Expecting To Fly-9 / by Lorraine García-Nakata

Lorraine García-Nakata playing guitar

Today, the wind blows firm over the San Francisco terrain as I write from a favorite nook that looks out over public trams and people migrating on foot zipping up coats and flipping up collars. We’ve had four inches of rain that spilled long and even over the last five days. 

The rainy week gave me time indoors to focus and complete a music task. I’d been fooling with a guitar line for a long while, just waiting for a lyric that felt right. Once the nouns and verbs pushed forward, it only took about twenty minutes to layout the story. Lyric usually comes more quickly once I land the guitar music, but this particular tale had its own timeline. I realize now there were some events I had to experience first.

As an artist that navigates between three artistic disciplines, there are other creative outlets to keep my attention until a lyric or music line decides to appear. Finally the lyric arrived, so I worked together the vocal and guitar soon after calling Lee Parvin at his recording studio, “I think I have a couple tunes I’d like to nab before that ‘first love’ moment passes.” He laughed because he knows exactly what that moment is and why laying a track within that initial lust period is a good idea. It’s similar to the period when you first meet a love interest, your excitement level elevates and you’re feeling that part of your brain smoothing out life’s wrinkles. It’s a thrill and a new song can also work that part of you. As writer and performer, Lee knows about how fleeting that window of time can be to capture it in a recording. “Work it up, get it ready, but just don’t play the song too much before we record so we can catch that wave while it's still feeling really live.”

I’m around seasoned musicians, both as close friends and because I also present them. As I reignite my music life, it’s set against a backdrop of terrific musicians who have lived and breathed their work for decades. So, working to avoid feeling inadequate is an expected challenge. I negotiate that territory and developed a way to keep myself from getting in my own way. Getting in one's own way happens when an internal critical sergeant starts up in the head. To offset all that, I do something similar to “pretending.” It‘s a mind game. I tell myself that I am already what I am working to become. It works better at times more than others, but it's a way to relax enough to deliver what you already have the capacity to do, instead of choking.

So this last week, on a rainy afternoon, I drove down Highway 1 to Pacifica, California to Lee's studio. Guitar in hand, I begin to roll the pretend thing in mind. Lee directs me to my seat, plugs me in, gets my headset working, wires me for sound, and works the settings right for my voice and guitar while I work to keep that strip of confidence front and center. From the booth and into my headset, Lee says, “We’re rolling.” And in that second of silent live space before you start, I pull it in, focus, and begin.  During this “live” period of recording time I’m able to keep one foot in “pretend” territory while the other lifts slightly off the ground but doesn't commit to the insecurity pad. I’ll be glad when I put in more time so that I can count on a level of confidence that I have in arenas of visual arts and writing.

I'm all geared up for sound. During a pause, Lee's granddaughter pops in.

One of the songs I recorded was my own and titled, More Than One Way To Get Home. The other is a 1966 cover song written by the late Fred Neil. I have always loved his material and voice.

Working up the songs and recording them was it’s own right of passage, but in order to include the recordings in this blog to share with you, I had to create a URL. That meant working with imovie and finding an appropriate still photo. That fried a few brain cells. Once creating my YouTube account the songs were uploaded. Until that moment, I'd been focused on meeting challenges of finishing, arranging, preparing, and recording the songs, but then it hit me they were now out there and public. I had a moment of silent, middle-of-the-night panic. My stuff was out there, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

Photo of me in NY, Times Square I worked up to accompany YouTube posting of song I wrote,
More Than One Way To Get Home

I’ll share a little about my tune More Than One Way To Get Home. Several things seeded the lyric, but as with my other writing, I let it sail out without over thinking. Later reviewing the lyric, the theme became more apparent. In this life you have choices and you may even have a general road you want to travel. We often get in our own way of pursuing our passions. It’s not unusual that we give up before we really start because of a whole host of fears. As humans we regularly default to fear instead of heading toward things that make us joyful. That list of fears is long, yet the list of things giving us joy is much shorter. Why is that? Words like being “responsible” are socially acceptable words often used to describe giving up on a dream. We are oriented to default toward fear in this business of living and it’s good to be aware that we are constantly in recovery from that lens. In my case, even though later in life, I decided to hop back on the passion bus and I'm glad I did.

Lee Parvin and I have discussed many times how it’s not only responsible for an artist to create, it’s a duty. Art has the ability to create joy, which I see as energy that lifts rather than pulls down. Physics, philosophy, Indigenous understanding, and some less dogmatic religious perspectives have helped me to understand the interdependent relationship between actions of a single entity on that of a larger system. In other words, creative work has the power to shift things. As I shared with Lee, "The 'universe' is counting on us to follow our passions, and to not follow it, is irresponsible."

I sing, write, create work with my hands and it opens me up to unexpected territory. It’s like the event horizon of a black hole, a place at the opening of the vortex where gravity is pulling in and out at the same force causing something to hover for a bit, neither in nor out. I always loved the idea of that. I once read that the event horizon is where dynamic life and creativity can linger and give birth. It's another way to describe the place creative/improvisational artists step into.

