Gratitude List 1607

(1) It used to be, people either begrudgingly tolerated me or completely avoided me. That these young people not only do neither — but actually appear to look up to me and admire me — is almost more than my fragile ego can bear.

(2) I’d assumed it was still the heat wave when I first stepped out the door to check my mail at around noon. To my surprise, it was cloudy, cool — and perfect running weather. My sunset run is scheduled to be sweet.

(3) Finished sequencing Sirens of Hope last night – check it out. It’s the opening number to my musical – the Kids will be singing to that track in lots of big harmonies. Lyrics are right here. Thankful for being in the position to move forward with this project, after all these years.

(4) I believe I may have found a good therapist at Community Care. They take both my forms of insurance, and I believe the therapist is versed in issues pertaining to PTSD. We begin on Wednesday.

(5) Meeting with the Professor of Journalism on Zoom in three minutes. Still kinda blown away that people like professors with degrees would even associate with me — but on the other hand, why wouldn’t they? Glad I’m finally going to get some help.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Sheltering in Place: the Opposite of Living Outdoors

Below the image and link is an almost-verbatim transcript of my most recently published column in Street Spirit. There may or may not be one more column. Then for reasons largely related to the PTSD that I acquired while homeless, I have decided to bow out of this particular gig. Alastair Boone the editor-in-chief has been wonderful to work with, as was Terry Messman, the previous editor who first hired me.

A watercolor image of a house.

Click Here for Original Version

When I first heard the expression “sheltering in place,” an immediate thought came to mind. For a long time, during many years of homelessness, I lived in a place where there is no shelter. Now that sheltering in place is required, I am living a lifestyle that is the direct opposite of my previous manner of life. Once I recognized that polarity, it opened me up to a wealth of useful observations.

For one thing, I noticed that the way I had been living since moving indoors was in many ways not so much different than how I had lived when I was still homeless. Before the pandemic, I still found myself wandering from place to place throughout the day, looking for places to plug in my laptop. I still would spend two or three bucks at coffee shops and fast food joints, as though I had just managed to scrounge up that much money on the streets.

Moreover, even though I had lived indoors for almost four years, I was still feeling halfway uneasy in many of these establishments. In the same way as when I was homeless, I felt as though I wasn’t quite “supposed” to be there. But why? 

As I began to shelter in place, I realized that I had still been using the library, the McDonald’s, and even the hospital in such a way that suggested I had nowhere else to go. In any of these places, I would sit down, plug in my laptop, and hang out for hours on end. After all, I live near a hospital where they have free Starbucks coffee and unlimited refills. Seriously! You can even get a nice home-cooked breakfast for just under three bucks.

Since I did have a place to go—my own apartment—it seemed a bit odd that I wasn’t spending more time there. But after the shelter-in-place order, when I was no longer replicating my homeless life by wandering from spot to spot throughout the day, I found that I appreciated my apartment all the more. 

So I asked myself: “Why should I spend hours walking from one building in town to another? Why should I spend money in cyber cafes, when I have my own dwelling place now, with my own power outlets, and food in the cupboard? My rent money, like that of many, is over half of my monthly check. Why was I wasting the full benefits of my apartment by using it only as a crash pad?” 

It then dawned on me that this, too, had been carried over from my former homeless experience. When I was homeless, did I ever go back to my sleeping spot in the middle of the day and hang out there? Of course not! My sleeping space was tucked away where hopefully no one would find me during the night. It would have been pretty self-defeating to hang out there during the daytime, in broad daylight. 

But now that I had my own indoor place, what was the sense in continuing to avoid my own home during the daytime? There may have been a certain twisted sense in continuing to avoid washing the dishes and taking out the garbage, but other than that, it was sheer laziness that kept me from properly accessing and maintaining my own dwelling place, as well as a waste of rent money. 

As I have begun to spend more time inside my apartment, I have also become better at certain household tasks. I am no longer intimidated by the kitchen. I no longer limit the extent of my cooking potential to Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I don’t fear the condition of the bathroom, and I broke out a vacuum cleaner for the first time in a good fifteen years. 

The things that make a home nice are also being illuminated. Paintings are hanging on the wall now, whereas before they were only leaning against it. All that is changing for the better— and I’m glad.  For where before there was no shelter, and all my deeds were out in the open, now there is only shelter — outside of daily exercise and the occasional errand — and virtually all my deeds are secluded.

With that revelation, finally, there is gratitude. Gratitude for the food stocked up in the cupboard, and for its being the food of my own choice—not food served or granted by those helping me, but food determined by my own agency and wherewithal. Gratitude that the condiments of hygiene may be found in my medicine cabinet; indeed, that I even have a medicine cabinet in which such things may be kept. The grounds for gratitude, for all the simple things in life I longed for in all those years of homelessness, are greatly increased — and illuminated — through the phenomenon of sheltering in place.

