Friday, August 1, 2014

Up Around the Bend - Yosemite Drive pt 2 (Hitting the road)

Yosemite Drive pt 2 - On the road
to read part one click here

"Catch a ride to the end of the highway, and we'll meet by the big red tree. There's a place up ahead and I'm going come along, come along with me.
Come on the rising wind,
we're going up around the bend."
--Creedence Clearwater Revival

Quick side note: although Creedence is one of, if not, the best Swamp/Southern Rock bands they are actually from El Cerrito, California an area in the East Bay sort of near Berkeley and Oakland. Back to the travel journal.


My alarm rang at 5:30am.  I needed to get an early start if I wanted to reach Yosemite by 11am.  The sun was already starting to light up the sky, it was the beginning of summer.  I went through my usual morning routine, but a bit quicker than normal: I did my yoga stretches, fifty push ups, a bowl of cereal, mug of orange juice.  Brushed my teeth and washed my face.  My overnight bag was packed except for my toiletry bag which needed my tooth brush and retainers.  The bag was packed to the brim, I made sure my little green journal was stuffed in there so I could note my journey.

With a text message to my relatives (On the road see you soon!) I was off.  The first few hours were freeway with walls preventing me from seeing very much but eventually the road turned into an open highway. It was largely farmland and rows of crops. I think some were avocados, others were probably citrus trees.

California Crops 
I remember seeing only one person working in all the farmland I passed.  He looked to be of Mexican descent.  He was wearing blue jeans and a red plaid work short.  He was riding an all terrain little four wheeled cart through the rows of crops kicking up clouds of dust.  I thought that would be fun but after an hour or so it would get very tedious.  I wondered if he rode up and down those aisles all day.

There was so much open farm land on my drive it reminded me of driving to Oahu's North Shore where the tight spaces of the city open to rows of pineapple crops.

James E. Roberts Bridge pic doesn't do it justice

What I remember most about the drive from the bay to Yosemite was passing over the James E. Roberts Memorial Bridge. I was driving along a hill and I had glimpses of a ravine with a giant lake to my left and cliffs to my right. Then suddenly everything opened up and I saw the land and sky all around me, the blue green of the lake below.  The bridge is curved so I could see the giant columns that kept it above the water. I wanted to pull over and take a picture but there was no shoulder for quite a ways. I later learned that I was in Tuolumne County and the water way I drove over was an off shoot of Lake Don Pedro.  James E. Roberts was a noted engineer who was an expert at building structures to withstand seismic events, no wonder he is honored in California.

Several miles after the bridge I found myself climbing a seemingly endless road up and over a mountain. It was a narrow two lanes where if I went any faster than 25mph I felt in danger of rolling into the precipice. I wondered how many car accidents occurred on such an isolated road. There were a great many cars using this winding road and if there was any back up there was no where to go unless you ditched your car.  The view was beautiful (even better two days later on the way back as the sun was setting) and I made it over the hill.  Shortly thereafter my gps signal started to wane and my phone battery started to drop.

I was getting closer but from here on I was driving on faith and the occasional road sign that said I was heading in the right direction. A few things I learned on my drive thus far: I suspect that the time between the yellow and red stoplight signals is much faster in California. For instance in Hawai`i you have a good 5-9 seconds before a light turns red. California it is more like 3-5 seconds.  I'm not sure if it is because the intersections are bigger or if people are driving faster but that certainly seems like the case.

I also thought about Pastor Jim's question regarding "Big Land Fever" I am not sure if I felt it yet but I know the area was vast and seemingly endless and I wanted to keep driving.

To Be Continued

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Back Home Again" - Blog Warming Gift

A walk in the park
"Gee it's good to be back home again, this old [Bay/blog] feels like a long lost friend.  It's good to be back home again." - John Denver

A fellow blogger has moved homes from a "blogspot" to a "wordpress." I wanted to get them a Blog Warming Gift to make them feel at home in their new environment. But what to give them? a set of wine glasses? a hanging plant? extravagant? practical? Decisions, decisions.

I decided to stay simple, short and sweet (although I did spring for some digital wine glasses below). My blog warming gift is a blog post, along with some photos taken by a guy from Hawaii.

This blogger who has just moved sites is the person who inspired the renaissance of my blog. I am so very grateful to have met her.
As a fan of the previous "Destination: San Francisco" I will miss the dark background of a cracked wall with antique portraits, but I am excited and already liking the bright white space that seems to signal something new.

The writing will remain engaging and moving as it has been and I look forward to the new adventures. I see nothing but good things to come for my blogger friend. I hope you are settling into your new location (from the number of recent posts it certainly seems like it).

