What Kind of Bird Can’t Fly: A Memoir of Resilience and Resurrection – A Review

I heard about What Kind of Bird Can’t Fly: A Memoir of Resilience and Resurrection by Dorsey Nunn while listening to an interview of Dorsey on Sheer Intelligence. It is an inspiring read and for anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area a window into maybe a world on the other side of the tracks – in this case, the other side of the freeway.

Dorsey is a remarkable person who really is an inspiration, He proves that it is never too late to have hope and change your ways and create a better world. The book is a memoir that outlines the realities of growing up as a Black person in East Palo Alto, California on the other side of Interstate 101 from the world of Menlo Park and Silicon Valley. In his honest, direct and often profane voice, he paints the picture of what it was like to grow up in community that has been disenfranchised and marginalized. The red-lining. The drugs. The violence. The community. The poverty. The police. His complicated family and their struggles as well. The book then is a journey of a lengthy prison sentence, much in San Quentin and how through learning to read and finding various mentors he educated himself and then went on to advocate for incarcerate people’s rights, eventually making for the passage of some very significant legislation .

The book recalls all of Dorsey’s ups and downs. His drug problems and addictions. The people who ultimately believed in him. The various non-profits organizations that Dorsey started to help “people in cages.” The tone and pace of the book is consistent and the linear nature of the book makes it so you can’t wait to read the next chapter. Its a page-turner and will make you understand the Prison Industrial Complex a little bit better the next time you drive by one of the many prisons along Interstate 5.

While I was reading What Kind of Bird Can’t Fly: A Memoir of Resilience and Resurrection I picked up by chance at the local Goodwill the album Good Old Boys by Randy Newman . It is an amazing album with poignant song writing.  The title track Rednecks is basically the soundtrack to Dorsey Nunn’s book. While Dorsey’s book never uses the “N” word, Rednecks has a chorus that ends with Keeping the Niggers Down.

Yes he’s free to be put in a cage in Harlem in New York City.
And he’s free to be put in a cage on the South Side of Chicago and the West-Side.
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland.
And he’s free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis.
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco.
And he’s free to be put in a cage Roxbury in Boston.
They’re gathering ’em up from miles all around. Keepin’ the Niggers down.
Rednecks by Randy Newman

While it is evidently one of Randy’s favorite songs, he rarely perform it live. It surely makes a lot of people uncomfortable and definitely not Disney-approved but it could be a song in the movie version of What Kind of Bird Can’t Fly: A Memoir of Resilience and Resurrection. Buy the book. Let me know if you agree.

What Kind of Bird Can’t Fly: A Memoir of Resilience and Resurrection is available from Heyday Press, your local bookstore and online.

Mitt Romney – A New Book “Romney A Reckoning” by McKay Coppins – A Review and Quotes

I checked out Romney A Reckoning from the San Francisco Public Library having heard McKay Coppins, the author, in an interview on public radio. Both Romney and Coppins are Mormon.  Romney gave Coppins access to his personal journals, texts and emails and they had weekly interviews while he was a U.S. Senator so that Coppins could write the book. The agreement was that Coppins would be the author and Romney would not have any influence over the final product.

While most politicians these days are extremely careful with their exposure to journalists, media and the spin, this relationship does speak to Romney’s candor and the notion that he has nothing to hide.  While Romney became a very wealthy man starting and running Bain Capital, the book focuses primarily on his personal and recent political life.  Often quite goofy and more humorous than expected, Romney predictably comes off as someone of character and courage. We get brief excerpts of his private journals, the assessment of the people around him, the turmoil of January 6th., his meetings with Trump. Romney A Reckoning is an interesting, entertaining, alarming, fun and fast read and an important view into our tumultuous political times.

At an event in New Hampshire a man confronted him with an accusatory question. “Are you going to compromise? the voter asked. “I don’t want to vote for anyone who’s going to compromise.” Romney, unable to restrain himself, replied, “Are you married, sir?”
Romney A Reckoning

I have never voted for Mitt Romney but gained much respect for him when he was the only Republican to both impeach and convict Donald Trump. Like his father George Romney, Mitt Romney did believe in civil rights and he is documented as marching with Black Lives Matters protesters after the murder of George Floyd. He is a rational person, believes in science and the notion that the planet is warming and climate change is real. But in many ways he is a throwback to an earlier type of Republican – a buttoned-down, well-mannered conservative capitalist who really does have an insane amount of money.

The quote below will always be a political liability no matter how you spin it. The visual of Mitt Romney at a rest stop hosing dog shit off of the family station wagon is simply too funny.

One prolonged subplot of the campaign had to do with a decades-old anecdote about Romney strapping the family dog, Seamus, to the roof of their station wagon during a road trip. One of Romney’s sons had shared the story with a newspaper reporter as a funny demonstration of this dad’s organizational skills: when Seamus experienced a bout of diarrhea, Romney moved quickly to find a rest stop, hose down the dog and car, and get back on the road without losing much time.
Romney A Reckoning

According to the book, Mitt Romney is a man who enjoys managing and solving problems whether they mean packing the family station wagon roof rack or working in the private or public sectors.  Unlike, Reagan and current Republicans, he does not think that government is the problem, he thinks government just needs to be better managed. Indeed, it was Massachusetts health care plan while Romney was governor that was in many was the blueprint for the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Perhaps one of his shortcomings as a politician is that he does not actually care for the theater that so often goes along with politics and is motivated by his technocratic, problem-solving impulses. Mitt Romney surely finds reality television shows ridiculous.

I really do believe if you’re not being booed, if people aren’t angry at you, you really haven’t done anything in public life.
Mitt Romney

A theme that is persistent in the book is how his Mormon faith often became a political liability.  Mormonism for many Americans is and has always been a bit strange. This modern offshoot of Christianity and its Zionism finding a home in  isolated Utah seems to often make other Christians uncomfortable. There is a chapter in the book about how Romney realized the existence of extremists in parts of Utah while on the campaign trail. What is odd is that the new Republican Tea Party Evangelicals are more comfortable with a vile, dishonest, racist, misogynist non-religious  con-man than a morally upstanding character like Mitt Romney.

Near the end of the book, you get this very chilling realization that the violence unleashed by Trump has really made it into the highest halls of government.

When one senator, a member of leadership, said he was leaning toward voting to convict, the other urgently encouraged him to reconsider. You can’t do that, one said, think of your personal safety, said another, think of your children. The senator eventually decided they were right. There were to many Trump supporters with guns in his state, he explained to Romney. His wife wouldn’t feel safe going out in public.

Senators voting a certain way because they fear assassinations? Sounds like fascism not the home of the free and the brave. Romney A Reckoning . A fun read. You will find this book at a garage sale in a few years. Buy it. Read it. Hopefully the world will be a bit saner by then.

Buried – The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche – A Review

Buried – The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche is a documentary film from 2021 that tells the story of a massive avalanche. You can now watch this movie on various streaming services including Netflix.

Throughout history the mountains have had various meanings. In the Middle Ages, mountains were thought to be places where evil lurked and venturing  into the mountains was a deal with the devil.  Mountains were dark, mysterous places where ungodly people hid out.  Since the sixteenth century, mountains have taken on a more sacred place in the Western imagination.  By the nineteenth century, mountains were seen as a place to regain health and vigor. Fresh air. Clean water.  A place to get away from the foul industrial urban centers. Even the tragic story of the Donner Party in 1847, a few miles from Alpine Meadows, did not slow this new sense of the healthful sacredness of the mountains. In many ways, this notion of the mountains being healthy and even sacred lives on today. To this end, there are hundreds of ski resorts high in the mountains of the American West, one of which is Alpine Meadows (now Palisades). Life is short. Drop a few thousand dollars for a weekend. Regain your health and even get a bit closer to God.

The people who live up in ski resorts are a fun-loving bunch.  Few who live in the mountains are there for the money. Some enjoy the solitude and quiet. Some the never ending thrills of deep power snow. Some live for the scenic beauty. Other are there to escape something and get a new start. Some are there to endlessly party. Whatever the case, it a place where people’s main motivation is to live in the moment.

Buried – The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche tells that story of people living in the moment.  It is a remarkable movie as the filmmakers somehow gathered one by one all the major people that were part of this event and had them candidly talk about the winter of 1982.  The combination of these interviews, along with footage from the time, including local news reports tells the story in a very even, engaging way. You even get to watch San Francisco’s Channel 2 reporters, Dennis Richmond and Elaine Corral report on the tragic event – a time when the 6 o’clock news was the news.

This view into a time before the personal computer, cellphones and the internet is part of what makes the movie so intriguing.  The ski patrol had only  walkie-talkies and snowmobiles. Weather reports came over the weather radio.  The young avalanche forecaster Jim Plehn used a system of large paper charts to map the snow densities and where they had used explosives or side-cut skiing to create avalanches. To this day, it is an inexact science that in the end requires more than paper, computer models and theories, but all your senses, experience and instinct.

As the film unfolds, the movie does an excellent job of telling the story of the avalanche and then for the rest of the movie the digging out of bodies and the hope for any survivors.  Volunteers with shovels. A few specially trained avalanche dogs. All the while it is continuing to snow and the people in charge have no way of knowing if there will be another massive slide. The majority of the people dealing with this tragic event, the ski patrol were all people in their late twenties. Making critical life and death decisions at a very young age. Even in the hedonistic mountains, people grew up pretty fast back then.

Buried – The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche is an important film telling an  important story that is critical part of the history of the American West. Watch it with a bowl of fresh popcorn and a cool beverage of your choice.

Well done. 5 stars.


2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival SF Journal Awards

The 2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park was  the last weekend of September – Sep 29, 2023 – Oct 1, 2023. My buddy Steve from Atlanta was in town and we went all three days, listened to a lot of bands, and had a blast. When you look over the schedule, you notice right away that it will be a tyranny of choices. So many bands. So little time. We did not even make it to a few of the stages this year, choosing to stay at good front row spots at some of our favorite stages. The new Horseshoe Hill Stage looked like fun but we never made it there.

In 2023 the weather was generally cool and partly cloudy with light winds out of the west.. Often October has some of the best surf, but during the HSB 2023 weekend the swell was a bit mixed up, large and funky and only for the totally committed surf community who seem to get out there and rip on just about anything.  Each day in the mornings you could see the marine layer out at sea ready to come ashore in the afternoon.

Without further ado,  here are the 2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival SF Journal Awards.

– Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

It was a gas to listen to this young blues guitar player, just taking the music to another level – B.B King would be proud. Kingfish and the band brought some very funky grooves and it was awesome how the keyboard player would add some substitutions and extended and altered chords at tasty moments.  At one point Kingfish headed out to the audience and played an epic solo walking through the crowd.


– Chuck Prophet

Even though Chuck Prophet has played HSB many times, he is getting the UP-AND-COMING ARTIST award only because it was the first time I have heard him play and he sounded great – definitely home field advantage on the Rooster Stage.  Chuck is getting the UP-AND-COMING ARTIST award because at 60 years old he is but a youngster when up against the likes of Bettye Lavette and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. With out a doubt the youngster Chuck is now surely getting hounded by AARP.

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express

– Bettye Lavette

So many artists at HSB were born in the 1940s. To live a long life you surely have to laugh a little and Bettye is sassy as ever, a bit glib at times, can still dance and one of her fortes is humor. Halfway through her set Bettye announced that she may have contracted a new disease that is problematic for many called CRS, short for Can’t Remember Shit. While there may have been a few pauses in the set, no one knew the difference. Her band was very funky and she delivered a great show.

– “Second Time Around” – Rickie Lee Jones

I heard Rickie Lee Jones in New Orleans last year and she brought her horn section and brilliant arrangements (which she writes) . What was she going to do in Golden Gate Park? Will she do her hits from her youth? Will she sing stuff that she isn’t particularly known for? Will she make it on stage?  During Rickie Lee Jones’ set on the Banjo Stage it was obvious that she was going to sing her jazz tunes. When she sang “Second Time Around” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen I wondered how many people even knew the song, but the entire meadow was pretty much transfixed.  Great tune. Great interpretation. You can hear Rickie’s version here.

– The Golden Retriever at the Banjo Staged

Just a chill dog that made you realize how sublime it must be to just stick out your  tongue, smell the air and feel the grass.

Chill dog

Until next year, that is the SF Journal 2023 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Awards.

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco is a little like Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Big-name bands, many kinds of music and a festive atmosphere. One of the amazing things about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is that even though there are tens of thousands of people, it is always a  peaceful event, and in the end people seem to get along just fine and often make new friends. Everyone seems to pack out the trash pretty well too. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Warren Hellman’s party.  Communal music therapy.


