My 3 Things - April 2017

(What is this thing called My 3 Things? Find out in the FAQ.)

1. LISTENING: Jimmy Scott singing “Nothing Compares 2 U”
One of my favorite singers singing a song by one of my favorite songwriters. Scott’s voice is a dangerous drug. “Careful,” I say to myself. “This could wreck you.” It almost always does.

2. CREATING: A theater workshop for kids in Alabama -- May 20-27, 2017
In early 2010, I volunteered at a small, bootstrapped, after-school program for kids in rural Wilcox County, Alabama called BAMA Kids. I’d show up at 3:15p just before the kids came tumbling out of the school bus and spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening with them helping and fixing — helping with homework, fixing a broken basketball hoop, helping tie a shoe, fixing a snack. I became reacquainted with 4th and 5th grade math. I instigated drawing challenges and coloring contests. I did a lot of just being there and showing up, day after day. As Zadie Smith wrote, "Time is how you spend your love."

A little context about this corner of the world: At the time of the 2010 census, the median income for a household in Wilcox County was $16,646. About 48% of people under the age of 18 live below the poverty line. Both the Wilcox County middle and high schools were designated “failing schools” by the 2017 Alabama Department of Education.

BAMA Kids is the only program of its kind in this community. Started in 1993 by a group of volunteers and concerned parents, its goal is to give kids a safe and fun place to go at the end of the school day. Here, they learn, grow, and feel the love and support of positive role models and mentors. BAMA Kids get the encouragement they need to make good decisions and live healthy, successful lives.

In March 2012, I invited the theater group Zara Aina (ZA) to come down to Alabama and work with the BAMA Kids for a week. Zara Aina is a Malagasy (Madagascar) phrase that means "share life." Started by two Broadway actors and based in NYC, its mission is to use theater, storytelling, and performance to help at-risk children to recognize their potential. It was a no-brainer to unite these two awesome organizations. I saw the opportunity and made it happen. 

In one week, the ZA actors and I collaborated with the BAMA Kids to create an amazing piece of theater — a shadow puppet musical of sorts. The kids wrote the lyrics to our songs. I wrote the music. The ZA crew coached the kids to create everything else -- the story, the acting, the costumes, the set, the shadow puppets, etc. It was busy and fun with a lot of goofing around and improv-ing. 

Here are just a few scenes from that week ...

After a long week of creating and rehearsing, on a spring Sunday afternoon, the kids put on a spirited public performance of their show at the middle school. Parents came and cheered. The local radio station broadcast from under a big oak tree outside. Someone set up a barbecue and after the show there were ribs and chicken for all. It was an unqualified success/love fest.

I’ve decided it’s time to do it again.

This May (about seven weeks from now), come hell or high water, I am sending seven actors from Zara Aina back down to Alabama to work with the BAMA kids.

I’ve already raised $2750 of the $4000 I need to do this.

Please help me raise the other $1250. (Four thousand is the cost of getting the NYC actors there and back, groceries for a week, props, teaching tools, etc.)

You can make a fully tax-deductible donation by clicking here before May 17. 

If you’ve already donated — a big huge thank you hug to you! Your support and belief in this act of creation means so much to me, to the kids, and to the actors. 

I can't wait to share with you what the kids create this May!


3. PLANNING FOR: Tall Ship Parade in Québec City in July 2017 for Canada's B-day!
I like big boats and I cannot lie.

Sail boats, that is.

As you know, I spent last June sailing around the island of Svalbard on the Dutch Barquentine 'Antigua.' On her decks and down below in my little cabin, I worked and re-worked many of the songs you'll hear on my next album. This June, I'll help my Dad sail his boat from the Chesapeake Bay to Mt. Desert Island, Maine. My guitar will accompany me on this adventure as well.

A panoramic I took onboard Antigua. Sailing off the coast of Svalbard.

This July, I am seriously considering making a trip to Québec City to take in the Tall Ship Parade in honor of Canada's 150th Birthday. 

Called "a beauty pageant from the age of sail," this spectacle is something you don't see every day. Usually these kinds of tall ship get-togethers only happen in cases like this -- when a country throws itself a birthday party.

The ships and their crew will be converging on stone-walled, cobbled street-ed Old Québec, a city thick with European seafaring history. Though the parade will visit a handful of other ports in Canada, this is the only place the entire fleet of more than 40 tall ships will rendezvous.

This is all part of a great trans-Atlantic race of 7000 nautical miles, happening over the course of five months in six countries. Once they fête Canada, the ships will race to the finish line at Le Havre, France. (The race starts now -- April 13-16 -- in the London borough of Royal Greenwich, Britain.)

If I miss this gathering, can I really wait the nine more years until the US turns 250 and maybe there will be a gathering like this in New York or Boston harbor? I don't know. Nine years is a long time and I'm dying everyday. 

They aren't called the "cathedrals of the sea" for nothing.

My 3 Things - March 2017

1. LISTENING: “I Told Jesus” by Roberta Flack (aka “If He Change My Name”)

Looking across different versions of a single song is one of the best things about recorded music.

In last month's My 3 Things, we listened to Marian Anderson’s fine rendition of this gospel tune. Now, we turn to Flack’s take on it. Entitled “I Told Jesus," it appears on her magnificent debut album First Take, released in 1969. (I am forever indebted to my friend John Ellis for telling me about this album and insisting I check it out.) 

Her arrangement is slow and brooding, a string section quivering from the start. It patiently builds, almost coming to a stop once or twice in the beginning. Flack gazes inward, the lyrics performed sotto voce. Momentum gathers as the song moves on, and the hushed restraint gives way to defiance by the end (marked by her powerful vocal cadenza starting at 5:24). 

Now that we've heard Anderson and Flack, spend some time with these two takes by Nina Simone: Live, Village Gate 1962 version and Live, Paris 1968 version.  Simone is mercurial as ever. You won't be disappointed.


2. READING: Arguably by Christopher Hitchens
Reading the final few pages of this provocative, breathtaking, and immensely satisfying collection of essays was a sad experience. Turning the last page, I had to face the fact that I’d never be able to open one or more of our important newspapers or magazines and read Hitchens on, say, President Donald Trump, to pick a single spring-loaded topic.

