Nationally known song scribes John York and Patrick Brayer will appear in conjunction with the Smiley Library Americana Roots Series. The event will be held at The Contemporary Club (est. 1894) in Redlands California on May 24, 2023.
Concert starts at 6:30. Admission is free. The concert was lovingly produced by Iggy Henderson along with the historic Smiley Library. Sound reinforcement by Patrick Keegan.
Location: 173 S. Eureka St., Redlands CA
John York joined The Byrds in 1968 replacing founding member Chris Hillman as the group began to tour for their LP Sweetheart of the Rodeo upon the exodus of Gram Parsons. Also joining that year was the legendary guitarist, Clarence White. York would go on to make two historic LPs with the group, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, and Ballad of Easy Rider, both in 1969. Despite being disillusioned by the ruthlessness of the business of music he continued to pen songs and produce a string of independent recordings from then and leading up to this day. He later went on to work with such greats as Johnny Rivers, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Chris Darrow, and Kim Fowley.
Patrick Brayer’s songwriting and session work has put him on the map with such luminaries as, Alison Krauss, Alan Jackson, Ben Harper, John Doe, Larry Sparks, Michael Hedges, and Stuart Duncan, doing so in a way that has brought a new mythic light on The Inland Empire.
“When you hear my music played, you’ll know that I”m not far away”(from The Golden Flute)
The first time I met David Lindley I had a cassette of my songs in my fist. My friend Chris Darrow had brought me over to the Lindley craftsman in Claremont, Darrow being his longtime bandmate throughout the 1960s, not to mention that Dave was married to his sister Joanie. I was in heaven for a second as he impishly jumped with glee upon looking over the song titles, especially, Kittens on the Cross. Of course in the long run the songs were not good enough, but I didn’t care, for I got to meet one of my all-time musical heroes. Thanks to Joanie and their daughter Rosanne I was invited over on numerous occasions in the early 2000s. At one point in walking around their house, I spied an event poster on the refrigerator that caught my eye. It was advertising a gun show in Pomona California to be held in 1996. I just couldn’t imagine what that would be like, so I wrote a song about it where I ran some characters through the paces of what it might be like, in strictly mythological terms. It was aptly titled, Gun Knife Militaria Western Fishing Show.
The strangest story I have involving Mr. Dave started on my birthday, circa 2004. My wife and I were renting a little house next door to a mid-century-modern tri-plex, one part inhabited by my brother Mike, and another coincidently by the Lindley’s daughter Rosanne. Historically, the renowned artist Millard Sheets designed the structure for his sculptor friend Jack Zajac. The whole place had floor-to-ceiling windows, shaded by a sprawling pine and a wall of oleander severing our two places. Since it was my birthday I decided, that before I settled in to watch a Godzilla marathon on TCM with Dorito chips, I would have a Bloody Mary and eat a piece of a hash brownie that a friend had gifted me. I then saddled up our cattle dog Elsinore for a short stroll of the neighborhood around Larkin Park. I got about halfway around and the concoction started kicking in, so we started to head for home. I was starting to get really high and when I got within about half a block from our house a van pulled up and out pops David Lindley wearing a sweatshirt with a photo that I took on the front of it. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I was really seeing it or not, the hash was that good. I had a shaky battlefield of roses to contend with in my mind. So I dastardly tried to slip by without being noticed, because (double frankly) I wasn’t sure if I could talk. Take in mind here that this is one of my all-time heroes. Let me preface this by saying that I had the honor of doing some of the photographs for his then-most recent 2003 recording, Los Cromasomes: Twango Bango III (with Wally Ingram of Timbuk 3), so I recognized the photo. Between taking pictures of him I also thought to take some of his wild clothing and I dressed his instruments up as people out in the backyard, this while he shot his bow and arrow at a distant bullseye. The sky was the grey glass of dusk and the soil was a dampened peat. Unusual for our normal drought, the hills still hung a slight green before turning their customary Weissenborn brown. Birds and rats seem to be collaborating on the telephone wires like a growing militia, and then the seasons roll until the desert sun comes leaping at you, and your dreams, like a four alarm fire, showing proof of the valley’s true reptilian nature.
It might be noted that Dave seemingly shared the same tailor as Lightnin’ Hopkins, with a humble tinge of Mardi Gras jester, a mythic figure similar to señor Dave, traipsing from hovel to hovel, just as Dave himself went threading from town to town on a concert parade lasting fifty-odd years. I had at some point taken one of the photos from that shoot and made a humorous CD cover, Live from Tone-Henge, and that was what was covering his heart on the sweatshirt. He immediately apologized for doing it without my permission, to which I told him, no, that it was an honor, but I think I probably wandered away in the middle of a sentence, busy in my own psychedelic wallflower of shame. The next morning there was a package on my doorstep with one of the sweatshirts, a fruit basket, and an El Rayo X t-shirt in the special Lindley Blue.
David made everything he played on better. Never has there been a single soul to disagree. He did this in conversation also, with a highly original perspective and humor, where he could go from saving the planet to affecting a bawdy Russian peddler’s dialect without skipping a beat. His was a form of vaudeville that also understood string theory. He had it all. His collaborations with Zevon, Raitt, and Cooder defined in sonic neo-noir the path of the coming-of-age era for me, and tons of others. In a late-night conversation with friends concerning comparisons of Jimi Hendrix to David Lindley we concluded that they were just brothers who went to different tailors together. Jimi Hendrix was a genius, and awe-inspiring, but in comparison, he came off as somewhat of a show-off. Lindley’s work with Jackson Browne was to spell out, in the early 70s, the woven efforts of my own rights of passage, showing that to grow up was to accept that less was indeed more. They did what everyone else just aspires to in musicality, and that is, two souls coming together to create a ghost third. Likening a shift from a mere two to a third-dimensionality. That’s what tugs at your heart, the same way the blues probably did in its original conception. Lindley came from a somewhat well-heeled childhood in Pasadena California. It was here where string quartets and sitar music were to be as normally wafting from the kitchen as the scent of apple pie. On a side note, I found out that his aunt was the famous film star Loretta Young, which you can upon inspection easily, fleshing out his dynamic, see in the likeness of his daughter Rosanne, who is a great singer in her own right. His wife Joanie is a great artist also, as well as the child of two world-class artists, Paul and Nadine Darrow. The family was brimming with talent. My dad ran an egg ranch in Fontana, so I was more than ready to embrace all that they had to offer in their bohemian candy store, an inspirational Eden where all the apples were signed by Lloyd Loar.
All we have left is the rest of our lives, which is what it will take to absorb the gifts that David Lindley bestowed upon the earth. Our hearts are islanded with our tears for his family, but aren’t we all not a little envious to not have had him all to ourselves on a daily basis? I’ll have to admit, before I go to bed myself, that he could indeed, like no one I’ve ever met before, make the impossible seem effortless.
(Photo: Patrick Brayer)
Here’s a painting of David Lindley done by the great Kentucky artist Roy Ruiz Clayton.
Look how hard the Lindley’s have to work to be unphotogenic. This was taken at Ben Harper’s wedding party at his grandparents house in Claremont CA. That’s me in the hay hat.
Rosanne Lindley with her Gretsch Synchromatic (Photo: Patrick Brayer)
One of my favorite young Dave photos taken by his bride.