Homeless No More is a column that features the stories of people making the transition from homelessness to housing. Andy Pope is a free-lance writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and is the author of Eden in Babylon, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Tuesday Tuneup 84

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Reorganization.

Q. Of what?

A. Of many things. Most important is the reorganization of my mind.

Q. Most important?

A. I take that back. Most important is the reorganization of the Human Race. But each of us has a part in that, and my part is the reorganization of my mind.

Q. Ah, I see! Well then, can you describe the basic essence of this reorganization?

A. I believe so. You see, certain habitual thought processes have often led to false conclusions. The logic may have been sound, but the axioms or postulates on which I based my reasoning were false to begin with. So I’m in the process of altering the axiomatic system so as not to act upon false premises.

Q. Can you say that in English, please?

A. Very funny. Okay, look — I have noticed three things about myself — three commonly repeated mistakes that result from erroneous thought processes. I would like to share them, if I may, from the least important, to the most.

Q. What is the least important?

A. Don’t get me wrong. It’s pretty important. It’s just not as important as the two that follow.

Q. Once again, what is it?

A. I have finally realized that if I embrace a sexual fantasy about someone with whom I am involved non-sexually, it will affect my dealings with that person in a way that is out of kilter with the correct nature of our relationship.

Q. Uh – do you mean — you’ll start hitting on them?

A. Me? Probably not. But I will become enthralled with them, and shower them with inordinate favor.

Q. Isn’t that just a crush?

A. No, not really. We would have to dive into the origin of the fantasy.

Q. Do you wish to do so?

A. Yes. But it would make the tuneup too long for most readers to bother with. The point is that I realized that fantasizing about her was causing me to lose objectivity in a context where I needed to remain objective. So I ceased to romanticize this individual, and now our interactions are better balanced.

Q. How did you cease?

A. By recognizing what I was doing. When I saw how it had all come about — that is, the origin of the fantasy — I saw clearly a mental pathway whereby my thoughts gradually took me from something entirely different toward the realm of erotic fantasy. And when I saw the exact path, I saw how to steer clear of it. It was easy, in fact, for I found myself viewing that particular mental pathway as disgusting, pathetic, and beneath my dignity.

Q. Are you lonely?

A. Not particularly, no. Not quite sure why you asked.

Q. Okay, so what was the second one?

A. I have realized that if I view someone as a potential investor, backer, or patron (that is to say, of my musical project), then I cease to see them objectively — as the true human being whom they are. This is extremely unfair and unkind to that person.

Q. Anybody in mind?

A. Quite a few people, I’m afraid. But it took me realizing that I actually liked some of these people, and these very likable people are not at all to be viewed as potential patrons, but viewed rather as the unique human beings whom they are – with special needs and values, just like my own.

Q. So you ceased to regard them as potential investors?

A. Yes.

Q. How?

A. Again, once I recognized what I had been doing, I felt that disdain, that disgust, that sense of distastefulness – and I didn’t want to indulge it further. It was an ugly thing. It’s my task, as an Artist, to create Beauty. So when I see that I have created ugliness instead, it is fairly easy to scrap that effort, and start from scratch — in an effort to replace ugliness with Beauty.

Q. Fascinating. Does this mean that you’re not so much operating on a moral level, but on an aesthetic one?

A. Ultimately, I believe they are one and the same. I also believe that Aesthetics will replace Ethics in the Age to Come — but now I wax eschatological. The essence of the realization is that it’s unfair to regard people either as potential romances or as potential investors. If I do so, I am no different than a corrupt C.E.O., who only sees people according to what purpose they might serve.

Q. How long have you been doing this?

A. I don’t know. It’s something I’ve been doing unconsciously. It just recently surfaced.

Q. Intriguing. So what’s the third thing?

A. This is the big one. Are you ready?

Q. Shoot.

A. When I was homeless, I couldn’t understand why nobody was “letting me in.” All the people who lived indoors were seen as lacking compassion. I couldn’t understand how they could have a spare room in their house, and let me be rained on and ripped off and basically dumped on — all because I was “one of them.” I couldn’t understand how they could have money to fly to England and back, but somehow not have $60 to help with a night in a motel room.

Q. And now you understand?

A. More so than earlier, I think. The way I was coming across was desperate, insistent, demanding – and often accusational. I would accuse these people of lacking compassion, and try through logic and reason to convince them that I was right. But now that I’ve lived indoors for four years, I can only imagine how I would react if somebody came at me like this:

“Look dude – why aren’t you letting me crash at your house? I could die out here tonight! Don’t you have any compassion? What’s wrong with you?”

Q. Did you always come across like that?

A. Not always. At first my appeals were quite polite. But after hearing the word “no” enough times, I began to lose my natural courtesy.