Discovering Blindness “Ensaio sobre a cegueira” by José Saramago

Blindness (Portuguese: Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness) is a 1995 novel by the Portuguese author José Saramago. It is one of Saramago’s most famous novels, along with The Gospel According to Jesus Christ and Baltasar and Blimunda. In 1998, Saramago received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Blindness was one of his works noted by the committee when announcing the award.[1]

A few weeks ago I was in Mexico City when I had run out of reading material. When in a country where English is not the first language, it is often very difficult to find books in English. We went to a bookstore and though the possibilities were a bit limiting, I picked up Blindness by José Saramago. It sucked me in and I finished the novel by the time we left Mexico.

But I almost put the book down after the first few chapters. The English translation was so horrible I wondered if I could make it through. When I figured out that the translator had died midway through the work I realized that what I was reading was not really a finished piece but a draft. The translator was Giovanni Pontiero who passed away. Margaret Jill Costa finished the work. I soon realized that they had seemingly worked backwards and as the novel progressed, the writing got better. The story is so good and captivating, the writing can lean on the narrative.

You can read about the plot in Wikipedia so I will not rehash the story. There are so many angles from which to interpreting and understand this novel and that is what makes it so intriguing – the symbolism of blindness, the fragility of society, the psychology of power, the psychology of interpersonal relationships, violence, the act of forgiveness, the power and responsibilities of those that can see, vengeance. All of these themes and others are somewhere inside this captivating novel.

Of course where you read a book like this you cannot help but imagine it as a movie. After finishing Blindness, I discovered and watched the movie. I had reservations about how would you even make a movie from the novel but was surprised at how good the movie is. It brings together all the important themes and in many ways does not stray too far from the novel. Of course, the movie did not do well at the box office as dystopian nightmares are not what people desire in the theaters these days.

I am not usually one for books that are thrillers and on the macabre side, but Blindness is highly recommended reading. Probably best to start with the book.

Symphony Bicicleta – July 2023

First Movement

La Familia
To the edge of town we ride along this winding river, through gnat-filled forests, over bridges that dodge the morning commutes. Breakfast at a familiar diner busy with ribbon-wearing war vets and regulars, then farewells to a buddy who navigates me each year to the start of this tale. Past cows, horses, pigs and more cows, fields of corn, by mailboxes with clever designs. Silos of corn. Roadkill large and small plastered to the asphalt in various stages of morbid decay. American flags abound tell me the wind.
Nighttime thunderstorms cool the air as hungry mosquitoes buzz outside my simple tent. The morning is clear as I pedal over the Chippewa and streams too many to name. By the evening I arrive at the timeless Trempealeau Hotel on the Mississippi as locals with guitars gather for songs, laughs and beers.

I rise with the sun to venture over wetlands forgotten save for the cranes, robins, yellow finches, redwing blackbirds and blue herons. A hundred miles of trail to ride with tunnels, old bridges and rail stations from long ago. Nervous rabbits endlessly scamper across the trail. Through quiet small towns where even the bars seem asleep I pedal.

Camping in Elroy with my sis and her pooches as we eat, drink and marvel at our rain-free luck. One more day on farm roads, climbing then flying down these rolling hills and glens dodging more rain to then but roll into my brother’s crib, not far from where I was born.

Second Movement

Continental Divide
I hear trombones and french horns.
Stacked fifths.
Parallel motion like a moose crossing the road.
Earth tilted so that streams can sing and dance.
Strings on a unison line with leaps unknown.
A solo trumpet hands off to a flute.
Timpani rolls.
Octaves call out a forgotten
Blackfoot melody to an open unending sky.

Third Movement

I see Meriwether Lewis in the rear view mirror driving a big rig, horn a blastin’ down Interstate 84. His sidekick Clark riding shotgun. Eyes bloodshot, he pulls a long draw on the flask. Back to the scene, two hundred years in the future as a bird of prey unknown soars high above.

The Columbia Gorge once sang a fine tune. Now it is the never-ending hum of the Interstate and the trains that clamber up and down this geological miracle, shaped by glaciers, volcanos and spastic floods building bridges to the gods.

Fires now burn the hairs that grow like fur on the ranges leaving only gray pointy sticks from once verdant pine. Hike up the canyons, the blackberries now just ripe while the timeless waterfalls wash the modern madness away like cymbals crashing persistent.


Paul Lyons - Adventure Cyclist

July I spent traveling around three regions of the United States primarily by bicycle. The Midwest and the 300 mile ride from Minneapolis to Madison, much on rail-to-trail paths. Glacier Mountain Park and East Glacier to West Glacier. Portland to the Columbia River Gorge. I traveled between regions with an Amtrak Rail Pass ($499) which worked great. You can get your bike on the train ride for $20. Just remember when you get off the train, you get your bike directly from the baggage car not at the baggage terminal!

The writing above is my summary of these travels. I saw some amazing country and met some truly remarkable people.

In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist – Great Summer Reading

The book In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordon is featured in a very entertaining 99% Invisible episode De Fiets is Niets/.

In the City of Bikes is a fast read about both the twists and turns of both Amsterdam and Jordon’s  journal with the bicycle. It is well-researched and the quotes about and from the various characters integral to the story make it a light read. Perfect for the beach or nearby lake.

In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist
By Pete Jordan
Publisher: ‎ Harper Perennial; 0 edition (April 16, 2013)
Language: ‎English
Paperback: ‎448 pages
ISBN-10: ‎0061995207
ISBN-13: ‎978-0061995200

Rediscovering Dick Gregory – The One and Only Dick Gregory (2021) – A Review

The One and Only Dick Gregory (2021) is available on many streaming services and I highly recommend this movie – 5 Stars


Dick Gregory is one of the many brilliant people from the 20th century who are often overlooked. If you were White, growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the name Dick Gregory came into the spotlight rarely, perhaps a few times on the six o’clock news. He was, along with Gloria Steinem on the FBI list of people to try to minimize as they were “dangerous.”   I remember Dick Gregory only as the guy going on juice fasts and advocating for better nutrition.  To my nine year old self, he seemed honest and had commonsensical ideas but was a bit of an eccentric. I had never seen him do standup so I probably did not realize he was a comic as well.  In this era of having everything on demand, it is easy to forget that the era of broadcast television made it so you could only see things once. Once it was broadcast at 6 pm and the show ended, it was over. Gone into that dream-like world. Even though he made it to the Tonight Show with Jack Parr a few times, to many, Dick Gregory simply disappeared and fell off the radar.

After watching the movie I would ask random friends and acquaintances if they had ever heard of Dick Gregory.  The two Black people I spoke with had stories to tell, one about how his mother would play Dick Gregory records, the other about his nutritional supplements. I would usually get a blank stare from White folk.  “Dick Gregory? Never heard of him.”

The One and Only Dick Gregory is a two hour retrospective on Dick Gregory’s entire life. It is fairly balanced between each decade. I appreciated the fact that it took this approach as people are often much more complex than just the high points.  It would be perhaps more entertaining to have most of the movie about his years as a standup comic and then his association and friendship with Martin Luther King, but that would make it so you did not see the incredible arch of Dick Gregory’s life.

I particularly enjoyed Dick Gregory’s obsession with running.  During the segment on the nineteen-seventies, you see the same low-res home movie of Gregory running by the side of the road. One just has to wonder if the fictional character Forrest Gump’s running faze was inspired in some part by Dick Gregory.

In 1976, to combat world hunger, Dick Gregory ran from Los Angeles, CA to New York City. The run was known as the Dick Gregory Food Run. Signature shirts were worn and passed out along the way. 71 days, 50 miles per day for a total of 2,782 miles. Dick Gregory ate no solid food during this run. He solely consumed water and his 4x formula.


Dick Gregory running in Ohio
Dick Gregory running in Ohio, from https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p267401coll32/id/28839/

I will not spoil any more of the movie. The One and Only Dick Gregory is an excellent way to get to learn about this remarkable man. It places equal weight to all time periods of his life. This is a man who in his twenties smoked four packs of cigarettes’ a day, was good friends and opened up for Martin Luther King at civil rights rallies and later ran from LA to New York to bring attention to world hunger.  Just a few of the many incredible moments in a remarkable life. The guy was a mensch. 




A Stitch In Time

A Stitch In Time is now playing at the Pelican Cafe.

It is a song about the 6th Mass extinction otherwise known as the Holocene extinction. Oceans did sing to the sunsets. And once a whale did swim by.  That’s all you get. Just a stitch in time.

A Stitch In Time

There was a day
Not so long ago
The sun did rise
To the East

That’s all you get
Just a stitch in time
Dilly dally
And it does fly

And then the sun
Kissed the Mission
And found a friend
In the fog

That’s all you get
Just a stitch in time
Dilly dally
And it does fly

Oceans did sing
To the sunsets
And once the whales
Did swim by

That’s all you get
Just a stitch in time
Dilly dally
And it does fly

Don’t feel so bad
It’s happened before
Haven’t you heard
There’s bees.

Paul Lyons 8/2022

Reflections on Thomas Szasz and The Manufacture of Madness

Thomas Szasz’s The Manufacture of Madness –  A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement was published in 1970. The gist of the book is that the Inquisition that persecuted witches, heretics, Jews and homosexuals and a variety of “others” is similar to modern psychiatry and the Mental Health Movement that diagnoses people for their insanity and locks them up, against their will in institutions for safekeeping and treatments.

That was 1970. I am sure there is still the practice of putting people with schizophrenia and other diagnoses against their will into institutions and it may be good to remember that The Manufacture of Madness was written in the time of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Additionally it was a time when homosexuality and masturbation were often considered diseases that needed to be cured. I will refrain from the gory details of the treatments.

Of course, comparing the Mental Health Movement to the Inquisition made Dr. Szasz a very controversial academic and he surely had many enemies.  In effect he was declaring that mental illness is a myth and the profession of psychiatry a hoax and the people who practice it immoral and dense – not a good way to make friends. Szasz’s thesis surely has merit and it is odd that people then and today dismiss his theories simply because it makes them uncomfortable and they do not like them. In every era we think we become more noble and advanced but time and time again it turns out that more often than not the same dynamics are in play; it is only the words, players and titles that change.

What one thinks of Rush’s tactics depends, of course , on what one thinks of the ideology of psychiatric imperialism and its attendant quasi-medical sanctions.

The chapter The New Manufacturers – Benjamin Rush, The Father of American Psychiatry is an eye-opening account of how Benjamin Rush thought that criminals had mental diseases that needed to be “cured” and that Black people suffered a “disease” from the color of their skin

More surprising than Rush’s self-proclaimed love for the Negro is his theory of Negritude. Rush does not believe that God created the Negro black; nor that a Negro is black in nature…  About 1792, white spots began to appear on the body of a Negro slave named Henry Moss. In three years he was almost entirely white. Moss had the symptoms of an hereditary disease we now know as vitiligo. The condition, characterized by loss of skin pigmentation, occurs in both white and colored people… The gist of Rush’s theory was that the Negro suffered from congenital leprosy which “… appeared so mild a form that excess pigmentation was its only symptom.”

By inventing his theory of Negritude, Rush solved the issue of racial  segregation. Whites and Blacks could not have sexual contact and God-forbid marry as it would propagate this dreaded disease of being Black.  By conflating race with a disease, he was promoting a concept that humans could be cured of their race – or in more modern terms, they would then be cured by becoming  transracial. Race (as gender is today) was considered a preexisting medical condition. In the 18th and 19ths centuries, it is clear that unless you were a white male, you had some sort of disease that needed a medical remedy.  Women suffered from hysteria and pregnancy was a disease. Black people had the disease of Negritude. It is a sobering fact that this is the basis of psychiatry in America  as conjured up by Benjamin Rush, the preeminent doctor and a man who signed the Declaration of Independence.

All students of psychology and psychiatry would do well to read the work of Thomas Szasz as he was a very influential person, intelligently questioning the status quo and his work goes deep into the history of psychiatry. That he is fading into the background of history is predictable. People in the field of medicine that question the profit sector of the industry will always get pushed aside. That the last forty years has seen huge profits in the mental health pharmaceutical industry speaks to this conundrum.

What is interesting is how much has changed in the Mental Health Movement in the last fifty years. Homosexuality and masturbation are no longer considered diseases. Since President Ronald Reagan helped to defund mental health services in the 1980s we see plenty of people that are mentally imbalanced on the streets. If mental illness is a myth, tell that to the homeless person screaming at the moon at 3 AM in the middle of the night.  Their condition may go beyond just the cardboard box they sleep in. Indeed. they may have a “problem with living” and a warm, clean safe bed, a toilet and shower is surely part of the remedy, but years of abuse, living on the edge and poverty has its toll. People are complicated. Simple solutions are often overly simplistic.

