving non-profit group?) etc.
And how about those of us who feel that we deserve to own vacation homes — sometimes built in very unwise locations?
Many of these structures sit uninhabited for weeks or months at a time, consuming fuel/electricity so that the pipes don’t freeze, or so that the house doesn’t get too humid, or so that the burglar alarms are functioning…
The list of possessions and privileges to which many of us aspire is loooong — and has been extremely well-marketed for at least a couple of generations here in the USA.
Yet so few of us seem to be able or willing to pause and ponder the consequences of our consumption…
And global greenhouse gas levels continue to rise.
And weather becomes more erratic — affecting wildlife habitats as well as human agriculture (and thus the ability of more and more countries to feed their citizens).
And plastic — some of it visible and some of it in tiny fibers — continues to pollute the waters of planet earth and contaminate aquatic life on all levels of the food chain.
Sadly — depressingly — tragically — hubristically — the list of human pollution, deforestation, and environmental degradation goes on and on and on…
I often feel — as I watch TV or listen to the radio or use the internet — that I have entered a frantic cocoon created solely so that we human beings can hide (for couple of hours or for an entire lifetime) from the terrifying realities of the larger patterns/feedback loops which are unfolding/unraveling right now on planet earth.
And I want to say — to myself and to most of my fellow human beings here in the USA — WAKE UP!!!
Often this is when I catch a cold.
And I stay home and write a blog post like this…
I am aware that I am extremely blessed to live a life where I can moan about larger environmental challenges because my basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, employment, love, and respect have already been met.
However, I am also aware that anyone writing or reading a blog post is using electricity and some sort of magical electronic device which contains metals mined all over the planet by human beings under inhumane conditions as well as plastic from fossil fuels — and which have most likely been assembled by human beings working under inhumane conditions.
And my other job — sharing one-hour programs of beloved standards at retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and public libraries — involves driving many miles per month in a trusty, high mileage Prius belonging to the jazz pianist Joe Reid, with whom I do 50+ gigs per year.
So I am utterly complicit.
And I wonder what the f–k I am doing with my one precious life here on planet earth.
Yet I also know that music matters in some way — that it can touch our hearts and even inspire us to do unimaginably courageous things.
A documentary I watched recently about James Baldwin reminded me that there was a lot of singing by heroic non-violent protestors as they were marching… and as they were being beaten… and as they were being thrown into police vehicles.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
What do you think/feel about any of this, dear reader?
What do you think/feel about the sad news that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain — two people who have achieved international success, wealth, fame, influence, celebrity, and in theory the happiness which success/wealth/fame/influence/celebrity are alleged to bring — have taken their own lives during this past week?
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Thank you to David Friedman for writing such compelling songs.
Thank you to Bobbi Carrey for her musical collaboration over the past 15 years.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his piano playing, engineering, production wizardry, patience, and humor.
Thank you to Mike Callahan for his vocal arrangements.
Thank you to Pixabay for the images in this blog post.
And thank YOU for making time so that you could read and listen to another blog post.
The piles of snow between our sidewalk and the street are getting smaller.
Tiny green fingers are pushing out of the earth…
And today the first crocus bloomed in our front yard!
I planted a bunch of bulbs in November, right before the ground began to freeze.
And it appears that the squirrels did not dig all of them up — because crocus leaves are popping up everywhere.
Several years ago I wrote a very simple song about spring and colored blossoms falling down to the ground.
This was before I started playing the ukulele — so I just sang into my lap top computer using the wonderful Apple program GarageBand.
Then I fooled around with a lot of the sounds and loops that are included with Garageband.
And then I took my laptop to my friend Doug Hammer’s studio, where he added a few more layers of sound — including spring peepers! — and I recorded (I think) a few more vocal tracks.
After Doug mixed it, I spent time at the Apple store on Boylston Street in Boston, getting help in terrific “one to one” training sessions (which Apple used to offer) about how to make a video to accompany my song.
The final product is pasted above.
Here are more crocus photos to savor…
There is a yard at the top of a hill between Harvard Square and Central Square in Cambridge.
I go there every spring because their front yard is PACKED with crocus, snowdrops, and miniature iris.
It is very similar to this photo except much smaller in total square footage.
I wonder how many years of planting bulbs it takes to create a field like this!
I am waiting to see my first pollinator of the season.
It is amazing that bees can survive our New England winters — and then they appear as soon as the first blossoms open their petals to the sun.
There are so many important causes to which one can devote time and care and love and money these days.
I am a fan of environmental advocacy — because without functioning ecosystems, the human species will collapse.
Just like our populations of pollinators (bats, butterflies, bees, etc.) have been collapsing in recent years…
All sorts of factors may be causing this collapse — including our human use of pesticides and herbicides.
So I no longer use any products like RoundUp or wasp spray.
And I pay extra money to buy organic produce and meat — mostly because it is healthier for the people who plant the food, who cultivate the food, who harvest the food, who clean the food, who package the food, who ship the food, and who handle it in our stores.
I also support organic farming because the hedgerows and bacteria and trees and streams and animals who co-exist with — and in the case of pollinators are partially responsible for — our food crops are not being poisoned either!
May all beings bloom and grow and flourish in an ever-changing balance…
Thank you to Mother Nature for inspiration.
Thank you to Apple engineers for creating laptop computers and Garageband.
Thank you to the former “one to one” teaching team at the Apple store in Boston.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his musical and engineering expertise.
Thank you to Pixabay for beautiful images of crocii.
And thank YOU for reading and watching and listening to another blog post.