Q. So what’s the point?

A. I’m leading up to something. I’ve already stated my new policy toward my home in Tuesday Tuneup 57. We don’t need repeated information on this quest. But my statement is a stepping stone to a much broader statement.

Q. About what?

A. About the people whom I have called friends. Those who have happened to have crossed my paths and vice-versa. People with whom I have felt an affinity. But that affinity waned when I had to repeatedly hear the word “no.” And then, even when I did get back on my feet, and was no longer homeless, these people still disdained my friendship.

I thought they were bad people. And perhaps, some of them were. Bad people do bad things in the privacy of their own homes, and naturally they don’t want to be observed. But by and large, chances are they were pretty good people. Just like the people I know today. But if I were homeless, and I started hitting up the people whom I know today for a crash pad, I don’t doubt that my present day associates would not behave the same way.

So it’s not as though the people I know today, who pretty much see my at my best; are any different than the people who knew me back then, who clearly saw me at my worst. The difference is not in the sort of people who see me. The difference is the person whom they see.

Q. But what about what Marilyn Monroe said?

A. I knew you would ask me that! She said: “If you can’t take me at worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” I embraced that when I was homeless. And you know what? It’s a lot of malarkey.

Suppose I do succeed. Suppose my musical is produced on Broadway. Suppose I receive the Tony award that arguably I deserve. Then, suppose one of these people who has shunned me then has a change of heart. Suppose they approach me and say:

“Andy, I really couldn’t handle you ten or twelve years ago, but the comeback you’ve made, and the way you are today is nothing but an inspiration to me. God bless you, Andy – you are one of the most amazing success stories on the planet.”

Would it really be proper of me to respond with:

“Where were you when I needed you?”

Of course not! That’s mean-spirited! It would only show that I was still holding a grudge. The right thing to do, the Christian thing to do, would be to look that person straight in the eye, and say:

“You know, it warms my heart to hear you say that! Especially when I thought I would never see you ever again! I completely understand. The way I was coming across was more than a lot of people could handle. All I can say is thank you for showing up on the happiest day on my life.”

Q. How did you manage to reach all these needed conclusions in such a short period of time?

A. I’m not sure. I have a theory, though. It’s got something to do with the pandemic — the way this unprecedented form of trial has affected us all. There’s been a shake-up. A wake-up. And I’m not the only one who’s waking. Far from it.

Q. But how did you manage to forgive all these people who wouldn’t let you in? How did you manage to get over the sense of abandonment and loss?

A. Largely, it came by understanding. Once I understood that the people whom I had begrudged were no worse than the people whom I hold in high regard, it was easy to forgive — for I finally understood. But blessed are they who don’t understand, and yet they forgive.

The Questioner is silent.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Gratitude List 1600

(1) Increased exercise has been having benefits I’d not expected. For one thing, I’m sleeping more – and sleep is good. For another thing, I’m drinking more water — and water is good. The many “fringe benefits” of aerobic exercise are making themselves known. Not to mention, I’ve also lost 15 pounds; plus, my scaphoid fracture has healed, so I can do my push-ups again.

(2) The musical project is also going surprisingly well. It takes a lot of effort to prepare a full-scale musical for production. There have been many critiques and revisions. What’s happening now is a fine-tune polish. I’m grateful for the dedicated and talented people who make up the present team.

(3) In the past couple weeks, I’ve learned at least three things about myself that may prove very useful. A little surprised I didn’t see these things before. I’d elaborate, but I’ll leave them for tomorrow’s Tuesday Tuneup.

(4) I seem to have a lot more energy than I did earlier.

(5) The pandemic collides with an almost untenable national and global crisis in such a way that we have all been forced to snap out of a gigantic laxity that we probably did not even know we had been engaging. The human race has an uncanny propensity to ignore its difficulties till the very last minute — and just as uncanny a capacity to bond together at the last minute to save the day. We will weather this storm, for we are the Human Race.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Progress

Ode to the Universe

Considering that this was done in about ten different places at about ten different times by about ten different people over a period of what almost seems like ten months by now, it’s not in too bad a shape. I’ll admit this is the “beta version.” Keep clicking on the link, and it will no doubt get better and better. There will eventually also be a big interactive video presentation. But mainly I just wanted you to hear where we’re at with the Ode. Credits revealed after you click.

Midnight Screams

The Ode is being done, like I said, by numerous people in various locations, using their respective smartphones. The nice thing is that it doesn’t cost me a cent. This version of “Midnight Screams” was done on a budget a while back, when I was able to pay for for professional singers at a studio. Quite a different product! (To be honest, I’m not sure which sound I prefer. The best of both worlds is my goal.) Again, more will be revealed once you click.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

When We Were Homeless

When we were homeless, we did not feel we had the prerogative to process difficult feelings. If something happened that was hurtful to us, and we showed our hurt, it would have been seen as a sign of weakness. And somebody on the streets would have taken advantage of that weakness.