Arguably was Hitchens’s fifth collection of essays. Published in September 2011, he died in December of that year. More than 780 pages long and containing 107 essays ranging from literary journalism to political commentary to cultural criticism, his writing here is vital, his thoughts and opinions as relevant today as when they were written. 

When I availed myself of the critical reviews of Arguably (after I had finished reading it), I found I wasn't the only person saddened by this book. When the book came out, Bill Keller of the New York Times wrote: "This fifth and, one fears, possibly last collection of [Hitchens's] essays is a reminder of all that will be missed when the cancer is finished with him."

All that will be missed is a shatteringly tremendous amount.

Was there ever a US President — much less a US politician or, let’s be real, a single person on the face of planet Earth — more in need of one of Hitchens’s blistering tear-downs than this orange-tinted man-baby? #seriously

Where to begin? Let's start with language itself.

Hitch would be having a f-cking field day with Trump. Studies put Trump’s vocabulary at, variously, third- or fourth-, maybe (if the linguists are being generous and he -- for once -- decides to stick to a script) a sixth-grade level. 

Hitchens’s vocabulary? 

Nothing short of jaw-dropping. Reading Arguably, I looked up more than 60 words I didn't know or didn't know well enough. And Hitchens’s turn-of-phrase is masterful, delightful; I found myself highlighting passages just so I could return to and revel in his language not to mention his argument.

The essay "Words Matter" (from Slate, March 3, 2008) gives us a clue as to how outraged Hitchens would've been by Trump's abuse of language. Hitchens is heartbreakingly prescient:

“Pretty soon, we should be able to get electoral politics down to a basic newspeak that contains perhaps ten keywords: Dream, Fear, Hope, New, People, We, Change, America, Future, Together. Fishing exclusively from this tiny and stagnant pool of stock expressions, it ought to be possible to drive all thinking people away from the arena and leave matters in the gnarled but capable hands of the professional wordsmiths and manipulators.”  

He nailed it, I’m devastated to say. 

(It is beyond the scope of my endeavor to imagine how satisfying it would be to hear Hitchens parse the incongruous word pairings “alternative facts” and “fake news” with which we are forevermore saddled. And Trump’s banning of major respected news outlets from the White House daily briefing on Friday, February 24?? I imagine Hitchens would’ve been apoplectic.)

There's so much in this collection of essays that I could go on and on about, but I'll finish by saying that Hitchens’s respect for the reader is a tonic. 

I felt revivified and renewed reading each of these essays, as well as challenged and occasionally maddened (his piece “Why Women Aren’t Funny” isn’t funny, in more ways than one).

Agree with him or don’t, either way this book is a riveting, important read. 


3. UPDATING: Death, a reading list - Part 2 … revisited for the making of the Death Album
Way back in December of 2013, I wrote a blog post called “Death, a reading list” in which I shared a “list of the books about death and dying that I find worthwhile, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching.”

The post was a snapshot of where I was then, what I was thinking and learning about.

At the time, I didn’t know how long my Mom had to live or what work she and I would be doing to bring her to a “good” death, by which I mean a death she had chosen, was at peace with, a letting go that felt true and right to her being.

Turns out, there would be more of ... everything: chemo, cyber-knife radiation, hormone therapy, and hospice. And that was just the medical / physical part of it. 

There would still be more of the entire range of her spiritual / psychological reckoning with cancer and death that we both felt was as important (if not more) than any of the miracles her doctors could perform.

I am talking about the deep conversations we were to have, the many Joseph Campbell videos we were to watch and re-watch, the half-a-dozen sessions with a wonderful and caring oncology psychologist, the dedicated trips to visit (in the words of Campbell) her “bliss stations” or favorite places, and the specifically-planned but wonderfully-unstructured time with dear friends and closest family. There would be many more walks in nature, much more time with her dogs, and hours of feeling good and not-so-good, and hours feeling she was ready and yet not ready to die. In short, there was so much more life to be lived between that blog post and her last day, October 13, 2015.

I've been living and wrestling with her death ever since. But then you know this: you've been following along.

The two great commitments of my life since she was diagnosed in October of 2011 have been: 1) caring for her from diagnosis to death (and beyond); 2) writing songs about that journey.

I’ve written well over 20 songs and this year I'll be making something of them — an album, more than a few concerts, collaborations with other artists, etc.  I lovingly and tongue-in-cheekily refer to this project as “The Death Album.” 

Recently, I’ve played some of the songs on Facebook Live; maybe you’ve watched. (If not, this is one you should watch because I lay it all on the line.)

Since that "Death, a reading list" blog post, I’ve done a lot of living, reading, and songwriting.

I thought, on the eve of making the Death Album, it would be appropriate to update the original post. For your consideration: Death, a reading list - Part 2.  

What follows is only an excerpt ... 
"This list is certainly not a “best of," nor is it in any particular order. You have to find your own way through this topic, as we all do. And just because a book appears here does not mean I loved it and would necessarily recommend it. These titles have shaped my thinking about death, but that shaping may have taken the form of a single sentence or two, one chapter, or a particular stance toward mortality more generally.

I've only carried one book over from the original list ... and that is Christopher Hitchens's Mortality.

I am never not reading Mortality. I finish it and immediately begin again. I've given away my own copy so often -- at gigs and to friends and acquaintances -- that I now keep a stack on my desk for just such occasions. It is the keystone of the Death Album; it is the touchstone of the songs about death I have written and am writing still."


Christopher Hitchens, Mortality

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Julian Barnes, Levels of Life & Nothing To Be Frightened Of

Astrid Lindgren, The Brothers Lionheart

Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary

Max Porter, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

Edited by Kevin Young, The Art of Losing: Poems on Grief and Healing

Complied by Yoel Hoffman, Japanese Death Poems

Alphonse Daudet, In the Land of Pain

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

Lapham's Quarterly: Death, Volume VI, Number 4, Fall 2013


Death, a reading list - Part 2

Back in December of 2013, I wrote a post called "Death, a reading list."