Below this photo of the Mad Mountain Ramblers are a series of images taken by Riverside photographer Steven John Cahill. Steve is considered as one of the Inland Empire’s greatest secret weapons, with him being present as both a musician and a photographer at the inception of the careers of both David Lindley and Chris Darrow (our area’s one-two punch). The Rambler’s picture, taken by Joanie Lindley, features L-R, Bob Warford, Chris Darrow, David Lindley, and Steve Cahill. Presently Steve can be heard performing with his group The Squeakin’ Wheels at The Contemporary Club at The Smiley Library in Redlands on Wed. March 29 2023 (5:30 / free admission). This can be your chance to thank him in person.
A few other comical CD covers I shared with The Lind.
(Photo: Robert Morrow) From the book City of Quartz
In honor of the passing of Fontana’s own Mike Davis (1946-2022), world-renowned prophetic writer of social unrest, environmental disaster and dystopian ideals. Here I will include a few email exchanges between us and flesh that out with some photos from The Brayer Archives. When people come to me for a lesson in what the Inland Empire is all about I have them first read Davis’ City of Quartz (with photos by Robert Morrow), advising them to read it backwards from chapter seven: Junkyard of Dreams, which in a way nails Fontana to the cross in diction. From there I recommend Joan Didion’s essay from the collection: Slouching Towards Bethlehem: an essay entitled, Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream, and Jack Olsen’s true crime book, Salt of the Earth (the first hundred pages anyway). For dessert I have them finish up with the San Bernardino Valley poetry of Dick Barnes, A Word Like Fire.
Mike Davis /
Don’t know quite where to begin: Fellow Fonta boy / Moved to an egg ranch there in ’58 / A victim of St. Joes / Father ran Winchell’s Donut House at the Fontana Square / Fontana High (Fohi) graduate of ’72 / Studied music in the cow pastures of Norco / Met Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Jim and Jessie, etc.
One of my best friends coincidentally is Robert Morrow who helped you on the Quartz project of which the last chapter I consider biblical. When David Lynch was planning the movie, INLAND EMPIRE Ben Harper sweetly told him I was way more of an authority on Fontana than I really was. I thought in fear to beg them off but one day Ben Harper, Laura Dern, and Lynch were heading for our flat in Upland. They only got as far as Holt Blvd, a lightning storm hit them (and made the cattle run), and they all turned back (tender footed). And so goes the story of my life. But I did submit location photos, The Fontana Boxing Club, The Slovene Hall, The Iron Skillet, etc., and about a hundred dilapidated churches. After that I like to think that it was my grand contribution that influenced them-to instead shoot the whole movie in Poland.
The Fontana Boxing Club (Photo: Patrick Brayer)
Anyway, this is just me saying howdy. The other main reason I wrote was to see if you had any memory in reference to The Mr. Arky Barbeque on Foothill. I will include an aerial postcard of it that I found
Just for good measure here’s one of my favorite postcards of the Westward-Ho Motel
Mr. Arky indeed. If you’re ever in San Diego, please come by for dinner.
San Diego CA 92102
Thanks for the kind return
My sources tell me that the Mr. Arky’s Barbeque morphed into The Robin Hood Adult Bookstore Don’t you hate it when life runs so appropriate. Now it’s a flat patch of dust on the hunchback of a Bobby Troup lyric. But why am I telling you all of this, you probably did your doctoral thesis on the influence of Mr. Arky on the new stone age
Would treasure a get together with you. Let me know how your schedule falls in regards to convenience.
My wife an I just had a new baby girl on January 21st, Eleanore Frances Brayer. So you’re looking at this new centuries version of a stay at home diaper pail songwritten dad. We are presently living in upper pissed-off Ontario, California. My wife teaches English Literature at Chaffey High School.
Someone (Aim Records based in Tustin) put out a compilation of some of my work in 1998 called, Sinner/Songwriter. For the cover they used one of Rob Morrow’s outtakes from the Fonta shoot while you were chipping away at Quartz.
Let me know what you’re interested in musically and I might just have something stashed around the archive here. It’s not all screechy, but that does tend to sonically dominate.
When I’m not trying to bother people with 50 odd volumes of my songs I’m chipping away at a documentary film, Dustboy. I got some great footage of Joe Mlakar Sr. who ran Mlakar’s Elbow Room for 35 years and earned himself a place in the Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame
Our family got to Fontana on account of the Slovenian culture, following my grandfather, a retired Wisconsin farmer, there in 1958 from Cupertino. So that weird polka-sausage-button box thing was always dangling in the back somewhere.
(Slovene Hall, Fontana, CA Photo; Patrick Brayer)
When did you leave Fontana? I have the feeling that you might have spent your formative years in San Diego. But, if you have any memories that don’t leave a bad taste in your mind’s mouth please feel free to share your stiffest recollections.
Man, you wrote the history of the car bomb, what else could possibly be left for you to write about? Would love to hear.
My best for now, Patrick of Brayer Wrongtario, CA
How can I help but endorse a team that would have the nerve to call themselves the Cucamonga Earthquakes
Cucamonga Earthquakes (Photo: Holle Brayer)
On 5/5/09 10:44 PM, “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com> wrote:
First of all, mazeltov for Elenore; she’s a dote (forgive my language, but I speak a pidgeon mixture of Yiddish and Irish).
My older sister graduated Chaffey High, class of 1947. We lived on Montgomery St. (one block south of Arrow Highway near Citrus, I think) in Fontana until I was five. Then I was incarcerated in Bostonia,between El Cajon and Lakeside: basically, Fontana without slag or sausages. Until I was 18 and on a Greyhound Bus for New York, I had one fundamental idea: escape and survive.
Musically I am still stuck in Art Pepper and Eric Dolphy, but I have infinitely wise advisors: my 28 year old Irish daughter who lives in Barcelona and first introduced me to Sonic Youth, Nels Cline, etc.; and my 15 year old son in Dublin, who’s already sold his soul to rock and roll, with a mean little band – he plays piano and guitar – with torch-girl singer named Mo (whom my son has been in love with since he was 7).
He spends summers with me. Last July we visited the Fender Museum. This July, if you’re around the ranch, we’ll come up to aristo-upper-bourgeois Ontario (the Fontana view) and hear some music.
That’s a fantastic album cover. If you see or hear from Robert, please give him my warmest regards. If he’s not in Minnesota, maybe we could arrange a reunion.
At any event, keeping sinning and having such adorable babies.
San Diego CA 92102
Mike Davis /
Thanks for the kind return. It really appears you have shot out some global children. Would of course cherish a get together in the summer season. Let me know your schedule at UCR also and I could bring little Eleanore out and your students could compare her to a bowl of fruit. I do enjoy your world of fact and craft. It’s the same reaction that I feel to the great musicians that I’ve known. The work is worthy of a lifetime’s contemplation. Which of course frustrates your animal-self need for a quick fix. But it tells your smarty pants guy that he had better stop looking in the mirror at his hair and get to work
If Bill Moyers is looking for a tattoo for his chest I would suggest, “Mike Davis is the king of fact, craft, and grit”. I’m not certain if that should go above or below the battleship.
I’m glad to hear that Rob Morrow has finally got hold of you. I bet those early days were great, hell bending your way through the weeded herds, when perhaps angst was the only denomination. You guys were like the Lewis and Clark of our cement, dusty, without the cute Indian chick.
Rob told me once upon a time that he quit photography to become a songwriter, and that I was to blame. He is of course a splendidly cinematic writer, and most importantly, better than me on a lot of fronts, and frontiers. But it taught me that I have to be more careful. Not that you can control how wrongly you’re taken. Yet another area that you must know much more about than I.