What we did instead was to intellectualize. What we did instead was to analyze. We would get together, four or five of us who had not only fallen on hard times, but had ceased to believe that things would ever get any better. Then, instead of facing our feelings, we made an effort to determine what factors in our society were feeding this unacceptable phenomenon called homelessness.

Since we thought of ourselves as intelligent, decent people, we hoped that these sociological analyses would one day be utilized for the benefit of humanity.

Once I found myself in the Emergency Room, again hoping for a three day stay in a psychiatric facility, for the sole purpose that I was tired of being rained on. The E.T. technicians, believing me to be a sane but manipulative man — that is to say, a scammer – saw through my none-too-subtle ploy. As they dismissed me, I asked for a blanket, that I might have covering whilst I slept in the rain.

I was given a garbage bag, as the medical personnel and security guards on the graveyard shift burst into callous laughter.

Who inhabits a garbage bag?

A piece of garbage.

Miserable Male With A Cold stock illustration ...

Now more than ever, when 40,000,000 Americans have lost their jobs in the past three months, and the streets will be brimming with naive newbies, we really need to do something about this unacceptable phenomenon.

I have even come close to petitioning those who have escaped homelessness to consider returning, at least temporarily, to that realm. You and I might be blessed, but half of those newbies wouldn’t last five days on the more treacherous of the urban city streets. They need our guidance and counsel.

But there is a greater need than that. I hope I don’t have to tell you what it is.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Tuesday Tuneup 83

Q. What’s happening now?

A. Frustration.

Q. Over what?

A. WordPress.

Q. Why?

A. For one thing, the blog posts no longer manifest in chronological order. As soon as I get to The Very Same World, it deviates from the order and throws me onto all kinds of posts that happened forty years ago. This sure doesn’t help when I’m trying to figure out the number of the last Tuesday Tuneup I wrote.

Q. Isn’t there another path of navigation that will lead you to the Tuneup number?

A. Yes. So I googled Tuesday Tuneup 82, which is the last one I remembered writing, but I wasn’t sure. But whenever I put Tuesday Tuneup 82 onto Google, all these other tuneups were coming up, I guess more popular ones, and I could never get to 82.

Q. What about quotes?

A. Eventually I realized quotes could help, and eventually I put Tuesday Tuneup 82 in quotes, and it came up.

Q. Why didn’t you do that in the first place?

A. Just cuz it’s not my practice. I usually find out by scrolling down, and the scrolling down led to weird other places. I figured it would come out without quotes, so I guess I tried it third.

Q. How about just writing down the number of each Tuneup and putting it in a place where you can find it?

A. Why are you on my case?

Q. Why do you think I’m on your case?

A. I don’t know. You’re just kinda annoying me this morning.

Q. Whatever. So when you pulled up Tuesday Tuneup 82. what happened?

A. You know what happened! I got slammed with this new interface.

Q. Then what did you do?

A. Started googling things like “Go back to Old WordPress editor.”

Q. Then what happened?

A. It said to “go to plugins” and then find the Old Editor and reinstall it.

Q. Why didn’t you do that?

A. Because I couldn’t find “plugins.” Looked all over for it.

Q. And now you’re settling for the New Editor?

A. Begrudgingly. WordPressed my buttons.

Q. Which buttons?

A. Resentment against pseudo-authority.

Q. What do you mean by pseudo-authority?

A. I mean the dynamic whereby one thinks that they are an authority, but by all rights, they are NOT an authority.

Q. Can you clarify?

A. Morally, ethically, and in terms of rights, it is not the perogative of WordPress (or Microsoft or Google or Facebook or whoever else), to decide where I should go. If I wanted to go to Phoenix, nobody has the authority to make to go to Cincinnati. That’s what it feels like. I intend, through my executive agency, to go to the Old Editor, and they KIDNAP ME and take me to some foreign editor whom I don’t even know.

Q. But you did give up and try to use the New Editor?

A. Did I have a choice? I’m at the New Editor begrudgingly. Already TWICE I’ve hit some damned key that I keep hitting, maybe five times a day, that instantly eradicates all my work. If it weren’t for the Drafts, I’d have never gotten this far.

Q. Where is that key?

A. I have no idea. I’ve been asking people about since 1999. Nobody seems to ever take me seriously. I wonder if it’s something that only happens on MY computers. But it’s maddening, whatever it is.

Q. So you are basically saying — what?

A. I resent any situation where somebody feels they have the authority to hijack my agency. They should be a gentleman about it. They shouldn’t just throw things on me, no matter who they are.