So much has happened since then, not the least of which was the death of my Mom, I thought it was time to update the list.

As I embark on recording my next album -- lovingly nicknamed "The Death Album" for now -- I wanted to lay a trail of breadcrumbs between the worlds (and words) I've been immersed in and the songs I've been writing about my Mom, our time together, her living and dying, and my own living and dying ("you are dying everyday").

As with my original post, this list is certainly not a “best of," nor is it in any particular order. You have to find your own way through this topic, as we all do. And just because a book appears here does not mean I loved it and would recommend it without reserve. These titles have shaped my thinking about death, but that shaping may have come in the form of a single sentence or two, a single chapter, or merely a stance toward mortality more generally.

I've only carried one book over from the original list (go back to that post if you want to see the others) and that is Christopher Hitchens's Mortality.

I am never not reading Mortality. I finish it and immediately begin again. I've given away my own copy so often -- at gigs and to friends and acquaintances -- that I now keep a stack on my desk for just such occasions. It is the keystone of the Death Album; it is the touchstone of the songs about death I have written and am writing still.


Christopher Hitchens, Mortality

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Julian Barnes, Levels of Life & Nothing To Be Frightened Of

Astrid Lindgren, The Brothers Lionheart

Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary

Max Porter, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

Edited by Kevin Young, The Art of Losing: Poems on Grief and Healing

Complied by Yoel Hoffman, Japanese Death Poems

Alphonse Daudet, In the Land of Pain

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

Lapham's Quarterly: Death, Volume VI, Number 4, Fall 2013



My 3 Things - February 2017

(What is this thing called My 3 Things? Find out in the FAQ.)

1. LISTENING: Marian Anderson’s “If He Change My Name”

How I love a wire rack filled with postcards.  There’s a certain childlike fascination induced by the spinning of these contraptions. Placed near the shop door or the cash register, they’re almost always a little rickety and invariably make a kind of hushed squeak when turned. The fun is in the treasure hunt of finding the perfect postcard for the perfect person.

Firmly in the grip of such a reverie at the great Manhattan bookstore Book Culture recently, I stopped on a mesmerizing Richard Avedon portrait of Marian Anderson (the one shown in the Youtube link above.) She’s mid-word, mid-song with a wind blowing her hair up and around perfectly pursed lips. It’s an imperceptible moment caught: the forming of a syllable. I bought the postcard immediately. 

It sat on my desk for a week, the magic of the arresting, sensuous image working on me. Then one day, when I should have been doing a great many other things, I sat down to listen to Anderson’s music and read about her life.

I didn’t know that Marian Anderson grew up in Philadelphia, a city I think of as my own. I didn’t know that it was only through the influence of the adults in her life, most notably her aunt Mary, that she was encouraged to sing and stay close to music. Virtually every avenue of music study was closed to her because she was black and poor (her mother, though trained as a school teacher could not teach in Philadelphia at the time because of a law that applied only to black teachers, not white ones). I did not know that her early life was marked by death. Her father was accidentally struck on the head while working at the Reading Terminal (he sold coal and ice) and, in order to survive, her family moved in with his parents. Less than a year later, Marian's much-loved grandfather Benjamin (who was born a slave and was the first of his family to move north) died.

She could afford neither high school nor music lessons, but thanks to the efforts of her pastor and others in her community, she was provided the opportunity for both. She applied to the all-white music college (now the University of the Arts) and was told they “don’t take colored.” 

Her big break came when she was 28. She won first prize in a singing competition sponsored by the New York Philharmonic and was invited to perform with the orchestra. Audience and critics were moved. Riding a wave of support and interest, she stayed in New York to study and sing. Because of her skin color, she couldn't progress any further with her career, so she moved to Europe where she was received enthusiastically. Her fame spread and by the late 1930s, Anderson was once again singing in the U.S., though she still faced much discrimination.

Here’s where the story gets familiar and where I'll leave off: In 1939, The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) denied Anderson permission to sing to an inter-racial audience in their Constitutional Hall in Washington, D.C.

The outrage caused by this refusal led to the resignation of thousands of DAR members, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Her letter to the DAR included this zinger: “You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed." The furor eventually led to the open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, for which we all know and love Marian Anderson.

A postcard is usually a trivial thing: to be dashed off, a small remembrance, correspondence "lite." Sometimes, though, it's much more than that.


2. SEEING: Shakespeare’s The Tempest at St. Ann’s Warehouse
This production of the The Tempest, anchored by the great Harriet Walter as Prospero, and with songs by one of my musical heroes Joan Armatrading, completes a trilogy of all-female plays staged by Phyllida Lloyd. I was lucky enough to see the other two (Julius Caesar, Henry IV) as they were performed over the course of the last four years. 

Shakespeare's Tempest is set on a magical island. Lloyd stages her version in a women’s prison. Any island is a kind of prison, and the layers of meaning here continue to pile up. Just when the inmates (and we) are totally engaged, believing every hip drop of the sprite Ariel’s magic, the realities of prison life — guards, loud sirens, cells, uniforms — break in and the inmates have to shut up, line up, and clean up until the guards leave again and the magic continues. We swerve from world to world to world. By the end, the players that long for their freedom (Ariel, Caliban) are literally set free: we see them escorted out of jail. 

Where are we? The dualities explored in this play — perception / reality, freedom / bondage, master / slave, reality / fancy, loyalty / treachery — must be re-thought when every player is un-free, a slave of sorts, living in the un-reality of the modern industrial prison complex. In this play within a play within a prison, questions keep multiplying: What is played? Who is played? Who is really master? Prospero? The guard barking the orders? To say nothing of untangling the gender knot Lloyd tied by casting all women in a romance that was written with only one female character.

If you are in New York, the show runs until February 19. Don’t miss it. 


