For someone raised in and around Boston I have always had a strange calling to explore California. With previous visits to San Francisco, I had enlisted a swift take, a first impression that wasn’t so lasting as much as confusing. I am not sure if it was merely being dipped into the whirlpool color bath of the city too fast without steeping in the culture or just a result of particularly muddled convergences of place and time. I did however get tickled with a charm that stuck to my shoes like wet leaves from the park that you find when you get home. So, I was by no means deterred from returning to the city when I was given an opportunity to assist photographer Joseph Linaschke on a job. The locations for his shoot were around the North Beach district. I took it upon myself research the area ahead of time. I booked a room at hotel that appealed to my personal customary taste and jotted a few notes about restaurants near the hotel. I read that the area had a particular orientation to Italian culture which perked my interest and had me saying to myself The North End in Boston is Little Italy too and I started to listen deeper to the language that writers were using about the area. After all, I was using the same set of ears and sensory processing I used for listening to music and perhaps with this awareness I could hear the the genuine tones of my destination’s history.
I often feel like listening to an music album from start to finish is like travelling from one point to another and eventually reaching a physical destination in addition to the obvious emotional and artistic developments. As if, after progressing through the songs, the listener has taken great strides to be transported. While travelling in a car provides the opportunity to listen to long stretches of music it also resets our hearing when we step out of the car in a new place. Cracking open the doorway in a parking garage near Pier 35 in San Francisco’s North Beach district was as potent to hear as the first notes that emerge from the crackling fuzz of a record player.
As I ventured into the residential area I noticed the sound shift from the bright echoless open air of the bayside to a muffled hum softly bouncing around in the tightly packed dwellings. Here this heartwarming homestead reverberation sounded safe and yet carried a mysteriously hushed pulse that undeniably pushed through the pavement like willful grass growing up through the cracks. It is this familiar longing in such vividly voiced areas that makes me curious about hearing into the past. The stories of disappeared days that are told by sounds sustained in the landscape might lack detailed reports but the personification of beats and melodies can inspire the imagination to create the characters and set the stage. I felt a particular familiarity with the sounds as they mirrored the North End of Boston. Why would I want to even explore this cryptic musical language? Will it tell me something just simply fascinating or perhaps deliver an important message?
I carried these questions up a steep street where elements of the audio mix seemed to peel away like flakes of old paint and tumble back down the hill. I stopped halfway up the way to the Coit Tower to look at the view behind me and a lovely couple approached me looking up past me smiling as if to say, without words, we hear it too.. it’s up here. What was it? I continued climbing and reached the lawn at the tower. I sat on the wall that bordered the lawn and hung my gaze upon the spreading horizon out over the bay. There it was, like a giant salad bowl of noise, filled halfway with every single layer of the city’s sound and halfway with an impenetrable silence that hovers over the hill like a lofty blanket. I closed my eyes, dug into this silence and heard a vulnerable dreamlike orchestra. Out of the sound field, like little crackling fire sparks, came some quick notes of gentle animal footsteps on leaves nearby. I opened my eyes to see a coyote, ears forward, staring back at me. In one easy move It’s ears turned outward and it’s eyes looking deep into mine softened with kindness. It seemed to say, hello, I am the Coit Coyote, thanks for listening, have a nice day, before it danced back through the tall grass under the Cypress trees.
As I descended the hill, which seemed so steep that even sound itself couldn’t defy the gravitational pull of the incline, I felt like I had won a prize. I had endured a self-motivated scavenger hunt to discover a secret sound that commonly goes unnoticed to the inhabitants of it’s location and I was determined to find this sound in other places in North Beach. Motivated more by hunger, and less for the prospect of my mission, I went to Molinari’s Deli, where the transparent sound was quite delightfully buried in the patron’s excited voices as they ordered from the menu. Here the sandwich makers laugh and sing while they work. It is a place where sounds of celebrating family and food merge in music so me and my sandwich moved on to the hotel. The most special home on the hunt for the hidden sound of my fascination was at The Historic San Remo Hotel that I stayed at. Standing in the plant lined foyer, with coyote like ears I could swear I heard the faint haunting of romantic voices and laughter. And in my room as I played guitar I could hear sympathetic tones glisten like treasure in the dark gray fog cover that had suddenly hung like curtains in the sky.