Q. But hasn’t WordPress been talking about the interface for weeks now?

A. Sure they have. But I haven’t paid any attention.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I figured I would just use the Old Editor. And now I am just frustrated because under the all the other pressure, I can’t find the Old Editor.

Q. Don’t you feel kind of childish?

A. Yes, I do. I feel like a spoiled child. It is not that important for me to be doing any of this right now. I’m pissed off because I’ve been up since 8, I thought I could just compose a simple tune-up that I always enjoy writing, and start the day off on a nice note, and be in a good mood at rehearsal this afternoon for the Kids

Q. Well — uh – I mean, Andy — isn’t your rehearsal for the Kids more important than the Tuneup?

A. What do you mean? I miss the Tuneup half of the Tuesdays or more! I just wanted to do it this time, and do it quickly, and get on with the day.

Q. Do you mean to tell me you have spent four hours trying to figure out how to get to the Tuneup field?

A. Um – er – not exactly – the plumbers came over, I was talking to them, played a little piano, made a sandwich, and did some other things, but whenever I got back to the computer, all that has happened on any level has been navigational stress and failure.

Q. So you’re in a bad space?

A. Yes. And I want to be in a good space — not for me, or for the the Kids. They’re just — too good. And I have worked with Kids who are flaky – and they put my name in a bad light. But these kids – are not like that. They do show up on time. They don’t make lame excuses for not being there that any idiot can see through. They don’t insult my intelligence in that fashion, nor do they have a problem with my authority – which is in this case, is not Pseudo-Authority, but Real Authority. They’re reliable and talented and enthusiastic, and the least I can do is greet them with a good mood.

Q. Have you ever been in a bad mood whenever you’ve seen these Kids?

A. No – next to my daughter, these Kids are the delight of my life right now.

Q. Well then, you could be in a bad mood till 3:30 and then instantly be in a good mood, as you soon as you see the Kids.

A. True.

Q. Do you want to be in a bad mood till 3:30?

A. No.

Q. Then why don’t you just post the Tuneup and get on with the day?

A. Good idea.

Q. Anything else?

A. No. End of rant. Andy OUT.

(There’s supposed to be some thing here that says to donate to Eden in Babylon but I don’t want to stress on figuring it out right now. It’s a beautiful day and there’s music to play. God bless.)

Gratitude List 1573

(1) I’m in an unusually good mood today, but I have no idea why.   If I find out, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

(2) Running at five in the morning has got to be one of the more pleasant experiences in life.   I took a few days off, then ran three miles yesterday, and three this morning.   Each of those runs felt effortless.  I’m sure I ran faster too.   Looking down at my “tree trunk” legs, I noticed they weren’t quite so trunky.   I’m not only losing weight — I’m actually getting into shape.  

(3) Did my first push-ups since the wrist injury, and did okay.  Did 5 three days ago, and 7 today.   I’ll be back up to 25 in no time.

(4) Check out this cool Scripture: “While physical exercise is of some value, spiritual exercise is of total value.  For its value is not only the present life, but also in the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8).

(5) Whatever else has happened, I gotta say that this new team I am working with is anything but flaky.  These Kids are professional, punctual, enthusiastic, talented, and above all: RELIABLE.  There may be hope for this project yet.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
—  Winston Churchill 

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Evolution of a Song: Part Three

So I mentioned somewhere along the line — either in Part One or Part Two, I suppose – that I had decided to write an opera in the year 2009.

The opera I would call Eden in Babylon.   I only wrote the first Act, as it happened, before I burned out on the idea that Eden in Babylon was supposed to be an opera, and not just a regular old musical.

The first Eden in Babylon was quite different.   It had nothing to do with homelessness.   Instead of entering into homelessness after the first two scenes, the main character entered into a fantasy world of the imagination.   Really, only the title remains, as the show has changed its context so much.

In that realm of imagination lived a woman named Helzabel, who objected to all things beautiful.   She held Artists in particular disdain, since they often created the very beauty to which she objected.   The song she sang, Cloaks of Art, played with the biblical concept called “cloaks of maliciousness.”  (1 Peter 2:16 KJV.)

But now that Eden in Babylon had become a musical about homelessness, that fantastical realm where Helzabel dwelt was replaced by the realm of the streets.   And Helzabel became Molly Mortalis — suspicious not so much of Artists, but of people who had become homeless.   A similar character of a similar sentiment — in a wildly different world.

This called for wildly different lyrics.   And a major tune-up on the tune.   So without too much hemming or hawing. I came up with Midnight Screams.

I wonder how many people who read this will actually listen to Cloaks of Art and tell me how much, or how little, it resembles Midnight Screams?”  As for “Child of No Emotion,” the variant in Part One, I’m afraid you will never hear it.   That libretto, I fear, is gone.

