Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Southwestern Brain Wash

It's amazing how much a road trip to a beautiful place can clear your head. After a relaxing weekend lounging in natural hot springs in a tiny New Mexico town, I feel rejuvenated. My mind was so sharp and focused yesterday - let's hope it stays around for awhile, at least before I leave for the Gulf Coast on Friday.

My travel buddy, Primo, and I stayed in the tiny town of Jemez Springs, population 320. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, it took no time at all to get to know all the characters. We stayed at the sweet and clean Jemez Mountain Inn and the owners, Paul and Luanna, made the place feel like one big house. Paul even let me peruse their liquor stash and make my own cocktail, right in his own kitchen.

One evening, Paul says to me, "C'mon, go get Mat. We're all going to Raymond's house." So, Paul, Luanna, me and Mat all piled into Luanna's car and off we went. Raymond turned out to be the amazingly talented artist, Raymond Sandoval, who greeted us with open arms.

Mat and I couldn't believe our luck. First of all, Raymond's house is a gorgeous adobe that Raymond made himself. Even in the bathroom ceiling is a beautiful scene of twigs and logs. Everything in the place - Raymond's art especially - was jaw dropping. Crawling plants, crystal chandeliers and comfy couches - all amazing.

Born and raised in Jemez Springs, Raymond had gone to art school in Philadelphia, and was there when the community tore down the nation's very first all-black Elk's Lodge. The treasures he got from that excavation  - including a floor-to-ceiling gilded mirror - add the perfect baroque touch. Meeting Raymond was a real highlight for both of us and yes, we both left with purchased art. It was hard to resist!

And then there was the amazing open skies and natural hot springs every ten feet or so. Some were fancy, like the Giggling Springs next door, which included a nice lady who brought us homemade lemonade or fruit smoothies whenever we put up the 'Drink, Please!' flag, as instructed.

There was also San Antonio Springs, a clothing-optional (yay!) springs that is hard to get to - double yay! Located high up in the mountains, the 5.5 mile road is impossible without a 4WD and thankfully, I had one handy. (What's the point of owning a tough vehicle if you're not going to star in a car commercial once in awhile, right?)

After a very bouncy drive, you then cross a river (next to the remnants of a bridge) and hike up a ways. Several stacked pools - the top one being the hottest - were available. With a view of those craggy pink mountains and lots of great company, it was pure heaven. (Although Mat was admonished for being part of a nude party, totally harshing his mellow.)

Earlier that day, we got caught in a fluke hail storm right in the middle of Valles Caldera. Thankfully, we were already heading to the teensy visitor center and it was there we took up shelter. With plenty of maps, books and helpful local guides (including one named Jim Trout), we made the best of it, although it squashed our hiking plans pretty good.

We got caught in another random hail storm as we were leaving on Monday. The weather changes were fairly normal to me, thanks to my Colorado training, but Mat couldn't get over how dramatically things can go from 94 degrees and sunny to 54 degrees and white.

Neither of us wanted to leave, we were so relaxed and content. I chirped and smile the whole way home. I can't wait to go back and continue my crush on New Mexico.


More photos from my trip can be found here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Road Trip!

 This morning, I'm off on a road trip. Just 7-ish hours from now, I'll be hanging with my old college roomie, Laurianna, a bad-ass firefighter who lives in Albuquerque with her two sons, Wyatt & Jack. (I've never met Jack so this will be exciting and Wyatt is 11 now! Sheesh!)

Then, tomorrow morning, I'll pick up my traveling buddy, Mat, from the airport and we'll head to Jemez Springs, a tiny town built around the area's natural hot springs. I am so excited a for new change of scenery here in the beautiful Southwest.

See you on the road! I'll be the one with bugs in my teeth. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Me & Ramblin' Jack

A few weeks back, I was able to apply the Golden Horseshoe and worm my way up next to a living legend: Ramblin' Jack Elliott. I could hardly believe it.

The only thing difficult about it was trying to impress people with this meeting - nobody (except Fang, of course) knows who he is, which is a dadgum tragedy. Hence, this post.

Talk about re-inventing yourself, he began life in the summer of 1931 as Elliot Charles Adnopoz, a Jew born in Brooklyn - hardly the Western troubadour he is today. After seeing a few rodeos at Madison Square Gardens, little Elliot was entranced by the Western characters and iconography. As he grew older, his father pressured him to follow in his footsteps and become a surgeon. Instead, Elliot ran off at 15 and joined Col. Jim Eskew's Rodeo, the only rodeo east of the Mississippi.

Three months later, his parents tracked him down and brought him back to New York but it was too late, Elliot had already glimpsed his future after watching a singing cowboy/rodeo clown. So, he began teaching himself guitar and performing in the streets for cash. He'd take some lessons from his buddy, Woody Guthrie, and a character soon began to take shape.

