Don’t Fear the Reaper

It was late one afternoon in the year 2012 as I departed from Ohlone Park, where I had been sleeping all day in the sun.  As I walked slowly into town, I had felt a kind of pathos that I related, not specifically to my homeless condition, but to my overall position on the planet.

“I really am not meant for this world,” I told myself.  “Who am I trying to fool?”

At that thought, a very slow strain of song began to well up inside me.   Very low notes, in a minor key, sung very slowly.   I remember likening the strain to a dirge — to music that might accompany a funeral.   

I must have appeared to be either very pensive or very downtrodden.   I recall a woman with dark hair stopping to look at me.  She gestured toward me as though to ask me if I needed help, or if I wanted to talk.  But I only looked at her and smiled — and kept on going.

The theme developed into eight measures of true melancholy and darkness.  I couldn’t get the music of my mind.   Then, as I entered onto Shattuck Avenue, I ran into my friends Jerome and D’Angelo — two very large African-American men with whom I was camping out at the time.  (We were sleeping in a vacant lot, and I felt their presence often protected me, as I sometimes stayed up working on my laptop throughout the night.)

“Jerome!” I cried.  “D’Angelo — I’ve got this song in me.  It’s deep.  I’m not quite sure where it came from.”

“Can we hear it?” asked Jerome.

“Of course,” I replied.  “But let’s seek a place in private.”

The three of us then walked to the Redwoods, where we stood beneath the tall trees during the setting sun.  No one was within sight, as I slowly sang the eerie melody.  I sang four measures slowly, then paused.  I then sang the same four measures again, getting even slower at the end.

Their reactions are unforgettable to this day.

D’Angelo looked aghast, almost shocked — almost terrified.

“You better take that song right back where it came from!”  He cried.  “That is dark – it’s a song of death!  I believe it is evil!”

“No, no,” Jerome, a brilliant writer, was quick to disagree.  “Dark is good.  Andy should keep that passage – and expand upon it.”

I recall watching D’Angelo look over to his best friend Jerome silently.  Of course, anyone who knows me knows already that I took Jerome’s advice.

I walked slowly about the city of Berkeley that evening.  I walked in dark corridors, in quiet places where people were not gathered.  By the end of the night, I had the A Part, and the B Part, and a little bridge.

I also has a Dell laptop in those days, with Finale software installed.  So it wasn’t long before I came up with the saxophone solo, the wooden clarinet, the harp, and other instruments.  It was at first wooden and pastoral, then brassy and urban.  I remember going over to this guy Lorenzo’s apartment with it – I remember playing the fully sequenced version below for a homeless journalist we called James the Greater.

It was on that night that the Urban Elegy was born.

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Gratitude List 1651

(1) Finally got that huge project concerning the time signature change out of the way.  Even got inspired in the process and heard some cool three part harmonies in my head that I was able to add to the score.   The result is a 12-page combined vocal, bass and guitar score to my song The Word from Beyond.  I’m not only proud of my work, I am relieved and thankful to have finished it.

(2) Really enjoyed the Coffee Talk on Saturday morning. I always enjoy hearing the perspectives of all the religious journalists, and often more so, the atheists who are clearly freethinkers and untainted by dogmatic doctrine.

(3) One of the Kids came over and helped me clean up the house.  Got a jump start anyway – still gotta do the bathroom.  She sang while she worked, too.  Nice to have supportive people in my life.

(4) I agreed with my editor-in-chief to a five-week series on a certain theme, to begin on the 17th and run for five consecutive Wednesdays.   Also, my Hobo, Homeless or Houseless piece will be published this Wednesday.   So I get six in a row — this could lead to something even better.

(5) I hope you enjoy this rehearsal version of The Urban Elegy that we did yesterday.  It’s a rough recording, but the essence of the song is there.   You can hear the Wendt Brothers harmonies as well as solos by Zazen and Keva, and four part harmonies throughout.   I’m proud of these young Artists.  We’re all proud — and I’m grateful.

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