But the music lives on.   These three abide — Book, Music, and Lyrics.  But the greatest of these is Music.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

 

Evolution of a Song: Part Two

In reference to Part One, I sent the post to my brother Steve.   I hadn’t heard from him for quite some time, and it was wonderful to receive this email in the morning:

Bro –

This is so nice and yes, it happened exactly as you
describe.

I’ve always said there are three phases in my musical
life (which is 99% of my life, or something):

Andy Pope
The Grateful Dead
Everything else.

Equally weighted –

And you can quote me on that.

S.

What a pleasant surprise to wake up and see my brother’s email!   But he did not say anything about the libretto.  This leads to a personal confession.

I have been terrible about devaluing the songs I wrote when I was younger.  At one point I wrote a song called “Apologies to Peter Pan.”  It was the year 1974, and I was 21 years old.   Well, I thought the music was okay, but I didn’t like the lyrics.   So, later on in life, in the year 2004 in fact, I stole my own song.

I stole the music of “Apologies to Peter Pan” in order to place that music in a show I was writing, while changing all the words and, in fact, the entire meaning of the song.  One person was honest enough to object.   He explained that the lyrics were not better than the lyrics of the original song (which I do remember, by the way, in full.)

That person was right.   But what he does not know, and what no one knew till now, is the reason why I would do these things:  low self esteem.  

I simply did not believe, at around 2004 or so, that I was capable of writing a brand new song.  I had been involved in the workaday world, zipping from gig to gig on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula –  hustling, teaching, doing my gigs, and not really writing much at all.   I viewed writing as something I did as a Kid.   As an adult, I worked.   I taught.  I played music.   I went to PTA meetings.   I taught Vacation Bible School.  But did I write any music?

No.  Not at all.   Why not?   I no longer believed that I could.  

So instead, I thought: “Well – when I was younger, I wrote all kinds of music.   I always remember the music, but not always the lyrics.  Why don’t I just take all the old music I wrote, rearrange it, and rewrite the words?

So I stole my own music, in this pathetic and cowardly fashion, until one night, there was a psychic change.

It was the year 2010.  I was renting a hotel room at a reduced rate, in exchange for working the front desk.   I had time on my hands, and I still made visits to my mentor, Stan Beckler.

Stan Beckler

I had studied Music Theory and Composition with Stan at the U.O.P. Conservatory of Music in the 70’s.  I reconnected with him later in life, and began to pay him visits, during which my orchestrations were analyzed.   He was a wonderful man and a brilliant composer whom I admired very much.  Then in March of 2010, at the age of 86, Stan died.

That night, I couldn’t sleep.   Stan had always wanted me to write a string quartet.  But I never did.  He had also often suggested I remove the drum parts completely.   He appreciated and drew out the classical composer in me.   He’d have rather I had not gotten so heavy into the show tunes.   But he was never discouraging, always warm and wise.  It was hard to get Stan off my mind that night.  But I decided to try.

I opened the file of the piece I was writing.  It seemed that the song, “Child of No Emotion,” might make a better song with different words, to be called: “Cloaks of Art.”  As I began to arrange the music, I decided to begin with a string section.  And I tried not to think about this man whom I had loved, who had always been with me, and who now was gone.

Editing the arrangement, I would often stop and start the music over again.   My perfectionism was at a staggering peak.  I could not get it right, no matter what.  But I kept hammering away, till just before dawn.  And then — something happened.  Something entirely new, unexpected, unprecedented.

As I tried to keep stopping and starting the music, the STOP command ceased to function.  I wanted to stop the music.   But the music would not stop.

It kept playing, even after I repeatedly pressed the STOP key.   So I could no longer mess with it.  I was forced to listen to it all.   I listened to the strings, and then suddenly I realized:

This is the string quartet that Stan always wanted me to write.  And Stan is here right now.   He won’t let me keep messing with the music — because he wants to hear the whole thing!   His spirit is here, approving of me — telling me my work is complete.  I have finally satisfied my mentor.  I have written the String Quartet!

I fell down on my knees.  I thought about how when the prophet Elijah had died, Elisha was sorrowful.  And he asked God to give him a “double portion of Elijah’s spirit.”

I cried out: “Lord, give me a double portion of Stan Beckler’s spirit!”

And I don’t know how to explain it, but never again did I ever feel that I could not write music that was new and fresh.   As for “Cloaks of Art?”   The string quartet is not very long.   Twenty measures or so, before other instruments enter in, and it swells into a more symphonic sound.   But it satisfied Stan, and it marked the beginning of a new life of new music, new words.   I may not be an “entirely different composer.” But the song I sing in my heart today is an entirely different song.

