Gangstagrass: Building Bridges One Song At a Time

Hip-hop and Bluegrass: could there be two American musical genres further apart? (OK, maybe Hip-hop and Country. But I’m not holding my breath.) Chances are, if you love one, you loathe the other.

image from Gangstagrass.com

In this oh-so-polarized nation of ours, any sign of crossover strikes me as positive, like hearing about about interracial, inter-political, or interfaith marriages.

Gangstagrass , out of New York City, is almost exactly what it sounds like, except their style of rap is NOT what I would call “gangsta.” It’s progressive. Literally; just the fact of its existence moves us, as a country, forward. My friend Steve recently came across Gangstagrass at the Wintergrass Festival in Bellevue, WA this year. (Thanks, Steve, for sending the videos.)

Here’s what their website has to say:

Gangstagrass has toured internationally, blowing minds on main stages from SXSW to Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, with a live stage act taking full advantage of the improvisational aspects of both hip-hop and bluegrass. With two emcees R-Son and Dolio The Sleuth trading verses, Dan Whitener on Banjo, Landry McMeans on dobro, and Rench on guitar, and frequent 3 part harmonies, the Gangstagrass live show has garnered a reputation among fans for its dynamism and spontanaety. Currently touring across the US, Gangstagrass is using live performances to organically develop new material for an album that will further explode the boundaries between genres generally thought to be incompatible.

This is not a puff piece, so I’m not going to claim that Gangstagrass is top-level bluegrass OR rap. What they are, though, is a group worth listening to: for the music they make, and for the fact that they came together to make it at all. Whom else might they be bringing together?

Give them a listen, OK? And feel free to recommend other mixed-genre groups you might know about. Our country needs them right now.

The Best Guitarist You Never Heard Of: Save “Awesome” For Beppe Gambetta

After I had the honor and pleasure of opening, with two fellow local musicians, for Beppe Gambetta’s modest Lopez Island show, several friends of mine told me I was “awesome.”

Thanks, guys, but seriously–let’s apply that “A-word” more carefully, shall we?

If you’ve heard of Beppe Gambetta, good for you. I hadn’t, till he toured out here a few years ago. Since then I’ve become familiar with the delightful story of this 11 year-old Italian kid who somehow got his hands on a Doc Watson record, over in Genova, and had his life changed by the ol’ flatpicker from Deep Gap, North Carolina. Beppe, with zero background in anything but traditional Italian music, started practicing, and kept on practicing…till he learned to do THIS:  (note–keep watching; he speeds up as he goes!)

If you check out Beppe’s website and his music, you’ll see that he actually does way more than “just” American-style bluegrass flatpicking. He plays traditional and modern Italian music, composes his own melodies, and sings in four different languages. 

Check Beppe’s tour schedule (he and his delightful wife Federica tour all but 100 days per year–year after year!). If he’s playing anywhere near you, get tickets IMMEDIATELY. And save up your use of the word “awesome” till you see him play live.

Grazie.

 

O Come ALL Ye Faithful: A Non-Divisive Christmas Carol That Actually Celebrates Christmas

Have you ever noticed that the words of some of your favorite Christmas carols make you uncomfortable? Maybe they frame the holy spirit in a way you don’t. Maybe their picture of Jesus isn’t yours. Or maybe they go too far in the other direction, pretending naively–or with obnoxious commercialism–that the holiday is really about Santa Claus and gifts.

I love Christmas for its traditions–food, evergreens, decorations, family, gifts, and, yeah…food. (I love food.) Raised in a vaguely Judeo-Christian tradition, I don’t call myself a Christian, but I deeply admire Jesus, and singing to celebrate his birthday seems like a good idea to me. I just need the right kind of song to sing.

So I wrote one.

Come ALL Ye Faithful  by G. Wing, 2012

 

Chorus:           

O come all ye faithful and sing a Christmas song         That doesn’t make non-Christians feel as though they don’t belong

 Let’s sing about a birthday that brings so many joy

 A humble, patient mother and a tiny baby boy.

 

I know that we can’t all agree on what the season means

So let’s avoid divisive lines that highlight our extremes

For some Christ is the Savior, for some he is the King

But for many, Jesus’ teachings are the real gift he brings.

Chorus

A man of peace, a man of prayer, who turns the other cheek

And preaches that the earth belongs to the blessed meek

Now that’s a man whose birthday anyone could celebrate

Without regard to questions of his anointed state.

Chorus

So Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, Jew, and yes, even atheists

Should all feel welcome in this song to join with Christian deists

And sing a joyful glo-o-ria about a starry night

Without the lyrics telling them their own beliefs aren’t right.