I am hollow,
a silence still not yet filled with sounds or sights
just a running blur or a smiling champ to greet the day.
the uncharted hours expand the day’s lungs with crisp air
while the kick drum of my running shoes on the forest trail set the beat for a sprint in the park
then fountain and creek
breeze and birds,
the simple symphony awakens.
thoughts come and go like leaves riding the creek water
some falling into hollow pockets with a bubbling voice
trapped and swirled in the puddling pools before they drop down the next cascade
and soon my own hollowness is inhabited with a memory so thick it coats my heart like fresh paint:
when I was a kid
during the fall, in New England
when leaves swirled around in the air
time would slow down like I was dropped inside a snow globe
or sealed in a strong and secure sound envelope
where I would play, quite seriously, a game
where I would try to catch a falling leaf before it reached the ground,
if I caught the leaf it was good luck,
I would celebrate this victory like I won an Olympic event
and howl at the sky.
so on this morning’s familiar trail run
my empty boat of a heart starts to rock on the waves of this memory,
I hear a shift in my hollow breath
I feel the morning air hint at the familiar scent and temperature of fall’s arrival
and time slows the sound against the tempo of my racing heart,
suddenly a large yellow leaf falls in front of me and wraps around my face like a feisty starfish,
I stop in my tracks
I remove the leaf from my face
tears flood my eyes like the creek’s puddling pools backed up with late summer fallen leaves,
I take in my surroundings through a kaleidoscope of teardrop lenses
first to see if anyone witnessed the leaf attack,
no, I was alone,
secondly, to catch my breath
marveling at the fact that I am standing under a memorable tree,
standing in a memory
sparks shot through my body.
two months prior to this moment
I sat under this tree with you
feeling grateful to be in your presence
a big yellow leaf fell towards us,
I picked it up and twirled it in my hands
we smiled and talked and then
I have carried that moment with me through the months of being without you
it is a memory that shines in the hollow’s shadows
the memory stops me in my tracks like a big yellow leaf in the face
now, as I collapse below the tree, I imagine you there with me
as the salty sting of sweat and tears mix
these memories collide
as I clear my eyes and look up into the hollowed out crest
I mutter thanks and help me to the tree
in the silent core
I see an owl shutter its’ feathers
turn a dreamy eye toward me
then tuck its’ head back in.
It is then when I hear the sound to fill my hollow day like a radio wave
from the tree I receive the medicine code
the owl makes it clear:
you can trust discovering these moments,
the sounds that echo in hollow places,
like you trust the changes in the seasons
after all, the owl had seen it all:
the leaf + the smiles
a trail runner fascinated with what love sounds like,
another leaf + the memory pools
and the ever forward motions to reside in gratitude for the creative way it all comes together.
MAGNETIC WEST MUSIC presents... a LITHIA PARK SESSION with
When I was a kid I would write a wish on a little piece of paper, tie it to a balloon and release it into the air. I would imagine someone finding my words wrapped around their laundry line, bopping around in their front yard or floating past their house for them to chase down. They would read my wish and we would become mysterious friends that only communicate through the shapes of clouds, falling maple seeds spinning to the ground, the sound of wind in the trees or dandelion seed pods aloft with our breath. With a secret angel working on my behalf, my wish would be that much closer to manifesting. I recall having one primary wish that I reformatted the words to in various attempts. I wished, with all my heart, that I would find a friend that communicated with sight and sound the same special way I did : through a whispering music and symbolism that I couldn’t explain as anything else but loving and longing to be loved. Sometimes I would imagine my balloon get getting caught in a tree and a squirrel would chew up the paper and use it for its' nest to keep its' babies warm. My wish was a useful gift. Often, the wish was granted through the ever-present sound of the forest, the ping of a frozen lake’s ice cracking under my feet or the strumming of water with a canoe paddle.
In a way, it's like these days that I spend thinking of my days ahead. From a distance, my wish is a song that I release, bellowing and echoing. The sound is in the air and I hear it float away. Somehow, perhaps you might hear it, while playing in the park with your child, plunging underwater to escape the summer heat or in the nighttime silence that hide in pockets of your town. Or perhaps a squirrel will hear it, lifting its’ head momentarily before returning to its’ task, but either way, this music is good love in the air. My is music is love, a useful gift.