Cloaks of Art

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Evolution of a Song: Part One

I often proclaim — not without pride — that I wrote most of the music to Eden in Babylon in my head, without a musical instrument, without music paper, and without music notation software.   While this statement is true, it is not true of the entire score.

There are two songs in this show that were actually written a long time ago — in 1971 and 1982 respectively.   They had different titles and different lyrics, but the same music.   Also, half of one song was written in 1984, and 1/4 of another song was also written in that period, around about 1980.   Otherwise, all the songs were written between 2010 and 2016, when I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These older songs were obviously written by a much younger man.   So it might be interesting to explore how they evolved and found a place in Eden in Babylon.

One of the songs is “Midnight Screams.”  This song has had three different names.  First it was “Child of No Emotion.” This was the first ballad in a rock opera I wrote in 1971, called Euphoria.  

Ah, how I remember Christmas of 1971.   I came home from U.C. Davis, my brother Steve was there, I sat down at the Wurlitzer spinet on which I learned how to play piano as a little boy, and promptly played the first five songs in Euphoria.

I remember after the fifth song, “Child of No Emotion,” Steve smiled, and in an uncharacteristic departure from his usual inscrutability, I heard the words:  “I love you.”

I don’t recall having reciprocated his expression. I have always loved him, of course, but I was so self-absorbed at the time, I believe the next words I said were:

“How does Euphoria compare to Jesus Christ Superstar?” (This being 1971, the famous rock opera from England was making a big splash in the States.)

“So far,” said my admiring younger brother, “it’s better!”

I’m inwardly laughing, because I happen to think Jesus Christ Superstar is the closest a rock opera has ever come to replicating a true classical opera.   I hold it to be a masterpiece.   But back in the Day, I remember my brother and I, in our youthful arrogance, deciding we were “done” with Jesus Christ Superstar.  He had learned the entire score on his bass, and I had learned it on the piano.  We had played the score so many times together, that one day the two of us ran out in the middle of the street and stomped the two-album set — and we’re talking vinyl — to pieces.

Ah, the fond memories of misspent youth!   

I might contact Steve later on tonight because he’s really good at keeping family mementos, and it’s very likely that the Euphoria libretto is among them.   I can’t remember the last time I saw the text.  Knowing me, I probably lost it in some storage unit somewhere along the line.   Unlike Steve, I’m a minimalist.   (That’s a positive way of framing the fact that I’m very bad at hanging onto things — and very good at being able to hit the road at a moment’s notice.)

While I don’t remember many of the lyrics to “Child of No Emotion,” I do remember that the title figures on the fourth line of each verse, where the words “where the wind is howling” and “desperately prowling” are found in the present-day lyrics of “Midnight Screams.”  

I’ll look for the libretto.   Meanwhile, stay tuned for a sequel.  I forgot all about “Child of No Emotion” until I decided to write an opera in the year 2009.   In 2010, I was fortunate enough to have landed an under-the-table gig in a sleazy hotel on MacArthur Blvd, which is when I dredged up the Child and decided it was now a song with new lyrics, called “Cloaks of Art.”

There’s a story around that one that’s just a wee bit more colorful than a tale of two whippersnappers ripping an old vinyl album to bits.    

TO BE CONTINUED

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Isleton

My pockets full of skeletons are rattling my bones​
roaming endless hallways among carefully hidden doors​
to rooms guarded by men with battle wounds from time at war alone
Where the future fights the past to control what the present is for​

If there’s beauty in things broken, welcome to Paradise​

My pockets full of skeleton keys are rattling to the floor
to rooms concealed by trust revealed by truths written in code​
while truth is a lie exposed beyond these impervious secret doors
Pocket full of keys and still a dream of a road that leads to home​

On an isolated island
Streets paved with dreams forgotten
Holding houses built on backs of
ghosts guilty they cannot die​
small town lights flicker over a river
of lies down to the bottom ​
Masks concealing faces of those
who would rather kill than cry​

If there’s beauty in things broken, welcome, welcome to Paradise

©2020 by Angela Mary Pope

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Gratitude List 1569

(1)  I’m glad the local cafe is open, with limited seating.   It feels nice to be spaced apart from people in a wide open building.   And this particular building brings with it good vibes and memories.   Also they have a really good doppio here, and this is the gentlest way to start the day.

(2) It’s only in the low 70’s (Fahrenheit) after a grueling heat wave.   It felt pleasant riding my bicycle over here, and I can probably manage a substantial ride later on this evening.

(3) Grateful for the Lenovo IdeaPad I have.  It’s a good, durable Windows machine, and I’ve had very little difficulty with it.   Also grateful  for the backup ASUS I keep in the bedroom.  It’s nice to have a couple functional computers.

(4) Grateful for my bicycle.  It’s a Topanga Diamond Back, 21 speed mountain bike.   Best bike I’ve had in a while.