3. SWIRLING IN THE EDDY OF TIME: A photograph by Augustus Frederick Sherman at the Met

Augustus Frederick Sherman; Chinese woman, German stowaway, Sami woman from Finland, Algerian man, Hungarian woman, Swedish woman, Russian Cossack, Dutch girl, all Ellis Island, New York, 1905-1917

Augustus Frederick Sherman; Chinese woman, German stowaway, Sami woman from Finland, Algerian man, Hungarian woman, Swedish woman, Russian Cossack, Dutch girl, all Ellis Island, New York, 1905-1917

A week ago, in the churn of President Trump’s chaotic, ill-conceived executive order banning all refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, I went on one of my usual walkabouts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With no particular destination in mind, I just wanted to be surrounded by 5000 years of art.

On the second floor, on the right side of a narrow corridor leading from European Paintings 1250-1800 to 19th- and 20th-Century European Paintings, there is a wall dedicated to photographs. Only about eight or ten photos fit in this non-gallery. I always love to see what’s on view. This day, I paused at the first photograph and got stuck. After looking for many minutes, I nearly left the Met, feeling a kind of vertigo brought on by the confluence of current events and the events in a photograph from a hundred years ago. 

Here is what I saw: nine portraits arranged in a grid. They were made by Augustus Frederick Sherman sometime between 1905 and 1917. 

Sherman was an American photographer who worked as an employee of the Executive Division of Immigration. He used his job to capture with utter clarity and respect the immigrants arriving at the great reception hall at Ellis Island in New York. 

For 30 years, starting in 1880, the U.S. saw a staggering growth in annual immigration, nearly doubling from 450,000 to 880,000 arrivals. To contemplate the influx of this many immigrants in such a short time is almost nearly impossible for us. Sherman’s career coincided with this unprecedented time in the nation’s history; he had the position and the inclination to capture this tremendous spectacle. 

During our un-presidented time in America, looking into the faces Sherman captured so openly, I felt sick to my stomach. I was looking back to the future: these are the people that made the country in which I now live, the country whose current President seems hell-bent on keeping people exactly like them out.

Look into their eyes. Look at their clothes, their hands, their postures. Imagine what they were thinking, what their worries were, their joys. Imagine what they left behind, what they were looking forward to, what they hoped they would find here. What is so different now? What would a modern Sherman capture? And where would he capture it? JFK? Many of us did imagine such things when President Trump signed his order. That’s why we’re outraged and saddened, writing letters, calling our officials, and donating to the ACLU. That’s why stumbling on this photograph at this moment was so chilling. Amidst 5000 years of art, I saw nine faces from a century ago reflecting the urgent questions of this very moment.  

My 3 Things - January 2017

1. LISTENING: Simply the Best way to start the new year -- Tina live in Barcelona

2016 took Prince, Bowie, and Leonard Cohen.

Even the New York Times admits it was a tough year for pop music: "Death may be the great equalizer, but it isn’t necessarily evenhanded. Of all the fields of endeavor that suffered mortal losses in 2016 — consider Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer in sports and the back-to-back daughter-mother Hollywood deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds  — the pop music world had, hands down, the bleakest year."

Tina is 77 years old.

I cringe at the thought of reading the tweet that tells me she's dead.

And yet, I am acutely aware that she is dying every day. So am I.

One of my secret dreams is to bring Tina out of retirement.

I envision collecting a handful of songs that are undeniably good and from realms other than straight-up pop. Her voice, a killing band, restrained arrangements, the effect would be startling and stunning. If you're familiar with Joni Mitchell's song Edith and the Kingpin Tina sang on Herbie Hancock's The River album, then you get where I am going with this. 

Akin to the album legendary producer Rick Rubin made with Johnny Cash near the end of Cash's life, my project would cast Tina's voice and artistry in a whole new light. Rubin said he wanted to work with Cash because it would be an "exciting challenge to work with ... a legendary artist who might not be in the best place in his career at the moment. The first person who came to mind was Johnny, in terms of greatness and in terms of maybe, at that moment, not doing his best work."

Why a producer with major connections and chops isn't doing a project like this with Tina is beyond me. It is such a slam dunk! She's been out of the picture for long enough that her return would be triumphal. She is beloved by all. Vocally no one can touch her.  And the culture at large is overripe for everything she represents -- attitude, mature sexiness, gravitas. If in 2016 we remembered that "the future is female," who represents female feistiness more than Tina Turner? 

Maybe Tina is in a studio in Switzerland right now, doing just this type of project with some hot shot producer. I hope so!

I'm not attached to it being me who makes this dream real. To paraphrase the Cult of Done Manifesto, if publishing something on the internet counts as the "ghost" of it being done, then I proclaim this project done. I set this idea free.

Take it, run with it, make it real. Please.

What I am attached to is Tina being back in our lives, fully, richly, and with a set of songs that matches not only her moxie but also her maturity. 

Maybe she doesn't want to be out there doing this kind of thing now. Maybe the time, money, people, or songs haven't been right so far. Maybe she's over it -- all of it.

Who knows? 

What I do know is that her music changed my life.

And while she and I still have lives, I can hope and dream.

(It goes without saying, if you want to help me make this dream a reality, please be in touch. I am dead serious about it happening before it's too late.)


2. LISTENING: The Podcast On Being with Krista Tippett
If you don't already know about On Being, then get ready to go down a rabbit hole of nuanced, thoughtful, deep conversation about what it means to be human and how that question is lived out. On Being explores "these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact."

The host Krista Tippett is a gem. She's created a home for the knotty issues and ideas about living and how we do it. She lets silence do the work. She's unafraid of the meandering thought. She allows her conversations go where they need to and, thus, her show is filled with moments of delight and wonder.

Here are three interviews that are not to be missed:

Yo Yo Ma - Music Happens Between the Notes

Ann Hamilton - Making and the Spaces We Share

Gordon Hempton - Silence and the Presence of Everything

[Pro Tip: I prefer -- in almost all cases -- to listen to the unedited version of her interviews. There are so many diamonds left on the cutting room floor.]


3. LISTENING: The talks of Tara Brach
The eminent psychologist Carl Rogers wrote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

More than a year ago I committed to meditating and practicing my guitar every day. In case you missed it, I wrote about that decision and the journey in a post called "401 Days in a Row."