But then again, as Szasz pointed out, the Mental Health Movement is always manufacturing new diseases. Here are just some of the the latest disorders that people are diagnosed with.

The DSM-5 (2013)
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals around the world. The manual is the guide by which mental health professionals base their diagnosis. Below is a list in alphabetical order of the 15 new disorders added to the DSM-5.

  1. Binge Eating Disorder
  2. Caffeine Withdrawal
  3. Cannabis Withdrawal
  4. Central Sleep Apnoea
  5. Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder
  6. Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder- DMDD
  7. Excoriation (Skin-picking) Disorder
  8. Hoarding Disorder
  9. Hypersexual Disorder
  10. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – PMDD
  11. Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behaviour Disorder
  12. Restless Legs Syndrome
  13. Sleep-related Hypoventilation
  14. Social (Pragmatic) Communication Withdrawal

From https://www.aifc.com.au/14-new-disorders-in-the-dsm-5/

The list above is just the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Thomas Szasz was definitely on to something no one wants discuss. I highly doubt he is required reading in university programs. Need I say more?

You can hear an amazing Studs Terkel sixty minute interview of Dr. Szasz from 1970.

The Manufacture of Madness
by Thomas S Szasz
ASIN ‏ : ‎ B000GJVK5E
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Paladin; 1st Edition, 5th Printing (January 1, 1970)
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 383 pages

Kenny Wheeler and That Amazing Sound

I was thinking about Kenny Wheeler the other day. Coming out of a store where all the music was processed and the horns were not real I thought about that great Kenny Wheeler sound.

Kenny Wheeler (14 January 1930 – 18 September 2014) played the trumpet, lead bands and composed some beautiful music. His trumpet sound always had a bright singing quality. He played daring, audacious leaps soaring into the upper registers. I always got the felling when he played he put everything on the line.

A few Kenny Wheeler Videos

A Scene with Kenny Wheeler

And this one from a studio session where you see him in the trenches of studio work. Amazing musician, trumpet player, composer.

Kenny Wheeler at 82 plays trumpet on “Color Sample”. From the album “Bro/Knak”

“Color Sample”. From the album “Bro/Knak” by Jakob Bro in collaboration with Thomas Knak. Album released on Loveland Records 06th July 2012. More info: http://www.jakobbro.com

2022 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival SF Journal Awards

The 2022 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park  was back to true form; there were so many bands that I lost count. Since COVID 19 hit the festival has been on hiatus save for the online streaming variety which I did not check out.  My buddy Steve from Atlanta was in town to take in the festival. We went all three days, listened to over twenty bands, and had a blast.

In 2022 the weather varied a lot.  The mornings on Friday and Saturday began clear but by 1 pm on both days the fog came in and the temperatures dropped significantly. No need for an artificial fog machine at HSB 2022, many times the stage and musicians were obscured by fog.  During the Drive By Truckers‘ set it began to look like a dystopian, gothic hallucination. Yes, that is the stage there in the fog.

Drive By Truckers' set at HSB 2022

Often October has some of the best surf, but during the HSB 2022 weekend that happen on only Saturday morning.. Saturday began with clear skies and long beautiful shoulder to head high waves. We did not venture into the waters this year but took in the waves as spectators along the Great Highway.

Without further ado,  here are the 2022 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival SF Journal Awards.

BEST BLUEGRASS BAND – AJ Lee and Blue Summit

AJ Lee and Blue Summit are a hard working band from nearby Santa Cruz that is often on tour, playing festivals and shows all around the world. It is awesome that they were invited to the 2022 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival as often the festival overlooks some amazing local bands. Their set featured everyone in the band and the solos and breaks were first rate. A local treasure that people in the Bay Area would be wise to to check it, even if you do not like bluegrass. It is really hard not to like this band. You can go to this festival and it is entirely possible to avoid hearing any country or bluegrass bands. I ran into some friends later on who were walking  by the little Bandwagon Stage and were blown away by AJ Lee and Blue Summit. It’s bound to happen.

BEST GOSPHEL SET – DeShawn Hickman with Charlie Hunter

It is not very often that the musicians that hail from Berkeley, that grew up in the Jazz, Funk and Hip Hop scene get on the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival bill, but Charlie Hunter arrived as the bassist with DeShawn Hickman. Since it was Sunday, they did an all-Gospel set and it was wonderful. Great pedal steel guitar,  nice singing by DeShawn’s sister and of course some solid  bass by Charlie Hunter.  Just take note, that Charlie Hunter is a first-rate jazz guitarist. This was at the Bandwagon Stage that is starting to become one of those best secret spots of the festival.


Elvis Costello was perhaps the most well-known name at the festival and the Gold Stage was completely packed during his set.  Just getting around up on the road felt a bit treacherous. When we finally met up with some friends and found a spot the sound was not so good. It was the kind of set that seemed to be more about being there than the music. Eventually Elvis played some of his classic hits and all was good. Alison, may aim is true.


Las Cafeteras is an LA band that to me was one of the big surprises. The energy they brought to their set was off the charts. Amazing costumes and high energy dance moves. The very direct, politically-charged lyrics speaking to various issues of social justice really worked in the San Francisco festival setting. A band to definitely experience live.

MOST AMAZING TRUMPET PLAYER – Eric Gordon with Galatic

We had an excellent spot for the Galactic set at the Swan Stage. On the same stage, that a few years back Terrance Blanchard played so well, the younger Eric Gordon simply blew the house down with his powerful, impeccable trumpet. The tradition of phenomenal trumpet players that come from New Orleans continues.

BEST BABY BOOMER SET – Jesse Colin Young

I never had any Jesse Colin Young albums when I was a kid but always liked his name and surely heard his music on the radio.  It is the name of either an 19th century bank robber, a Supreme Court justice or  an unstoppable NFL halfback. Due to the cancellation of Cymande, I made the trek over to the Porch Stage and caught the Jesse Colin Young set. His acoustic guitar with lots of reverb and soulful voice came together well. My neighbors close by let me know that many of his songs sounded nothing like the originals. Jesse’s house burned down in one of the recent fires and getting out playing may be a way to get back on his feet. He did play the classic Get Together that became a big hit while he was with The Youngbloods.

Love is but a song we sing
Fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why
Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
Get Together


It is really great how many women were a part of the 2022 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  One of the more unusual groups was a stellar, gospel oriented mother, daughter group. There was no more hiding behind the mic on the harmony parts and singing was strong and true.

Until next year, that is the SF Journal 2022 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Awards.

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco is a little like Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Big-name bands, many kinds of music and a festive atmosphere. One of the amazing things about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is that even though there are tens of thousands of people, it is always a  peaceful event, and in the end people seem to get along just fine and often make new friends. Everyone seems to pack out the trash pretty well too. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Warren Hellman’s party.  Communal music therapy.


Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2022 – Preview and Recommendations

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: A FREE gathering in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco featuring dozens of musical acts on 6 stages.

September 30 – October 2, 2022.


This link above is pretty much all you need to know about this music festival that goes back more than a decade, and is free and unusual.  The now deceased, banjo-playing billionaire Warren Hellman’s fortune keeps it all going and hires the bands and now extensive security. Thanks Warren! The music is an odd mix of genres but comes down to some country and bluegrass bands, old geezer, baby boomer bands, alternative rock and pop bands and a few local bands. For a young band, your way to get the gig is to be in the industry and a hard working touring band that has paid some dues, traveled many miles in a van and probably slept in a lot of Motel 6’s.

Whether you experience Hardly Strictly Bluegrass at one stage with a group of friends, a blanket, chardonnay and lots of stinky cheese and olives or want to catch a lot of stages, travel light and fly solo or with a like-minded buddy or partner in crime is your choice. I tend to go with the fly solo thing as there are so many bands it seems a shame to be tied down to one spot.

Here is my list of people I hope to hear, but as always things change and I may find myself eating brie with some strangers at a stage listening to someone I never knew that then becomes my new favorite band.



AJ Lee is a local band that most people in the Bay Area do not know, which is strange because they are really good.  Santa Cruz bluegrass at its best.


Country swing from West Texas. Nothing like some Dizzy Gillespie thrown in with your Hank Williams


Some Bayou sounds not to miss.


This looks like a really interesting band far from bluegrass.







It is always good to checkout the Bandwagon Stage were the local folk get up on stage. Not as crazy as the other big stages.

Remember to keep hydrated, pack a few extra snacks and maybe a few extra cans of quality beer for when you find yourself next to some other friendly festival goers .  See y’all on Monday.

Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings – A Review

Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings is a book by Bill Morgan soon to be released by BEATDOM BOOKS. While the book is rather short, about a 100 pages, it is one of those “pandemic projects” that creative people were taking on in 2020 and 2021.  We are all the wiser for the fascinating story of two men, from very different circles, both “yearning to discover a spiritual basis for life” and their correspondences while Ferlinghetti attempted to publish a journal for City Lights Books called  Journal for the Protection Of All Beings.

Thomas Merton had a best selling book The Seven Story Mountain which sold over a million copies.  After writing that book Merton went on to pursue spirituality in the Catholic tradition, eventually becoming a Trappist Monk in a monastery in Kentucky. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, on the other hand, was a founding partner in City Lights Books in San Francisco and wrote such classics as A Coney Island of the Mind. One would think that these two men would be very different, however they became pen-pals and had a lot of mutual respect for one another.  They both became bound by their pacifism and spiritualism and a searching for a deeper meaning to life.

Poets come out of your closets,
Open your windows, open you doors,
You have been holed up too long
in your closed worlds.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The concept behind Journal for the Protection Of All Beings was to have contemporary writers submit essays and poems to shed light on the current situation in the world. Of course, the existential threat at the time was the atomic bomb and the constant threat of nuclear war.  Thomas Merton had recently written a poem  Original Child Bomb, written in a sort of detached objective style which  called for pacifism. In the Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings, there is much back and forth about including Original Child Bomb in the Journal for the Protection Of All Beings. Merton had to get all his published writings approved by the Catholic church which was often tentative about Merton being associated with the Beats. In the end, it was published in the journal along side a wide range of submissions. Such was the travails of publishing something from authors in different circles in 1961.

If you are visiting San Francisco, and want to get a sense of who the Beats were and a feeling for how San Francisco was in the 1950s and 60s Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings is a great start. So often the Beats are seen only from the anarchistic, bleary-eyed, drug crazed, sometimes homosexual counter-culture lens, but they were of course much deeper. Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings gives you a view into this world of people who were deep readers, writers and thinkers.

Merton underwent a similar type of visionary experience on a street corner in Louisville Kentucky. On March 18, 1958, as he was walking through the downtown shopping district, he stopped at the corner of Walnut and Fourth Streets, where he was “overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another though we were total strangers.” “If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. They were all walking around shining like the sun,” he later explained. He saw that everyone was sacred, just as Ginsberg had declared that everyone was “holy.”
Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings

Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg all looked upon industrialized civilization and hoped for its demise. They saw all humans as “sacred” or “holy.” Some went on a spiritual path through Catholicism others through Zen Buddhism. One opened a bookstore and lived to be over one hundred.

What is interesting to this reader is the idealism of those times. San Francisco was much more bohemian than it is today. There must have been a sense that publishing poems and short essays could actually do something to bring about world peace. Having Original Child Bomb in the journal would somehow aid in nuclear disarmament. Reading a poem could not only change one person but the entire planet. Poems and literature actually mattered. What rose-colored glasses!

What a different world that was and how the city of San Francisco has changed. You got a little sense of that idealism in the early days of the internet but that period is long gone. San Francisco is primarily about digital technology and now more often about libertarian get rich schemes, venture capital, startups and a sort of selfish individualism.  Automated driverless car technology and mining people’s personal data for profit. Individuals are no longer “sacred” or “holy” but a mass of data points. Surely, there is still a creative vibrancy, but the rents are high and the parking tickets and bridge tolls steep. Everyone needs a day job to make rent. There are surely no poets today in San Francisco that have the delusion that their poems are going to change the world. Sorry for the buzz-kill folks.

While reading Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings I could not help but imagine a screenplay of this book. It could be  a low budget film with historic photos and videos of San Francisco. The notion that these two men, in very different places had such a deep literary and philosophical relationship, simply draws you in. You can almost hear the fog horns, seagulls and a typewriter tapping away from a little apartment in North Beach. I am still undecided if I would have the tragic, accidental death of Thomas Merton, electrocuted in a bathtub in Thailand at the beginning or the end. Perhaps both.

DISCLAIMER:  This book reviewer received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher.