(5) I’m happy the Presbyterian church lets me play their Baldwin GP-190 concert grand piano.  It’s the first non-Yamaha piano I have truly embraced, among grands.   I’m going to go over there shortly and start preparing for tomorrow’s musical rehearsal.   Life is pretty good – it really is.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”   —  Albert Schweitzer

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Babylon Interactive

I want to let you all know that I’ve got a playlist now on SoundCloud that will automatically pull up the interactive score to the musical I’ve been working on.   Feedback is welcome — I’m not exactly sure how viable the instrumentation is.   If I want to easily translate it to a live pit orchestra with “real” musicians, this arrangement probably is not optimum.   It does have an interesting, ethereal sound to it, however.

The thing I keep struggling with is the awareness that when I “received” this music, I was walking about the various outdoor venues of the Berkeley, California area, fully believing that the correct orchestrations were as absolute as the music itself, and that all these sounds were coming from Beyond, having originated in a realm of musical consciousness far greater than the confines of my relatively minute human intellect.

The more powerful that memory, the greater the sense in which I feel this music is cheapened by the arbitrary addition of synthetic sounds only remotely related to the real live musicianship that seems to be called for.  On the other hand, when the music was originally being “given” to me, I “heard” it involving sounds that I identified as being of a timbre tantamount to that of a tenor saxophone and a viola soloist.   So my choice to employ tenor sax and viola in my arrangements was not arbitrary.   It’s an attempt to best replicate that which I have already heard. 

The problem with this is that, while it may indeed provide adequate background for singers presenting an interactive production online, it would be difficult to rectify those sounds as being suitable within the typical pit orchestra of a Broadway-type musical.  I could replace them with an increased focus on electric guitars and keyboard-synth, and thus render the interactive orchestration compatible with that of a real-live pit orchestra — one with a rock ensemble flair — but if I do so, I sacrifice the beauty of the expressive tenor sax and viola sounds, as authentically replicating the ethereal sounds that I heard.

One thing to note is that instruments like saxophones and violas are generally found as parts of larger jazz or classical ensembles.  While we do hear sax solos in jazz and other genres, we don’t often hear viola solos.  More often, the viola is a part of a string section.  So I might as well add a wind section, a string section, and a brass section for that matter, if I’m going to involve such instruments.  They sound out of character when played together without some bolstering or support from instruments of their kind.

However, all of this has to do with idiom.  That is, because the ear is not accustomed to hearing passages that involve a sax and a viola harmonizing in descending cascades such as we hear in Sirens of Hope, it rejects the application of those instruments as bizarre.  They don’t match the typical pairing of instruments — a single brassy wind like that, with a solitary stringed instrument in the midrange.  And yet, were we to have such instrumentalists in a pit with ample miking and the like, we could lift their sounds to levels akin the other players – the drummer, the bass, the guitarist and the like.

A final thing to consider is that when the music was being directed my way, it was not with the idea that human musicians were playing it in whatever Ethereral Realm of the Beyond it was emanating from.  Seriously!  The distinct impression I got was that it was being performed in such a way that transcended mere human musicianship.   And if this is the case, then certainly the employment of the software is excusable.  To the ears of the ethereal, human instruments, human devices, and human programs are all one and the same.  They are all equally non-divine.

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The Very Same World

I mentioned I’ve been working on putting together the “interactive score” to my musical Eden in Babylon.   Well, here’s the third number – it’s called “The Very Same World.”  I placed the lyrics below.

Andy Pope · The Very Same World

This must be the day
That the sages always say
Will emerge upon humanity in stages –
Something in the air
Has not one thing to compare
With the air of every other day till now.
Now must be the time
Some call supreme, some call sublime,
Approaching the apex of the ages,
The day when each and every one of us is in our prime,
The combined effect
May well redirect the world.

The Very Same World
That was for centuries
Riddled with travesties,
Hatred and war
Will by and by be
What she was meant to be,
Wholly, authentically
Healed at the core.
Her banners unfurled,
For all the earth to see
Let us give birth to the
World we adore.

This must be the start
Of an Era of the Heart,
Of a full and perfected new creation
All the saints in sight
Will in harmony alight
Upon a new and unexpected place of song
Thus will we ensure
That the faultless and the pure
Will stand fast in the face of violation
We will be strong when we are tested, and we will endure
When the trumpet sounds
And the scourge abounds
Let the clarion
Ring its call upon the world:

The Very Same World
Engulfed in tragedy
Will now see Majesty
Stand at her door.
The Very Same world
That had been torn apart
Will show her golden heart:
Let her heart pour
All over the world
And put an end to shame:
That world will bear the name:
World Beyond War.
That world will bear the name:
World Beyond War.

© 2019 by Andy Pope

 

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