Welcome home to the Bay, I hope you like your Blog Warming Gift, and Happy Blogging Miss Carroll!
The New Destination

Sunlight and Trees
From,
Ryan

Monday, June 23, 2014

Good Vibrations - Yosemite Drive part 1 (preparation)

A Drive from the Bay to Yosemite part 1 - Good Vibrations (preparation)

"I love the colorful clothes [California] wears, and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair.  I hear the sound of a gentle word on the wind that lifts her perfume through the air."

There is something alluring about California.  I am not sure how many of you readers are still out there but here is the continuing rebirth of my blog.  I don't think I have ever openly stated, astute readers could guess, I was born and raised in Hawai`i.  The islands are every bit as exciting and beautiful as people have come to believe.  The state is not a flawless oasis however, as many people believe it is.  There are problems like everywhere else: homelessness, poverty, sadness.  They all mix in with the tropical beauty, the beach front cottages, and the euphoria.

I digress (Hawai`i should be set aside for a post to itself) this post is about California.  Growing up two of my favorite TV shows were "Full House" and "Nash Bridges".  The first was set in San Francisco (filmed elsewhere) and the second was filmed on location in the city.  I loved the music of the 1970s Laurel Canyon artists (CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds) and the 1960s San Francisco Bands (Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane).  I have spent many hours reading about those bands.  Movies and books recall California's beauty and mystery.  I'm not sure what it is that makes California so alluring.  Hawai`i (like California) has magical coastal highways, transcendent beaches, mountains right outside your window, and farmlands.  Maybe it's the bridges, Hawai`i does not have bridges like the ones in California.  Maybe it is the fact that almost the entire west coast is a single state.  I am not sure what it is about California but I'm hoping to figure it out by the end of my journey.  Go West Young Man.


About a year ago, I decided to move from Hawai`i to the Bay Area to pursue what my being has always felt I should be doing, writing.  As of this post I have finished my first year of graduate school in creative writing.  I am finding the gentle words on the wind that lift my spirits through the air.  I love every minute of it.  During my first semester I met some great people, thoroughly enjoyed my time, but felt very isolated in this new environment.  I spent the entire Christmas break back in Hawai`i, swimming through coral reefs and hiking through tropical forests.  In the spring semester I made more connections with my writing community and peers, finding my space in this bay area.  A handful of special people reminded me I was a part of the world and not a loner; a fact I had forgotten.  The world that I am a part of is bigger than my tiny studio apartment.

A few weeks after the end of the semester my Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin from Hawai`i contacted me because they would be driving through California on a road trip south to Texas.  Don't worry they flew from Hawai`i to California.  They had some stops planned out, Yosemite National Park being one of them.  Yosemite is where I decided to meet up with them.  This would be my first road trip on my own.  I had driven across Washington State, through Oregon, and in my childhood across parts of California.  On these drives I was always with family or friends, this would be my first drive all on my own.  I have gone on solo road trips around Hawai`i, but there is something different when you know the road will eventually loop around in a circle.  Also driving in a place I had lived all my life as opposed to the new wilderness of California is another difference.

My relatives plans were loose at best.  They were trying to schedule out stops seeing how long it would take to drive.  I was a little anxious because I was excited to see them and explore Yosemite.  A tension was building in me that they may have to change their plans at the last minute and this Yosemite trip would be canceled.  I got a text message one Friday afternoon saying "on Saturday around 11am they would be at the Yosemite Village Visitors Center. If I was still interested in meeting."  I replied "YES! see you tomorrow."  Checking the driving directions it would take about four hours from the Bay.



I stayed up late the night before, even though I had to wake up early to make the drive.  Excited for my California adventure, I wanted to make a soundtrack for my drive.  For my travel across part of the golden state I filled my playlist with California music.  The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, CSN(Y), Santana, etc.  Nine hours of music (which turned out to be not quite enough but why carp?) to take me through the land of Steinbeck, John Muir, and Good Vibrations.

Unsure of what the next day would bring I packed a heavy duffel bag with change of clothes, swim attire, things for camping, a book to read, and my little green journal.  I wished I had packed my fancy camera but I had to use my iPhone instead (not a huge loss but possibly lower quality pictures).    A snack bag with bananas, chocolate chip cookies, a cherry coke, and water for the ride.

In my time in California one of the people I have met is a Pastor named Jim.  He has given me some good questions and topics to think about.  But there was a seemingly joking question that fits this post's narrative.  He said it more eloquently but it was basically: People always talk about island fever, I wonder if there is big land fever for people moving off of an island?