Chorus

If you find this song offensive to your sensibilities

Just look at all the Santas and the glowing Christmas trees

If they can all be blended with a Christian world view

Then surely you can harmonize this carol with them too.

Chorus

In honor of the season, here’s a classical Madonna and Child image:

Madonna with Child and Angels by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (courtesy OpenClipArtLibrary)

 And here’s one a little closer to my heart, Dorothea Lange’s 1936 Migrant Mother:

The least of these…

If you want to hear what my Christmas carol sounds like, send me your email and I’ll send you a recording. Meanwhile, whatever it means to you: Merry Christmas!

Empty Nest vs. Emptiness: There’s A Difference. But It Needs A Name.

Is it only coincidence that “empty nest” sounds so much like “emptiness”?  

Look, Ma, no one to say “Look, Ma”!

Wing Son One left last week for the east coast…after being “home” for a whole five days…mostly, we suspect, because we had his car. J/K. Sort of. No, really, we had a sweet visit–which just made the jolt all the sharper when I came home from work the following day to the empty spot where his car had been parked since last summer.

And that’s when I realized there was no English word for what I was feeling: sweet and sad. NOT “bittersweet.” Bitter implies regret, disappointment, wishing things were otherwise–none of which applies to our feelings about our son. We’re thrilled he’s off on his own. We just miss him like hell. Isn’t that the way parenting is supposed to be?

At least, that’s what my parenting song is about:

It’s OK if you didn’t listen to the song–you’re busy people, and it’s also a terribly amateur recording of my second-ever concert. But here’s what I would like help with: a word for what I’m describing. 

[Note: it isn’t “Schadenfreude,” as some people mistakenly think. Schadenfreude means taking delight in the misfortunes of others.]

Sweet & sad = ? Help me out, readers. What you got? 

 

Igneous, Sedimentary & Metamorphic Rock: Why Grand Canyon Offers The Best Metaphor For Love & Marriage

I adore geology metaphors. Plate tectonics, uplift, magma–are you kidding me? In Grand Canyon last year, even before this trip, I was struck by the way the three types of rock symbolize the growth of a long-term relationship. So struck, in fact, that I wrote a song about it. I’ll let the lyrics explain themselves, ok? It’s called…

Rocks of Ages 

When I first met you, I couldn’t get you

Into my arms fast enough

You said you adored me, you melted down for me

Hot lava lava lava love                  

Two igneous kids, swimming in bliss,

That’s what we were at the start

Now that we’re older, the magma’s grown colder

But we’re still rock solid down deep in our hearts.

[igneous, ok? Plenty of that around Lava Falls in the lower half of the river]

Hot lava lava lava love

Hot lava lava lava love

Rocks of ages, counting the stages

Life is what happens while you make other plans

After so many changes, the only thing strange is

How the earth still moves when you take my hand.

[That’s just the chorus. Now for the sedimentary, the layered stuff:]

Albums in piles, stretching for miles

Children and homes and careers

Stacking our cares and blessings in layers

Years upon years upon years

Life’s mighty stratified, but I’m nothing but satisfied

Let’s go ahead and grow old

Call us sedimentary, we must have been meant to be

‘Cause the age that we’re heading for is looking like gold.

Call us sedimentary...

Call us sedimentary…

Rocks of ages, counting the stages

Life is what happens while you make other plans

After so many changes, the only thing strange is

How the earth still moves when you take my hand.

[here comes the bridge…] 

Who could have seen us, all that passion between us

Living those promises of sickness and health?

I’d like to say I knew, when we said “I do,”

But you know I’d really just be fooling myself.

[and now, finally–metamorphic. Rock whose chemical structure’s been changed by pressure, heat and time. That’s marriage for ya!]

After so long, feelings so strong

Generate forces so vast.

Family pressures, too strong to measure

Uplift a life that will last.

We didn’t plan it, but our love is granite—

Yeah, we got metamorph hearts.

Love in our souls like diamonds from coal

Gives us riches to live on till death do us part.

Yeah, we got metamorph hearts

Yeah, we got metamorph hearts

[my beloved Vishnu Schist!]

Rocks of ages, counting the stages

We entered into with those golden bands

After all of our changes, the only thing strange is

How the earth still moves when you take my hand.

Rocks of ages, counting the stages

We entered into with those golden bands

After all of our changes, the only thing strange is

How the earth still moves when you take my hand.

