I woke up yesterday with a terrible sense of foreboding. I wrote in my journal “Such a strange landscape in my dreams last night. Dust, grey and fluffy, was under everything and when I swept it away it returned multiplied. Scrambling for seats on trains, buses, and planes and then landing somewhere otherworldly. awed by the immensity and antiquity of the buildings but there was fire everywhere.” Then I turned on the news and the post I had been working on below suddenly seemed a lot less relevant. What is there to say to, this, Trump’s latest debacle? This terrifyingly perilous position he has forced the world into. When will we ever ever learn? When will history stop repeating itself? There’s a new oil field in Iran doncha know? There’s impeachment to be distracted from and a re-election to push for. I couldn’t post these latest scribbles without commenting on this sorry state of affairs. Yet, I remain hopeful because today’s youth are fierce, committed, empathetic and motivated, they are demanding change every day and making strides. I remain hopeful because there are so many millions of people like songwriter Peter Mulvey, artist Kayhan Irani, artist Millie Chen, Pixar Wonder Woman Danielle Feinberg, poet Saul Williams who outnumber the warmongers, the power-hungry, the racists, the tyrants, the misogynists, the homophobic, the bullies, the despots. We outnumber them. We can yet turn the tide.
Marco Cremaschini and I at the office in 2010
Like so many others here I am reflecting on the past 10 years. In the last decade, I’ve written and sung on three albums, co-written and sung on another two as well as collaborating on a plethora of singles.
. Cesare Valbusa and I on stage in 2010
In 2010 my friends Marco Cremaschini, Cesare Valbusa, Massimo Saviola, Filippo De Paoli, Christian Codenotti and I were writing and recording the first eponymous Hippie Tendencies album...
Marco Cremaschini, Christian Codenotti and Cesare Valbusa at Ritmo&Blu Studios.
Christan Codenotti, Stefano Castagna and Marco Cremaschini at Ritmo&Blu Studios in 2010.
Recording at Ritmo&Blu Studios in 2010.
I’ve published poems, published essays and have written at least one hundred more unpublished songs, poems, and stories. We've started a new project, NoteSpeak, and signed a record deal with Ropeadope Records. I’ve participated as a panelist and performed at the Conference on World Affairs. I’ve applied for (and been rejected for) hundreds of gigs and performed on two continents in six countries. I've marched in protests and sung for great causes, I’ve buried a parent and have searched for and found my birth mother and siblings. I have made friends and let others drift away. I’ve had three surgeries. Cried a thousand tears and laughed a million times… but mostly I’ve written.
. Writing at my friend Morag Mclaren Baxter's glorious table in 2016
I tend at the end of the year to give my office a nice cleanout. Out with the old and all of that. Go through the stacks of paper, clean off the blackboard - erase it in preparation for new goals. The things I don’t touch are my song/poem writing notebooks. I cannot for the life of me throw one of them out, and I’ve got so many - dating back thirty years at least. I try. Each December I think well, this is the notebook in which you wrote the first album for Hippie Tendencies, the songs are written, recorded and protected by the SIAE (Italy’s version of ASCAP or BMI) there is no need to hang onto the process of it, and yet… flipping through and remembering how each song or poem was born. I cannot bring myself to put it in the recycle bin.
Out of the hundreds of venues I’ve performed in, I cannot tell you what the one looked like where we met two years ago. But I can remember minute details when I want to dust off one of the many songs I’ve written that have never seen the light of day. Sometimes I get an inkling of how I might tweak it today. So out of the stack, I pull the notebook unerringly. I can remember which one it’s in, the cover of it, the color of the page I wrote on, whether it was lined or the Italian preferred squares, (never understood those), or a pure unsullied white expanse. I can remember if I wrote it in blue or black. If it flowed easily and was mostly one clear piece or if there were all kinds of scribbled out phrases and multiple pages. If there were doodles along the sides, if they were torn out of the notebook.
The ideas for songs are harder to hold in my mind but I remember dozens scribbled on napkins and paper placemats from roadside truck stops. Envelopes, matchbooks with teensy writing. Junk mail envelopes, the side of a paper bag, the back of a musical score of some cover I’m learning, on bills paid and unpaid, on the backs of people’s business cards.
As much as I eschewed writing on a computer or tablet, more and more I lean toward the ease of that. Does it affect my writing? Is it growth, submission, progress? I love being able to open my In Progress folder on my laptop and have everything immediately accessible, and no typing the poem or song in once it’s finally worked out, it’s been worked out there. But that process is missing something elemental. The physicality of writing seems to create a different flow.
I still journal every morning by hand and some scraps come out that way, I have my night poem catcher notebook near my pillow full of nearly incomprehensible scribblings as I don’t want to lose the thought or the magic by turning on the light and most of all I wanna get back to sleep. However, it seems the future has come for me as I eventually turn on the computer and spend the majority of my writing time here.
2019 was like that. The last DECADE has been like that. Trying to hold on to my old ways; not just of writing, but of booking gigs, promoting, of performing and suddenly it seems that technology has a grip on me. As I grapple with marketing and branding, not to mention social media (yee gads!) even the innovation that I use on stage with NoteSpeak in the form of my, now beloved, Vocal Effects Processor- the TC Helicon, I find my grasp on my familiar routines slipping away in the midst of the maelstrom that is today’s tech. Within that I question again; is it growth, submission, progress? Certainly, 2019 was one of my most productive and rewarding as an artist, and without a doubt, it’s due to the tools within reach. Still, it’s a grapple, this growth.
Prague Notespeak touring band Marco Cremaschini, Laura Masotto, Manuel Caliumi, Marco Cocconi, Federico Negri. Photo by Zuzka Bönisch
Isn’t it always though? Improving myself, learning, has always been a bumpy two steps forward one step back kinda dance. Doubt followed by delight, fear by triumph or often the other way round. Despite all of the hard work that pinnacle I’m striving towards ever out of reach. Will my vocal ability ever be such that through it you can see the depths of me and I can reach the depths of you and we can meet there? There, in the unseeable heart of heart of hearts. There, where we both can be known. There, where we can dance and revel in the undeniable communion of the oneness that is humanity. In other words, will my work ever be transcendent?
International Jazz Festival Prague 2019 Photo by Zuzka Bönisch
For now, for today I’m going to say it’s enough. In the last decade, I have done enough, I have given my best, I have written and sung with heart and truth, with as much beauty and craft as I can grasp. When self-doubt, impatience, frustration crept in I have more often than not repeated my mantra of, "I am a vessel, I am a vessel, I am a vessel" and willed myself to be present, to dig deep. To be available, attentive, kind, honest and to set aside that pesky ego.
To all of those beautiful miracles out there who have nourished me this last decade - Thank you. More than anything this a love letter to you. My bandmates, my collaborators, my inspirations - Thank you. To all the authors and poets, songwriters and painters, musicians and comedians, podcast creators and photographers, friends and lovers - Thank you. To those who filled me up when I was running low, Thank you. To all those who came to hear me perform or who read my words- who devoted time and money supporting my work, Thank you. What the next decade brings I cannot know, but surrounded by such altruism and artistry...such joyousness and consciousness - I am awed. Bring it! All I strive for is to scatter beauty, seed joy, cultivate creativity and compassion - in the way that all of you have for me.
Peace on earth in 2020.