I wondered if endless land instead of endless water would have an effect on me for my first road trip.  The last thing I thought about before drifting off to sleep was the excitations that California was giving me.  My road trip would be happening tomorrow.  "Close my eyes, she's somehow closer now, I know she must be kind, she goes with me to a blossom world. Gotta keep those lovin' good vibrations happening with her."

To be continued.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rebirth and "For My Grandma"

Hello.
It is very nice to meet you.  My name is Ryan,
and I am grateful to you for taking the time to glance at my blog.

It has been a long time since I have posted a blog.  February 10, 2014 was my last post, you can read it here if you are interested Dave Mason - "Alone Together/Headkeeper".  I want to change the format of this blog, and this post is the beginning of a new path I hope to take.

2009 was a year of rebirth for me.  It is only fitting that I talk about that year when giving new vision and life to my blog today.  I started this blog in September 2009, my first post.  At the time I had graduated from college about a year before.  I had a series of jobs that were often cut because of funding, after all it was the beginning of the Great Recession.  In summer 2009 I found what turned out to be my first sustained post-undergrad job at Barnes and Noble.  My girlfriend broke up with me in February 2009.  My oldest cousin (they are almost like siblings to me) graduated from high school and left for college in San Francisco.  The biggest change that happened in 2009 was my Grandmother suddenly passing away.  Her passing was obviously the most difficult of all the changes.

Over the almost five years that I have written this blog there have been gaps in time between posts (as you can see by the date of my last post).  Everyday life sometimes leaves little time for blogging.  When I found a moment to write a new post I would often apologize to any readers I had left and a vow to keep going (I'm still going but there have been gaps).  I then would pick up where I left off in whatever alphabetical order I had stopped at.  If you have never read any of my posts I had been going through my CD collection alphabetically (by artist, if I had more than one album by the same artist I would do the albums chronologically in terms of release date).  My posts consisted of a little memory associated with the album and then a history/album review.

At the time I started this blog I had not been writing very much at all.  Coming out of school had put a stop to my writing and I was trying to find a way to make writing a part of my life.  Several of my friends had started their own blogs, mostly about computer animation and fashion (here is one of their blogs and another one).  I thought I would give it a try.  My goal when I started was to write reviews of Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar music or Ki Hou`alu (early Hawaiian post).  That is where my blog got its name.  Ki hou`alu translates as "loosen the key" because Hawaiians created this style by loosening the guitar strings making new notes from the traditional guitar tunings.

I was very dedicated with one post a week for seven months straight then came my first break (a month long).  When I returned I decided to refocus my blog by starting the pattern of going through my CD collection (first new start).  The pattern gave me focus and kept me writing.

In 2012 I made a decision to return to school and pursue a graduate degree in Creative Writing.  Writing is my passion, but it took me a while to figure that out.  With the school work my blog again took a backseat.  I tried a few posts here and there but there were more gaps than blogging.

When I opened up my blog today for the first time in months I decided it was time to make another change.  In the past the blog had been relatively impersonal (I wrote under the pen name "The Music Man") my profile picture was a landmark and not a picture of me.  When I did share personal details they were very distant to make sure no one could figure out who I was.  I was very interested in the stories of the music albums and did not want to detract with too many details of myself.  I am at a different point in my life now and I have learned the best way to create community and connections is by giving a little of the self to this community (even if it is a technological community out there).

For this rebirth of my blog I decided to pay tribute to someone who was and is very special in my life.  My grandmother who passed away in 2009 and also what would have been her birthday.  In a way this essay is a rebirth of sorts for my grandma as well.

When I was growing up she took care of me before I was old enough to go to school (both my parents worked).  When I did start school she drove me to school every morning and in some years picked me up after school every day.  Grandma was a strong, kind-hearted woman always giving of herself and her time to others.  She raised my mom and uncle as a single parent since they were in later elementary school.  To give you some idea of her character we had a distant family member who had graduated from Naval Academy at Annapolis, but decided to become a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.  When he did that he lost his home and job.  He was married with a baby.  None of his friends or immediate family would help him when he could not find new housing right away.  My grandma did not feel it was right to shun him for his decision.  She sought him out (he did not come to her) and let him, his wife, and baby sleep in grandma's living room until they could find a better location.  That was the kind of person she was.  She had a seemingly unwavering sense of what was right and what needed to be done.  She was always looking out for people.  If she heard I got caught in the rain because my jacket didn't fit anymore, a new jacket would magically appear in my bedroom.  Or when our roof was leaking, and we couldn't afford to fix it, there was grandma with a roofing company ready to go all paid for.  She seemed to remember everything and never held a grudge.  A very direct woman she would always cut to the chase, "Stop acting like a dummy," "What's the matter with you?" "Now that's enough," "Don't worry."