Yeah, the earth still mooooves when you take my hand.                                 G. Wing, April 2015

See what I mean? 

Oh, want to hear what the song sounds like? Copy & paste the following URL into your browser (sorry, couldn’t get it to work as a link):

C:\Users\Gretchen\Documents\songs\RocksOfAges.MP3

Or maybe you want to share your favorite geology metaphor? Please, rock on!

 

Notes to Self: Everything I Know About Myself I Learned From My New Guitar

Nothing like a major life purchase to force you to look your character straight in the eye. When I bought my first guitar this week, I learned about a few traits. Or re-learned. (Sigh.)

First of all, yes, I’ve owned a guitar since 1981. But that one was given to me in a typically generous but not well-thought-out impulse by my father, who didn’t consult me on what kind of guitar his college-student daughter might like. This week’s purchase was my first EVER. Here’s what I (re)learned about myself:

Trait #1: Good Enough is Good Enough. No matter that the string action of my 1981 guitar is so high I had to have the bridge lowered, and it STILL kills my fingers to play an F chord. No matter that the dreadnought body is so large and wide I get shoulder aches when I play too long. When I have something that works okay, I hang onto it forever, even when I know I don’t have to. Loyalty? Cheapness? Efficiency? Laziness? Eco-friendliness? All of the above?

Trait #2: Big Decisions Make Me Feel Small. Even with one music buddy at my side to ask all the right questions and help me listen for the right sounds; even with detailed notes on guitars researched by another music buddy; even with that second music buddy adding his two cents via speakerphone, I still felt like a little girl in that guitar shop. Overwhelmed. Unqualified. Unworthy. False modesty? Real modesty? Chickenshitedness? Fear of not living up to my own musical hopes and dreams? All of the above?

Trait #3: I Won’t Apologize For Being Cheap When Being Not-Cheap Feels Wrong. I went into that guitar shop with a $600 price limit in mind. I knew that was the low end, and I can give you all the arguments of friends who tried to talk me into looking at guitars over three times that much. “You’ve had that guitar 35 years; you’ll likely have the next one for at least a couple more decades.” “You’re playing so much more now–you’re worth it.” “Think of how much better a musician you’ll be with a better instrument to live up to.” “You can afford it–why sell yourself short?” My answer: I don’t want to feel like my instrument is way above me in quality. I’m 54, I have a wonderfully balanced life, and I’m never going to devote enough time to music to be the kind of guitarist who needs a $2,000 guitar. I’m buying a new guitar for a better physical fit, not an upgrade. Therefore my cheapness is not simply cheapness–it’s sense.

Nice...spendy, but nice...

Nice…spendy, but nice… (next 3 photos courtesy Beth Geever)

Yes, I did try out a $1,000 guitar. I might even have bought it if the fretboard had felt right. But it didn’t. And that $2,5000 one? I tried it too, and it sounded and felt beautiful…except to my gut. Which I listened to.

Aha!

Aha!

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

It's laminate...but it's still pretty. And Guitar Friend #2 assured me only the top of the guitar matters when it comes to sound.

It’s laminate…but it’s still pretty. And Guitar Friend #2 assured me only the top of the guitar matters when it comes to sound.

YES. Come on home with me, darlin’. Let’s make beautiful music together.

Meet "Di."

Meet “Di.”

I walked out of that shop with a beautiful $600 guitar, and one more (re)discovery:

Trait #4: I Value Family and Friends Above Everything, Even Music. I would never have considered going guitar shopping without their encouragement (my Mate’s especially), and I never would have returned home with “Di” without their help.

So I’m curious. Any major purchases in your life had that holding-up-the-mirror effect on you lately? Please share!

Memories of Martin–and Coretta Too

One of my earliest memories is holding hands and swaying with a bunch of strangers, singing “We Shall Overcome.” I was probably five, and, from later figuring, that was probably at a 1967 demonstration by Duke University faculty (which my Dad was) and students and local activists in support of the Duke maintenance workers.

From that age on, I knew Dr. King as a man to listen to. When he was murdered (I remember my mother crying), I knew he was a man to revere. Only more recently have I started thinking more about the woman beside the man–Coretta Scott King.

Coretta in 1964 (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Coretta in 1964 (Courtesy Wikimedia)

I haven’t yet seen the movie “Selma,” but I will, and I’m grateful to its makers for reminding a new generation that The Movement was–and is–a long, long, LONG series of struggles. And it wasn’t only about one man.

In honor of the Martin Luther King holiday, I’d like to share this song I wrote about his wife, two years ago. I haven’t gotten around to recording it yet, so you’ll just have to imagine the tune…but I hope the lyrics speak for themselves. 