Robert Morrow Fontana California / Photo: Patrick Brayer
So I still get a knock on my door late at night on occasion by apparent Rob Morrow photography fans. I answer the door and strangers just punch me in the stomach and run. So don’t be surprised if I’m wearing catcher’s equipment when I answer the door.
I hope, though I can’t imagine that you do, have time for such corresponding nonsense as this, but I welcome every thought and insight that your productive day affords.
Here I go quoting myself again. How sad is that? “I don’t like to jump on any bandwagon that I didn’t pull out of my ass personally”
The baby is crying. I call her the boss of the flowers. The border collie just ate an entire bag of onion bagels so I should probably go out and say a prayer over him (Henry).
Be King! / Patrick of Brayer
When people go to France I like to send them this photo I took, saying “here’s your Sistine Chapel”, which I know is probably not in France, but then neither am I.
by Mick Rhodes / Claremont Courier January 20th, 2022 photography: Andrew Alonzo
Ontario-based singer/songwriter Patrick Brayer, “The original brooding author of hardscrabble country-noir songsmanship,” is unhinged, in the best sense of the word. “If I was totally in control I think I would be bored,” Brayer said of his songwriting process. “This stuff happens, and one thing leads to another, and then all of the sudden I seem to have written something that’s more profound than I really am. I’m surprised by it myself.” Rich in vivid poetic imagery, much of it mined from territory familiar to Inland Empire residents, Brayer’s lyrics demand attention. Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits come to mind, but his writing has an extra dash of cinematic surrealism and a hypnotic magic even those esteemed lyricists can’t reach. His narrators pull you in like no other songwriter working today. He is his own thing.
Now “Cabbage and Kings,” — the latest in Brayer’s 40-plus year recording career in which he’s released more than 60 records — is out today, Friday, January 21, on local indie champion Shrimper Records. It’s a collection of highlights from his typically prolific previous decade of literate, powerful material. It’s subtitled, appropriately, “An Inland Shrimpire Anthology.” In conversation, the 68-year-old Brayer is thoughtful, affable, generous and self-deprecating (his website banner reads, “The Patrick Brayer Toleration Society”). He was raised in nearby Fontana, and the city is a character in scores of his songs, of which there are more than 500 in his estimation. Born in San Jose, California, he arrived in what would be a fortuitous locale — rural Fontana — in 1958, where his family had purchased an egg ranch.
“I was so shy growing up I couldn’t talk to people,” Brayer told the COURIER. “So I developed a way through poetry and music. I did it I guess to draw people toward me. And I began to make friends. And it introduced me to everybody I ever met.” Like countless roots musicians, the young Brayer was spellbound by Harry Smith’s incalculably influential 1952 Folkways Records collection, “Anthology of American Folk Music.” “That was a big deal,” Brayer said. “Growing up in Fontana there was not much music going on, but I found the Harry Smith collection at the library. It’s a treasure trove.” His early work was helped along by the raw naivete of his own limitations. “Yeah, I would have sounded like Jimi Hendrix if I could, but I couldn’t, so I had to figure out something else,” he said. “I’m lucky I wasn’t able to copy so good.”
Brayer’s first album, “Cold Feelings,” was released in 1979. It contained “Imitation of the Blues,” which would be recorded (as “Good Imitation of the Blues”) by mainstream country music superstar Alan Jackson on his 2006 “Like Red on a Rose” album, which has sold more than 800,000 copies since. Brayer’s “Secret Hits” collections began appearing on cassette in the 1980s. “My Sixtieth Shadow,” the 60th record in the series, came out last year.
By his own count, he’s now more than 500 tunes into his songwriting career, with 60-plus albums released over the past 43 years. To say he’s been prolific isn’t enough: he’s close to being in Willie Nelson (95 records over his career) and Bob Dylan (83) territory, and those guys each had a 17 year jump. Neil Young started putting out solo records in 1968, and he’s released a measly 56. “It’s a way for me to organize myself, I think,” Brayer said of his compulsion to write and record. Though not a household name, Brayer has collaborated with or had his work covered by artists such as Alison Krauss (who used “So Long So Wrong,” a song he co-wrote with Walden Dahl, as the title track for her Grammy-winning 1997 record with Union Station), Ben Harper, Stuart Duncan, Chris Darrow, Darol Anger, Atreyu, John York, Michael Hedges and the aforementioned Alan Jackson. Mainstream songwriting notoriety enabled him topurchase a multi-track recorder, which expanded the instrumental palette of his mostly self-recorded, self-released records, on which he plays most instruments himself. “I can’t move on until I’ve recorded them, because I don’t have a good memory,” Brayer said of his songwriting process. “I never play it the same way twice, not because I’m cool, but because I just can’t remember.” The songs begin with an idea or a title. He writes it down, then begins to address the concept. “As I do that, then I start getting in the zone and I have to get out of the way,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m letting it flow, built on what I wrote down. And then one thing after another kind of comes. It’s magical. It’s part of the process. It’s part of why we like to do it. That’s why I like to do it, because it becomes something else.” He’s always looking for new raw source material. He finds it in conversations, everyday things, movies, music and in books. “I just look at the sentences,” Brayer said. “Over the pandemic I re-read all of Nabokov and Faulkner.” People ask, “’What are you doing?’ And I go, ‘Man, have you seen their sentences?’ People complain about ‘Lolita.’ Have you seen the sentences in that? They’re just glorious.”
(Brayer performing at the Folk Music Center in Claremont CA back when he dared look like this)
He wants people to arrive at their own interpretations of his songs, which, he said, can evolve over time. “I think that allows people to think what they want to think, and see something in their own life, not about my life, but about their own life.” Brayer has seen modest financial reward over the years. But that’s never been the point. “If you sit around and wait for somebody to give you money, you wouldn’t be writing very much,” he said. “I wouldn’t. I never considered that.” He wrote “Imitation of the Blues” when he was 18. Over the years since he’s been asked why he doesn’t just write more like that one. “I just tell them that’s not the way I work,” he said. “My process is the thing takes over, something takes over, and I allow it to. I’ll dabble at a few takes, but I pretty much need it to come out the way it wants to come out. So I’m really not in control. I [tell them] I would write another one if I could, but my process doesn’t allow me to do that. Thus I’ve evolved, for better or worse. But I accept what I’ve got now. People can be critical or not, it doesn’t really much matter. “You’ve just got to allow it to happen. It’s not about money. It’s not about fame, or anything like that. Mixed in is your own self-therapy. It’s all in there too. You’re hoping to share. I’ve seen people moved and … you feel helpful. You feel at least some sense of accomplishment because you don’t have it all to yourself.”
“Pat Brayer has built—with his own handwriting—a wilderness of his own design to howl in. When I need some inspirational humor, I know whom to check in with. His epigram has adorned my every outgoing email for the last 25 years. Thanks, Pat! That and $50 will get you a Frappuccini Grotte.”
Darol Anger(David Grissman / Turtle Island String Quartet / Mr. Sun)
(The Brayerian epigram which Darol Anger speaks of is: “If the search for reason had an end, and it hired a band, it would be a small army of old-time fiddlers on horseback.” This quote appears on Anger’s CD “Heritage”, which was a star studded neo-harrysmithian compilation which included such as Willie Nelson.)
“Patrick Brayer is a country, a culture, almost a planet, an earth poet/messenger broadcasting his lyrical and deeply literary beauty recognizer soul to our universe that pretends to be unheeding and impartial, but never really is anything but our partner in this creative crime of life and death theatre/dance orchestration of it all.”
