Dog Guru

My wife, Roxanne and I saw Jamey Johnson last weekend in an awful club in Clifton Park, N.Y. Johnson’s a country songwriter cum recording artist who’s anything but awful. He’s one of those rare artists who come along once in a generation in a genre, in this case country.

He’s so raw and real it hurts. He’s of the outlaw breed, and his songs — even some of his hits – hold a bare light bulb to reality.

He’s a Montgomery boy, an ex-marine, ex-family man, and ex-rebel rouser, and his voice is as perfectly imperfect as his life. I’m not writing this to pitch Johnson, but country fan or not, this plainspoken poet is worth a listen.

I’m reminded of Steve Earle, who blew me away with his 1986 debut album “Guitar Town.” One literate bad boy with a voice to match. The first time I heard him I wanted to burn my guitar and typewriter (remember those), but eventually returned to my auteur senses.

Feels good to get a jolt of genius through your gut once in awhile. I find it inspirational.

What I love about guys like Johnson and Earle is their take-no-prisoners approach. They know who they are, and they live it no matter what, even if it means sacrificing at the altar of the hit-machine gods along the way.

We can all use inspiration on the long and winding road of music artistry, something or someone to keep us on the scent of who we really are. For me, it’s my labradoodle, Stella. She’s my guru. She knows things even Einstein couldn’t, but most of all she knows exactly how to follow her nose, and I follow her example daily.

Stella, my guru

Stella, my guru

Johnson follows his nose at all costs, even though there are risks along the way. His next album may not do as well. He may fade from the scene like many road geniuses before him. But, no matter what, he’ll have done it his way, and he’ll have lived a fully-realized life.

For me, it took a decade to discover my voice as a poet. In fact, when I was in college, I didn’t even know what that really meant. Then, it took yet longer to marry my poetic voice with my music, even a career as a Nashville songwriter along the way, an interesting and — as I once told New York Times pop critic Jon Pareles – circuitous journey. But I now know who I am as a recording artist and know exactly where I’m headed.

And Stella keeps me on track; and no matter what, I love the ride.
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Time Balm

Time. What is it?

Einstein didn’t really know, at least not for a long, well, time. Even then, he struggled with it greatly and questioned his own conclusions about it in the end.

You’re reading this, so you hardly have any, at least not the kind that will put a smile on your face in your coffin.

I just had a birthday and allowed myself to unplug, to stop blogging, tweeting, texting. I stood in the sun-drenched yard for a long time with my dog, winding down to child time, flower time, dog time. I still figured I needed some kind of clock to beat against, so I imagined the earth turning on its axis moment by moment for a whole day. I’d feel the earth turn then. I’d watch the lilacs grow.

Truth is it’s hard to be happy when you’re in a hurry. Sure you have some rushes, even giddy expectations of a project coming to fruition. But what about the message on the billboard: “Take time to be a dad today”? A dad for your daughter, your grandson, your dog; a husband for your wife.

There’s no denying the sacrifices demanded of success. Surely, since you’re reading this, you know them well.

It’s a complicated issue for us. For the artist, for one, keeping all pistons firing in the social-media engine can rob you of something else. On my recent song release project, I was so ensconced in pr upkeep that I hadn’t written a song or a poem in many weeks, nary a verse.

It made me sad and made me stop it all for a time and start writing again and sitting for awhile on the porch with my dog, watching the short-lived lilacs lifting on the thermals.

Just on the other side of our lilacs lies a neighbor’s house. A month back an ambulance came and took my friend David for his last roll down the driveway. Same age, David. He won’t have the luxury of bouncing along on his red lawn tractor anymore. I will. And I won’t forget that I have such privledges.

Happened to notice a number of articles recently that speak to various sides of the time question. One is New York Times’ John Tierney, writing on the science of concentration. Then, there’s The Times’ Judith Warner on adjusting expectations with age.

Also heard a think piece by Jeff Greenfield on the Mother’s Day edition of CBS Sunday Morning. His subject, which is unfortunately not captured online in video or text, was “Blackberry Mania.” He cited the Laputa society of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” so consumed with their own deep thoughts they required floggers to keep them from crashing into themselves. All this led into a b-roll shot of pedestrians on cell phones and iPods.

With that image in mind, I’ll lead in to the ultimately closing act of all time, Bob Dylan. His current Rolling Stone interview is not available in its entirety online, so I’ll cite his golden quote here:

It’s peculiar and unnerving in a way to see so many young people walking around with cell phones and iPods in their ears and so wrapped up in media and video games. It robs them of their self-identity. It’s a shame to see them so tuned out to real life. Of course they are free to do that, as if that’s got anything to do with freedom. The cost of liberty is high, and young people should understand that before they start spending their life with all those gadgets.

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