After touring Europe and recording albums, he came to America as a folk star. Arlo Guthrie, Woody's son, had lost his father at a young age and ended up learning his father's songs and performing style from Jack. Meanwhile, there was a new kid named Robert Zimmerman hanging around Jack who couldn't get enough - wanting to learn his songs, his style and possibly the concept of changing his entire persona. I've got one song, recorded live, where you hear Jack tell an audience, "And here comes Bobby Dylan and his new harmonica holder ..." 

In fact, Jack is often described as the link between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan - a key role in the history of American music. (There was even a rumor going around that Dylan was Jack's son, not just his apprentice.)

In addition to Guthrie and Dylan, Jack also hung out with Jack Kerouac and got high with James Dean. That he also became a good friend to Johnny Cash was inevitable.

Here's Jack in 1969 performing on Cash's show although his best appearance on that show was in 1971 with Norman Blake and Randy Scruggs performing 'Muleskinner Blues.' (The note he begins holding at 4:13 is legendary.)

Also, Ramblin' Jack's nickname did not come from his penchant for wandering the globe but for the countless stories he relates before answering the simplest of questions. Odetta claimed that it was her mother who gave him the name, remarking, "Oh Jack Elliott, yeah, he can sure ramble on!" It's still true, Jack remains master of the tangent.
"Nobody - and I mean nobody - has covered more ground and made more friends and sung more songs than Rambling Jack."
--Johnny Cash

The first time I saw Jack perform was in Austin, during SXSW, at St. David's Episcopal Church. He shared the bill with a few others, including Jolie Holland and Billy Bragg. When Jolie tried to perform solo, she was struck by what I can only guess was severe stage fright. She choked up and could hardly speak. Oh, it was awful to witness.

Ramblin' Jack quickly came to her rescue and comforted here right there in front of us all; I'll never forget it. "There, there, darlin', it happens to all of us. How about we sing a song together?" The audience burst into applause, relieved for a solution. Billy came out too and their collective performance was one of the highlights of the festival.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when Ramblin' Jack visited my favorite Denver music spot, Swallow Hill. As a volunteer in the main hall, I was helping folks find their seats. All of a sudden, I hear a cowboy twang aimed right at me: "You look like a woman who can get things done." It is indeed an old cowboy - ten gallon hat, boots, giant belt buckle - the whole deal.

"I am that woman," I said. "What do you need?"

He then handed me the biggest silver belt buckle I'd ever seen and said, "I want you to put this on the stool. It's for Jack and I want him to see it when he comes onstage." Cowboy was a champion horse breeder and one of his horses - a horse that Jack had admired - had recently won it.

I did as told and sure enough, when Jack came onstage, he 'ooohed' and 'aaaahed' over the shiny belt buckle. "I don't know where this came from but I sure thank you for the gift," he said and everyone turned to look at me.

At 79, Jack is getting on in years but he still delivers with rambling stories and old yodeling cowboy picking. As the show drew to a close, I vowed to deliver a kiss and get a photo. And with the usual folk music backstage security (a long curtain and a guy asleep on a folding chair), I easily worked my way into the green room.

Curiously, when I first entered, Jack had just turned to a tall man, plaintively asking, "What that a good performance? Or was it just okay? Just tell me." (Just goes to show you, that no matter how many people call you 'legend', you're still only as good as your last performance.)

As the only woman in the room (and the only one under 50), Jack and his gang all turned to look at me. I came with no strategy and figured honesty might just work. "I'm here to deliver a kiss to Jack and to get a photo!" 

Jack's eyes widened and he held out his arms: "Oh, boy! It's been a long time since I had a groupie!" Everyone laughed. We got a couple of photos and chatted about life in the Bay Area, where he lives. ("I never go into The City anymore, they only serve you white wine there.")

Sigh. They just don't make Jewish cowboys like Jack anymore. 

Monday, June 14, 2010


For a gadget that also does a gazillion other things, the iPhone takes pretty good photos. I don't mind the lack of flash since I tend to avoid it anyway but I do miss the far-reaching power of the lens. Sure, I'll carry my giant digital Canon SLR around for special occasions but I have a blast with my little 'glass baby.'

I shot this sometime last week in my own living room. My life seriously lacks horses these days so I have to make due with this wee bronze stallion who resides on my end table. Though he looms large in the photos, he actually measures 6" x 6"; I 'rescued' it from the family museum in North Dakota, meaning my Grandpa Wilbur bought it somewhere along the way. I dig the silhouette effect going on here, especially with the dark storm clouds brewing in the background.

Makes me want to tack up and ride.