Barbara Ehrenreich – Legacies and Book Recommendations

I never think delusion is ok.
Barbara Ehrenreich in an interview with Jon Stewart

Barbara Ehrenreich died on September 1, 2022 at the age of 81. She was a modern-day muckraker who’s books exposed sexism and rampant capitalism  in the health care system, wage inequalities, the latest silly fads in psychology and the challenges of living in our modern capitalist America. Her best selling  2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, is a memoir of her three-month experiment surviving on a series of minimum wage jobs. It is an easy read, a bit of a “one hit wonder” and ironically gave her some financial freedom to continue to write on topics of her choosing. You can read the New York Times obit which seems to have been picked up by other papers and is  the only obit of Barbara Ehrenreich that I could find.

I have three of Barbara Ehrenreich’s books.  It has baffled me how of all her books Nickel and Dimed was so successful.  People did not know that living off of a minimum wage job is next to impossible? But then again Nickel and Dimed was written as gonzo journalism and hit right when reality television shows were coming of age. People often read to confirm their beliefs not to challenge them. Many of Ehrenreich’s books were written in this first person, lived confessional style. However, to this reader, if you want to read some of her most interesting and powerful works, read the books she co-wrote with Diedre English, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (1972). and For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women (1978) were she writes as a researcher and scholar about the disenfranchisement of women and  the transformation of healthcare over the last 200 years. This is a story that our present medical model and especially the AMA (American Medical Association) does not want the public to know.

Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers ( For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women  are both books written in the 1970s at the height of Second-wave feminism.  Both books look at the history of medicine and how the role women as healers and experts was usurped  by the emergence of a medical “profession.”  The overriding theme is how this new male dominated profession dealt with what was called the “Woman Problem.”

For decades into the twentieth century doctors would continue to view menstruation, pregnancy and menopause as physical diseases and intellectual liabilities. Adolescent girls would still be advised to study less, and mature would be treated indiscriminately to hysterectomies, the modern substitution for ovariotomies. The female reproductive organs would continue to be viewed as a kind of frontier for chemical and surgical expansionism, untested drugs, and reckless experimentation.
For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women

In many ways this sort of medical arrogance has continued. For years women who went through menopause would be prescribed hormone replacement therapy to deal with their “Woman Problem,” as though nature needed help with the natural process of life and aging. It was later found that hormone replacement therapy created risks including heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer.

And as of 2014, gender is now considered a pre-existing medical condition where God often seems to makes “mistakes.” In many ways, if you connect the dots, the “Woman Problem” has not ended – it just has been repackaged.

Hopefully, someone will take up the torch of critical thinking that Barbara Ehrenreich lit and continue on with her early style of research and questioning the medical establishment and the powers that be. An interesting study would be how the profession has changed now that women are entering the field of medicine at about the same rate as men.

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer – A Review

I found the first novel by Dalia Sofer The Septembers of Shiraz  for one dollar while looking through books at a Goodwill store in Minneapolis. The shelves were in no particular order, so the same books promoted by the big publishing houses  could be found ever fifty or so books –  volume printing now on sale. While The Septembers of Shiraz, according to the cover,  was a national bestseller, it was the only copy on the shelf and I had not heard of the novel. Lucky me. I found the book to be quite a page turner.

What makes the novel so compelling is how it weaves together multiple stories seamlessly. For Sofer, while the world is turned upside down, the one constant is time. Tehran and New York City may not see the sun rise and set at the same time,  but they eventually do. While someone is in prison in solitary, someone else is taking in laundry. This contemporaneousness and  universality seems to bring the characters hope and the ability to persevere against the odds . She writes about these and many other themes with a poignant restrained lyricism. Her depictions of Tehran and Iran are so vivid you can almost hear and smell the streets.

Iran will be in the news for years to come and the years following the 1979 revolution will always be a pivotal time in history. While I will do the best to not spoil the story, the novel is in many ways autobiographical. Dalia and her family did attempt to leave Iran and unlike the movie Argo they did not pose as a Canadian film crew. I will leave it at that.

This reviewer gives The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer 5 stars. Feel free to pay the full price at your local book seller.


John Boutte and Echoes of New Orleans

The 2022 French Quarter Festival in New Orleans happened and all was pretty much back to normal with maybe a few more people than years past – it was packed. It is a great festival and the music of New Orleans and Louisiana shines.  So many bands. So many acts. So many restaurants. So much amazing food.  It is one of those events that will bring back meaning to your life. Every time I have gone to New Orleans, I discover a musician who simply knocks my socks off. This year it was John Boutté.

John Boutté is a New Orleans native. His set at the GE Stage in Jackson Square had me spellbound. He combines a beautiful soulful voice with phasing that makes your hair stand on edge. His ability to speak from the heart in an honest, heartfelt way completes the experience. During the set he made a plea for non-violence. He wondered why war and guns have not been made illegal.  He made a pledge for peace. Then later on in the set he cut his finger on his tambourine, and pointed out how we are all part of the human race and the color of our blood is all the same red.  A stage hand handed him a towel. A beautiful, poignant moment in the city of music – New Orleans.

Below is a John Boutté WWOZ video during the pandemic. Enjoy.

Ron Carter and the Finding the Right Notes

I think that the bassist is the quarterback in any group, and he must find a sound that he is responsible for.
– Ron Carter (Finding the Right Notes – 2017)

“After a couple of months on the road with the band, Herbie began to feel frustrated. He was copying all the other pianists but not allowing himself to come out from hiding. Finally the frustration came to a head. “I thought I’ve just got to play, to really play,” Herbie said. If that conflicts with Miles, I’ll just have to bear the consequences. So at the Sutherford Lounge in Chicago one night, I let it loose. I figured Miles was going to fire me after the set, but he leaned over to me and said. “Why didn’t you play like that before” That shocked me. Then it dawned on me that a copy is never as good as an original. Miles wanted to hear me. And so did Ron and Tony.”
– Herbie Handcock quoted in (Finding the Right Notes – 2017)

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – 90 Years Later

“Lacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society”
– Banned Books Week: Banned BOOKS in the Library

It is remarkable how the novels of the 20th century have often predicted the 21st with amazing accuracy. So many of the novels of Orwell, Bradbury, Vonnegut and Huxley were spot on.  While the exact details may differ the general concepts are so often clairvoyant to the point of being spooky.  I reread Brave New World by Aldous Huxley having maybe read it a long time ago.  So many of the predictions have become reality. The social engineering, the control of people through pharmaceuticals, the engineering of humans, the disdain for truth and history, the censorship, the obsession with consumerism, the obsession with sex –  the list is long.

Of course the novel is not Disney-approved so has been banned at times mostly for the notion of unlimited sex and the concept of a sort of “free-love” with an advocacy of people having many partners. No doubt that would wake up many boys in tenth grade English class but there is absolutely nothing graphic in the novel and that is maybe the one thing that has not become a reality – at least not in my circles. And everyone please remember: this is a novel and not a manual for how to live life.

While sex with many partners is perhaps not common today the pharmaceuticals are everywhere. The line below seems like it could be the marketing material for Prozac.

“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should happen, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts.”

And then there is this concept of “universal happiness” at the expense of truth and beauty so necessary for our present consumerist society.

“Our Ford did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t.”

Of course if your comfort is beginning to wane in Brave New World there was a sort of virtual world called the Feelies. Here people could go just to get back to this sort of duped sense of happiness, perhaps a little bit like the new Metaverse.

“A lot of people think that the metaverse is about a place, but one definition of this is it’s about a time when basically immersive digital worlds become the primary way that we live our lives and spend our time,” Zuckerberg told Fridman. “I think that’s a reasonable construct.” – Mark Zuckerberg from businessinsider.com

The notion that the 1932 Brave New Worldlacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society” is a pretty odd critique. I have a hard time thinking of themes and topics in the novel that are not relevant.  Perhaps, this is why the brave schools have kids read and discuss  this work. The main problem with having to write a paper on Brave New World is that there are too many relevant contemporary themes.

Remembering Pat Martino

Pat Martino (Patrick C. Azzara) (1944 – 2021) passed away November 1, 2021. He was an amazing guitarist and had a life story that is interesting on so many levels. The most unusual aspect is that in 1980 after a brain hemorrhage, Pat lost all his memory and had to literally relearn how to play guitar from the very beginning. He then went on to continue his career as a phenomenal jazz guitarist.

Martino had been performing until a hemorrhaged arteriovenous malformation caused a “near-fatal seizure” in 1980.[5] The resulting surgery which removed part of his brain left him with amnesia and no recollection or knowledge of his career or how to play the very instrument that made him successful. Martino says he came out of surgery with complete forgetfulness, learning to focus on the present instead of the past or what may lie ahead. He was forced to learn how to play the guitar from zero. This circumstance is crucial to understand his career and his particular way of thinking. – Wikipedia

Here on Angel Eyes, Pat Martino has the melody and is featured.

There are a few documentaries that follow Pat Martino’s journey. Martino Unstrung is an excellent look into Pat Martino’s musical and medical life and should be fascinating to anyone in the fields of music, psychology, medicine or brain science. I highly recommend this film.

While I have been an avid jazz fan since listening to my dad’s Duke Ellington and Henry Red Allen records in high school, I had not listened to much Pat Martino. I knew his name but did not own any of his music. This is how it worked before the internet.

In 2010, Pat Martino had some gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He was playing Kimball’s East. My high school-aged guitar-playing son had just fallen in love with jazz and was a big Pat Martino fan. He had purchased tickets to hear Pat and his friend for some reason could not go. I was invited to go to the concert.  We took the ferry over to Jack London Square and arrived a bit early. Knowing where the back stage entrance was my son seemed determined to shake Pat Martino’s hand. The bouncer at the door called up to see if it was alright if a kid and his dad came up for an autograph. “No problem. Send them up.”

We went to the dressing room and there was Pat and his young piano player hanging out. Pat was eating sushi and what we both remember is that he was drinking a quart carton of whole milk.  Sushi and milk. An odd combination. Pat was gracious and we basically just hung out for about fifteen minutes. He had these very clear alert eyes that often seem to be enlarged because of his thick glasses. He probably signed a CD and then I took this photo.

Pat Martino and Kai Lyons backstage at Kimball's East
Pat Martino and Kai Lyons backstage at Kimball’s East

It is 2021 and people born in the 1940s are starting to pass on a regular basis.  Many of these folks are my heroes. Pat Martino. A beautiful cat. RIP.


If you watch the documentaries about Pat Martino, one of the common themes is how guitarists had a lot of respect and admiration for Pat. There is the story of George Benson. then a young cocky musician, going of to hear Pat Martino for the first time thinking how could this skinny Italian kid from Philly be any good. Needless to say George was blown away and left the show a humbler man. The photo below is of these two amazing musicians and speaks to the diversity in this genre of music the industry calls “jazz.”

George Benson and Pat Martino
George Benson and Pat Martino

For further reading, Pat wrote an autobiography.

Here and Now!: The Autobiography of Pat Martino

This is an excellent book and I highly recommend!





Remembering Robert Altman 1946-2021

Robert Altman, known mostly for his years photographing musicians and counter-culture icons in the late 1960s and early 70s has passed.  He was a staff photographer for Rolling Stone for a bit. I read his obit recently and and was saddened to hear of his passing.

In the late 1990s I took a class that was taught by Robert Altman at San Francisco State College of Extended Learning on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. It was a basic HTML class for this new thing called the World Wide Web and in order to get on board the first thing you had to know was HTML. People made websites mostly one page at a time. Robert Altman was the teacher, and probably the only reason he knew anything about this stuff was that he had built a website to sell prints of his photographs. This was the early days of the internet, when for a brief time the idealism of the 1960s took hold in this new digital era. Perhaps the playing field would level out and artists, writers, photographers and musicians could sell their work directly, cut out the middle-men, control their work and get paid their fair share.

Of course, in many ways this was one big pipe dream as over time the internet became more corporate and the monopolies of our day began to dominate the system, control the politics and narratives and literally write all the rule books. And as Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented about sexism “I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” the same can be said of the stranglehold on smaller players by the big tech monopiles today.

Back when I was taking this HTML class with Robert Altman he was in his mid-fifties and always had his reading glasses at the ready, perched on the top of his head. He was passionate and generous. He dove right into the more advanced aspects of HTML at the time. We started learning tables, rowspans and colspans on day one. This is back in the day when all websites were made with tables and single pixel gifs to lock designs into place. If someone would have spoke of responsive design then you would have gotten a blank stare. People still made phone calls with payphones and your answering machine was perhaps the most important tool for any freelancer. Robert was this middle-age guy – vibrant, fearless, creative and giving. He was like – “look, if I can learn this coding stuff, anyone can do it!” So we all looked on at this new markup language, most everyone there because it was the unavoidable future and eventually it would lead to a decent job and some sort of economic stability.

