Hello everyone. Just to let you know that there are currently four, and soon to be six new videos up on YouTube on the Michael Engberg Channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrxFkfTq-UOdUXKRm9uNZhQ The channel now has covers, instrumentals and other original singer/songwriter material. Go wild and have a listen.
There is a program called The Quinnn Spinn, at WROM.net. I submitted my two latest albums to them a couple of weeks ago, and was notified that they look to feature some of my music on their New Music Showcase tomorrow (Friday, October 31) at 6pm EDT. They’re looking to play “Bumblebee Wages”, so if you haven’t checked that tune out as yet, feel free to look them up and tune in.
“How many laps did you do?” asked the stranger at the side of the pool, as I used the stairs to climb out from my session. “Fifty-one,” I replied. “Fifty-six laps is a mile,” the stranger informed me. That was on Saturday. On Sunday, I did sixty-one laps, making it a total of two miles in two days. My body was sore, but it was the good soreness of an intense workout. I have actually come to welcome that sense of ache. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes some five years ago. My doctor at Kaiser Permanente allowed me to control the diabetes via diet and exercise. I test my blood nearly every morning, and while the diet has worked fairly well on its own merits, my chance to swim over the last couple of weeks has been a wonderful boost. I swim laps pretty much the first thing every morning, and since doing so, the glucometer readings have been steadily in the low 100’s (126 is considered the level at which you are considered diabetic, so anything under that Is definitely a positive step). All of us are finding features to our current stay at the Mesa Regal RV resort. Pony started teaching a class on polymer clay sculpture last week. It started with her just asking if she could have access to one of the multi-purpose rooms in the central hall, for the purpose of making more clay sculptures, and she was asked if she would be willing to teach others what she does (there’s an old saying: we teach that which we most must learn). She had four people show up for her first session, and looks forward to future sessions, every Tuesday and Thursday. And come November, she will have the opportunity to sell her sculptures at a local craft market. And on Saturday, Rufus met Kazam. Kazam is a two-year-old Siberian Husky. The runt of his litter, he’s only about 70 lbs., but that makes him an ideal playmate for Rufus. For three mornings straight, we have met Kazam and his owner at the northwest dog park in the RV park. The run about like loons, wrestle, and generally play with the sort of abandon that is a joy to witness. The last couple of days, Rufus has come back to crash on the couch or the bed, and dream puppy dreams. It has been awhile since he has been able to exercise so vigorously with another dog, and it has been leaving him tired (but in a really good way, I’d say). And so we are all finding our way, seeing what is possible for the next few months. After the swimming sessions, I go to work: phone calls for future gigs, keeping up this blog, practicing guitar and rehearsing new repertoire. I still tend to work on new songs while taking walks with Rufus. I read once that Willie Nelson makes up songs while driving his truck. He said if he couldn’t remember the song by the time he got back home, it wasn’t worth keeping. I can appreciate that philosophy. I apply a similar standard to the songs I come up with while walking with Rufus (I’m just glad that my songwriting buddy is content with the occasional dog biscuit for royalties).
For the first week of our return to Arizona, we were baked, and I don’t mean in some metaphoric “Ghosts of Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia giddily traipsing through the welcoming haze of Colorado” sort of way. For eight of the first nine days of our stay in Mesa (a southeast suburb of Phoenix), the temperatures hit at or over a hundred. The heat was a relentlessly intense as a Led Zeppelin riff (I’m thinking “Kashmir”, or maybe “Black Dog”). The two air conditioning units on our RV were valiantly chugging along. We started to experiment with insulating the windows, putting up blankets and/or reflecting panels, and that did help to reduce the effects a bit (and give our air conditioners a little slack to work with), but it has been the land of the lizards. Then, about two days ago, there was the deluge: about 36 hours of thunderstorms that brought down almost three inches of rain in all. It did bring down the temperatures a bit, and left large puddles hither and yon, in a town that doesn’t seem all that prepared for that sort of monsoon rainage. Then again, what town is, really? A year ago, when we first embarked on our gypsy lifestyle, we missed the storms that wracked Colorado and all but wiped out a couple of towns in the foothills. We got a taste of what that might have been like (although I seem to remember that stormage persisted for the better part of a week, or more). The thunder was most impressive: huge claps and growls of booming madness that had Rufus curling up with the Mama for most of the time. Still, I would not wish to suggest that all has been nothing but a hell of heat and thunderstorms. The gypsies are settled for the next few months (until the end of the year) here in Mesa, playing a variety of gigs in and around Phoenix. We took advantage of a Fall price special offered by the Mesa Regal RV resort. It’s actually a blend of RV spaces and pre-fab homes; some 2500 all told (or so I have been told). It is still a bit before the regular season; most of the snowbirds have not yet arrived. I feel a bit like Charlton Heston, in “The Omega Man”; wandering about a mostly empty community, enjoying the various amenities, and waiting for the zombies to invade. The amenities are good. There’s a lovely lap pool (some 25 meters, Pony figures). I have been swimming eight of the last ten days, since arriving. My body aches, but it is the good ache of regular workouts. I usually go fairly early in the morning (around 8 or so, after taking Rufus for our morning promenade), and swim for the better part of an hour. Another couple weeks or so of this, and I may even have a noticeable tan (and no longer be in danger of flashing the eyes of passing airplane pilots with my pasty white flesh, as my sister would describe it). I am scoping out venues, working on repertoire, writing new stuff, organizing tour plans for the next 9-12 months, and generally keeping plenty busy with a healthy mix of creative challenges and “takin’ care of business”. There are ashes (heat nothwithstanding), but, like the Phoenix, I look to be rising.