Friday, June 11, 2010

So Little, So Late

When I finally spit out a rant here, you can be sure it's been simmering on the stove awhile. (In this case, 11 years, ever since a detailed report on the Boston scandal lived on my desk in the late 90s.) I apologize in advance for offending loved ones who are Catholic. This has nothing to do with your personal faith, only crimes advanced at the main office, as it were.

So, the Catholic Church. Wow. Where to begin? Where will it end? The decades and yes, centuries of ignorance and willful abuse - all done in the name of God - makes my skin burn with white hot rage. If I could shave my head and rip up a photo of the Holy See Not on SNL, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Today, the news broke that the Pope has finally gotten to the bottom of his to-do list and offered an apology for all the thousands of lives destroyed worldwide from ongoing sex scandals. Timely as usual. (Reminiscent of when The Church finally vindicated the astronomy studies of Galileo - who died in 1642 - in 1992.)

Confession: Priests have given me the heebie-jeebies my entire life. I could never pinpoint why but these days, I've got a pretty good idea. If I got on a crowded bus and had a choice between sitting next to a priest or a big, black gangster dude, I'd take droopy pants over the collar every time.

The only Catholic person in a leadership position I ever trusted was Fran, one of the coolest holy guys ever to walk the Earth. I still talk to him sometimes and I wish he was here to help me understand this mess. If guys like Fran were running the show, The Church would not have sunk to the oozy tarpits of lies and deception, where it currently resides. When the media offers interactive maps (like the Boston Globe did here, highlighting districts with abusing priests), you know things are bad.

Last year in Phoenix, The Church excommunicated a hospital administrating nun for approving a life-saving abortion. Doctors agreed that the woman - also the mother of four children - would likely die of pulmonary hypertention if the pregnancy were to continue. No matter, Sister Margaret McBride was out her ass after decades of service.

Now, this is the same Church that artfully moved pedophile priest from one diocese to another to protect its own sanctimonious reputation. The Church - you know the one that preaches family values? - ended up being comprised largely of either child fuckers or those that protect them. Let's put it this way, when I tried to get my arms around the expanse of this situation, I got a Wikipedia entry entitled:

Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Cases By Country

This cancer within the Church is so pervasive, so deeply rooted, that it has to be broken down by entire nations. And yet, time and time again, backs were turned to the problem. The Church that bans birth control, disallows women leaders and molests thousands of children, wants you to live by their rules. The Catholic Church is like the Enron of religions and they are losing numbers fast. Say what you want about extreme Islam, but they do not abuse children.

And let's not forget how much money is spent trying to clean up this mess. Dioceses and their insurers paid $104 million in settlements, attorneys' fees and other abuse-related costs in 2009 and $376 million in 2008. All told, the scandal's price tag for settlements and other costs has risen to more than $2.7 billion, according to estimates, and these numbers apply to the U.S. only. Something to think about when that plate comes around....

As a non-Catholic, I can't seem to engage anyone of this faith in a realistic discussion. I get responses like, "Well, plenty of religions have the same problem." Really? Which ones? Honestly, I'd like to know.

"Well, the problem is limited to certain areas." Correct, that area being Earth.

"Well, not all priests are guilty of this." Agreed, although they are part of the same fraternity that allowed this atmosphere to grow and fester. 

And then there's SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests. A NETWORK, PEOPLE. They've been around for 22 years and have more than 9,000 members. The fact that they even exist, that they host conferences and have handy Abuse Trackers, makes me ill.


Just to put the cherry on top of this evil sundae, there's also now a website for Italian women who have sexual relations with priests. Celibacy in the Church - what a sham. And why? What does it prove? That people who claim not to have sex are somehow closer to God? I don't buy it. After all, isn't He the one who made the parts fit together so nicely?

I can't help but recall a time when I traveled through the Australian outback for three days with a young Catholic Irishman. He was a virgin (because the Church said no sex before marriage) and was deeply conflicted about it. He was also an alcoholic and had mysterious open sores all over his skin. Over the long hours of driving through a bright orange desert, we had many talks about this imposed celibacy issue and I recall saying one thing that gave him pause:
"Nature - your body - always has the last word. It doesn't care about plans or rules or anything like that. Think about when you get the flu and how much work or fun you miss out on because the virus needs to have its way with you. It has no concern for your schedule or what another human has told you. None whatsoever."
He was quiet for a long time after this and I still think about that poor, confused young man. Now, I'm not saying getting laid would've cleared up his head and skin (although it works for me), but other than being told "No!", he had zero guidance from his Church on how to maneuver the real world.

Honestly, I'd love to hear something - anything - from Catholics who are really angry about this post or have some helpful insight. The most excellent pro-Catholic essay I've read so far is from Elizabeth Scalia: "On Good Friday, Why I Remain Catholic."