Now when people are choosing a career in programming, there is this idea that if you do not start young it is not worth the effort. The notion of the child genius creating something miraculous in the digital world is a common theme.  The college dropout who creates an app that disrupts entire industries. If you are in your late twenties, it is too late. However this is silly.

Robert Altman, putting borders on all his tables, creating something beautiful out of nothing is evidence that anything is possible.

Read the San Francisco Chronicle Robert Altman Obituary


Kurt Vonnegut – A Man Without a Country – The Review

If you live in San Francisco, check out Bird and Beckett Books. A great place to buy books and listen to live music.

Bird and Beckett Books

Remember, before you buy a book from Jeff Bezos consider supporting your local bookstore. You get that warm fuzzy feeling just thinking that you may have kept a local business alive and you may even make some real friends.

When I was a younger man, but decades after the bombing of Dresden, Kurt Vonnegut was an author that people took seriously, but he was never taught in your  English class. Too modern. Too rock-an-roll. Far too funny. It was just assumed that everyone read Vonnegut.  The language was crisp, often ironic, sometimes funny as hell and always profound. The chapters always short, you could often finish a book in a day.

I finally got around to reading A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut. It was a gift from a dear friend and in the end it it made me reread Slaughter House Five and God Bless You Mr. Rosewater; I just needed more Vonnegut. I realized that all Vonnegut’s work is worth rereading. Slaughter House Five should be required reading in high school.

Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.
– Kurt Vonnegut

A Man Without a Country is unlike any of Vonnegut’s books. He wrote it later in life when in his 80s. It is confessional and in many ways but a brief autobiography – a great place to get to know some of the core values that undermine much of Vonnegut’s work. Early on he recommends everyone read what he believes to be the greatest short story in American literature –  An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. You can download it as a pdf.

Do you think Arabs are dumb? They gave us our numbers. Try doing long division with Roman numerals.
– Kurt Vonnegut

One of the reoccurring themes of Vonnegut’s life of course is World War II and the realization that World War II was fought, like all wars, by children. This is why Slaughter House Five has a subtitle of The Children’s Crusade. 

Reading A Man Without a Country, it is interesting to get Vonnegut’s take on drinking and smoking. I never really knew that he smoked two packs of Pall Malls, unfiltered every day. Incredible, that he lived into his 80s. Born in 1924, He was a man of his times.  Most everyone in his generation smoked like chimneys at one point or another.

He was a humanist, pacifist, a stealth stoic, an environmentalist who believed strongly in the notion of community. One of his guiding moral principals was kindness.

And when he reflects back on America he signals out African Americans.

…the priceless gift that African Americans gave the whole world when they were in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit. That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift called the blues.
– Kurt Vonnegut

Experiencing the fire-bombing of Dresden made him a pacifist. He also sees that all wars and the destructive nature of capitalism (he was a huge fan of Eugene Debs) will do us in in the end. The quote below is from almost twenty years ago.

That’s the end of the good news about anything. Our planet’s immune system is trying to get rid of people. This is sure the way to do that.
KV, 6AM 11/3/2004

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut. I am giving it 5 stars as just being in the presence of Kurt Vonnegut’s wit is 5 stars. You can read A Man Without a Country in an afternoon.

Ray Barretto in 1973

In 1973, Barretto recorded the album Indestructible, in which he played “La familia”, a song written by José Curbelo in 1953 and recorded by the sonero Carlos Argentino with the Cuban band Sonora Matancera; Tito Allen joined as new vocalist. Allen left the band after “Indestructible”. This series of departures left Barretto depressed and disappointed with salsa; he then redirected his efforts to jazz, while remaining as musical director of the Fania All Stars. In 1975 he released Barretto, also referred to as the Guararé album, with new vocalists Ruben Blades and Tito Gomez.

How we learn new stuff every day. Incredible.

And people close to me often wonder why I refuse to give my white pants and long-sleeve red shirts to Goodwill.

“Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” – The Definitive Review

While “Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” is a welcome addition to the scholarship of U.S. history the title is a bit misleading. It is not a “definitive history” as that is impossible. Rather it is a long rant on who is in what bucket: racists, assimilationist or anti-racist. Kendi’s thesis is that assimilation in the end is simply just a facet of racism as it does nothing for justice and systemic racism in society. He pleads for an anti-racist world from all segments of society. Fair enough.

One thing I take issue with in the book is the naive notion of racism having no historical context. That David Hume, the philosopher of the Enlightenment is taken to task about his polygenisist beliefs is silly. Most white people at the time, including scientific organizations, thought humans were many species. (This is probably, though rarely mentioned, the root of modern racism) Throwing Hume under the bus makes it so people do not actually read Hume and dismiss his many brilliant ideas because it is so unfashionable to read the works of a “racist.” Kids these days have not a clue what the Enlightenment was and is. The same can be said for pretty much everyone in the 19th century. John Muir, of course the racist, who just happened to be a naturalist and wanted to “save the planet’ before it was fashionable, and who talked on some mountain top to another racist, Theodore Roosevelt. The list is long.

The other issue I have is that Fred Hampton, the Black Panther murdered by the FBI, who’s politics were far beyond the identity politics of race and terrified the FBI as he spoke of economic injustice beyond the systemic racism is not even mentioned. Harry Belafonte, who was a major figure in the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s is left out as well.

This is but a brief review. Read the book.

Definitive. I think not.

Overture, MIDI, GM Instruments, Audacity

Overture 5.2.1, Fast Track Pro, MIDI, GM Instruments, Audacity 2.42, TASCAM DR-1 (to record the final Audacity production, any digital recorder will do or even another computer)

That is how you can take an Overture 5.2.1 score and create an MP3 file. Make sure you have the latest version of Audacity or you may not be able to play MIDI files.

I am on a Windows 7 machine. The first thing to do is buy and download the stuff above. Audacity is Free.

Write an amazing and complicated piece of simple song with Overture. Make note of the tempo of the song. Mine was 170 beats per minute.

Export what you did in Overture as a MIDI file. The key for me was to just use GM Instruments and not the sound card from my Roland Keyboard.

Import MIDI you exported out of Overture into Audacity.

In Audacity create a new track by going to Generate > Rhythm Track.

Do an offset so that the tempo in the rhythm track gives you a count off for recording other tracks. For some reason my MIDI was a little off. Zoom in and get it at the correct spot.

When you are finished, plug in the TASCAM DR-1 into the headphone jack on you computer. Set the mode on the DR-1 to “Line In” and play your Audacity file while recording it on you DR-1.

Plug your TASCAM DR-1 into your computer and retrieve you masterpiece.

A little more complicated than baking a cake. This is here so that in 6 months when I want to do the same thing… I got the notes.

Be careful out there everyone!

Late Night at the Pelican Cafe – Candela at El Rio

Late Night at the Pelican Cafe is an experimental web site where I post historic recordings of various bands from the San Francisco Bay Area. You can just go to the post and music will play.  Listen to the sound of a bar or club filled with people, listening and dancing to a live band. Many of these recording are live recordings from a quality analog cassette tape recorder  ( SONY TCS-580-V) positioned on the floor in front of the trombone player. For around fifteen years I was a freelance trombonist and arranger in San Francisco.

Candela Live at El Rio – 1992

In the 1990’s I had the fortune to play many Sundays at El Rio. At one point it felt like I was the house trombone player. On this particular Sunday the band was a phenomenal line-up of San Francisco based musicians – many players, including myself, were filling in for regulars. You can hear solos by Wayne Wallace, Rebeca Mauleón, Ramon Lasso, Paul Lyons, Michael Spiro, Jorge Polmar and others. Rebeca Mauleón’s piano Solo on Bailando Asi is outstanding.

CANDELA – 1992
Edgardo Cambin – Congas and Lead Vocal (Solo on Yembeke)
Jorge Polmar – Bass
Rebeca Mauleón – Piano (Solo on Bailando Asi)
Sandy Cressman – Coros
Ramon Lasso – Piano (Solo on Yembeke)
Wayne Wallace – Trombone (Solo on Yembeke)
Eric Rangel – Timbales
Michael Spiro – Bongo (Solo on El Cuarto)
Paul Lyons – Trombone

Current Candela Website


Remembering Bahia Cabana – 1600 Market Street, San Francisco

Remembering Bahia Cabana - 1600 Market Street, San Francisco

In 1992 I played in a band lead by Marcus Lopez called Cubanacan. In this band, on this night,  I was taping the band so as to learn the tunes. The tune is Richard Kermode’s Catalina. and you can hear the solos of Peter Cornell,  Paul Lyons and the late great Richard Kermode –  a great musician with a huge spirit who earlier had worked and recorded with Santana and Janis Joplin. Richard could play a wicked montuno.

Fito Reinoso – Voice
Marcus Lopez – Bass
Louis Romero – Timbales
Geraldo from Cuba – Congas
Richard Kermode – Piano
Peter Cornell – Sax
Paul Lyons – Trombone

Besides unemployment, anxiety and pondering your mortality, the Covid-19 pandemic is a time for cleaning out closets. Going through some old stuff I ran into a postcard from a bygone era. In the 1980’s and 90’s Bahia Cabana in San Francisco was a hopping club on Market Street in San Francisco with a tropical vibe and live music many nights of the week.  The bands were mostly Latin bands playing samba or salsa and it catered to a dance crowd.  The place must have been crazy during San Francisco’s Carnaval.

Remembering Bahia Cabana - 1600 Market Street, San Francisco
Postcard from Bahia Cabana – 1992

Long before the pandemic and before the rise of the internet, there were many clubs and bars like Bahia Cabana employing musicians. It is hard to imagine but in the late 1990’s, five nights a week there were at least five clubs up and down Mission Street that had bands with full horn sections and multiple singers.  Most of these bands were cover bands that played the hits of the day and also the many regional Latin tunes – merengue, rancheras and cumbias. San Francisco is home to a lot of people from Central America where cumbias seem to always be popular.

But that is a bygone era.  For years, live music in clubs has been in decline and Latin clubs are few. When you do hear a live salsa band it was often just a quartet with various people sitting in and the entire band playing for a tip jar.

But back to Bahia Cabana – a place were I could have been electrocuted to death.  Bahia Cabana had this third world vibe down to the electrical system.  I remember playing there in the 1990’s with Julio Bravo and looking at the wiring backstage for the sound system and wondering if everything was legal – wires going every which way like spaghetti. Next thing I know after attempting to plug in an amp, I got an electrical shock unlike anything I have ever received. I stepped back and wondered for a second if I should go to the emergency room only to be reassured by the trumpet player that if may hair was not on fire and there were no visible burns that everything was fine.  It was a strange feeling.

Bahia Cabana –  an electrifying and shockingly happening hot spot long gone.

A few years later Bahia Cabana opened another club in the basement – music by a DJ, lots of flashing lights, drum and bass, loud pounding sounds and surely a smoke machine. I wondered how they got that by the San Francisco fire department and being in the basement was a bit concerned for safety reasons. Sure enough, sometime around 2000 the entire building caught fire and Bahia Cabana closed down for good.  Another victim of using unlicensed, non-union electrical  contractors who do not ground service panels. But Bahia Cabana would have closed soon after with the invasion of the tech industry, increased rents and the changing economics of the San Francisco.

I think I will keep the postcard as a keepsake.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2020 Awards Will Take a Break

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival that takes place in Golden Gate Park every first-weekend in October is still happening this year, however it is going to be all online or what they now call “virtual.” Not my cup of tea folks. I like the real thing and will not be attending. That said, this year’s  SF Journal Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Awards will take a break.

As it turns out, live music festivals, with thousands of people bumping into each other, spilling beer on you and sharing local herbs is probably the best way to boost your immune system.  As an added bonus there is the perilous activity of attempting to hygienically go to the bathroom in a port-a-potty.  Wash your hands? Yeah right. Let’s all share germs!

For the past eight years I have written up reviews of  HSBG festivals and given out awards. If you are curious or simply getting nostalgic, they are listed below. Until next year hopefully, when the light of health, peace and sanity returns.

Review: Country Music | A Film by Ken Burns

Before the internet, there were armies of salesman that would go door-to-door selling encyclopedias. It was thought that without the latest Encyclopedia Britannica it would be impossible for your kids to write their history papers.  Today, Wikipedia has assumed the role of the encyclopedia but in the realm of video, it is the documentaries of Ken Burns . Home-bound due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the nine-episode Country Music | A Film by Ken Burns documentary on Amazon. Under $50 it comes out to about five bucks an episode. Country Music | A Film by Ken Burns is a fun romp through the twentieth century and a great way to discover new artists and bands, but in the end it was not so much about the music but a postcard parade of the people and musicians.