Coretta

 

Every city in this land got a street named for your man;

We celebrate his birthday, we sing and hold hands.

But sometimes I wonder if we’d ever be here

If you hadn’t stood beside him for all of those years.

All of those years…imagine the tears.

Coretta Scott King, your name hardly appears.

 

Lovely young soprano, Alabama to Ohio:

Your music could’ve carried you even further, you know.

But Martin sweeps you off your feet, or you sweep him,

And you’re swept into the movement, sink or swim.

Sink or swim…opposition is grim.

Montgomery Bus Boycott is the first big win.

 

Martin’s filling up the jails, says that love will never fail

And you’re right there with him, center of the gale.

But your four little children can’t be left alone

And Martin says their mama needs to stay at home.

Stay at home, keep the children calm.

Thank the Lord you are out when your house gets bombed.

 

Klan don’t need to wait for dark; Selma’s like their personal park.

Cross the Pettus Bridge to face Sheriff Clark.

On that Bloody Sunday you can hear the cries

With your hands in the laundry and your eyes on the prize.

Eyes on the prize…when a martyr dies

Best step aside, feel the power rise.

 

Martin goes to Memphis town; hand of hate cuts him down.

Now they’re looking to you to lead ’em to high ground.

You’re still in shock, you don’t know what to feel

But just like Martin, you’re made of steel.

Made of steel…Lord, this is real:

41 year-old widow of a slain ideal.

 

So you take up Martin’s cross, learn to be a movement boss

And you march and you rally and you pay the cost.

You tell your fellow women to embrace their role:

“If you want to save the nation, you must become its soul.”

Become its soul…it took its toll.

But Coretta, look around, we’re approaching the goal.

 

 For over thirteen thousand days, you walked those weary ways

Speaking out against the war, supporting the gays.

For the poor and persecuted you carried the flame

And never got a monument. Ain’t it a shame?

Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

G. Wing, March 2013

The Selma March (Courtesy Wikimedia)

The Selma March (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Have you seen “Selma”? Care to share your impressions? Or your own memories of Martin, or Coretta? Let’s take time to remember.

 

Making Your Own Peace on Earth For Christmas

 “Peace on Earth.” “Silent Night.” Given how Christmas is portrayed in our culture, these words would seem to be the last ones to apply to this wonderful holiday.

But that’s what I want for Christmas: Silence. Peace. Big gobs of it. I don’t know when, but I intend to give it to myself as a gift, and I’m wondering if you might want to do the same. Or perhaps you already do.

This past weekend, the Quaker Meeting I attend scheduled its annual Silent Retreat. I wrote about it last year–6 1/2 hours of group silence, spent separately and together, bookended by explanations for the new folks, and sharing at the end of the day. I was really looking forward to another Day of Silence this year…till I realized I wasn’t ready for it. Son One is visiting, and I’m in Mom mode, which means cooking, hiking, playing guitar, hanging out, doing work projects…and TALKING. This was not the right time for a silent retreat, however much I longed for it.

So I skipped it. For now. But I’ve promised myself, sometime before the end of January, a good, four-hour chunk of time to sit and think and write, maybe go for a walk without, for once, talking to myself out loud like I do. (Not even embarrassed about that!) Probably I’ll wait till The Mate is out of town, so’s not to feel like a slacker.

Keep in mind–I already lead a pretty damn peaceful life compared to most folks. I live on an island! I’m no longer a classroom teacher, I’m a writer! And yet even I feel the need for more quiet in my life. If that’s true for me–how much more so must it be for, well…maybe you?

Silence means different things to different people at different times. I thought I’d share one of my takes on silence that turned into a song. Here are the lyrics to “Sometimes Silence”:

Sometimes silence is a force

that generates inside;   

sometimes something sets a course

and all you have to do is glide, glide, glide…

 and sometimes nothing moves at all, 

no matter how you try.

 

Sat yourself down just to get something straight,

Mind racing like a horse from the gate.

Need to focus on something profound;

Concentration’s going down, down, down…

So you try, try, try, try…

Sit and listen to the breezes sigh,     

Giving it your best shot–like you have a choice–

Straining to hear that still, small voice.

 

Sometimes silence strikes itself

and lights you like a fuse;            

Sometimes it shows you all too well

how much you have to lose, lose, lose…

And sometimes you’re just sitting there, increasingly confused.

 

Sat yourself down just to get something straight,

Mind racing like a horse from the gate.