Care, Concern, and the Nature of Worry Pony and I traveled into Santa Fe to meet a friend of ours last night. The plan was to meet our friend, Teri, at the Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe, at 5pm. We took a few minutes to fill our severely empty gas tank, but arrived at the Trader Joe’s parking lot at just a few minutes past 5. And we waited. While we waited, we were accosted by a couple of panhandlers. The second one, gave his tale homeless woe, and I offered to buy him a sandwich at the Subway, just across the parking lot from Trader Joe’s. He told me his name was Bodie. We walked into the Subway, and I let him order a footlong, along with a bottle of Coke. The whole bill came to about $10. I would have done better just to slip him a little change. Still… We waited. Bodie swung by on his bicycle to tell us that he was still trying to muster up some change to charge his cellphone (a homeless guy with a cellphone…?... well, okay). Still, at this point, having felt that I had donated enough to Bodie’s survival, we shrugged our shoulders as he went down to the other end of the parking lot on his bicycle. We waited. It was now nearly 6pm; almost an hour past the agreed upon meeting time. Pony tried calling Teri’s phone, but there was no response, and an announcement that the voicemail box was full. She sent a handful texts; another one every ten minutes or so. Still no response. Last week, there was a quote from the Dalia Lama posted on Facebook about worry. “If there is a solution, then you work towards that solution. If there is no solution, then worry will not change anything.” I am be paraphrasing a little, but that was the gist of it. I shared that quote, lending my own agreement to the spirit of it. But now as I was confronted with a form of worry that may not have been adequately covered by the Dalai Lama’s words. It is the worry of not knowing. In not knowing, you, you are not sure whether there is a solution or not. You do not know if there is something you can do, because you do not know what may have happened. By 6:30, we left a final text, giving the address of the restaurant we planned to go to for dinner, still having heard nothing. Worry. As we started up the car and prepared to head for the restaurant, Bodie rode by on his bicycle. “I’m not crying, but I hid the sandwich and the soda behind a trash can, and somebody stole it,” he told us. Sigh.
On Saturday, Pony and I went to explore downtown Santa Fe. As we arrived and found parking for our car, the bells of the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral began to ring. There were a handful of bells that, once they got going, created quite a din that filled the downtown plaza with their sound. At some point, I was reminded of those bells as I sat in the meditation hall of the Upaya Zen Center, in Santa Fe. Upaya is located in a quiet, unassuming little neighborhood in the eastern part of Santa Fe. I read about it in one of my zen Buddhist books, and decided to pay it a visit (up to now, I had never visited any Buddhist temple of any sort, zen or otherwise, despite the fact that I have been meditating for almost 40 years and have identified myself as a Buddhist for over a decade). It is a lovely community. Pony and I did not get any formal tour as such, but we wandered about a bit until we found the building that seems to serve as kitchen, dining hall, and office. There I met a gentleman named Michael who had all the appearances of being a monk (shaved head, black blouse and trousers, sandals). He led us to the meditation hall. Pony begged off going in for the meditation session, as she had a headache coming on. Michael suggested she might walk the gardens (including a labyrinth), while I removed my shoes and entered the meditation hall, and took a seat at a spot indicated for me. The hall is reasonably spacious; about the size of a small chapel, perhaps, with seating arranged around the perimeter. There are cushions on the floor, as well as a few stools and chairs for those who wished to sit in the manner Westerners are more accustomed to. It was an hour of meditation, starting with 25 minutes of seated meditation, then about ten minutes of walking meditation, followed by another 25 minutes of sitting (there is sort of a joke among zen Buddhists, found on t-shirts and bumper stickers, that says, “Don’t just do something…Sit there!”). I sat down to meditate, and the monkey mind kicked into full gear. Thoughts careened and raced and bumped and clashed within the walls of my mind. As I said, I was reminded of the clangor of the cathedral bells, and I really was afraid that my thoughts would be loud enough to disturb the others seated around me. It didn’t help that I had forgot to leave my cellphone in the car. It chimed twice (to inform me friends of mine had taken their turns in Words With Friends matches) before I found the volume control and turned it down to zero. Still, there was some stillness. And there was a moment where I felt like the front of my head was one big hole of endless “no-thing-ness”. There is a zen koan that asks, “What is your face before you are born?” And I found my self wondering, “Is this THAT?” I came out of the meditation session feeling incredibly calm and energized, and with a quiet, deep abiding sense of joy, or perhaps bliss. All of this, despite the frantic mischief of the monkey mind. I have had other moments of meditation where I have experienced profound stillness of the mind. I am sure I can and will do so again. In the meantime, I look forward to visiting Upaya at least one more time before we head on to Phoenix.