Ken Burns approaches his documentaries as though he is writing an encyclopedia; he always goes wide but rarely very deep. This gives the viewer the impression that what they are seeing is the unvarnished truth.  Every documentary is stylistically exactly the same in his pedantic, dry, documentary style. If you watch  Ken Burns’ The Civil War, Jazz or Baseball they are all identical and Country Music maintains this consistency.  The serious voice of Peter Coyote narrates though out and the titling and production are all the same. It is the Ken Burns encyclopedia and while it is great to get an overview of these subjects, the more you know about the subjects, the more disturbing and slightly irritating it becomes. Things are left out. Stereotypes are reinforced. A strange middle ground seems to always be the goal. If a topic seems a bit risky, the next scene brings it back to something more conventional.  Controversy is avoided. For instance,  even though you can count notable black country musicians on one hand, nevertheless there is Wynton Marsalis  as usual adding comments and insights from the wings.

“I was talking with a friend of mine about this the other day; that country life, as I knew it might really be a thing of the past and when music people today, performers and fans alike, talk about being “country,” they don’t mean they know or even care about the land and the life it sustains and regulates. They’re talking more about choices – a way to look, a group to belong to, a kind of music to call their own.”
Johnny Cash – The Autobiography of Johnny Cash

What really is “Country” music?

The notion of the genre of country music and what artists are “country,” like the word “jazz,” is forever perplexing and something more to do with the business of selling the music than the actual music.

“Three Chords and the Truth”
–  coined by Harlan Howard in the 1950s which he used to describe Country music

What really is “country” music? From a musical standpoint, “Three Chords and the Truth” does seem to get at a good definition but some of the best country songs use secondary dominant chords extensively (e.g., Salty Dog) and the dominant II chord is usually the climax of the song . But do forgive me. I am writing about the music, not the people. I sort of like Cash’s geographical take on country – it ain’t “city.” Ironically, the history of bluegrass was actually aided by country folk moving to the city and longing for simpler times in the country.

One of the most redeeming qualities of country music are the lyrics.  What ties all  country musicians together is the singer/songwriter, cowboy or as it is often called troubadour. This may be true, but what I find in many of the successful country musicians is a rebellious streak. They seem, from a sociological standpoint, more like punk-rockers than anything else. Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and even Hank Williams were pushing the boundaries and going against the norms. In the film, it seemed a bit odd, but confirms my take, is that Marty Stewart named Woody Guthrie as being “about as country as it gets.” Which begs the question, then why did not Pete Seeger get even mentioned in the documentary? He was as  country as Woody Guthrie and sparked the revival of the banjo with his banjo method book. Surely many country banjo players used his book to learn the instrument. Where folk ends and country begins, blues music ends and country begins, are all blurred lines. Who Ken Burns allows into the country club surely has something to do more with politics than the actual music. Perhaps to be country, is to have played at the Grand Old Opry or recorded in Nashville.

One thing that Burns avoids is how most of the country musicians tended to be far more politically progressive than their reactionary, predominantly conservative, Republican audiences.  This is particularly true starting in the late 1960’s after the South went Republican. One of those important factors not really delved very deeply on, perhaps to avoid controversy and not alienate the core country audience, who would prefer to see the rebellious nature as a sort of cowboy libertarian streak, and be done with it.  That the documentary ends in 1996 is surely convenient as it makes it possible to avoid bands like the Dixie Chicks that called George Bush out on his criminal and ill-conceived Iraq war.

Race and the almost Mythical Older Black Musician

One of the reoccurring themes in the movie is race, which is dealt with in an often incomplete fashion. From the documentary we learn that many of the early country stars at one point in their youth had a profound experience with an older black musician.  Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country, learned how to play from an older black musician down by the railroad tracks. There were two other big musicians that come to mind but who’s names I forget that had similar experiences with older black musical mentors.

Country music is a predominantly white people’s music with a few invited guests – Charlie Pride, DeFord Bailey as noted examples. Perhaps the most amazing country album is Ray Charles’ country album that is pure countrypolitan and a smash hit.  But issues like how the heck did Charlie Pride play in the segregated Jim Crow South are never brought up. Why, unlike in jazz, there are hardly any mixed-race bands? And, why, in every episode,as interludes, there are black and white photos of rural impoverished African-American families, gathered outside their shack of a house, with no explanation of why this photo is chosen?

Feminism and the Taboo Word

The the 1960’s. Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Emily Lou Harris, Patsy Cline  and others became huge country music stars. It is truly phenomenal how many powerhouse women came on the scene. Interestingly, Burns never uses the term “feminism” and instead describes this as – “at the time they called this woman’s liberation or women’s lib.” He goes on to described the woman as “feisty” or “strong-willed.” Just an observation of how language can influence perception and define history. In the late 1960’s there was a massive feminist movement culminating in the E.R.A. that never passed. One wonders if Burn’s never using the word “feminism” was intentional.

Country Music | A Film by Ken Burns. Well worth the price of admission, and a great way to get a broad-brush view of the topic of country music but a film that makes you question everything.


I did not grow up with country music. Folk music, pop, rock and roll, jazz, classical. Not country. My parents were from the north and primarily urban, well-read and  educated. Below are albums for people who do not like country music.

Jimmie Rodgers with Louis Armstrong

It is a true fact, not out of some E.L Doctorow novel, that the father of country music, Jimmie Rodgers cut a record with Louis Armstrong. This is simply as strange as realizing that Aretha Franklin’s funkiest rhythm section was all white boys. Blue Yodel 9 is evidently a country song.  This was before the music industry was putting labels on absolutely everything.

Johnny Cash many years later got together with Louis Armstrong  and played Blue Yodel 9.

Ray Charles

One the the best-selling country albums of all times is Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music .  Ray Charles would probably sound great reading the phone book, but here you have some heavy New York and L.A. style production and  Ray, growing up country, just sings these country songs like he is in the shower.

Willie Nelson

Read Willie Nelson’s autobiography Its a Long Story. I once heard that Willie always wanted to make a bebop album, so Stardust is as close as he got. His early love for Bob Wills and country swing opened him up to all kinds of music and he sings these mostly jazz standards with great phrasing, relaxation and  outstanding  pitch. Some of the standards sound a bit like music I would hear in a bowling alley in some sleepy Midwest town, but if they call this country, I’ll take it.

An amazing character, Willie is featured a lot in Country Music | A Film by Ken Burns. To get the full story of what happened when Willie’s house outside of Nashville burned to the ground, you have to read Its a Long Story. Willie is sitting in a bar in Nashville and a friend rushes in to inform him his house is burning down.  Willie races off in his pickup and when he gets to the house the fire trucks are already there and the whole place is surrounded by yellow “do not cross” tape. At that point, Willie asks if anyone is inside. When he learns that everyone is safe, he makes a dash inside the house. He returns safe with just two things. His trusty, beat up guitar and a guitar case full of marijuana.  That is a true story ready for the movies that does not even need a screen writer.

Johnny Cash

An epic career and a unique person and musician. He did a bunch of albums on the themes of Native Americans which would be interesting to check out. Growing up in federally subsidized  housing and picking cotton from a young age, Johnny Cash to me is really a punk-rock, soul artist who happens to be white.


Pelicancafe.net Has Reopened

BREAKING NEWS: The Pelican Cafe has reopened after being closed for a few months because of no apparent reason. We still do not serve any food, coffee or beverages. Newly remodeled, the virtual cafe has been open since April and is now primarily experiential.

At the Pelican Cafe you can experience the Pacific Ocean in a visceral way – at least as visceral as possible in an internet browser. The videos posted are all from Ocean Beach in San Francisco and correlate to the time of day that you visit the web site. Addition videos will be added soon.

GO TO THE ONE AND ONLY pelicancafe.net

Special features include Late Night at the Pelican Cafe. Recently posted is a live performance at El Rio in 1997 of the San Francisco band, Mazacote.

Mazacote Live at El Rio – 1997


Paul Lyons – San Francisco – April 2020
Cafe Manager

Paul Bley – Time Will Tell – “A scale is a very ugly thing”

“A scale is a very ugly thing and it’s a bad discipline to expose your ear to bad music in the name of technique.  If you decide what to play and what aesthetics to use in your choices then the “how” will follow. There is a basic advantage in not being able to play well, in that if your music is very simple then you are less likely to play bad notes. The more notes you play the more likely you are to play a lot of bad ones. By limiting your choices you improve the result of your music. I went through a period in my life when rather than trying to make my music sound better I started eliminating things that didn’t sound good and everyone said that I had made a great improvement, but what I had done was just housekeeping.”
Paul Bley – from Time Will Tell – Conversations with Paul Bley (2003) – Norman Meehan

Such an odd perspective, but it makes sense that Paul Bley would say that scales are “ugly.” I think what he is saying is that scales, when played like “scales,” are ugly. When played like music are just music. The notion that you get rid of bad notes in your playing by simply playing less notes is pretty funny!

if your music is very simple then you are less likely to play bad notes

This is perhaps the definition of a bluegrass solo, or what the cowboys call a “break.” Good jazz musicians never have a hard time with “wrong” notes as that is sometimes the fodder with which they create their motifs.

Feel free to comment below.

Review of Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg

in 2014 when I read that Scott Timberg was writing a book about the modern perils of people in the arts I got a bit excited. The topic of how the internet and digital economies had laid waste to many traditional arts forms, trades and professions, has been a story that is not told very often and rarely very well. While everything in Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class is pretty much depressingly true, it fails to address the most important question. Why and how is the creative class being killed?

A few of the professions that have been lost or are under stress are book, record and video store clerks, writers and in particular journalists, of course all performing artists such as musicians and dancers, architects – the list is long and pretty much everyone I know is well aware of the lower pay for creative work – people being paid ridiculously low wages to write, musician playing bars and restaurants for just tips..  Timberg seems to have had a soft place in his heart for the book and record store clerk as being a sort of cultural ambassador for the towns and neighborhoods where they live. Think of one of those cool small record stores you rarely see these days. Every employee has a strong personality, unique wardrobe and an expertise in a certain genre. Often such places would have favorite playlists of the week written on a chalkboard behind the register and it would range from thrasher metal to perhaps a new Brahms recording. Cool places no doubt. Hard to find these days save for a few stores in larger metropolitan areas.

The money being spent on music is not ending up in the hands of musicians, or even labels, or members of the creative class, from the record store clerk to  a label president. It’s going to Apple – which thanks to iTunes, could buy every surviving label with pocket change – and other gargantuan technology companies.
– Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg

The first few chapters “When Culture Works” and “Disappearing Clerks and the Lost Sense of Space” muse nostalgically about this bygone era. “Back in the day” reminisces. Local mid-level working bands with a full calendar of gigs, paying not much but a living wage. Entry level journalists doing beat writing. Those were the days.

San Francisco and New York are becoming cities without middle classes: writers and musician lacking trust funds are being replaced by investment bankers and software jockeys, as well as a large servant class that commutes into town from poor precincts to clean their lavish kitchens and watch the children.
– Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg

I have never heard the term “software jockeys.” Software programmer, UI designer, web programmer but not “jockey.” Indeed, the world changes and one thing that Timberg seems unaware of is that people graduate from art school and then get a job at Apple or a large construction firm designing marketing materials and email headers. Musicians often have day jobs creating “apps” or programming websites. Being flexible and learning new skills has always been the forte of studying the liberal arts. Writing the great American novel has always been a luxury afforded to only the wealthy or the scrappy staving poor.

There is a chapter where Timberg throws the  critic Pauline Kael under the bus for making fun of serious art and preferring popular trash. He also laments the avant-garde that pushed people away from the concert halls and museums. Indeed it seems that Timberg would prefer a well-attended Mozart festival to an auditorium a quarter-full of people trying to get their heads around some experimental modern piece.

The chapter near the end of the book entitled “Lost in the Supermarket – Winner Take All” is interesting as the book was published over five years ago, at a time when the monopolies of Amazon, Google and Facebook were solidifying and further buying out their competition. All books written that mention technology seem like dinosaurs by the time they are printed as the landscape does change.  The tech monopolies in 2020 are even more entrench than ever.

By the end of the book, the hope is that somehow we need to regain the middle again where instead of a anti-intellectualism so prevalent in society, ordinary people go to art museums and local jazz shows.  People read serious novels and discuss poetry. The gist of the book is a plea for the “middle-brow” world where culture is consumed by all. “Good luck” is all I can say. It’s a brave new world we live in with people mesmerized by social media, stupid YouTube videos and their cellphones.

Which gets me to my conclusion. What Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class leaves out is the”how” and  the “why. ”  Why is the creative class being killed? There is one mention of Telecommunications Act of 1996 which was like a wrecking ball for many artistic environments. Shrouded in the guise of fair competition, Clear Channel went into every market and bought out smaller players.  This ruined local radio, local music scenes, weekly papers and eventual laid waste to print journalism.