Don't get me wrong, I'm seething like an angry wet cat but ultimately, what I wish for is healing for all involved. Even those creepy guys in black.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Beware the Rear View

A friend of mine was recently seated at a wedding, minding her own business, when a 'Fashion Don't' suddenly struck. Camera poised, she waited for the nuptial show to begin when she looked directly ahead and saw this:

Yessiree, that there is what we call a Weave Gone Bad. Poor girl has no idea. Let this be a lesson, ladies. When fastenin' foreign crap to yer 'do, remember to check out the back view....lest you end up in some body's blog.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Legends on the Rocks

Tuesday evening, Reid and I headed up to beautiful Red Rocks to catch the kick-off of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' summer Mojo tour. After a tailgate picnic dinner with an unbelievable view of rolling green hills and pink-red rock formations - plus a whole lot of happy drunk people - we made the trek to our seats: Row 23, dead center.

You know the show is going to kick ass when Joe Cocker is the opening act. Now 66 (that's rock star years, so he's actually more like 84), Joe can deliver the back-arching-fire-breathing goods with his eyes closed, which they mostly were. While his voice had that scratchy pain thing going on even in his youth, there's something about age that brings a new integrity to his voice - it has grown richer with decades of seasoning.

We couldn't help but note that Joe has basically evolved into an old black man - the highest ranking a singer can achieve, possibly second only to an old black woman. The folks sitting next to us had the same thought. "He looks and moves like a white Fred Sanford," said Friendly Neighbor Guy.

Joe's performance of (one of) his signature songs, "With a Little Help From My Friends", was a personal favorite. With the crowd singing and swaying, it felt like an old-world spiritual. Funny how the images of songs evolve and change as you stumble through this life.

Joe also performed "Unchain My Heart", "Feelin' Alright" and a cover of The Beatles' "Come Together," which he recorded in 2007. Joe is also a Colorado resident, in the wee mountain town of Crawford, and occasionally has garage sales that he announces on the radio. He downed an awful lot of water during his performance and never spoke or acknowledged the crowd once, which was kind of a bummer.

Then, Petty and his Heartbreakers hit the stage and my heart soared, ready to be broken. The only time I've seen Tom perform was during a Johnny Cash show at the House of Blues in LA. Cash casually mentioned that his friend Tom was going to come out and help with backup guitar, if that was okay with us. Petty stepped out sheepishly and did just that - never sang or anything - just there for his back-up gig.

Not on this night! Tom was front and center with his steady partner-in-brilliance, guitarist Mike Campbell, and all the other freakishly talented musicians, including one guy, Scott Thurston, who just had a giant wooden stand that held about 20 harmonicas and a bunch of other instruments; he played each one effortlessly.

Petty is a living legend at this point in his decades-long career and I'm so glad to see him the credit he's due. And you know what? I think he is too. In stark contrast to Cocker, Petty was overflowing with gratitude. He thanked us profusely after each and every song, almost gushing: "Thank you so much! It really means a lot. Thank you!" and so on. It was refreshing and made us cheer louder.

Though my favorite Petty song was not played ("American Girl"), there were plenty of others I could belt out loud, especially "Breakdown" and "Refugee." (Song list at left.) No worries, I knew he had 34 years worth of songs to choose from and a new album to promote - I was just damn happy to be there.

Again, I was impressed with how 'there' he was for the audience. Halfway through the set, he talked about their new album, Mojo, after an eight-year Heartbreakers hiatus and could he play some new stuff for us? We half-clapped, half-groaned and he laughed a little then said, "Just a few songs then after that it will be wall-to-wall hits, I PROMISE." We clapped our end of the agreement and the show blistered on. (And yes, the new stuff kicks ass, especially 'Runnin' Man's Bible.'

The thing about Petty is, he clearly remembers what it's like to be a fan and that counts for a lot. I think it's called integrity and I don't care how many Top 40 stations play his music, it comes through. Petty songs are sneaky like that.

I think the best song of the night was 'Learnin' to Fly' mostly because he let the crowd take over the chorus and it was LOUD. It was energizing be part of such focused collective energy, especially when the words are about fucking up in life and giving it another go, an experience most of us think is exclusive to our lives.
I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings
Coming down, is the hardest thing
My friend, Kathleen - an avid music fan herself - told me once that whenever she hears a Petty song, she thinks of me. It's one of my favorite compliments of all time, right up there with the time my friend, Marjike, was driving through Germany, heard Johnny Cash on the radio and called me immediately; it warms my heart just to picture it.

Big thanks to Reid and all the music gods that lined up for this amazing show. What a great way to launch summer in Colorado.

For more awesome photos from the opening night show, go straight to the source.

(Image Credits: Joe Cocker by Cory Morse/The Muskegon Chronicle; All Petty photos from