We have a banner hanging in the bedroom of our RV. It Is supposed to be a quote from Buddha. It says: “The key to happiness is not success. The key to success is happiness. Do what you love, and you will be successful.” [this would fit into the Eightfold Path under Right Action and Right Livelihood, I would say] Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were three straight days of doing what I love, here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On Wednesday night, I met a gentleman who is a songwriter for cabaret shows (he has actually received checks from ASCAP, which, I admit, is something I am still hoping for at some point). On Thursday, I was playing the Casa Real Healthcare Center, where I met the staff psychologist. She introduced herself, and told me of growing up in Brooklyn, struggling with Spina Bifida. She told me of a couple of volunteers who would regularly visit the hospital (where she underwent several surgeries for her condition), and they would read to her and the other children. She told me that one of those volunteers was Malcolm X. She then told me how precious and healing it was for me to come and play for the residents of the healthcare center, and thanked me for my good work (she also agreed to send me an email with some suggested Spanish songs that I might learn and add to my growing repertoire). On Friday, I was at a small, private nursing home, where I had an audience of maybe ten. I played without a sound system (very much in the spirit of a House Concert, as it were). At the end of the show, the owner asked me to remind her what my fee was. To be honest, given the small audience and all, I was sort of bracing for the need to negotiate a lesser fee than I usually charge, especially when the owner’s eyes went wide in apparent surprise. But to my surprise, she said, “Can I pay you more?” She paid me almost double my usual fee, and told me to be sure to call the next time I look to be in town. Yesterday, I was reading one of my handful of books on Buddhism, when I came across an article that described a zen center here in Santa Fe. I looked them up on the internet, and found a schedule of meditation sessions open to the public. I intend to visit this center and see what I may learn. The last few days have been joyful. They have been filled with good work (Right Effort), and I have been filled with a feeling of being at peace with my world. We still have our challenges, here and there. The water heater is acting up in the RV, and we have not yet figured out what’s wrong (we suspect a bad fuse, which will mean a trip to Camping World on Monday to find a replacement). There is work to be done, and problems to be addressed, and yet, for the most part, I feel a very welcome sense of calm about it all. Lately, Pony has taken up the practice of expressing gratitude in posts on Facebook. I guess this is my version of the same, here.
It started with the South Pearl Street Farmers Market in Denver. I have played this place for several years, now, and I always look forward to doing so. The weather was lovely: sunny, neither overly hot nor terribly cold. A couple of old friends that I had not seen in months (or even a few years, in one case) showed up to say hi. There was the usual crowd of children watching, dancing, singing along to songs like “Puff The Magic Dragon” and “Yellow Submarine” “Remember, putting money in the musician’s guitar case will give you good luck for the rest of the day,” I announced as child after child (and several adults) dropped dollar bills into the two guitar cases (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). There’s the hundred and more smells wafting from the food carts and the produce stands. There’s the parade of doggies of all shapes and sizes, taking time to wag a tail and perhaps sniff the butt of a fellow traveler. There’s the guy with the Desert Storm Vet patch on his vest studying my CD’s, then giving me a thumbs up as I launch into a Hank Williams tune. Farmers Markets are typically about four hours, but I came away feeling incredibly invigorated. Which was a good thing, because then I had a House Concert at the residence of my long-time, wonderful friends, Ed and Colleen. I played an opening set of mostly instrumental stuff as guests arrived and a bountiful table of appetizers was enjoyed by one and all. After about an hour, I took a break to enjoy a bit of dinner, then on to the second set; about an hour and twenty minutes of a featured show with a welcoming audience. One of the particular perks to playing a House Concert is the chance to interact with your audience in a very direct and somewhat intimate way. People ask you questions about this or that song, or about how the tour is going. You get to tell some stories in between the songs. Another break for snacks and drinks, and I did a third set of mostly sing-along stuff, while some of the guests grabbed various percussion instruments that my hosts supplied It turned into a spontaneous jam of sorts. Between the second and third sets, a hat was passed and several CD’s were sold. I left Ed and Colleen’s place at about 11pm. I had played some seven hours altogether. Driving home, I finally felt tired, but it was a good fatigue, mixed with the glow of a day well spent and enjoyed to the core. These are the days that punctuate my life with moments of real bliss, and remind me just how fortunate I am. I am blessed. Yes, I believe I am very blessed.