I think about her everyday, but recently a vivid memory of her came to mind.  When I was little, she would always hold out her hand when we were ready to cross the street.  I took her hand as we moved across the pavement and once we reached the sidewalk we would release hands.  Her hands were always soft even as she aged and her skin wrinkled it was still incredibly soft.
The specific memory was when I was about seven or eight years old.  We were waiting at a crosswalk in Kaimuki, I don't remember where we were going, the walk signal changed and grandma held out her hand like she had always done.  At this moment I had learned in school to "look left, right, then left again when crossing the street."  I knew how to cross the street, what to watch out for, and I felt I could cross the street on my own.  On this day I did not take her hand as we started across the pavement.  She held her hand out for a moment longer but then relaxed it.  She never asked why I wasn't taking her hand, I also don't remember if she held out her hand again.  She knew I was old enough to cross the street.  I was growing up.  As time went on I always remained close with grandma but as I aged I spent less time with her compared to my younger years when I saw her everyday.

On that night in 2009 when she passed away it was such a shock because she was healthy.  She had battled myasthenia gravis (essentially a weakening of the nerve signals to the muscles) in the past.  It started as a Class I only effecting the eyes.  She fought it into remission.  Then it returned at the beginning of 2009 but it was a Class III this time effecting her arm and leg muscles.  She had fought off this second appearance as well, getting stronger and healthier each day.  Then she went to sleep and did not wake up the next morning.  I feel that whatever it was, a sudden relapse of myasthenia or a reaper, it had to come at night when she was asleep because if she were awake she would have sent them running.

I never cried so much in all my adult life.

On the day of her funeral she really looked alive, just asleep.  I remember her hands were across her stomach, and I wanted to hold her hand one last time.  The minute my fingertip touched her skin I recoiled.  The skin was hard and rough, almost like leather.  Her soft warm hands were not there anymore.  Now what I wouldn't give to have held her hand one last time crossing the street all those years ago.

For this rebirth of my blog I choose to celebrate and remember the woman who meant and means so much to my life.  She shaped who I am as a person.  I know she is watching me from Heaven.  I believe she knows that I have and will always be holding her hand in my heart and in my memory, on every crossing I take in the streets of my life.  I love you Grandma and Happy Birthday.




Monday, February 10, 2014

Dave Mason - "Alone Together/Headkeeper"

Dave Mason, does the name sound familiar? If not do not worry, Mason is an unassuming rock guitarist and songwriter.  He was most active during the late 1960s and through the 1970s though he continued to record and release albums through the 1980s and more sparingly but all the way into the first decade of the 2000s.  Mason has a decent following and he has had hit songs that will be instantly familiar to many a listener ("Feelin' Alright" is his composition, first performed as a member of Traffic) his most famous song is "We Just Disagree" (written by friend Jim Krueger) a big hit in 1977 and still getting radio play.

Born in England, Mason is a very adept guitarist but never gained the popularity (or reached the innovation) of contemporaries like Clapton, Hendrix, and George Harrison.  He first gained notice as a founding member of Traffic with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood.  But Mason was not a team player while the other three worked as a composing unit Mason worked solo.  Mason left the group in 1968 after the release of their second album.  He went to work as a session guitarist for Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland" album most notably playing on Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower."  He toured with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends appearing on their album "On Tour with Eric Clapton."  After that he was a session guitarist on George Harrison's epic "All Things Must Pass" album.

Shortly after working with Harrison, Mason completed and released his debut album 1970's "Alone Together." With backup from Jim Capaldi, Rita Coolidge, Leon Russell, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Jim Keltner and Delaney and Bonnie.  This started Mason solo career with such promise, all eight tracks are solid.  Opening with the semi-hit "Only You know and I know." There are nice banjo and acoustic numbers like "Just a Song" and "World in Changes."  The piano ballad "Sad and Deep as You." "Shouldn't have took More than you Gave" and "Look at you Look at Me" are more rock oriented and sound like Mason's work with Traffic. "Waitin' on you" is gospel styled obviously influenced by Delaney and Bonnie. "Can't Stop the Worrying, Can't Stop loving" is pure smooth pop.