I'm still going strong and one reason why is because of Tara Brach's podcast.

Tara has a PhD in psychotherapy, lived for ten years at an ashram, and trained for five years at the Buddhist teacher training program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. In 1998, she founded the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC, now one of the largest and most dynamic non-residential meditation centers in the U.S. She's a broadminded, uniquely talented spiritual leader. 

Her biggest gift is the way she combines psychology with eastern spiritual ideas, weaving the two traditions into something she calls radical acceptance -- "clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion." 

She's got a great sense of humor and a relaxed, comfortable intensity about her. She doesn't take herself too seriously even as she asks probing questions about our habitual actions and reactions and uses moments of silence, reflection, and meditation to nurture change, wholeness, genuine acceptance, and inner freedom.

A few of the talks I return to again and again (so much so that I can recite her jokes along with her) are:

Stress and Everyday Nirvana - Part I and Part 2

Your Future Self

Loving the Life Within Us

The Bird Got My Wings

[Side note: Since this M3T features podcasts, I'll double down and include an interview with Tara on Tim Ferriss's wildly popular podcast.]

//\\// OUTRO //\\//
I'd love to know what podcasts (and a favorite episode or two) you're listening to. Let me know in comments below. 

A cold reading of the Death album

Cold reading is a term used in theater. It means "reading aloud from a script or other text with little or no rehearsal, practice, or study in advance" (Wiki). 

A playwright schedules a reading so she can get a feel for how the play is working as a whole, so she can hear the rhythms of the language of the play in the actors voices. It allows her to see the play from a distance, usually for the first time. It's an integral part of the creative process.

On December 11, 2017 at my apartment on the Bowery, around 35 brave and generous souls gathered to listen to me "read" through nine (out of the 25) songs I have written for the Death album. 

The questions I wanted to answer by staging this reading were these:

  • What is the best way to tell the story of my time as my Mom's caregiver from her diagnosis to her death? What songs? In what order?
  • What is the narrative arc that is most powerful to a listener?
  • How do I talk about these songs as I am performing them? What is the stage banter, if any?
  • How do I keep the show from being too sad? My time with my Mom was filled with happiness and joy, so how do I show the full range of that experience in a set of music?
  • How do I end the show?
  • In general, how did these songs work? What feelings, conversations, and moments did they create?
  • Playing these songs, creating this event, am I any closer to my goal of changing the conversation -- or lack thereof -- around death?

Here's a picture of the set list from that night ... 

If you were there that night, thank you for coming. It was quite an evening! There were more than few tears and more than a few laughs -- including a hilarious prank pulled on me during the show by my dear old Dad!!

I'm so grateful for your attention, your openness, your willingness to cry, laugh, and share yourself with me and my family and friends. We created more than a few moments that night, didn't we?

If you weren't there, I'll be doing more of these evenings at my apartment in NYC.

Don't want to miss out? Make sure you are on the NYC concert list, otherwise you won't get the details about the house concerts and other gigs around the city.

Don't live around here? Let me know in the comments below if you want Facebook live concerts of this music and the album as it takes shape. 

401 days in a row of

Practicing music (which encompasses a range of activities but mostly it means playing guitar and writing songs)


Meditating in the morning

I haven't told you about it before now for the following reasons and more ... 

  • I didn't want to jinx my efforts by talking about it too early in the process because I'd tried to do this at least five times before and have failed each time
  • It was/is a private journey of commitment (not a public journey of showing-off)
  • I didn't want "friendly" advice or any other tips or tricks or hacks from just "anybody." I only wanted feedback and support from people who'd been down the same path or who had some skin in this little game of mine (like my partner and my life coach)



For most of my life, making myself sit down to practice guitar has been a struggle. I am not -- in this post --going to go into the story of why that is.

Let's just say that proving to myself that I could practice my guitar for at least 365 days in a row would be a way to banish one major self-limiting belief.

Adding meditation to the mix was a logical part of this challenge.

I had been meditating on and off -- sometimes seriously and for many months in a row, sometimes more informally and sporadically -- for roughly 20 years. I already knew how beneficial the practice was to all aspects of my life. Now, I just needed to make it a rock-solid habit. 

And here I am at day 401.



Could I have stopped at 365?

Sure! I accomplished my goal of making these into genuine habits. 

But something changed. They're MORE than just habits now.

Now, playing my guitar and meditating every day have become so important to my life, I have ZERO desire to stop.

Yes, I'm still counting days and still committed to keeping the streak going. But more than that, I am swimming in the daily acts of music-making and meditating. 


The first days and weeks were hard

During the first week, the first two weeks, the first month practicing guitar every day and meditating didn't go swimmingly.

It was a conscious choice and a conscious commitment.

Daily, I struggled to remember to do these two things, to say NO to other activities and obligations, to deliberately create time for them, to put them FIRST before other things. 

I literally had to remind myself to meditate and practice with post-it notes and google calendar reminders and notes left around my apartment.

And there were so many temptations and excuses to skip one day or give up one more time, like all the other times I'd given up.

Life is full and I could always think of a million other things that needed doing instead of practicing.

And when I was stressed and pressed for time, was I really going to take 20 minutes out of what? thin air? and meditate?! I was already late, I was already behind on too many things, how was meditating going to help me? An extra 20 minutes was going to help me! Or so the voice inside my head said.

But, this time and every time that voice yelled at me, I listened but I meditated anyway, I picked up my guitar and played anyway.

(i'm happy to go deeper into the specifics of my struggles in a later post. If you want me to, let me know in the comments below.)



Finally, after about ten months, things started to go swimmingly.

And now, I just dive into meditating and playing music and bob around in the waters, having fun, open to hanging out and seeing what happens. 

It's kinda like every day is the perfect day to go swimming -- the air temperature is hot and makes you want to jump in, and the water is perfect, not too warm, not icy cold. 

Running to the edge means sitting down on my meditation pillow, grabbing my meditation beads and starting. Running to the edge means just picking up my guitar and starting in on something, could be writing a song, working on a transcription, playing through chord-progressions, practicing drums, listening to music and analyzing songs and song-structure, working on some ear-training, etc.