But the law that has done the most damage, and that was surprisingly never mentioned in Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class  is the The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. Just two years after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the DMCA was signed by President Bill Clinton, with every member of congress voting “yes” and cheering the law on like a high school pep-rally. Neo-liberalism ( a truly misleading term) was all in vogue with the silly notion that free competition, while never really free as the big players have teams of lobbyists in Washington, will solve every problem. As pointed out many times on this website, the 1998 DMCA was a massive gift from the creative class to the tech class.  It is a major reason “why” the creative class has been “killed.” It is odd that no one saw it coming. The internet has the potential to be a fair platform for publishing. The rules of “safe-harbor” have been so stretched and bent that for years technology companies’ revenue strategies are often a slimy exercise in cultural thievery – all perfectly legal. In 2020, it has gone a step further, as money is made off of peoples’ personal data, well-named as “surveillance capitalism.” But I digress. The DMCA is a failed law that needs revision every five years.  I have pointed this out since 2015.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act 18 Year Anniversary

Unfortunately, far too young,  in December of 2019, Scott Timberg passed away. A very good writer, a brilliant thinker, an idealist and surely a great guy. We need more people like Scott.


Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (January 13, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780300195880
ISBN-13: 978-0300195880

Harry Belafonte – My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance – A Review

A good friend recommended Harry Belafonte’s  My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance. Knowing little about Belafonte beyond songs like Jamaica’s Farewell and Day-0.,  I bought it online for around five bucks with free shipping – basically I got the book for free. It is a hard cover version on that luxurious linen paper with wide margins –  a library discard from the Southwood Library in Calgary Canada.  That a book from 2012 is so soon discarded seems odd. That it is a memoir of Harry Belafonte, one of the most successful entertainers of the 20th century with an incredible life of civil rights work and activism, adds to the mystery. Everyone, including the dear Canadians – slow down. Indeed, value has been turned upside down. In the end, it was my gain and Calgary’s loss.

It is possible to learn a great deal about the civil rights era simply through the lens of My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance.  It is safe to say that Harry Belafonte not only was in the middle of the civil rights movement, he was a key historical figure and instrumental in the struggle for justice and equality. The book begins in 1964 like a screenplay.  Harry Belafonte  is attempting to convince his long time friend Sidney Poitier to help him on an unusual mission. He has $70,000 in cash in a leather doctor’s bag that he has raised and needs to deliver the money in person to the  SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) who at the time where doing lunch counter sit-ins and other non-violent acts of civil disobedience. The money was to help the SNCC in many ways but most  often for legal support and bail.  It was not the first time that Harry Belafonte had financially supported people and organizations in the “movement” during the civil rights era.  It would not be his last.

The beginning of the book is meant to draw you in to a defining moment in Harry’s life. This dramatic start of the book helps pull the reader in and is effective, but many other moments and amazing happenstances fill the pages.  When people live to be over ninety, often their lives take on an unreal, mythical,  Forrest Gump-type of narrative. Their lives become like historical fiction, similar to an E.L. Doctorow novel, where meetings and scenarios seem made up and impossible. These unbelievable scenes fill the pages. Not to spoil the book, let me recount a few in the remarkable life of Harry Belafonte.

Late 1940’s – Early 1950’s

After returning from his deployment in World War II, Harry studied acting in New York City on the GI Bill. In his class were Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Tony Curtis to name a few.  Pretty fine acting company. He then would go on to be friends with this group for his entire life.

At the same time, when he was but twenty years old, Harry would hang out at the Royal Roost in Harlem with the likes of Lester Young and other be-bop legends who encouraged his talents. Harry Belafonte was crazy about Lester Young. According to the memoir, the first time that Harry sang on stage, which happened to be an intermission gig at the Royal Roost, the entire Charlie Parker band, Tommy Potter, Al Haig and Max Roach got up on stage and backed him up.  You cannot make this stuff up. The musicians did it just to help the new kid out.

Early 1960’s

In little time his singing career took off and Harry was a leading voice in the folk revival of the early sixties.  It was a dynamic time when folk music had made its way into all parts of society.  In Vegas you could get the whole room to join you in Pete Seeger songs like If I Had a Hammer.  The next week Harry would be speaking at a demonstration,  on the street perhaps leading a song. The idealism must have been intoxicating.

Soon you learn that Harry’s hero is Paul Robeson, the great singer and political activist. He learns a lot from Robeson and is moved to activism by his spirit. Major figures of the 1960’s are his close friends.  Harry becomes the conduit between his good friend Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, oddly bridging the racial and cultural divide between a Southern Baptist preacher and a blue-blooded northern Irish Catholic. He also talked regularly with Bobby Kennedy, then the Attorney General.

Another, interesting week is when he was asked to host the Tonight Show in the early 1970’s for and entire week  Harry was allowed to have control of the guests. He had Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Paul Newman and many others on. A week of interviews that would be interesting to revisit.


There are many other interesting turns during this memoir, including all the work Harry did in Africa, his visits to Cuba and his relationship with Fidel Castro. The last fifty pages become less compelling reading, but you do learn that Harry Belafonte regards George W. Bush as a terrorist for invading Iraq – as always a pretty accurate assessment of the facts. Harry Belafonte – committed, intelligent and honest to the very end.

The memoir is a modern vehicle for story telling. With every memoir there is a natural tendency to tell the story from the most forgiving and perhaps self-serving perspective. Surely, history is part what actually happened but also the lens through which it is retold. His voice, now gone after decades of work as an entertainer, actor and singer, Harry Belafonte as of this writing is still alive, fighting the good fight. A remarkable life and a book well worth the read. It is almost 500 pages long, and when the book finishes you do not want it to end. Excellent story telling from the source.


MY SONG : A Memoir
By Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson
2012 – Knopf. 469 pp


El Tapatio Closed for Good – Another Live Music Venue in SF Gone

SCENE 1:  Heraclitus and the River of Time

Cities change. Over time buildings are torn down. Businesses close. People move or get pushed out. New structures rise out of the ground. People move in. In San Francisco buildings and warehouses are being torn down and replaced at an alarming pace with large condos (most of them market or luxury rate). All that is left are the memories, echos and  photos of bygone eras. One such place is a large working-class dance hall in the outer Mission, a few blocks past Ocean Avenue but before Daly City called El Tapatio

At one point El Tapatio was a rock & roll spot.

“In 1967 it was called The Rock Garden. The Grateful Dead performed in this building 4 times in 1967. Jerry Garcia’s Mom was in the audience.” – slip n.- Laytonville, CA – Yelp Comment

SCENE II:  Five Sets a Night

In its last incarnation it was mostly frequented by folks from Central America and Mexico out on the town, all dressed up to go dancing, trying to forget the drudgery of life. There was a large wooden dance floor but outside of that the carpet floor of El Tapatio was a mosaic of discard chewing gum, so plentiful it looked like a pointillist painting. After visiting the club, the next day you would often have to scrape gum off the sole of your shoes. In the 1980’s and 90’s you could dance to a ten piece salsa band four nights a week. How do I know this? I played in a band that did five sets a night, Thursday through Sunday.  The gig started a 9 pm sharp and ended at bar-time around 2 am.

  • Two lead singers
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Timbales
  • Congas
  • Four Horns – Alto and Tenor Sax, Trumpet and Trombone

In that band were some solid players. Bill Theurer played lead trumpet. Mario Vega on tenor, Donaldo on timbales. Carlos Ramirez, rest his soul, now deceased, held down the bass. Playing twenty hours a week the band got pretty good. We played the hits of the day. Bamboleo, Devorame Otra Vez, Lluvia probably.  Some salsa classics no doubt. Oscar De Leon. El Gran Combo, Hector LaVoe. Being in the Outer Mission we would also play a lot of cumbias and even Mexican rancheras. A lot of songs about food – Sopa de Caracoles, Patacon Pisao. I remember Perez Prado mambos and other odd classics from the 1940’s and 50’s.  Nelson, one of the lead singers had this huge voice and could sing bel canto. He would belt out, very dramatically, beautiful Mexican ballads.  The gig paid $55 a night. It covered my rent and helped put my wife through grad school. Friday and Saturday nights were packed and the owner at one point surely enjoyed the ride.

SCENE III:  All Night Long

San Francisco during the 1980’s and 90’s was buzzing with salsa and cumbia bands.  After working the El Tapatio we would sometimes head down to Ceasar’s Latin Palace, now Rocapolco, and hang out and hear such great players as Orestes Vilato, Anthony Carillo and Raul Rico.  At Ceasar’s you could still get a drink after hours but the liquor often seemed like something they found in the cleaning supply closet – dangerous concoctions that tasted like lighter fluid and could easily wear a hole in your stomach.

SCENE IV:  The Ghost of Perez Prado in the Halls

A friend of mine in the trades said that they are tearing down El Tapatio and building the tallest building on Mission Street, meaning at least six stories tall. It will be a large housing complex of some kind. I doubt that the first floor will feature a large dance hall, but probably the ubiquitous cold glassy retail space with the “for lease” signs in the window for perhaps years. Time will tell, but one thing is for certain – the ghost of Perez Prado will be wandering the halls late into the night shouting out mambos.

Still alive down the block is Taqueria Guadalajara, that has been there for at least thirty years. People “in the know” travel miles for Guadalajara. I walked by last week and a line stretched out the door.  Some things do stay the same. A carnitas burrito “super” hopeful never goes out of business.

Taqueria Guadalajara
4798 Mission St, San Francisco, CA
Closes at  1 AM



2019 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Awards

The 2019 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park took place under clear skies, gentle 3 foot surf and mostly light winds and warm temperatures. For the last few years, the festival no longer has the Arrow Stage but replaced it with a much smaller Bandwagon Stage. Not to worry, all the stages were packed with incredible lineups of working bands. I went for three days and saw a total of 17 shows. Here is the 2019 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival SF Journal Awards.

In the past, these awards where the “Pelican Cafe Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival  Awards,” but the Pelican Cafe got bought out by the San Francisco Journal, so the awards will take up this new moniker.

BEST SOLOIST – Adam MacDougall- Lebo and Friends

Adam MacDougall was playing the keys with Lebo and Friends Sunday on the Gold Stage. Behind what seemed to be about eight keyboards, Adam had command of each one. He would go back and forth between a Fender Rhodes and a Hammond B3 and then something else.  In a day when music is streamed endlessly and often becomes like wallpaper to people’s lives, Adam played solos from another era when really being able to play and having a distinct voice were the main objectives. Great solos with soul and chops.

SONG OF THE FESTIVAL – We Shall Overcome

Friday is probably the best day to go to the festival. Crowds are lighter and less rambunctious. The programming is less rock and roll and often a bit highbrow but always top-notch. During Bill Fisell’s set they did We Shall Overcome and sort of got the audience to sing along.  I then left and headed to the Banjo Stage where the Kronos Quartet did a tribute to Pete Seeger – Seeger at 100. Soon the Kronos Quartet did We Shall Overcome and this time the audience joined in with a bit more punch and participation. I forgot that Pete Seeger wrote so many  great songs. One that was sung was Where Have All the Flowers Gone.  It is an anti-war anthem that is timeless.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone
Pete Seeger

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago

Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago

Where have all the young girls gone?
Taken husbands every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago

Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?


Somehow the word got out that Robert Plant was playing Saturday. The entire field by the Gold Stage was packed to capacity. Just getting up and down the hill was a strange exercise in physics. It was as if the entire area was some sort of new-found organism, thinking from some central command. You could sense a sort of claustrophobic anxiety in some people in the crowd. Fortunately, I made it to a good spot of the hill and was able to take in the entire set.  What a great band! The violin player was simply outstanding and a real powerhouse dancing and playing her fiddle with amazing sound and rhythm.

As the show went on people started jumping the newly installed fence that keep people off the back hill. In years past it was always good to take in a show from these hills where the eucalyptus grows. Though a bit far away, you can get your own space and often a very good view of the band.


Sometimes your best-laid plans just take a detour. This happens most the time when you are entering the festival.  Heading in Saturday we passed by the Swan Stage and were drawn to the sounds of  Poor Man’s Whiskey. Poor Man’s Whiskey has played HSB so many times you lose count. They are one of the few local area bands beside Laurie Lewis that seem to play the festival every year. What is so charming about Poor Man’s Whiskey at HSB is that they bring the A team to the gig. Their music goes back and forth between electrified Irish fiddle tunes played at break-neck speed,  like a group of 20 somethings on an all night bender, to original ballads that are played with subtlety. Raw Northern California energy. I once was a bluegrass festival and hanging around the campfire were a few people from Southern California. One of the guys had an observation – “Southern California is where they sell the music. In Northern California is where they play – up here they pick.” Poor Man’s Whiskey keeps that tradition alive.