“Patrick Brayer is unique. In a world where every artist seems to have at least half an eye on their genre peers to make sure they don’t step too far out of line, Patrick Brayer doesn’t even know where that line is. He has his own lines, painted in a mixture of bourbon and dirt. No other artist is so resolutely their own person, both in songwriting, playing, image and just about everything. For me he is where the real American music is. When I listen to his songs I am carted off down a dusty highway to a world that may or may not exist, but has more vitality, texture and emotional high stakes than the real one.”
“Who the fuck is this Patrick Brayer bloke? Oh, that feller with the songs and the cabbages. To be fair he ain’t bad, and I’ll listen to some of his hits when I’m putting away a plate of sauasages, bacon, five eggs, beans, mushies and black pudding. And fried bread. And I’ll tell you summat – you can smell his songs over the bacon fat, I fucking swear. There’s summat that gets right up your hooter in a way you don’t get from other music, not even “Burning Heart” by Survivor. In a good way, mind you. I dunno if it’s whisky or sweat or petrol or what but I can’t get enough of that fucking smell. And don’t tell me the word’s “gas” by the fucking way – gas is what comes out of my arse.”
Royston Blake (Charlie Williams character from the Mangel Series)
We live in an era where the proliferation of mediocre online pomp is fed to dopamine addicted masses byunfeeling and invasive technology. In the Artificially Intelligent world of pretentious social media influencers, true creative genius is not obscured by superficial facades. Computers are useless – they only give you answers.
Patrick Brayer knows a better way. The creative root of his expression is the marriage of music and poetry, characterized by a prodigious imagination and an authentic poise-of-mind. His decades-long prolific output is a bright moment of triumph for the creative soul and his dauntless artistic courage is inspiring. It is my supreme fortune to have him as my friend and creative mentor.
Pat Cloud (Jazz banjo innovator, Flying Fish Records, Mel Bay author)
“Cabbage and Kings” comes at us like a horrifying flood. The language licks, batters, wounds – a poetic, troubled rush of debris . . . Patrick Brayer has little mercy to spare, for his characters or himself. His text is broken, beautiful and ugly in spots . . . His song, “How’d I Get This Toe Tag On My Heart” is like a good, long scream in the ear.
Derwood Brown (Arkansas State Penitentiary / Bank Robber)
When a clock stops tracking time does it then cease to be a clock? When a fish is caught and frozen does it forget to be a fish? One is still useful, the other not, unless in sleuthing you wanted only to know whenst time froze and cried out at the crime scene. Both exist, but then that very existence proves to itself that it is almost never enough? Answer these questions and you will see what I am on about. Writing about myself, it seems I sorely give myself the impression that I fear no subject.
The catalyst for this present collection, Cabbage and Kings, was a regional songwriter and author named Dennis Callaci. I had known of him for a smattering of years peripherally as the humble giant high atop Rhino Records, in Claremont, California. I knew of him likewise as the apostolic shepherd of Shrimper Records a locally based label founded in 1990. For about twenty years we were just nodding acquaintances, each wrestling the tiger away from the lamb in our own ways. Mutual respect I think they’re calling it. One day he approached me to tell me that just that prior day, during a rainstorm, he had made a strong cup of coffee and gave listen to my entire 1979 LP, Cold Feelings, and also that it was like a religious experience. I didn’t want to dowse his enthusiasm, so I didn’t bother to tell how much the record embarrassed me. It was my performance only that made me shiver, as I was flanked by a regalia of legendary players. Two songs from the album later went on their merry ways to have Grammy and Gold Record involvement, not to mention it was the session debut of fiddle great Stuart Duncan, who became one of my dearest friends. A few days later I slunk into Rhino Records, as if embroiled in a dastardly affair, and left a copy of an anthology of my work, one put out on the Aim label out of Tujunga (1998), entitled, Sinner-Songwriter. That I thought was a truer example of me attempting to evolve, all the way back from my origins, living on a lowly egg ranch, streets lined with brain-sized wash rocks, up until now, still viewing the world anew through that self-same chicken’s eye, or at the least the kaleidoscopic heart of a magpie drumming. But, as you might know, when you get to know Dennis, he is capable of envisioning the entire evolution of something as one entity. So, I was honored to be considered in that realm.
Note to Self (V54)
I wrote the song Note to Self (To Say Goodbye) on October 10, 1999, in the moonlit interior of a parked 1973 Caprice Classic. It wasn’t until late in my career that I began to put dates on the songs. Any excuse for a birthday party I’m guessing. The ‘aircraft carrier’, as I was like to call the vehicle, was stationed on a horseshoe driveway beside two towering palm trees just outside the ranch house that we were renting. The neighboring houses, whose windows were black-eyed, seem to brood in the pittance of the municipal streetlight. Through the tinted glass windshield, one could eye from here a spray of those pointed creatures we call stars, tipping from the sky like the amber ash of a bum’s cigarette, in mid-droop, just about to drop.
I inherited the Chevy from my father, who died that very same year at our family home in Fontana. He had been dead for three days when the police were called because his two bronze dachshunds were yapping for their lives. The last time I saw my father alive was rather biblical. He couldn’t reach his feet so he asked me to clip his toenails. I got a tub of water, clipped his nails, and proceeded to wash his feet. That done, I was out and on my way. In leaving I nodded as if to show good sense. I’m more than sure I probably had a self-important poem harkening me, likely involving a feathered quill and a crushed velvet cape, avoiding in my process anything useful, such as hoeing or weeding. A while after his passing we had a yard sale that involved a lot of Hispanic neighbors marching off down the street with his threadbare furniture over their shoulders. Our father was not a racist, I’m just saying that when we moved to the house in 1972 there was not one Hispanic, and then in ’99 it was 80%. We laugh now, but that is a lot for a Wisconsin farm-boy and decorated WWII vet to digest. I stepped away from the yard-sale to talk to a neighbor who was a music teacher in town. He once told me a story, in the center of the cul-de-sac street between our houses, of back in the day when he played catch with Nat King Cole outside of the Shrine Auditorium. I asked about his daughter, whom I’d seen in days gone by puffing her tricycle down the sidewalk in doubloon gold hair. She later, all grown up, had married jazz organist Johnny Hammond Smith. I then questioned him about the police procedure surrounding my father’s passing. I told him that I had called several times, but that I wasn’t alarmed because he didn’t always pick up, which I myself am often guilty of. He said back, “He always picks up for me”, which I took as a jab.
One more thought about the Caprice Classic, which my mother had bought from Rotollo Chevrolet in Fontana in 1974. She passed away in 1975 of breast cancer when I was twenty-one years of age, she was fifty-one. Move ahead to 2004 and my wife and I are then living in Claremont, California. We were located directly across the street from a rest home called, Claremont Manor, where I had later befriended the historic rock DJ, Hunter Handcock in his final years. One late morning I heard a knock at the door. Upon answering it I beheld four senior citizens of a Norman Rockwell caliber, almost wearing sleigh bells. They had come to inform us that they had written a play about our Caprice Classic, which was always parked out front like you might find a cannon in a plaza. The name of the play was Butterscotch, which alluded to the pallor of the car, when you weren’t busy calling it baby-skat. They asked if we wouldn’t mind bringing it down for the premiere of the play and royaly park it at the entrance. I don’t know if that was the highest point of my career, but it was close. All the actors were so geriatric, with the accompanying body language of insects, deathbed studies all, that they had to read their lines, trembling, off of foxed loose leaf. They might just as well have been reading at a wedding supper.