I let wonder and curiosity guide me. I don't worry about how little or how much time I spend in the water.

I just jump in and see what happens.



Now, I do these two things anywhere and with anyone around me at anytime of the day or night and for any amount of time -- even for one minute and usually for much, much longer. 

If I had to list three of the most important things I do every day to keep myself sane, stable, generous, kind, open to change, flexible, humble, they would be:

  • working out 6 to 7 days a week
  • meditating every day at least once a day
  • playing music every day at least once a day

There are other important daily priorities and commitments too, obviously. But these are three out of the half-dozen or so that are fundamental to my well-being.



Have you ever gone from 0 to 365 days in a row of practicing a habit?

Or maybe it wasn't 365 days in a row, but it was five days a week of writing, or completing three workouts a week, or eating healthily for one month.

What did you do and how did you do it?

Let me know in the comments below! I'd love to hear about it.



Maybe you'd LIKE to do something like this and you just don't know where to start.

Want to find out how I was able to do this? and want to know what made the difference?

I know what it feels like to try things like this and fail.

As I said in the beginning, I've tried to do this at least five times in the past, and it never, ever worked. I always bailed at some point. I let obligations and duties and travel and basically everything else get in the way.

Send me an email via the contact page and I'll get in touch with you. We can hop on a quick call and decide how committed you are and what your next steps could be and how I could support you.

Art isn't a result

"It's a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of (our) heart and soul."
-- Seth Godin

My journey -- since October 11, 2011 -- has been to go to the edges of death and dying, at first walking hand-in-hand with my Mom. She died on October 13, 2015.

 I am still on the same journey.

These days I have been calling myself a "songwriter who is ready to die."

What does that mean?

I've spent the last five years contemplating death, preparing Mom for hers and preparing myself for mine. Being ready to die was and is a daily action, like bathing or eating or sleeping.

It is a way of being in the world.

Being ready to die.

With the songs I am writing now -- the Death Album (as I affectionately call it) -- I am using music to crack us open to a conversation about death and dying which is always also a conversation about life and living.

"Art might scare you.
Art might hurt you.
But art is who we are and what we do and what we need.
An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it all (all of it, the work, the process, the feedback from those we seek to connect with) personally." -- Seth Godin

My 3 Things - December 2016

(What is this thing called My 3 Things? Find out in the FAQ.)

LISTENING: Satin Sheets by Willis Alan Ramsey
I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm just now learning how to say "F you" to the Harvard English department in my head and allow myself to write song lyrics as deliciously whimsical as "I wish I was a millionaire / Play rock music and grow long hair / Tell ya boys / ‘Bout a new Rolls-Royce."  (BTW: This whole album is a cult gem. If you don't know ... now you know. #yourewelcome)

LISTENING: Packing Up and Getting Ready To Go by Aretha and Friends
This is a jubilant workout of a song. Aretha and Co. bring every ounce of themselves to the preparations for packing up and getting reading to go. The first time I heard it, I couldn't believe my ears -- there was so much awesome singing and playing going on all at once. What I could believe, though, was my ass shaking and getting down. Are you ready?

LISTENING: Spiritual from the album Steal Away by pianist Hank Jones and bassist Charlie Haden
And now to the sublime. This is but one of a dozen beautiful tunes in this affecting collection. Whenever I am asked the question, "What music do you gift to other people the most?" my answer is "Steal Away." Who can resist the restrained touch of these two masterful players, the richness of these elemental melodies, the satisfying simplicity of two instruments in conversation? No one that I know of, so far. 

//\\// OUTRO //\\//
Thanks for reading! It means the world to me.

I'd love to know what music you are loving right now? Leave a comment in the box below.

Big love,

My 3 Things - November 2016

What is this thing called My 3 Things? Find out in the FAQ.

1. LISTENING: Sarah Vaughan covering "And I Love Her" by the Beatles
Sassy (that's Sarah Vaughan's nickname) always kills me. And nothing kills me more than going down every Youtube rabbit hole and finding yet another video of her making some familiar song utterly her own.

Her cover of this great tune is one of those moments. And her orange lipstick can't be beat!

Whatever you do, you HAVE to listen all the way through to the end. How she treats the last moments of this song, what she does with her voice, gave me goosebumps.

Still does.

2. SEEING: Kerry James Marshall's Mastry at the Met Breuer
"We never allow guests to the Press Previews at the Met," snapped the woman behind the desk at the Met Breuer (aka "the old Whitney") without even looking up at me or my journalist friend with the press pass.

My face felt hot, my hands enormous. I stood completely still, trying to dissolve into the crowd coming and going in the concrete lobby.

She heaved a heavy left arm out, over, and along the desktop, grabbing at a rather homemade sign-in sheet fastened to a worn clipboard. I could see the black pen scrawl of three or four other guests on the non-guest list and the thin white space where I was to write my down my shame, I mean name.

"Put your information down on this," she huffed. The clipboard appeared before my flushed face. I wrote as quickly as I could.

And then I was in!

Awkward but worth it. 

I followed the bespectacled and besuited crowd up the stairs to the start of the show and had my artistic clock cleaned. 

No joke. When I see shows like this it makes me a) want to fall in a heap on the floor and b) stop all this music b.s. and start painting full time. But I digress ... 

If you are unfamiliar with Kerry James Marshall's work, it's time you get familiar.

From the exhibition write-up: "Marshall has long been an inspired and imaginative chronicler of the African American experience. He is known for his large-scale narrative history paintings featuring black figures—defiant assertions of blackness in a medium in which African Americans have long been invisible—and his exploration of art history covers a broad temporal swath stretching from the Renaissance to 20th-century American abstraction." 

     // a little photo I snapped of KJM in front of three of his paintings at the Met \\

I dare you to think of a single living painter who does what he does, who investigates and reshapes the ENTIRE Western canon of art in such a restrained, deeply serious yet deeply playful yet deeply tender yet deeply heart-wrenching way. 

To see so much of his work in one place at one time is completely overwhelming. But if you can only go once, you must go and be overwhelmed.

