Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Singularity by Gwyllm Llwydd
To celebrate Winter Solstice 2012, nothing could be finer than a visit to Turfing, one of my favorite websites. Turfing is a consistently strange and beautiful collection of text, image and videos curated by Gwyllm Llwydd, an artist, editor and poet who lives in Portland, Oregon. Gwyllm also publishes a website called Earthrites consisting primarily of images.

In Gwyllm's Singularity post, one finds, consistent with the current End of the World theme, a poster announcing a Conference of Disembodied Masters plus The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, by Jack Kerouac, who gently reminds us that the world will never end because it never began in the first place. Ah, those crazy beatniks! The same post also includes more quotes by and about beatniks as well as two music videos featuring John Coltrane playing Lush Life and Autumn Leaves.

In a second post, called Horizon, Gwyllm presents a few poems by Robinson Jeffers, one of Nick's favorite bards, plus a remarkable article that appeared in the March 15. 1895 issue of the New York Herald--Orgies of the Hemp Eaters: Hashish Dreamers' Festival in Northwestern Syria at the Time of the Full Moon. Perhaps anticipating gonzo-style journalism made famous by Hunter Thompson a century later, the Herald's intrepid reporter partakes of the same intoxicants as his hosts. And witnesses "a Sacred Dance that surpasses the wildest ecstasy of any opium dream." Ah, those crazy Syrians!

The Almeh by Eugene Alexis Girardet

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy YIDD

Nick Herbert wishes you Happy YIDD

The Mayans were right
to predict a dark night
that obliterates all you hold dear.
The prophecies say
It could happen today
And I believe what I hear.

This much is certain:
We can't halt that last curtain:
The end of phenomena, Nature undid.
But while we still here
Let's raise a loud cheer
For Ukrainian feast day of YIDD.

The Soviets slaughtered my people
They famined Twelve Million--they did.
But the rest of us here
Can still lift up a beer
For Ukrainian feast day of YIDD.

My folks worked the mines of Ohio
Black Diamond killed grandpa--it did
But we're out of the covers
And kissing our lovers
On Ukrainian feast day of YIDD.

The flag of Ukraine--gold and blue
She represents the wheat and sky.
Life is fleeting, this is true
But YIDD is here, so lift a brew.
What do we celebrate and why?
Yesterday I Didn't Die.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Courtesan and Crone

This October, Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA celebrated its Fiftieth Birthday with a number of special events among which was a short dance piece by legendary West Coast innovative dancer Anna Halprin who presented The Courtesan and the Crone. In the 60s I met my wife Betsy at Anna Halprin's studio in San Francisco where she studied, taught and performed at Halprin's Dancer's Workshop on Divisidero Street just a few blocks from Haight-Ashbury. How good to see Anna on stage again. Happy Birthday, dear Esalen. And "Bravo!", Anna Halprin. Your spirit continues to shine and inspire.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Nick's Dixon

Nick playing his new Tony Dixon whistle

About ten years ago I met an enormously talented woman who was, among her other talents, a cook, an artist and Irish musician, part of the duo/trio known as Dobhran ("Otter" in Gaelic) which played at Celtic festivals, weddings and wineries, and had produced three CDs of their tunes. In order to get closer to this marvelous creature and to move more easier in her circles I decided to learn to play some Irish instrument. Since I have almost no native musical ability, the fiddle was out, and likewise any rhythm instrument. so I settled on either concertina or penny whistle. For economic reasons the whistle won out and I have been trying to master this deceptively simple six-hole Irish noise-maker ever since.

Learning an instrument is like learning a language--it's a consciousness altering act. First of all you have to "court the instrument", caress it, coax it, discover what it (and you) can and cannot do together. Then, as you start memorizing pieces, a part of your unconscious emerges that can play the instrument without any conscious effort on your part. Then your performance becomes a peculiar dialog between the new being inside you that can play the whistle "by heart" and the conscious mind that wants to direct the sound into new paths. Playing music "by heart" is a fascinating conversation between conscious and subconscious entities resembling Buddhist meditations involving breathing which is another physiological function where the border between unconscious and conscious operations can be shifted at will.

The penny whistle (known also as tin whistle or Irish whistle) probably never ever cost as little as a penny. (The name may have arisen from small boys playing it in London streets "for pennies") but they are remarkable inexpensive--usually at prices less than $10.00 US. For that reason we whistle players are prone to WAS (whistle acquisition syndrome) in which new whistles are acquired at the drop of a hat. Sometimes friends unwittingly feed this addiction--three of my fondest whistles are gifts--1. a classic tin Clarke from my next-door neighbor; 2. a Guinness-branded aluminum pipe bought at Blarney Castle by a fellow whistle player and 3. a brass Walton purchased in Dublin by Bruce Damer after receiving his PhD from Trinity College. Wherever I am, I look about for new whistles, hoping to find that unattainable grail--that magic instrument that exactly fits my nature, the perfect whistle that is all "sweet spot"--no sour or squeaky notes--that delirious whistle that plays itself, that effortlessly pours forth seductive melodies that charm the savage beast, court the ladies or stir the tribe into battle.

After playing for years in sessions around Santa Cruz and in a few paid gigs, I decided that I was ready to appreciate a more expensive instrument (good hand-crafted whistles sell for as much as $300) and after shopping around on the web decided to buy a tunable polymer whistle from Tony Dixon who works in Devon, England. The whistle arrived (about $50 from Lark in the Morning in Mendocino) and I have since been coaxing, caressing and discovering both its virtues and its flaws--many of which are located, of course, on my side of the fipple (mouthpiece).

I have been fortunate to find a few good whistle tutors, both live and on the web. Foremost web tutor being the musical priest himself Ryan Duns, SJ. Best source for whistle lore = Chiff and Fipple. And for traditional Irish tunes and commentary see One of our local Celtic music luminaries, Mike Long has put together a collection of more than a 1000 Irish tunes ("more tunes than are good for you") which he privately circulated and has now made available on the web. And for tuning your instrument, calibrating your tuner, or just playing around with sounds, there's the Online Tuning Fork.

One of the most instructive comments on my budding career as a whistle player came a few years back from an experienced fiddle player in one of our sessions: "You're really sounding good, Nick," he said, "For a long time you've been really terrible." To an insecure musician like myself that kind of honest feedback was truly encouraging.