(Back to Ontario 2010, penning Note to Self.) At the parked wheel of the car, I was drinking the jade elixir of a “melting margarita” and listening to the twangy gruff of Jamey Johnson emanating from a weathered boombox. Nobody uses boomboxes anymore, I fear. I think if a modern person saw one nowadays, they would rather figure it was a time bomb. The reason I’m out in the car in the dark in the first place, swatting nag-champa smoke away from my eyes, was because we had a one-year-old daughter in the house in slumber.
I think the song Note to Self speaks to the power of words. I have great admiration for the cinema, I just don’t have any money, and oh yah’,…I’m afraid of people. So, I opted to just set out to make movies with a pencil and a bar napkin, where if done right, in my opinion, can be equally as powerful, or weak for that matter because all movies can’t be as good as The Big Lebowski. Speaking from the point of view of an artist, I feel it stems from my own sense of powerlessness, a vehicle that tends to draw me inward. So, the song starts right off, “The moon is drawn and quartered”. The first thing the narrator does is to chop up the moon, which is right out of the gate challenging for the imagination, picturing perhaps a bloody planetary scenario. “Grandfather’s truck garden”, and the “child’s hair”, are just like gum wrappers in real life that just happen to be blowing by and end up being ushered into the song. My grandfather came from Slovenia in 1901 to work in the copper mines of Calumet Michigan, ending up an actual character in the Woody Guthrie ballad, The 1913 Massacre. By the time my dad came along in 1921, they were raising pigs on their own subsistence farm in Wisconsin. The golden curls belong to, as I said before, my daughter in the house sleeping with a powder blue Eeyore. When I’m in the zone I’m somewhat out of control, and the narrator has advice, which is perhaps more for myself than anyone else, there giving advice that I probably wouldn’t have the nerve to give. “You can’t change my ways before I do”. The thing I find most valuable to myself about the work is that I can stand back from it and learn, because it seems to me to be much wiser than I really am.
(Brayer Brother’s Bridge / Temecula / photo: Mike Brayer)
Note to Self (To Say Goodbye)
The moon was drawn and quartered / and there and on its back
And rightly symbolized / a world under attack
A grandfather’s truck garden / a child’s hair golden curled
A prison granting pardon / these are all new hopes of the world
The words“I love you” are not in essence / three words to scream
A note to myself / feathered fortune to redeem
I’m trying to organize my cry / note to self to say goodbye
I’m just behind the eight ball / that’s placed behind the plow
I’m just glad to say to you / that I have a daughter now
I had a rip roaring / imagination with you
But you can’t change my ways / before I do
Will my name be forgotten / or will it hold up in candlelight?
Will it be stuck in traffic / will it win yet lose its sight?
I don’t mean to trump the dawn / with this clown suit that I’ve got on
But who am I anyway / to swing on a star and walk away?
I don’t have what fate holds / and how near the sound of far
Drinking melting margaritas / in a brand-new used car
Mariachi trumpets are my conscience / my heart is on hold
When I’m only as young / as the day is old
I’m burning for freedom / as I’m looking up the word
For it feels to have a meaning / that I’ve never heard
Like a newborn child / that beholds my health
I’m at the wheel of that / which controls itself
My mother rose above / a holler and a ridge
On my way to San Diego / and the Brayer Brother’s Bridge
Every day I have a feeling / that feelings are just confession
With a daughter in your arms / you are receiving a mystery lesson
Where love blots out religion /and the perils of the world
And a sexual situation / around your finger curled
The truth and I we stand substantial / we sort of make a golden cross
A figure moans in the darkness / and I’m at a winner’s loss
Brick house, fortress gates / they don’t keep out a thing
That they don’t keep in in theory / that the future cannot cling
Peasant banjo take me home / I’ve come a long long way from then
Not that it’s ever clear / but the sexy side of sin
A velvet painting of a trailer / the far gone skipping of a rope
Trees weep in the car lights / as I run, I hope
Enough with realization / nothing cast in stone
Am I on my own / or am I just all alone?
The moon was tiny / it almost let me down
Then I thought deep of how the gold / could crucify the crown
We were together / in all kind of weather
That blows high in the air the feather
And when and where it touches down
Only us it will astound
Written by: Patrick Brayer
A Painless Way to Cry (V51)
The tune Painless Way to Cry was written on June 11, 2009. Our daughter was six months old, so my wife was probably back at learning high schoolers English literature, all in my selfish hopes that they might someday be able to decipher my lyrics. So thought I. That leaves me split yin and yangiously like a sawmill pine, between being ‘stay at home diaper king’ and the original brooding author of hardscrabble country-noir songsmanship. The manner in which I have over the years attempted to paint my upbringing in the steelmill town of Fontana California stems from, I imagine, the rural settings of my parents’ early lives. My mother was reared amidst the glass factories of Parkersburg West Virginia and the B&O Railroad, and my father in the hog-pen farm-fields of Marshfield Wisconsin. Change is not only inevitable in overview, its bone marrow is made of the culture of dreams. We can only, at our best, take our lives only as seriously as we take our dreams. That is what my songs are I reckon, just me, trying to look busy while dreaming out loud. My life, like a lean-to held up by a sapling pole. In this song, as in many others, I harken back to a simpler time. Tetanus rusted mobile homes parked askew, candlelight wavering in wondering eyes, and the generous gift of being so poor that you can ill afford a cell phone. Sexuality stretches out between the lines like a tuning fork. The winds, always ushering in the grit, in character, become a lonesomely angelic soundtrack, along with the crown sparrows, the humph of the tractor-trailer, and the mousy wife in the backseat of the Buick crying into her Tijuana shawl, quadraphonic. I don’t like gangster movies, and I don’t cotton to war. I’m not talking politically, but just in my songs. Which I guess can’t help but be personal, because I live within my songs. I think you have to, to obtain something approaching the truth. I don’t like the specifics of the story to get so organized as to entertain mob rule. I point more, you might say, in the direction of the natural order of hill justice, a red neck blooming through the opening of a shirt. Paper-thin souls, off the grid, taking a jeweler’s saw to the crooked family tree, amongst the kidskin weeds, nailed posthumously to another time, one on one.
A Painless Way to Cry
The wind makes an anthem through the trees
The stars rain down as brightly as they please
Tomorrow passes today right on by
Your thoughts are stainless / you’re looking for a painless
Looking for a painless way to cry
Smoking three home rolled cigarettes at a time
Shooting out the lights so you have an excuse to feel blind
Here comes a baby on your knee
Without trying / it’s already crying
And it can’t even see
But you’re looking, and that you know you can
And you’re looking, at the hourglass sand
You no longer shoot for the moon, you don’t even try
In your mind / you’d just be happy to find
A painless way to cry
Cheaters come in late and exchange shaky alibis
The trailer door’s left wide open, a stray dog comes inside
A refrigerator full of Burgie harmonizes with a florescent light
On a night that just won’t die / as domestic as an apple pie
Won in a bare-knuckle fist fight
You’re hoping, if that’s even the right word
You’re singing, but no sound can be heard
You’re seeking, out a bird that doesn’t ever need to fly
You’re on the scene / while you’re practicing
A painless way to cry
They made love in the chocolate mountains, got married at the Salton Sea
But the preacher jumped parole, so they’ll see what they will see
Those aren’t even real tears, the world will yet conclude
Hotter than a sauna / cheap drugs from Tijuana
Have never felt so good
Written by: Patrick Brayer
Capture and Release (V53)
I’ve never been much on the neanderthal side of hunting and fishing, so as you could notice, but that hasn’t stopped me from writing away at songs like Capture and Release, and other time-honored classics like Field and Stream (of the Bottle and the Glass). My father once warned me: “You get too open-minded and your brains might fall out”. The nameless narrator, in a devil’s advocate fashion, whispers advice in your ear. To, “not pretend that others are our love’s hidden goal.” He speaks with confidence as if he knows you well. Trying to be fair, “burning bridges of our own making”, becomes the sound of human nature tearing, but our hopes’ gills are then put back into the stream of life for another try.