After a second album that was a partial duet with Mama Cass Elliot.  Mason started recording his third album but got into a contract dispute with his record label.  The label took the five tracks that Mason had completed for his third album and paired it with five tracks recorded live (I believe at the Troubadour) and called the album "Headkeeper."  The record company released the compiled album without Mason's permission and Mason publicly denounced it.  Despite the controversy the live tracks are well performed but are not very different from the studio versions, however the studio tracks are some of the best of Mason's career. "To Be Free" with its great piano lines is gorgeous and ends with a Stephen Stills-esque choral movement. "Here we Go Again" with its chiming guitars, mandolins, and hand claps is one of Mason's catchiest compositions. "A Heartache, a Shadow, a lifetime" is wonderful pop. They find Mason expanding and capitalizing on the promise of his debut album.

In 2005 Mason released these two records on one CD set, for record buyers in England.  Available as a reasonably priced import from Amazon and other sources this is a great record and some of Mason's finest work.  There is a foldout booklet that is a bit short but still interesting.  If you are interested in Mason's work, a fan of Delaney and Bonnie's "On Tour" or Eric Clapton's solo debut this is a great addition to your collection. I'm glad I own it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Loggins & Messina - "On Stage"

Once again I must apologize for the long break between posts.  It has been a month since my last post about Gordon Lightfoot's "Gord's Gold" album (if you missed it check it out in my blog roll).  I shall not make statements that I am back on my weekly track because those haven't worked out on the previous four installments.  So let us just enjoy this post about Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina.

It may be hard to guess but Loggins & Messina are a pretty killer live act.  They were one of the most popular touring acts in the 1970s and have a massive range of musical abilities.  They can sit on stools with only an acoustic guitar and sing "Danny's Song" then pull out electric guitars and do a rocking ten minute "Angry Eyes," transition into a country hoedown with "Holiday Hotel" and then return to a band ballad "Another Road."

Released in 1974 Loggins & Messina are assisted by a crackling back up band made up of Jon Clarke on horns, Al Garth on fiddle/violin/horns, Merel Bregante on drums, and Larry Sims on bass.  All members of the group add immensely to the concerts and all get opportunities to show off their talents.  The album has a nice mix of country rock stylings and it feels like a big country jam sometimes.

The centerpiece of this double album is a spectacular 21 minute(!) version of "Vahevala" that opens disc 2.  It goes through several movements starting the way the studio version does then moving into a fiddle guitar battle, then slowing to a crawl in the center with barely audible notes, before revving back up for a rocking finish.  It's a spectacular version.

Compiled from five concerts two at Winterland San Francisco April 1972, two Carnegie Hall March 1973, and one at Boston's Orpheum Theater also March 1973. Released in a remastered Legacy "live from the vaults" edition in 1998 this CD version features a recreation of the inner artwork from the original fold out LP case.  It also features a brief paragraph essay about the album.  A must have for Loggins & Messina fans especially those interested in their live performances.  I had the opportunity to see them live in 2010 and I must say they are still quite excellent.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Gordon Lightfoot - "Gord's Gold"

A very strong greatest hits compilation of Lightfoot's most popular recordings. Released shortly after his commercial peak with the album "Sundown" and featuring songs like "Carefree Highway," "Sundown" and "If you Could Read my Mind."

Lightfoot was one of the most popular singer/songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s.  Hailing from Canada, some considered him the closest thing to a Canadian Bob Dylan. Lightfoot focuses on mellow acoustic based songs with strong lyrics that often tell stories. His deep, warm and husky voice carries his tunes well and he has more vocal ability than Leonard Cohen or Dylan.

This collection covers basically the first ten years of his career. This period actually turned out to be the best part of his career as well. He would continue to write good songs and have a very dedicated fan following but his commercial popularity and creative abilities are at their best here.

Picking at least one song from each one of his albums from his 1966's debut "Lightfoot" to his 1975 hit "Cold on the Shoulder." His earlier songs have been re-recorded like "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" and also turned into medleys like "I'm Not Sayin'/Ribbon of Darkness" (John Denver did the same thing with his early songs on his Greatest Hits album). The versions are not drastically different, but the new recordings do make a number of the songs sound similar since Lightfoot's voice and style on the old songs sounds similar to the "new" songs.

Upon first listen the songs may all blend together (it is a 21 track album!).  But repeated listens will reveal the great nuance and quality of Lightfoot's music. Originally released in 1975 as a two record set,  to fit the album on one CD they deleted the song "Affair on 8th Avenue" (die-hard fans will complain about this omission for years). The CD has a short but nice booklet with an overview essay of Lightfoot's career and photos of his longtime band members. This is a great compilation for those unfamiliar with Lightfoot.  A 2002, 20 track CD called "The Complete Greatest Hits" is another option for those looking to get Lightfoot all on one album. That disc covers a larger period of time 1966-the 1980s and features the original versions of the songs. In the end it is up to you dear listener to see which compilation fits your needs. I like this one.