The only constant is change, they say.
Crescent Moon Studio has been many things for me. It started with music, a long time ago, when I was doing overdubs on reel-to-reel tape decks, incorporating cassettes (Yikes! I know, right? 1 and 7/8 inches per second? Seriously? Slowest tape speed ever in the history of tape speeds. Can you say wow and flutter?) I used a radio shack mixer and a reverb unit that made my voice sound more like a sound effect from a monster movie. I used a $69 keyboard for drums, bass, strings and horns! (p.s.: I have a Korg M50 now, though the voices don’t really sound much better than the old Casio wannabe).
When I was a youngster, in my teens and twenties, I was a little starstruck with music, and imagined I might pen a song that would sell, or perhaps be discovered by a talent scout as our band Big Country slammed and blasted it’s way through 4-hour sets at Art’s Tavern. I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember. I recall driving my go-kart around the maple tree in my parent’s front yard at around ten years old, and composed this one. I don’t know how the Grammy people missed it.
“Go little go kart, racing them all.
Go little go kart, even racing Pope Paul.”
It had a melody and everything. Okay, so I didn’t even know what a Pope was, and I think Paul was indeed the Pope at the time. I’m not sure if he ever raced go karts, though.
Then, along came grownup life for a guy that did not hitchhike to L.A. with a guitar on his back and a suitcase full of dreams. A job. A car. Before long, a wife, children, a home and mortgage and a disgruntled boiler and bicycles and birthdays and graduations. My guitar sat in a corner, sometimes for whole years. Sure, I got it out and played a few tunes around a camp fire, and played the music for Ryan’s wedding, but mostly it was a keepsake from bygone days, it seemed.
And so, Crescent Moon opened its doors to my other artistic pursuits. Things that could be crammed into precious evenings and weekends and lunch hours. Composing poetry, doing a lot of photography. Making the leap from 35 mm film to digital cameras. Taking up oil painting. I liked oils because my parents both delved into oil painting, and the smell is always an olfactory flashback for me. Also, I could work on a piece and put it away for the week, and when I got back to it the paints were still wet. In more recent years I was as surprised as anyone that I could write a novel and wanted to do so, and the Sasha Of The Chukchi Sea series was born. Along came blogs, and it seemed writing was now my siren. Add a blog for the studio, to share photos and some narrative about their composition or challenges of the shoot.
2020. Ugh. For a brief moment, we thought it was cool that the television show that launched Barbara Walters’ career had actually caught up to its futuristic title. Then, the C word, and this time, not cancer. The Covid pandemic took a world that was swirling too fast and whipped it into a frenzy. Then took the top off the blender and hit the High button. The world had gone mad, and my simple life in the country was overshadowed daily with paranoia and sickness, loss and death. During this time I penned “Circles”. While it ended up as a catchy tune, the original poem was one of solemn resignation that my life was effectively as good as over. An ailing wife at home, an ailing father two hours away. Timing could not be worse as my Aunt Marie died (of natural causes) just months before my Uncle Richard, my dad’s brother. In August, another death unrelated to covid, rocked our little world as my wife’s best friend of 54 years passed. Life was never quite the same after that. In just four months, my wife would follow Liz to the grave. Three months after my father died.
When I was a teenager, I was smitten with southwestern art, and adopted as my personal symbol and talisman, The Phoenix. In legend, The Phoenix rises from fire in a 100-year cycle. The Phoenix has been used countless times to describe something that “rises from the ashes”. I had forgotten about my association with The Phoenix until just recently. Then I realized how symbolic it was.
In the wake of my wife’s death, as I sat staring aimlessly out the window, a curvy black case called to me from the corner. I don’t remember exactly when or why, but the guitar found its way to my hands. My Esteban, to be exact. My late mother-in-law had purchased it for me as a gift about fifteen years ago. A “cheap” guitar to an aficionado, but it was the only playable guitar I had. The Ventura V-17 twelve-string acoustic my mother bought for me at the age of sixteen had long since developed a belly warp which wrenched the saddle into an unusable condition. (I had a guy try to fix it, but all that did was mar up the face of the guitar). It is only at this very moment that I realize both these guitars were bought for me by mothers. How curious.
In difficult times, we seek out the comforts of familiarity. We search for the things that remain after loss, the things which are steadfast and enduring and lifelong. The foundations and roots of our lives. My children and grandchildren. The Ark. Windows twice as old as me, antiques and heirlooms. Photos.
And my art. It is part of my spirit. Part of me. Dating back to my Go-Kart song and the day I took my dad’s 8mm movie camera and shot a stop-action animation short. Songs that described just what I am going through now. Poems that spoke to me in my own words some important things that I needed to hear.