In between all the lines also, if anyone is sick enough to be a student of all of this, are the ghosts of all my influences, starting early with Hank Williams, John Steinbeck, Faulkner, Andrew Lytle, Bill Monroe, and Pablo Neruda, all the way up to the contemporaries of what they are now calling “Grit Lit”, such as, Bill Frank (Crime of Southern Indiana), Phillip Ray Pollock (The Heavenly Table), and Charlie Williams (Deadfolk). My writing and the process thereof is the best therapy I can afford. It doesn’t heal me, though it does at times help me from seeing myself as a heel.
Then there’s the image of a lamb saved from the slaughter, and heaven busy being “only a real place for the heart to know”. Suggesting perhaps that religion works on the inside very well, but when you bring it out into the light of day it turns human, becoming man’s fingerprint and not Gods, and a mirrored opposite of its spiritual origins. But we are continually reminded, “It’s not fair”, returning us back again to square one. As the camera pans around from children in burlap, to guys mowing lawns, to shade tree mechanics, and resting into a case of non-apologetic infidelity coyly playing eight ball.
Capture and Release
It’s not fair / when you’re not born to fly
To keep an angel / from the sky
We may loom selfish / call it control
Pretend that others are our love’s hidden goal
Burning a bridge / of your own making
Out of the coals / you are raking
You can hear it sound / you can feel it tear
And it’s trying to be / but it’s not fair
It’s the give and take of honesty
Human nature / capture and release
It might be your mother, your daughter too
A lamb saved from the slaughter by you
It might be your wife / it might be your foe
For heaven is only a real place for the heart to know
And only it can breathe there
And it’s trying to be / but it’s not fair
It’s the give and take of honesty
Old human nature / capture and release
Children in burlap / guys mowing lawns
Shade tree mechanics / all getting along
A wife and her lover / shooting pool
In the air-conditioned golden rule
Take my advice / don’t listen to me
The best earthly advice is never free
The homeless lie like dead soldiers / in the park
Try to ignore them / a million dogs bark
Hear the sound / you can feel the tear
It’s trying to be / but it’s not fair
It’s a give and take / of honesty
Old human nature / capture and release
Written by: Patrick Brayer
Lose It (V51)
In 2007 in what in my world comes off as a cultural exchange, I was asked to do some session work on an album by a popular scream-metal band called, Atreyu. I was to supply pedal steel, Turkish saz, and fiddle. Sounded like an interesting challenge, so off to Hollywood I went. I’m usually not brave enough to do stuff like this but my brother-inlaw, Porter McKnight, plays bass in the group, so I knew he wouldn’t let me get beat up to a complete pulp. The album was called Lead Sails, Paper Anchor, and was being produced by John Feldmann (The Used, Hillary Duff, Korn).
So what we have here is my bold adaptation of one of the songs, Lose It, from their CD, . Sometimes I am known to gut the melody of a song, to reimagine it, as I did with, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn, later done by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. This time I didn’t completely gut it, but I did wound it pretty well. What I was attempting to do here was not recreate the song, but more to show you emotionally what I liked about it, as seen through the lens of every song I’ve ever written. I’m pleased with it and hopefully, this will get out there where people can aptly complain about it. Their album reached #8 on the Billboard Charts and garnered them and myself a Gold Record. I’m happy to say that they are out touring right now and seem to be on the top of their head-banging game.
Standing on the ledge / bottle in my hand
I’m trying to know / what I’m dying to know If I take this leap / fail to succeed I’m dying / I’m dying to know
This is it, I’m shaking / my body’s aching
If I lose my hold / I will let go This is it, I’m falling / my wings need to grow
Calling me to lose my hold / and I may let go
There’s so many roads / pitfalls filled with doubt explode
I’m dying / I’m dying to know Grabbing what I need / grip until it bleeds
I’m dying / dying to know
This is it, I’m shaking / my body’s aching,
If I lose my hold / I will let go This is it, I’m falling / my wings need to grow
Calling me to lose my hold / I may let go
And if I take this this leap / will I be broken for keeps This I’m dying / dying to know
This is it, I’m shaking / my body’s aching,
If I lose my hold / I will let go This is it I’m falling / my wings need to grow
Calling me to lose my hold / I will let go
(Written by Atreyu)
Toe Tag (On My Heart) V59
I wrote this little dank dark ditty on April 25, 2017 in a ranch house we had rented in Ontario California. The owner’s name was Lance Shinkle, a guitar student of our friend John York ( The Byrds ‘68-’69). The house was a sprawling maelstrom of surplus paint on brick, with a beautiful Meyer’s lemon tree shyly obscuring the front windows. The living room had a high open beam ceiling with Tirolian carved edges. Shinkle’s father built the rather excentric house by hand in the 40s back when its nearest neighbors were orange groves and smudge pots. Stored away in the garage was a 1947 carousel for which Shinkle hand carved the horses. By the time I wrote Toe Tag the carousel had been moved back to Falmouth Massachusetts. Lance was an amazing individual. He was a noted Plein-air painter, as well as in his younger days a performance skater in The Ice Capades. When he visited to move the carousel east, he thought, since he was here, he’d take tango dance lessons from someone nearby whom he found on the internet. Not too long afterward he left his wife and fell in love with a tango instructor in Cape Cod. You can now see that I don’t have to look very far for plot lines for my songs.
(Lance Shinkle / The Shinkle Ranch House)
I wrote Toe Tag on an old black face, teardrop, Gibson Mandocello that my friend Bryan Bowers had left at our house, along with a large proportion of his musical arsenal, while he went off on a two week autoharp sea cruise. Bowers usually visited us in the spring, sometimes staying for weeks, when his tours were anchored by a harp convention in Central California. He is famous for many things, only one being that he is the only living member of The Autoharp Hall of Fame, a list of which include Mother Maybelle Carter, Sara Carter, and Kilby Snow. He is a major talent and a salty bearded bear of a man, discovered by the Dillards, songs done by John Denver (Berkeley Woman), played on Emmylou Harris’ Roses in the Snow record, and a constant favorite at The Strawberry Music Festival. So I tuned the Gibson Mandocello open to CGCG, to achieve a sort of corn liquor model-minor soundscape. It is one of a number of my tunes that lyrically exercise dark humor. This, I hope, allows the listener to feel comfortable enough to laugh if they so choose. But upon further inspection, one can clearly see that there is nothing in the least bit funny about this character’s situation or vision. I was probably studying Igmar Berman’s Seventh Seal at the time. With, “I don’t remember death being all that dark ”, the character faces, in question, his own death at the morgue, as if in a ghost’s retrospect. We’ve got war and wealth, poverty promising one less thing to do to prolong his health. The perspective changes from first-person in the chorus to third-person in the verses to invite an extra subjective/objective dimension. “Your hair like barnyard feathers askew, I wake up with the living and I go to sleep with you”. As for the overall sound, I usually don’t use a lot of effects on my recordings. But in addressing this one I opted for the hard chorus on the instrument to give it that “sound from the other side”, or the imagined echo inside the crypt. So our hero’s last words were whispered in the form of a question, while a motley crew of suspicious saints looked at their sandaled feet. How’d I Get This Toe Tag on My Heart?