And if you have the ways and means to, you must go back.

I did last week. I was even more stunned, smashed, and razed by the work. 

At the Press Preview, Marshall said "I always wanted my career to be a thoughtful one." 

He did it. He's doing it. 

PS. As part of this show, Marshall was asked to pick 36 works of art from the entire collection of the Met (Hello!? How awesome is that??) The pieces he selected constitute a not-to-be-missed mash-up of a show within the show -- Dürer, Wyeth, Tooker, a Dan people mask from Côte d'Ivoire, to name only a few. As if you need another reason to go ...)


3. SEEING: The film "Moonlight" written and directed by Barry Jenkins
Brilliant? Check.
Tough? Check.
Full of aching heartbreak? Check.
Restrained? Check.
Visually poetic? Check.
The viewer's expectations masterfully thwarted? Check.
Incredible acting? Check.
Important for the culture at large? Check.
Like nothing I've ever seen before? Check.
Not for the faint of heart? Ch-check.
So much more than the sum of all these checks? CHECK. 


//\\// OUTRO //\\//

Thanks for reading. I'm super grateful that you take the time. 

Here's what you do next ... 
1) Please leave a comment below in the comment box.

The best kind of comment is when YOU tell ME what YOUR 3 things are -- what you're reading, listening to, thinking about, seeing, pondering, etc. Fill me in! 

2) Send me an email and say Hi. I read everything you send my way. 

Big love,

PS: I've been playing and singing old and new songs on Facebook Live. It's fun and the sh*t gets real at these mini-concerts. How real? I pretty much cried my way through the most recent one. But it was worth it, as one viewer commented, it was "One of the most brave and beautiful things I've ever seen."

Find these vids on my "official" Facebook Music Page.

Go ahead and "like" the page. That way you'll get notified the next time I play live there.

And don't worry -- you don't have to have a Facebook account to watch. My page is public. 

My 3 Things - October 2016

My 3 Things FAQ 

1. LISTENING: John Coltrane's "Blues to Elvin"
It's not about the saxophone. For me, this song is all about Elvin Jones's drumming, specifically his ride cymbal. Elvin's feel at this tempo is so great -- a buttery, luscious, savory earful. But I am a total sucker for these oh-so-slow tempos. Take your time with this one.


2. OFF-THE-GRID-ing: Backpacking in the Wind River Range in Wyoming

This was my view last week.

I was backpacking for five days in the Winds (how the locals say it) with a friend.

That brings my total days off-the-grid to 18 for the year. (In June, I sailed around Svalbard, Norway and was off-the-grid for 13 days.)

Eighteen days that I couldn't reach or be reached via the internet or a cell phone. Thank goodness.

Sure, I'm happy that I racked up that many. But another part of me, the B.S. detector in my head, says : "Seriously? WTF! Only 18 days?? That's nothing. You know your soul needs more downtime than that!"

And that voice is right.  

Here's what I notice when I'm deep in the wilderness, way out-of-touch: it's completely different from opting-out. 

I regularly opt-out of email and texts for a few hours or a half a day. If I've got a songwriting deadline, the phone goes off and and the laptop gets closed and put in a drawer.

But here's the thing: those screens are still right there, just across the room. I can turn them on any damn time I want. It's as easy as reaching over, powering up, and just like that I am sucked into the vortex again, checking texts and skating around the web at the same time. 

When you're off-the-grid, with absolutely no way to connect (my phone went into a zip lock bag in the top of my backpack and pretty much stayed there after we left the trailhead), something different happens to your mind.

The noun "sedimentation" gets close to the feeling: "the natural process in which material is carried to the bottom of a body of water." My thoughts settle. The worries drift downward. The chatter quiets. And the longer I'm off-the-grid, the more everything in my head gets clearer.

With the trail sticking to my boots last week (a September storm had left snow in the shadows and the long, brown path very soupy), each step away from the trailhead and civilization was one step towards clarity. 

Here's hoping I can turn 18 days off-the-grid into 20 or more by the end of 2016.  

3. LOOKING: Artist Sheila Hicks's first show in Canada at the Textile Museum
If I was within striking distance of Toronto this month, I'd run (not walk) to see this show.

Sheila Hicks is a master of "colour, texture, space, and scale," redefining fiber art and influencing a generation (and counting) of contemporary artists. 

It was her quiet, intimate textile works that first beguiled me. But, further down the rabbit hole, her entire wide world opened up: global weaving traditions, the history of painting and sculpture, architecture and much more.

The show is up until February. But I wouldn't wait. Go now. Then write me and tell me how much I am missing. 

//\\// OUTRO //\\//
Thanks so much reading. I'm super grateful for your attention. 

Here's what you do next ...
1) Send me an email saying Hi. Just hit reply and get in touch! I read every email you send.

2) Leave a comment in the box below. Other awesome readers like you like to post their 3 things in the comment box (what their listening to, what's inspiring them, what they're reading, etc.) Get creative and share what things make you feel good this month.

Wanna make my day ... a few days from now?
On October 13 around 8pm EST -- if the internet gods are with me -- I'll be doing another Facebook Live concert.  It'll be happening on my "official" Music Page.

Can't wait for it! It is going to be a bit of a doozy (my Mom died a year ago on October 13 so I will be playing for her.)  I hope to see you there. Until then ...

Big, huge love,

My 3 Things - September 2016

My 3 Things FAQ

1. LISTENING: Nina Simone's version of Mr. Bojangles
You and I have heard most of the covers of Jerry Jeff Walker's 1968 song but this one is the best.  Sure, you may be attached to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's version or even to Sammy Davis Jr.'s (or Whitney Houston's or John Denver's, to name only a few), but there is no denying that Miss Simone nailed it. There's something about HER voice -- that unmistakable vibrato, the way she sounds vulnerable and powerful -- that matches the scene painted by Walker's lyrics. Mr. Bojangles has beguiled me this past week as I've been writing a new song that is also largely a character sketch. The more I listened to this version, the more I thanked god for singers who can take a very curious, personal song and make it their own.