Need to focus on something profound;

Concentration’s going down, down, down…

So you try, try, try, try…

Sit and listen to the breezes sigh,     

Giving it your best shot–like you have a choice–

Straining to hear that still, small voice.

I want to hear that still, small voice.

 

 And here’s the live version. NOTE: FAST-FORWARD TO MINUTE 1.33 TO AVOID HAVING TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIENCE SINGING HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, AND ME THANKING PEOPLE…and yes, the film quality is terrible but it does get better, and the sound is pretty good.

Did any of this resonate with you? How do you get your silence? Will you be able to gift yourself with some, this crowded, busy holiday season? Please share.

PS–another gift I’m giving myself is a week off from blogging, so…merry Christmas! I’ll pop back in to celebrate the end of 2014 with y’all.

 

 

 

 

To Copyright or Not to Copyright: Pondering the “Writing” Part of Songwriting

Copyrights? For books, it’s a no-brainer. Duh.

For songs? Well, yes, when I first started writing them, about two and a half years ago, my music teacher persuaded me to go through the copyrighting process as each song came out. Obediently, I did…through the first eight or nine songs. Then I got tired. (And it got expensive! $35 per song adds up!)

And I started wondering…what would happen if I didn’t?

Worst-case scenario: I upload one of my songs to YouTube. It goes viral. Everyone starts singing it. A famous singer picks it up, does a cover, makes a million bucks.

You know the part of that scenario I’m focused on? “Everyone starts singing it.” The million bucks? That singer’s welcome to it. Money is not driving my songwriting impulse. Money, apparently, does not figure anywhere in my calculations.

My books? Yes, definitely. I would love to be paid for them. But they represent hours and hours, weeks, months, years of my life. My songs–maybe a few hours each, no more.

Even more than the time differential, my songs come from a place that is wholly spontaneous, unplanned, even startling…unlike my books, which represent a deliberate and highly-planned career shift.

So…by all means, check out my songs as they begin to appear in cyberspace. Let me know if you’d like the lyrics and chords. Sing them, share them, pass them on. I’ll be nothing but thrilled.

And if Emmylou Harris that famous singer out there ever does a Gretchen Wing cover and makes a million bucks…feel free to remind me of this post if you ever hear me snark about it.

Think I’m being naive here? My mind’s still open on this topic, so feel free to chime in.

If The Big-Girl Panties Fit…

It’s concert time again.

A quick retrospective:

2011, Chicken Biscuit: “Which end of the mic do I sing into?”

2012, Gretchen Wing & Chicken Biscuit: “Oh, I get to sing a couple of my songs too? OK…but YOU introduce ’em, I don’t want to talk.”

2013, Gretchen Wing & Chicken Biscuit: “What do you mean, Bill’s going out of town? Who’s going to be emcee? I don’t know any jokes! Oh, s–t…”

2014, Gretchen Wing & Friends: “OK, everyone. At tonight’s rehearsal, I’d like the musicians to be there at 6 so they can get all their stuff ready. Singers, come whenever you need to in order to be ready to start right at 6:30…”

Ah, if only it were that simple. Yes, my “career” as local singer-songwriter-performer has evolved to the point where I think of this weekend’s show as “my” concert. Yes, I am in charge of the set list and the rehearsal schedule. Yes, my face is the only one on the poster.

GW

But oh my, do I have a long way to go before I can be said to be “putting on” a concert! Here’s my To Do list for 2015…just in case I do this again:

1. Start rehearsals in June instead of August.

2. On second thought, start rehearsals in July, but schedule the darn concert for November when there aren’t gazillion other things going on around here.

3. Find the “sound man” with the best reputation in the community, and secure his services several months in advance. Bribe him with pie.

4. Provide binders for all musicians so they can keep track of their music and notes.

5. Fill the freezer with treats for rehearsals, so I can grab ’em and go. (No, I will never let go of my need to feed people.)

I have other resolutions, but I won’t bore you with them. This is just my way of saying: Yes. OK. I get it. If you’re new at something, you can enjoy being helpless and having everyone do stuff for you…once. Once you get halfway good at something and want to run it yourself, be ready to RUN it. No whining.

(Courtesy someecards.com)

(Courtesy someecards.com)

Don’t get me wrong–I am totally looking forward to, and totally humbled by, this chance to share my music with my community. I will be one happy woman on concert night. But for now–I gotta go bake cookies. And I still need to find another joke. And does anyone have any extra binders?

I would love to hear your stories of transition from bystander to administrator of…anything. What lessons did YOU learn? Anything I can steal?