Toe Tag (On My Heart)
How’d I get this toe tag on my heart
I don’t remember the end being all that dark
Life speaks of itself as a hidden art
Each note a toe tag on my heart
Life coined every side / of beauty right
How’s I get this toe tag on my heart
Battle flag of cloud / bullet ridden by light
It’s never easy for a poor man to count his wealth
One less thing to do to prolong his health
Your first breath bookends your last in rhyme
How’d I get this toe tag on my heart
Everything else in the middle like moon dust so fine
Your hair like barnyard feathers askew
I wake up with the living and I go to sleep with you
Huge fake diamond bracelet reaching for the rest
Like someone punched an old ice chest
I got one last question before I pull apart
How’d I get this toe tag on my heart
Written by: Patrick Brayer
Standing There (V52)
There is a Taoist concept that when you say you’re enlightened there is no way you can be. Go back to the drawing board and practice until you don’t know it to be so. When you’re mining the depths for a fresh idea for a song you’d always prefer to come up with one that sets you apart from others. In this one, I give the exact opposite of what you want. In studying the old murder ballads, which were passed on orally, pre-newspaper, radio etc., we get back to basics In days of old, it was a good way of passing along horrendous news stories, with a good dose of a poor man’s version of the King’s theatre, not to mention a handy way to dramatically usher in a cautionary moral aside. So I flipped that concept where the woman poisons her lover’s wine only to find that he was happy that she did it. “Rather felt it was a favor, the very first time she’d been kind”. Just before dying, he confesses his confusion, “It wasn’t my life that spooled before me, but someone I never knew”. This speaks of the mysteries of life being able to go in any direction at any given time. He confessed to being happy, but then still seemed to forget that he didn’t, in hindsight, imagine where he was going to after death. Showing up as a ghost at his own burial, he speaks frankly of her character, “I hope that they don’t catch you, though you’ve never been that smart”. He leaves us in a Shakespearian moon-dankened fog, “A face like milk upon the shadows, my ghost be standing there”. So does she get caught? Let’s just say, she doesn’t if you want her to, and she doesn’t if you do.
The very first time I saw you / you were standing in the rain
The very last time I saw you / it was like you invented pain
And I’m sitting and I’m holding / everything I thought was mine
I’m low down here and sorry / as I spill a glass of wine
That you fill up with poison / I feel better as I fall
I’m glad I brought you flowers / when I done came to call
You look pretty standing or’me / lipstick hanging in the air
You fortify your stockings / with one leg up on the chair
Standing there / standing there
You fortify your stockings / just standing there
I must be patient with the shadows / I thought it rather crude
That it wasn’t my life that spooled before me / but someone I never knew
I’d been cheated it appears / but I didn’t seem to mind
I rather felt it was a favor / the first time that you’d been kind
Standing there / standing there
I rather felt it was a favor / the way you were standing there
So I’ll meet you at the gravesite / pallbearers be my legs
Black shawl, pale skin, and green grass / and you get all the dregs
I’m free, I’m free I thank you / and now let the freedom start
I hope that they don’t catch you / though you’ve never been that smart
It’s really hard to tell / who used who and why
Now as you learn to live / with what I learned to die
Moon be gold tonight / and do beget her hair
With a face like milk upon the shadow / my ghost be standing there
Standing there / standing there
A face like milk upon the shadow / just standing there
Written by: Patrick Brayer
Empty Cage Behind
(Dedicated to Chris Darrow (1944-2020) (V60)
This is a song I wrote to be sung as a sonic eulogy at the memorial concert for my dear friend Chris Darrow (1944-2020). The concert was staged at The Garner House in Claremont, California on March 7, 2020. As I have written several pieces on him over the years on this blog I will just include the lyrics here and then links to the articles below. Also, find below a Youtube link to footage from the memorial concert.
Richard Gordon Barnes, was born November 5, in the autumn of 1932 in San Bernardino, California. He was reared in a Mohave Desert dust-devil that seemed to continue to revolve in his eyes, even after a barnacle of a year at Harvard, then coming back to earn his PHD from Claremont Graduate School. He then went on to serve 40 years as a professor at the revered Pomona College in Claremont California, specializing there in bringing Medieval and Renaissance literature to life. He accomplished all of this while raising a family, while at night constructing poems with a tinker’s fervor, and on top of all that playing the washboard with thimbles in a cosmic New Orleans jazz ensemble. To read his poetry for yourself was to understand that he had all the angels of literature cantankerously looking over his shoulder. So strong a presence that even if you didn’t believe in such balderdash, they were still there. When following my own artistic process where and when I follow an opportunity to archive a work of just importance, I do so exactly as I scribe a song, or as I concoct a dinner driven by the memory haze of forthcoming aromas. I have inherent in me a deep seeded need to correct what appear to me as faulty patterns, albeit in words or in a poet’s career, those that arrive before me as self-educated apparitions. Non-ego selfishness if you will.
I arrived for the first time at 434 W. 7th St. in Claremont CA, to the Barnes 1920’s era craftsman domicile, feeling as if I were on a soldiery mission. Me wide eyed with a PT 109-gray digital recording device under my wing, pushed from the back by those aforementioned angels perchance, to document the poetics of this salty long-time lyric sage of the San Gabriels. My wife and I had, just a few weeks prior, gone out into the Pomona night’s attempt at starlight to attend a gathering and to hear Barnes read at a fringe neo-beat holdout called The Da Gallery. I had just recently heard of his terminal illness and was surprised as to how he looked as regal and handsome as I had ever seen him. Death’s little joke I now suppose. The wooden floored space had no sound system and even though we sat in the front row I was ill to hear a good percentage of the important words I supposed he spoke, and as is important to me, the all-telling tone in his voice was robbed, refreshing my memory as to why I seldom go out anymore. It’s the robbery. We chatted afterwards, him and I, over tilted plastic beakers of somber tinted wine and I bought a copy of his book Few and Far Between from his grasp for my collection.
It was of course like the strike of a ball-peen realization, when he informed me that he had never really been recorded, in response to my missing, in the blind acoustics of the room, the musical timber of his inspired back-lot poetics. And so it was, for the next year that I compiled below the creaking rafters of that craftsman, it sounding as I imagined the mayflower arriving, the most precious lessons of my life, his life in vocal formula. Thin tortoise spectacles, hair slicked back, tough hombre in a casket soft recliner, and notes and poems pulled from every which direction like a magic act. With a devilish bottle of Glenlevit single malt on the tabletop before us I turned the recorder until its two little red eyes lit, and in the seminal fluid of the headphones I watched as fate took over for me and handed me, outside of my control, a most cherished mentor program. A grail to be shared by many, yet spoken directly to me, and like a good tamale there engulfed in the masa-harina of tales from San Bernardino, all the way to the motor courts and lava beds of Barstow. You tend to just want to blow on by such occasions as this, with their transmissions of information deep enough to test what you ponder as the capacity of your fuse box.
