I rock (I rock) therefore I am

It was 1981 and The Rolling Stones were touring North America in support of the Tattoo You album:  Two concerts at the LA Coliseum, October 9th and 11th.  I went to the Friday show with some friends and Sunday I went alone.  It’s always been a hassle going to a Stones concert but I was young then and full of Stones-fire and willing to put up with the physical ordeal part of it.  And, unlike any other of their concerts I’ve attended, I had fairly good spots to watch from both days.

Also on the bill were George Thorogood and The Delaware Destroyers and the J. Geils Band, two real good rock and roll bands.  And it was two real good rock concerts.  A special treat was a rare appearance by Ian Stewart, original member of the Stones, later road manager, played on many Stones records, and with them at live shows, however I don’t recall seeing him at any I attended.  For the two LA gigs, Stewart, considered one of the best white boogie-woogie piano players in the world, played with George Thorogood.

There was a fourth act, the opening act; a group that came out in some weird outfits with a lead singer who wore a corset and fishnet black stockings, or something equally outrageous.  They looked as if they had stopped by the Trashy Lingerie store in West Hollywood on their way to the stadium.  The music wasn’t bad.  In particular, I remember a song about John Lennon that sounded good.  If the audience had any appreciation for what the Stones were about, anti-social attitude tinged with a drop of androgyny, they’d have realized how this band fit right in.

But they didn’t and on both days the audience threw things at them and they were booed offstage during the fourth or fifth song.  On Sunday, legendary rock impresario Bill Graham, who was promoting the tour, came on stage and dared the audience to throw any more stuff on stage.  Some guy up front lobbed a milk carton at Graham.  Two security guys jumped down and pulled the guy up onstage and they took him out.  Of the stadium, that is.  I’d hate to think he was roughed up.

I had not heard of this opening act before, but less than a year later, a lot of people who attended those Coliseum concerts would be paying big bucks to see this guy who called himself Prince and his band The Revolution perform at similar venues.

prince2cI rock (I rock) therefore I am (therefore I am)
I don’t need you to tell me I’m in the band ((…) please)
I rock (I rock) therefore I am (therefore I am)
Right or wrong I sing my song the best I can

– Prince, 1996




As you probably know, David Bowie is dead. Comes as quite a shock. A victim of cancer, he just turned 69 a few days ago and released his 27th studio album, Blackstar. According to CNN, “Neither his publicist nor the statement elaborated on what kind of cancer the singer was fighting.” Earlier yesterday, this message appeared on Bowie’s Twitter account: “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle.”

bowie2I was just thinking about Bowie yesterday. I was remembering how much I enjoyed the music on the Let’s Dance album, not because it necessarily represented his best work, but rather because the tunes had a beat and you could dance to them and it was part of the soundtrack to a fun time in my life. I thought I should listen to it again.

It was during the tour supporting that album that I attended my one and only Bowie concert. A great show at the Forum in Inglewood. August, 1983. It was called the “Serious Moonlight” tour.

Bowie got into Buddhism when he was a teenager, influenced (like so many of us back in the day) by the novels of Jack Kerouac. After he recorded his first album, Bowie spent a few weeks at a Buddhist monastery in Scotland. I don’t know this for sure, but I believe it was Samye Ling, founded by Chogyam Trungpa, and the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West. I also don’t know if the interest in Buddha-dharma stayed with him the rest of his life. There was a period when he flirted with Christianity.

In 1993, he produced the soundtrack for The Buddha of Suburbia, a 1993 BBC mini-series based on the book by Hanif Kureishi, a coming of age story set in London during the 1970s. As I recall the book has more to do with rock music than Buddha.

David Bowie’s impact on popular music during the last three decades of the 20th century is nearly incalculable. He is among the pantheon of music greats. I always thought he deserved more credit as a great singer, and to me, a great singer is someone who after just a couple of note, you know exactly who it is. That was Bowie.

That early Buddhist influence is evident in this song, Silly Boy Blue, from his 1967 debut album. Lyrics follow the video.

Silly Boy Blue

David Bowie

Mountains of Lhasa are feeling the rain
People are walking the Botella lanes
Preacher takes the school
One boy breaks a rule
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue

Yak butter statues that melt in the sun
Cannot dissolve all the work you’ve not done
A chela likes to feel
That his over self pays the bill
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue

You wish and wish, and wish again
You’ve tried so hard to fly
You’ll never leave your body now
You’ve got to wait to die

Child of Tibet, you’re a gift from the sun
Reincarnation of one better man
The homeward road is long
You’ve left your prayers and song
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue.


Musical Interlude: October First Quarter Moon Edition

A break today from Buddhism and serious stuff.

I wrote and recorded this song years ago and occupied myself last week by putting some images to it. It ain’t much, just sort of a little pop song, but hopefully it won’t hurt your ears.

By the way, I have a YouTube channel with other videos I’ve made, a eclectic mix of covers, originals, and ambient music.


The Most Influential Song of All Time?