More Than One Way To Get Home also shares that you can take a direct or “scenic” route toward your passion. I mention baking because I also love inventing/creating meals to share. So, I didn’t sit down and try to mesh all this together in a song. Instead, I had feelings/thoughts that hovered and they injected themselves in the lyric. I'd also been looking out at all that goofy stuff going on out in the public arena and re-visited writings including Shakespeare’s Mercy Speech and thoughts by Leon Foucault (1819-1868) and historian/philosopher Michael Foucault (1926-1984). All of this insinuated itself into my song.

My goal in birthing More Than One Way To Get Home was to finish a musical line I’d been having fun playing, give it life, and possibly cause the listener to spark a smile. Here’s the link to this new tune. I hope it suits you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWQuvSgGjsU

One of my guitars and finger picks I use for recording
Steve Green was my performing partner in 1965 and gave me my first finger picks. A terrific guitar player, master picker, he could play any style and vocally we married well. He was about five years older than me and drove around in his yellow Fiat wearing black rimmed glasses that are in vogue again. We sang together when I was barely in my teens, traveling to the Bay Area from my home in the Central Valley.

During that period, I was fearless with my voice and could do most anything with it. I trained for an hour every Monday through Friday morning with instructor Richard Hull. A jazz musician, he was a stickler and I really appreciated that he cared so much, enough to get really earnest and sometimes shout. He shared once that he'd get excited because, "we were so close" to nailing something difficult. Also, being perfectly in tune wasn't optional. The result was my ability to have a broad vocal range, develop an appreciation for dissonance, incredible breath support, sparing use of virbrato, becoming one voice with other singers, expanding and contracting emotion, and moving from a cresendo into the power of pianissimo then suspending a note for a very long time giving it life till the end. When Steve and I'd sing, I loved finding the right moment to let a note hover at length this way at the close of a song, stunning folks into silence before a burst of applause. You get the picture, I was fearless because of what my voice could do. So, decades later, I'm getting to know a new voice, its assets and limitations, and music that suits me at this point in my life. It's like getting reacquainted with a long lost best friend from childhood. Tough at first, but since I wasn't successful in ignoring this passion, I'm doing the hard work again and taking a risk of sharing it with you.

1968: Me/white shirt, Steve Green/white shirt, sister/Eva, my partner Craig Hinkley/hat and friends

One day Steve noticed that when he'd play his guitar my fingers would automatically move, tapping a surface to his picking tempo. He showed up one day with metal finger picks that he placed on my fingers and told me to pick while he changed chords. Smiling he said, "You're a natural picker and should start playing." So, not long after I ended up with a guitar that he handed me and I began learning to play songs like Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind, Donovan's We Stood In A Windy City, and others with simple cords. I never played when we performed but I'd play for hours on my own toughening up the tips of fingers that hold down the strings. It hurt a lot at first but I was so excited about playing and getting better that I just kept going despite the pain. What I still like about picking with my right hand and hammering with my left, is that it allows you to expand or contract the emotion of a song even more. It also makes simple cords sound more complex. I have very small hands, so keeping cords simple or playing in open tunings helps me, especially since I sing and play at the same time. When I turned twenty one years of age and was living-on-the-land in the Pacific Northwest mountains, a friend of mine named Ed Rapp had a special pair of picks hand cast and fashioned out of solid sterling silver. They each have micro sized imprints of an eagle and are still one of my treasures. They're my dress up picks.

YouTube image I selected to accompany song, Faretheewell

The second song I recorded at Lee Pavin's studio is Faretheewell, a 1966 piece by Fred Neil. He is a writer and singer I have admired over the years. Born on July 7, 1936 and leaving us on March 16, 2001, he released three albums in the 1960's yet shunned anything relating to fame and celebrity. He preferred playing privately for friends and refused requests for interviews. Singers of the New York scene during that period, such as Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and many many others, speak of his influence on them. Positioned to have all the fame others would know, Fred was a recluse. For me, his songs were often haunting, simple genius, and drew emotion. His unusual voice range, especially his lower register, snagged my senses even more. It also made his songs a challenge to sing. The first time I heard Faretheewell, I was hooked. I'd always wanted to sing this song, but it wasn't until recently that I worked out an arrangement that I could play in the style I know and in a key allowing me to approach and sing this beguiling song. I certainly enjoy singing it and hope I did it some justice. Here is the link if you're interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=err3qaBjqy8
In previous blog posts I've been chattering on about the three artistic disciplines I hope to continue to navigate. I can't seem to let any of them go. They are family and part of who I am and also becoming. I knew I'd eventually have to take the risk of sharing with you the progress I'm making in a discipline I dropped for over thirty years, then decided to reengage again. I did beat myself up for a long, long time about calling a halt to making music but have come to realize we do what we do in our own time, and that time is the correct time for each of us. Buddah helped me with that. So, I now take the risk of making bare this musical part of my life, the joy it brings and all its imperfection. Also, as I write this, I'm smiling at the non-intended parallel between the song Faretheewell, that speaks of flying, and my blog title and metaphor for living to the fullest, Expecting To Fly. Do what you came in this life to do. I'm certainly trying.

My hand cast sterling silver picks, gift from Ed Rapp in 1971

I'll leave you with that for now.
My best to you,


blog: lorrainegarcianakata.blogspot.com
web site: http://lorrainegn.com/

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