For him as a thought and as a human being, the tears could restore the Owens Valley, or rekindle spirituality just so that you could call him up for some firsthand knowlage about the paved-over aspects of our dusty inland empire. Like Borges at a cockfight his eyes still light up in my mind, reminding us that death is perhaps a much slower fade than we think, as we might live on in the remaining minds, perhaps for a good time after, profound or no profound. The last time I talked to him I had just come from Hollywood where I was visiting with long time friend Stuart Duncan and his momentary boss Lyle Lovett, and it impressed upon me then of the diametrical sameness between these personages of fame and their humble counter part in the death bed before me. I showed Dick the artwork that I had just completed for an eight volume CD set of his recorded work, which he had wanted to leave for all of his friends. The CD cover images were culled from some hand sketched sparse portraits he did of his favorite plant, the desert creosote, the dominant flora of the Mohave. In the room with us were his wife Pat, artists Carl Hertel, his daughter Katy Hertel (her step mother was the famed painter Sue Hertel), and Dick’s daughter Sarah. Things were spinning around in the air of that room as molecules were confusing each other in a “not in Kansas anymore” fashion. It was all big and it was all deep, with much space in between the lines to think, basically it was another one of Dick Barnes’ poems come to life. So, the elephant in the room is, “Why is it that Dick Barnes is not a more famous poet on the world stage?” Him being so far beyond the acres of celebrated mere-mortals spewing wooden stanzas. The simple answer is that “Dick Barnes writes far better than most people can read”. The age-old problem being, bullet-starring your children in the eyes, that they, the banks, don’t understand the currency of “being ahead of your time”.
Real art is that which splays your life out before you, contains the uncontainable, and gives you something to chew on for the rest of your days, numbered as they are pocked by mystery. I piled my recording equipment back into the boot of my sawdust-colored Caprice Classic, it faithfully waiting at the Barnes curb, for the last time in March of the year 2000, pulling our way slowly past parading elms and Rasta-headed palms on route back to my home, below a crown of emaciated clouds, two towns over, in Upland. I’ll have to admit that it is here in the sincerity of solitude, that I don’t as much wait for the return of Dick Barnes as I do every day live in the shear idea of it. It remains that un-stealable and heart-warming element which I give thanks that we all privately own.
Patrick Brayer (Upland, California)This article was originally written in summer 2002 but was re-edited in 2021
Granite Intrusive by Dick Barnes
Where the clean wind scours the rock— sun like a hammer, ice the other season— there’s the life, said the lichen, that’s the life for me.
I’m so glad we found this place murmured the moss before the tourists came.
Root of a palo blanco in thin bark like white paper crept down over bare rock: I like a place that’s been spoiled just enough, said the root, snuggling in.
The rock didn’t say anything at all. Why would it?
Alluvium: A Reply by Dick Barnes
Somewhere two rivers rush together at the foot of a scarp, meander over a coastal plateau, then down a barranca
the rio caudal plunges into its deep estuary and huge canyons under the sea. But here
on this nearly level delta wide as the eye can see streams mingle and separate, some sweet, some brack
some sink under their own silt, are lost in the arrowweed where a curve of current earlier carved the bank
some dwindle down sloughs under poplar or willow, the heron’s home, some into quicksand, and
nothing is turning out the way you thought it would be, nothing.
Doomsday by Jorge Luis Borges
It will be when the trumpet sounds, as in St. John the Divine. It was already in 1757, according to the witness of Swedenborg. It was in Israel when the she-wolf nailed the flesh of Christ to the cross, but not only then. It happens in every throb of your blood. There is no moment that may not be the crater of Hell. There is no moment that may not be the water of Heaven. There is no moment not loaded like a gun. In every moment you may be Cain or Siddartha, the mask or the face. In every moment Helen of Troy may reveal her passion for you. In every moment the cock may have crowed the third time. In every moment the waterclock lets its last drop fall.
Tim Weed, his hair a paintbrush of sterling silver, his eyes as if turquoise could fade, and his life a car full of rain sticks, Vietnamese mouth organs, and weathered pre-war Martins beaten to a shroud of toran shade. His life is an endless possibility, and the mobius strip of raw and unadulterated idea is all and present here.
I’m no longer intimidated by the fact that nothing is what it seems. That stands as the first polyphonic revelation of a life in song. There is always some pin pointable form of music that becomes your anchor of what. For Tim Weed, that enormous weight, invisible in deep water, was bluegrass musing, or the miniature sawmill of hill music. To some it is a narrow and limiting field, but that, as an entity for our salvation does not concern us, for those are only the narrow at heart, sadly blind to the hands of genius. Bluegrass is a mobile swinging, hanging around the corner from itself. The fiddle ushers Celtic influence in on horseback, the banjo brings African plunk and savanna tone, then the guitar from Spain rings like a tambourine, while the dobro ushers in the relief of grass-skirted tropic islands. Bill Monroe’s mandolin playing itself is no more than the pounding down-stroke of a pine top juke house piano. On top of this you add vocals that tap a gospel field-holler like forest turpentine, and an angelic choir forced through a nasal dimension, or the third eye, until it simulates a high lonesome wind through a trademark coulter pine.
These realities are nothing new to Weed, raised on the art of surfing as a youth in California. It then became easy for him to mix with the influences of Zen Buddhism, and through the meditation of the nautical arts, the dance of the razor’s edge between land and sea, until it became not much work at all for him to project himself cosmically to a tar paper shack, sunshine and mud, in fragrant Appalachia. He’s lived in a house made of hay-bale technology, he has learned to make lemon-leaf tea broth from the natives of Fuji, he’s worked beside James Cagney in a movie, scored symphonies for the five-string banjo, and he has on occasion sung back-up for Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers and Phil Spector fame. If you have heard of him then you are a lifelong fan. If you have not heard of him, it is because he is a musician’s musician, a breed that plays music that is mined from down in the marrow, notes and phrases as a bodily function, until like a mother hen, one is a bit afraid of what the corporate side of the music business might cost the open channel that has forever been the original blessing
A lot of musicians have over the years muscled “the real thing” aside while going straight through the wall. Tim Weed, forever a gentle soul, continues to work in a Rembrandtian fashion, a cosmic craftsman, until the door, that of course like all doors is built to open, swings free out onto a stand of brass band roses. I’m please to be here to catch the influence, for influence is like starlight, and every new project of his which you might be so lucky to hold, illusively, not being what it seems, is the doorknob.
This is Tim Weed’s latest offering for 2021. It’s titled Light and Dark and it contains his original classical compositions for the banjo recorded in the Czech Republic’s with the 82-piece Prague Metropolitan Orchestra.
He started out as Prince Charming, roused her from thunder, I mean slumber.
Dick Barnes (California’s greatest poet)
They say you can’t believe a dream, and then they turn right around and tell you that life is but a dream. As in all good stories, even mocking truth, it depends on who in tarnation ‘they’ are. I woke the other day fresh from a dream wherein I was backing a big yellow school bus out of our driveway here on 5th street. I felt huge anxiety at first but then was amazed at how it just floated effortlessly. I somehow knew instinctively that I was waiting for a primered old Ford that would be coming westward like a flat grey nickel, and when I saw it I should go the opposite direction (to where no one knows). Sure enough there it was, so I floated out, but it was at an impossible angle and the only option was to follow the Ford in anti-obedience. I decided then to just circle around the block, hanging a turn north towards the San Gabriel Mountains, and then swing back, since I didn’t know where I was going in the first place. Circling around, then pointed east in my loop, I came to the front of my daughter’s elementary school, which is across the street from our house on the far side in real life. When I got there there was a dirt shoulder which is not there in reality, but was wide enough to park the bus, so I thought I would just leave it there so as to not block our driveway. Leaving it in front of a school seemed reasonable.