I just caught Camp Coulter out of the corner of my eye as we were passing through Victor, Idaho. The town of Victor itself is about 2000 people, and twenty-five miles west of Jackson, Wyoming, where I had a couple of gigs over the weekend. Our challenge was trying to find a place that still had open spots for an RV, and that wouldn’t cost us an arm and a leg in the process (the cheapest RV parks in and around Jackson itself were about $50 per night, and the average was closer to $80 or more). I parked the RV along a strip of public parking in Victor’s downtown business district and walked about a quarter mile back to Camp Coulter. There were a couple of vacant spaces, with electric/water/sewage hookups. I was looking for an office, or someone to talk with, and managed to chat with a woman who was renting by the month for her fifth wheel. Then a gentleman emerged from an Allegro RV. I told him what I was looking for. He showed me one of the vacant spaces, then walked over to a sign that showed a phone number to use. In all of this exchange, he said not a word, nor even uttered a sound. We tried calling the phone number, and got a voicemail option. We left a few messages, and at some point I drove the RV into the camp and into the space that “Mr. Allegro” had pointed out to me. We sat there for awhile, with our generator running, hoping to hear back on the phone from someone. After an hour or so, we decided to go ahead and put down the levelers, extend the sliders, and at least plug into the electricity for the night. The next morning, I met Rick, who was the manager for the camp. He told me that they normally charge on a monthly basis, but I was able to negotiate staying the weekend for $100 and a couple of the new CD’s. That left me a 25 mile commute in our shuttle car to gigs in Jackson on Friday and Sunday. Friday night was the Rock River Lodge; and assisted living/retirement community. It was another in a long string of hour-long shows where I have come to feel this is just another form of House Concert. And it’s become a very comfortable experience, playing a lot of songs that folks can sing along to, throwing in one or two of my own tunes, and a story, here and there. The other gig in Jackson was at the Q Roadhouse, on Moose-Wilson Road, on the Sunday. I was a little apprehensive on first arriving and setting up, as the house sound system was playing Madonna, Prince, KC and the Sunshine Band, and various other 70’s and 80’s funk and disco. I don’t have a problem with that music as such, but I was hoping the staff and diners were in no way expecting anything like that from me. It was a four-hour gig, and it went just fine. I was told at the end of the evening that I should definitely give a shout next time I expect to pass through, as they would definitely like to use me again. Over the last five months or so, we have been building something of a circuit, as nearly every place that I have played has asked me to call about coming back to play. We hope to add more places, as we look to do this big loop through the West again over the next year or so.
“I’m almost 83 years old,” Helen told me (for the third time), “and all through my life, music was such an important part. But I had to give it up.” “Why did you have to give it up?” I asked. “I have some brain damage. Memory problems,” she told me. I thought about that over the next hour, as I played for the Highgate Living Center, in Bozeman. For as I played, there was song after song that I saw Helen singing along to, eyes afire, a grin across her face. She looked beautiful and profoundly happy. I had four shows lined up in Bozeman, and each one was a delight. There are house concerts and there are house concerts. I look upon my playing at nursing homes and retirement communities as just another form of house concert. As I have described before, I tend to lean a little more towards popular songs that my audience is likely to recognize and remember: swing hits from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s; Hank Williams tunes and other Country and Western gems; folk music; classical guitar; a celtic tune, here and there. And I often manage to sneak in one or two of my own songs, as well. In between, I tell stories. I tell them about how I have come to live my new life as a gypsy musician. I talk about my guitars. I tell the story of how my steel-string guitar was stolen, then recovered, and how I came to name it George. And an hour goes by like a very pleasant visit among friends. I have learned that I need to allow another 20 minutes or more after the performance. Sometimes there are demands for an encore (and I am happy to oblige). Often, folks want to come up, shake my hand, tell me how much they enjoyed the show, and ask when can I come back. At the end of the show at Highgate, Helen approached me, a tear in her eye and a smile on her face. “I knew the words to so many of those songs!” she told me. I nodded and smiled back at her. “I could hear you helping me out with those songs,” I said. One of the precepts in Buddhism is something called “Right Livelihood” You are asked to find good work; work that does as little harm to the earth as possible, and, ideally, leaves things a little better than how you found them. At each of these performances, I can see the smiling faces and the glow in the eyes. I can see people come alive as they remember an old song. I can hear the laughter from a good joke or a humorous song. Yes, I believe I have found Right Livelihood.