With the run of the place and no one to answer to, I began to assemble in the parlor my music studio. It began with a new guitar. Well, new to me, it was a used guitar, but a Washburn (with stunning bindings and inlays), not a “cheap” guitar from the Home Shopping network. (Since acquiring several fine guitars, I have a renewed respect for the Esteban, which is pretty impressive for the little it claims to be). Concerned that the ravages of age, particularly arthritis in thumb joints, would arrest my guitar playing career, I decided I should begin to learn to play piano in earnest. I bought a piano. Not just any piano, mind you, and not some black lacquered Yamaha you would expect to find in a studio, but a 1942 Chickering baby grand. Exactly the thing a respectable Victorian parlor should boast of. A few more components, and I was back on track to begin laying down the songs stuck in my head for the last twenty years.
I can’t say there was not an element of denial and repression during this period. The New Moon was a welcome distraction, and one I felt held merit. Music is universal, and even the trinkets I purchased for the studio were good investments. Things my children and grandchildren could proudly inherit. Things that maintain or increase in value if they choose to liquidate them after my demise. Perhaps as important to me was the ability to put my songs “on tape”, in hopes the kids would one day hear them and enjoy them long after I am gone. At the very least, my kids might better understand what I “am about”. Or was.
Like moving from 35mm film to digital format cameras, I purchased a Tascam digital multitrack workstation, and began a new learning curve in recording. There are five or six tunes now, sketched out for my next album, “Perihelion”. Always learning, steady improvements have been made in my playing, singing, and the sometimes-tedious process of recording and mastering songs.
Along about March, the idea of a Ukelele band was floated by my daughter and her husband. They had both purchased guitars 20 years ago, and had a few starter lessons from dad before they fell into their own rhythms of domestic life, jobs, home and children. Their guitars went to the closet.
But they were not gone. One fateful day, Matt looked at his now-vintage Fender dreadnought, and considered that the kids were grown, one off to college already, and the other getting her driver’s license. Perhaps he would be interested in renewing his interest in the guitar. My son Ryan also has the guitar I bought for him for Christmas when he was sixteen (the age at which my mother bought me the Ventura 12-string). Low and behold, our mutual friend Carl, a banjoist, was also keen on learning to play guitar, and within a couple of months we discovered our friend Dontay played bass, and would also like to know guitar. And the Cedar Swamp String Band was born.
Okay, so I know we’re not “really” “a band”, in the sense that they are all students essentially, but it’s fun to let them think of themselves as a band. Believe it or not, we have played a few “gigs”, though they were actually just occasions for us to jam on the songs we’re learning. And y’know what? People love them. Or “us” I should say. People are just wowed by someone playing a musical instrument, particularly if they have no such pursuit. (note I did not call it talent or ability, ’cause anyone can learn to do it). We meet every Wednesday and learn about musical instruments and learn to play them. We’ve learned popular songs and are now up to a “set list” of fifteen songs! Sometimes, it is the highlight of my week.
There you have it, the update from Crescent Moon Studio, where I will continue to post photos and the stories of their capture. At some point I may try to post some oil paintings, and the stories of their creation. The poetry mostly lives on Armchair Zen and Chow Dog Zen, and simple tales of a simple life of a country widower will come to Life In Engleville.
Without further ado, another “scratchpad” sketch of a song from Perihelion. This one was co-written by my dog, Chuy. I wrote the chorus and music. It’s a poor mix, in that I have the unbridled bongos and tambourine up a little too high. I’ve been meaning to revisit the mixdown, but have been too busy laying new tracks to go back and polish anything. This one still has the long tail where the song should fade out. And the harmony parts are really rough. Enough about me. Here’s Chuy’s song, Wish.
That I might rise before the sun,
Before the waking world’s begun
To sing aloud of another day.
Reticence is my way.
That I might see the greening grass,
Or sparkling snow, and clouds that pass,
And beyond them the great wide aquamarine skies
The color of your eyes.
Every day I want to live,
To do and go, to grow and give.
Every day I want to feel
These things in life that are real.
To love all I can.
Every day the time’s at hand.
No matter how long, no matter how old,
Onto these wishes I’ll hold.
That I might feel hot sunny days,
The summer wind as the cottonwood sways.
Or driven snow, and chilling cold,
When striking out feels brave and bold.
That I might savor this vapor rich
With piney woods and muddy ditch,
The taste of water, clear and cool,
Fresh from a springtime pool.
That I might lay me down to sleep
With dreams await, and promises to keep.
Knowing, sure as the stars shine above,
That I am loved,
And so, too, I love.
No matter how long, no matter how old,
Onto these wishes I’ll hold.
Back to the studio.