In their June issue, The Atlantic asks, “What is the Most Influential Song of All Time?”

Some of the answers submitted by celebrities include “We Shall Overcome,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Respect,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Amazing Grace.”

I don’t think you can come up with a definitive answer. An argument can be made for all the songs listed above and a few others. Of course, it also depends on what is meant by “influential.” A song that influenced music, a song that changed history . . ?

In the Atlantic, singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell mentions Louis Armstrong’s 1928 recording of Joe “King” Oliver’s “West End Blues.” That song, to my mind, is a very strong contender.

On June 28, 1928, a 26-year-old Louis Armstrong walked into a Chicago recording studio with his Hot Five band and changed music history. The recording was of a song called “West End Blues,” composed and first recorded several months earlier by Armstrong’s mentor, Joe “King” Oliver. On that day in 1928, Armstrong stepped out of his mentor’s shadow and came into his own.

louis-armstrong1B2Armstrong and the Hot Five’s recording of “West End Blues” features an incredible piano solo by Earl “Fatha” Hines, one of Armstrong’s great friends and important collaborator. Armstrong’s 15-second trumpet intro and his eight-bar solo near the end are nothing short of epic. But what makes the song so influential to me is Armstrong’s singing. His simple and understated vocal styling on this song is one of the earliest recorded examples of scat singing.

Louis Armstrong, universally recognized as one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, is also one of the most influential singers, an aspect of his career that is often overlooked. Armstrong set singers free. No longer did they have to possess what was traditionally considered a “good” singing voice. No longer did they have to conform to a restrictive vocal style. Armstrong wasn’t the first to sing scat, or croon with a bluesy tone, but he almost single-handedly took that kind of singing out of the backwater, or out of the alley and put it on main street. Artists including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald were greatly in Armstrong’s debt. And without him, there would have been no Elvis, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, or Aretha Franklin. If Armstrong had not come along, perhaps someone else would have, but then again without Armstrong, perhaps singers would still be sounding like Rudy Vallee or Kate Smith.

King Oliver named this song for New Orleans’ West End, a popular picnic and entertainment area on Lake Pontchartrain. I used to live on West End Boulevard less than a mile from the lake.

Now, without further ado, “West End Blues”:


State of Grace

It’s been a while since I have passed along an update on my health. I’ve recently received a few private inquiries, so here’s the dope:

As some are aware, I have liver cancer. Right now I feel fine. The last time I talked about this, I mentioned that I had undergone a procedure which “effectively treated” one of my tumors. That’s medical-speak for destroying one of my tumors. I have another tumor, which more frequently than it used to, let’s me know it is there with small intermittent pain. I am supposed to have surgery, a resection, where they will cut the tumor out and then it will be history, too.

I want to have this surgery about as much as I’d like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Not to mention that very idea of being cut open is, to me, scary. And, I’ll be spending about a week in the hospital. But I don’t have much choice.

My real problem at this point is dealing with the medical center. I had a consultation with the surgeon who would perform the surgery on Nov. 29th, and here it is 2 ½ months later, and they still have not scheduled it. I was approved for a transplant in September and yet they did not submit my case to the insurance company for the financial go ahead until just a few weeks ago, some 5 months later. While I realize that I am just one of 250 or so transplant patients the medical center is dealing with, at the same time, this is not like I’m taking my car into the shop for a tune-up. It’s a life and death deal here, and I don’t know how much longer I can go on making allowances for this lack of action, lack of communication, misinformation, etc. (I’ve described only the tip of the iceberg.)

So, that’s the story. I haven’t discussed it much on the blog mainly because I am not completely comfortable putting my business out in public for the whole world to read, although, it is an extremely tiny portion of the world that reads this blog. I am a rather private person by nature and that’s why I don’t waste a lot of space here discussing myself.

But, if things don’t improve with the medical center, I will be very tempted to “out” them and then I will have a lot to say on the subject.

I wish I had an insightful Buddhist perspective to offer about this, but I don’t. It is what is it is: dukkha. Suffering. I think about a passage in the Vajradhvaja Sutra where it says that the heroism of a Bodhisattva is found in the practice of “not being troubled by suffering, by ability to take pleasure in the giving.” To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, I’m no hero, that’s understood, all the redemption I can offer is in my words, here on this blog. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my suffering, ruminating over the fact that I have cancer. I am trying to live my life without letting cancer control it. Some might see that as a form of denial, and perhaps there is a grain of truth there. Yet, in most cases, suffering only has power to defeat us when we give suffering that power. I may end up physically defeated by cancer, but I refuse to let the suffering itself control my mind and spirit. That’s how I see transcendence.

And The Endless Further blog is a form of giving, and I do take some small amount of pleasure in knowing that a few folks find what I write on it worthwhile and helpful.

Here’s a song I wrote and recorded in 2002. I made it into a video last night. Apparently, I was not in much of a Bodhisattva frame of mind when I composed the lyrics, but it more or less captures the spirit of what I’ve been trying to say here at the end.