2. POEMING: "Poetry Off the Shelf" -- The Poetry Foundation's Podcast
Every week, I get a dose of contemporary poetry via this podcast. Host Curtis Fox takes the temperature of the poetry scene via readings, interviews, and short profiles. The best part about the whole endeavor is that "nothing is off limits, and nobody is taken too seriously."

There is always at least one jewel-like moment in each installment. I have to stop what I am doing and jot down names and titles to seek out later. Needless to say, the poetry section of my personal library has grown exponentially since I started eavesdropping on these conversations.

Here are two episodes that are not to be missed: "Middle Passage," a reading and discussion of Robert Hayden's harrowing poem about the slave trade and "The Achievement of Geoffrey Hill," a look at Hill's work on the occasion of his death. (The first minute-and-a-half of Hill's podcast will have you raising your eyebrows in astonishment and mischievous delight.)

3. READING: The New York Review of Books book club
This was a slam dunk of a birthday gift from a friend: a half-year subscription to the New York Review of Books (NYRB) book club.

The books I received -- one a month through the mail -- are ones I probably wouldn't have gravitated to on my own, making them all the more intriguing and important. (Who says I should be reading just what suits my fancy? How will I grow intellectually if I only read things I like? But I digress ...) So far, I've read three of the six: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe by D.G. Compton, In the Cafe of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, and The Hill by Jean Giono. They've all occupied my thoughts in different ways, but my favorite was The Hill. Giono's story of a small village in Provence felt like a fable. His characters are of the land but find themselves up against it. His language is simple, his images startling. I am so looking forward to reading his other books. 

//\\// OUTRO //\\//
As always, THANK YOU for reading and listening. It means so much to me and you are the reason why I do this.

If you are new around here, the drill is this: in the comments below, tell me what YOUR 3 things are or just reach out and say hello. I want to know what's inspiring you, what you are listening to, what you are reading.

Recently, I've been doing surprise Facebook Live performances of brand new songs (I mean really brand new ... Like piping hot brand new). One of my listeners had this to say about a new song I recently played on FB live, "Kate, your song gave me chills. So right to the center of it all, as usual with your work. Amazing, inspiring, soulful and such deeply true emotion."

I'm on Facebook on a Personal Page and also on my "official" Music Page. Say hi on both, please!

Find out when I am doing the next Facebook Live new song video by subscribing to my mailing list. Sign up here.

My 3 Things - August 2016

What is My 3 Things? The FAQ is here.

1. LISTENING: Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now"
This orchestrated version of Joni's best-known song is a touchstone for me as I write the Death album. I listen to a similar version (the one from her album of the same name, released in 2000) almost every day. When I was in Norway on the Arctic Circle Residency (read about it here) , I'd walk out, over, and away and stand in front of a massive, glittering, silent glacier, put on my headphones and listen, tears streaming down my face. Or I'd lean over the bow of the ship and stare into the water, listening, watching the fulmars wheel over the waves, wondering about death, life, those I've lost, and those I've found. 

2. SAVORING: Turkish Peber
Do you ever want a savory candy? Probably not. No one to whom I've posed this question admits that they do, at least not to my face. Well, I've wanted a savory candy for a long time and I finally found one in Norway: Turkish Peber (pronounced "pepper"). It's sweet, but the dominant flavors are salt, black licorice, pepper and ... a certain zing! I'll let you find out for yourself what causes that tongue-puckering zap. It's bizarre, but not unpleasant, and it comes on after the fact. I read somewhere that there's even a Turkish Peber ice cream. Given my love of making absurd ice cream flavors, I say, yes please!

3. EATING: Brunost aka Norwegian Brown Cheese
"It tastes like a weird, super-thick peanut butter." That's what the haters say. I'm a lover and can't get enough of this stuff ever since my first bite aboard the tall ship Antigua in June on the residency. A thin slice on a piece of toast, slathered with butter is my favorite way to eat it. I cannot wait to try the other varieties: Fløtemysost and Ekte geitost. Packing to come home, I put half a block of brown cheese in the bottom of my suitcase. When I ran out, I promptly ordered two blocks from a place online called Willy's Products Scandinavian Food Store. Luckily for me, just last week a fellow artist from my trip texted me this: "They have Brown Cheese at Zabar's!!" Wonders will never cease!

Ever since I started writing this monthly list of interesting songs, books, ideas, and, yes, food, I've gotten amazing feedback.  

More than a few people have written to ask if they can "steal this idea" and do something like it for their website. Hell yes! Please do!

A chronicle of my thinking and attention, My 3 Things is my way of connecting and sharing what I am up. If you're new around here, Welcome! Don't be afraid to hit reply and send me a message. Some people even like to send me THEIR 3 Things, which I totally encourage! And if you've been following along for awhile, I hope you know how grateful I am. You're the reason I do this. 

Leave a comment below. Let me know that you're here and you're real. I read every one.

My 3 Things - July 2016

1. LISTENING: "You Should Be Here" by Cole Swindell
Given the kinds of songs I'm writing these days, it's no surprise this song found me. Last week, a dear friend asked if I'd heard it. When I said I hadn't, she dialed it up on Spotify, cranked it, and the two of us stood staring out the window thinking of her brother, my Mom, my friend's husband, and countless others that should be here.

2. MAKING WORK & WRITING: The Arctic Circle, June 2016 -- Artist Residency
I just got back from the June 2016 expedition of The Arctic Circle, an artist residency aboard the tall ship Antigua that sails from the port of Longyearbyen, in the international territory of Svalbard, above Norway. We were twenty-seven artists of all disciplines (painters, mixed media, photographers, writers), four polar bear guards/guides and eight crew. We spent two weeks making work in this Arctic archipelago, sailing, hiking, walking, standing, looking, listening, being. 

I did many things on the trip -- played guitar and sang to a glacier and to the pack ice at 81° North parallel, performed at an art-opening in an abandoned Russian coal-mining cantina, recited poems on mountaintops, set square sails with a team of friends in the midnight sun, flew a kite to the end of its string. I also wrote on deck, on beaches, mountaintops, moraines, on snow and ice.

I have been writing letters to my Mom ever since she died.