BEST CHORUS OF ANY SONG – Jesus and Elvis by Hayes Carll

Jesus and Elvis

Jesus and Elivs
Painted on velvet
Hanging at the bar here every night
It’s good to be back again
Oh, me and my old friends
Beneath the neon cross and the string of Christmas lights

Another anti-war song that is picturesque and very clever in that country sort of way.


I am not sure how a mariachi band made it on the bill, but Flor De Toloache worked the Bandwagon Stage on Sunday. I was at a great set by Joan Osborne at the Rooster Stage where Joan eventually passed out with heat stroke. A good friend said that the all-woman band Flor De Toloache based in New York crammed the group on the tiny stage and played a great set.  In music festivals, with six stages, you cannot be two places at once.

BEST PICKERS – The Punch Brothers

I ended the festival at the Rooster Stage and heard the Punch Brothers. Every member of this quartet is simply outstanding. They redefine music and take it in directions that are new and original. You definitely had to be close up to hear this group as they play with a nuance, subtlety and ensemble that the SF Symphony only dreams about.


This year there was added security to the festival. National Rent-a-Fence surely made a lot of money fencing in the entire festival. This was a minor inconvenience but marked an end of an era where the festival had this magical pre-2001 vibe. Thankfully, there were no violent incidences. Perhaps instead of paying hundreds of extra policeman to stand around the festival, the festival could provide another water station out on the road by the Gold Stage. They had a water station at the Banjo Stage. It seems odd that that is the only one. In the hot sun you definitely need the hydration after all your beer and water runs out.

Until next year, that is the SF Journal 2019 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Awards.

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco is a little like Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Big-name bands, many kinds of music and a festive atmosphere. One of the amazing things about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is that even though there are tens of thousands of people, it is always a  peaceful event, and in the end people seem to get along just fine and often make new friends. Everyone seems to pack out the trash pretty well too. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Warren Hellman’s party.  Communal music therapy.


AI and the Metamorphosis – The Atlantic Article

“The challenge of absorbing this new technology into the values and practices of the existing culture has no precedent. The most comparable event was the transition from the medieval to the modern period. In the medieval period, people interpreted the universe as a creation of the divine and all its manifestations as emanations of divine will. When the unity of the Christian Church was broken, the question of what unifying concept could replace it arose. The answer finally emerged in what we now call the Age of Enlightenment; great philosophers replaced divine inspiration with reason, experimentation, and a pragmatic approach. “

From The Metamorphosis, The Atlantic  – Henry A. Kissinger, Eric Schmidt And Daniel Huttenlocher

The Metamorphosis is a very interesting article in The Atlantic. Co-written by three very influential people it muses over the impacts of artificial intelligence which is all the rage now. Some of the three writers end with forecasts that are optimistic. Others are more skeptical. It is easy to figure out who wrote what in the article. The quote above is surely Henry Kissinger reminding the kids of some of the fundamentals of history in the West. It is rather peculiar that Kissinger jumps from the medieval period to the modern in one fell swoop but so be it. I highly doubt that most kids graduate from college these days with even the faintest understanding of the Age of Enlightenment or any notion of this concept of history and humanity.

The other unifying concept was of course the creation and notion of the “self” but that is far too complex for most people to comprehend in our current age of narcissism and selfies. You can get a better understanding how this is relevant  in the field of psychology by reading The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century  by John O. Lyons, my dear old dad who’s ashes are floating around somewhere in lake Michigan.  Rest his soul.






Thoughts on the New APA Guidelines for Men

Recently the American Psychological Association (A.P.A.) published their new guidelines entitled the American Psychological Association’s guidelines for practice with men and boys . Writing and publishing something like the guidelines for practice with men and boys is a strange and ill-advised project. Creating guidelines for protologists on the use of the FOS-425 for colonoscopies on men over fifty seems like a good idea, but men are far too  varied and complex to create generalizations and guidelines.

Before you read further, I highly recommend that you read the actual paper. It is rather odd that like Moses’ 10 Commandments there are 10 A.P.A. guidelines for practice with boys and men. But perhaps it is more like an A.P.A. awards document as I am sure that of all the researchers and contributors who’s studies are cited celebrated this career triumph with a lot of wine and champagne to fortify their narcissistic egos. I believe the  guidelines will be viewed as a curious historic document, similar to writings and guidelines for women during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when doctors and the medical scientists viewed woman as having the “woman problem.”  This is clearly outlined in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Now that Western medicine has terrorized woman for over 200 years, for some reason they now have moved on to men. In fifty years, the  American Psychological Association’s guidelines for practice with men and boys will be embarrassing evidence on just how absolutely naive, cult-like, dangerous and  ignorant the A.P.A. is to history, philosophy, language and actual science.

Indeed, after the American Psychological Association’s guidelines for practice with men and boys were released it created a bit of a firestorm. People on the conservative right and academics of all walks often criticized the paper as either being an attack on men and traditional morals or simply inaccurate and absolute intellectual self-deception. The New York Times ran an opinion piece that basically side-stepped the issue and did a report of how various people and authorities on the subject responded to the “guidelines.” However, the critique I found most perceptive was by Jacob Falkovich and his essay Curing the World of Men

Curing the World of Men

This is, after all, the same organization that classified homosexuality as a mental disorder until the seventies, and whose members were not discouraged from recommending conversion therapy until 2009. You’d think being wrong about gays for a century may teach the APA some humility. –Jacob Falkovich

What I find alarming about the A.P.A. is the fabric of the organization. To me it has characteristics more in keeping with a cult or a religious organization than a scientific organization.  If you simply start with the “definitions” at the beginning  (gender, cisgender, gender bias, gender role strain, etc.)  you can see right away they are laying the ground work for current fashionable cultural assumptions and not science.   For example, the term “gender non-conforming,”  which is so in fashion in psychology these days, rarely gets scrutinized. “Gender non-conforming” – based on what? Is the A.P.A. now determining the “style” of a certain gender. Is a gender “style” for some reason now an important part of psychotherapy and also a subject of science? From the very introduction, the paper begins with some pretty shallow assumptions.

Boys and men are diverse with respect to their race, ethnicity, culture, migration status, age, socioeconomic status, ability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religious affiliation.

Seeing as men make up about half of the 7.5 billion humans on the planet, this statement seems accurate.  However, how can boys and men be diverse with regards to gender identity? They are both male. Last time I bought airline tickets I had to choose between either male or female in the gender dropdown. If the A.P.A. has discovered additional genders they perhaps should inform United Airlines. I do hear of non-binary as being another gender and there is of course intersex or hermaphrodite people but this paper and guidelines are for men. Then the next sentence gets to the core of how the A.P.A. defines gender.

Each of these social identities contributes uniquely and in intersecting ways to shape how men experience and perform their masculinities – Introduction to A.P.A. guidelines

“… how men experience and perform their masculinities.” What a strange notion that a man simply performs “masculinities” as though a gender has no biological basis and is simply a “performance.”  This notion perhaps comes from the psychologist Judith Butler and her notion that gender is defined by “gender performativity.”  That the A.P.A. adopts this theory as being a scientific fact is rather odd. This is why the A.P.A. is more akin to say the Catholic Church. Indeed if you create a study that is peer reviewed and published that challenges another prominent researchers’ work, you immediately get called out for not towing the accepted line. This is exactly what happened to Lisa Littman when her paper Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports when data challenged the  assumptions of other scientists currently in fashion. That people like Diane Ehrensaf, PhD from UCSF dismissed the study outright just shows how political and cult-like is the field of psychology and the APA. As a scientist, you would think Ehrensaf would be curious. “Interesting. You are taking a different angle than I did and found that kids with Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria seemed to be due to environmental factors and a common feature was an addiction to the internet.”  Instead, Ehrensaf dismissed the findings outright even though her work is often based on studies that have yet to be replicated.  This is but one example of how the APA is not really interested in science but ideological conformity. Often, in the end they become the unknowing henchmen of the pharmaceutical industry.


Not related to men specifically, Drug Dealer, MD is an insightful look how the medicine in the United States is the cause of the opiod crisis.  That “pain” is now considered a vital sign has profound influence on the prescribing of narcotics and other prescription drugs.



While reading the comments from the New York Times article it was interesting to read that the guidelines use of the word “stoic” is actually inaccurate, shallow and lacking of historical perspective. It is almost as though the modern psychologist notions of the topic of men was informed only by time spent reading the latest studies, watching beer and truck commercials, John Wayne movies and never bothered to learn some of the fundamentals.  Three times in the paper it discusses how stoicism in men is a bad thing, that “not showing vulnerability, self-reliance, and competitiveness might deter them from forming close relationships with male peers.” A rather odd statement for anyone who has ever participated in athletics and formed bonds with teammates and opponents. Online, in the comments, someone pointed out that “Stoicism” as a ancient philosophy of life is very different than what perhaps how the APA defines stoicism.  Recommended reading was the book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Irvine, William B.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Irvine, William B.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Irvine, William B.

It is good read and what you learn is that Stoicism as an ancient philosophy of life has more in common with Zen Buddhism than emotional repression and asceticism. I am certain learning about Stoicism is much more worthwhile than reading the APA guidelines. For when after the APA psychologist, who is having therapy session with your anxiety-prone child, decides “maybe its time to start medication or hormones” and suggests Prozac or Ritalin, you will need to consult some of the practical advice from the ancient philosophy of Stoicism in order to come to terms with your life’s turn of events.  But now I am going to stop writing, and as my father did before me, a very stoic creature,perform one of my many “masculinities” and do the dishes and clean the house.

Although there are differences in masculinity ideologies, there is a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population,
including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence. These have been collectively referred to as traditional masculinity ideology

– From American Psychological Association’s guidelines for practice with men and boys.

What a strange definition of something the APA calls “traditional masculinities.” Of all the thousands upon thousands of men I have known, I have yet to know any who embrace that list. To stereotype people is a sign of a shallow intellect and for health care providers a dangerous path.

AJ Lee and Blue Summit – Don’t Miss this Band!

It is a strange thing that in this information age more people do not know about the band from Santa Cruz, California by the name of AJ Lee and Blue Summit. Last Sunday I went to the show at the Chapel and along with the usual familiar bluegrass community heard a really great line up of bands. It was the  Be Unbroken: Bluegrass Fire Relief Benefit Concert & Auction , a benefit for victims of the recent Butte County fires. On the bill were The T Sisters,  Lost Radio Flyers and Blue Summit. Blue Summit closed out the show and unlike other times I have heard them they were rightfully placed as the headline act.

Even though AJ Lee and Blue Summit are all under twenty five and AJ is just twenty they play and sing with a skill, soul and maturity beyond their years. That they have not been signed to a big record deal is amazing. That they often get called upon to play opening sets for bands way under their level is surprising. That they do not get called upon to play big festivals or even big local festivals like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is just strange. People in San Francisco into all genres of music should know about this band – they are that good.

Anyway, this post is a big shout out to AJ Lee and Blue Summit. AJ’s singing is steeped in the blues and when she plays the mandolin hold on to your hat because she can really play. When you do see them on some trendy late night show in a few years, just remember that I warned you, but I have been saying that for a few years now.

SEE: https://www.bluesummitmusic.com/







2018 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Awards

It is again a great honor and privilege to be able to bestow many of the great musicians and participants of the 2018 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival with the prestigious Pelican Cafe Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Awards. We have been giving these awards out for at least the last five years, and this year the committee had a hard time agreeing on some of the winners. So many acts! So little time!

Usually early October in San Francisco has people dialed into a local professional baseball team as the playoff games often conflict with the festival, but not this time. By the time the festival began, the scrappy Oakland A’s had already lost a one game wildcard playoff game to the Yankees, so the baseball distraction was never to be.  The San Francisco Giants season was pretty much over by the All-Star game.

Instead, the mood was rather one of shock as the only score that seemed to matter was the game in the U.S. Senate – it was on many people’s minds.  Brett Kavanaugh, with a 50-48 vote was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and once again the voices of women were disregarded and ignored. The court now has added a very mediocre mind,  accused sexual molester and rapist, conservative partisan ideologue to the court and you can safely say that the “old boys network” is still in charge.  One can only hope that the midterm elections puts more woman and progressives in the upper echelons of government. I am not optimistic. We are an illiterate populous and our media is controlled in such a way that the narrative is often scripted by the wealthy plutocrats and truth is in short supply..

But to take a break from that madness and sorry state of affairs there is the 2018 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and what a great time it was.! Music is the best medicine.


I always begin the awards with a weather round up. The entire weekend during the festival experienced beautiful weather – sunny skies, and while the wind was strong out at the ocean from the northwest, it was actually not bad at the festival. In terms of surf, Friday morning before the wind came up was the best to be had. The waves were about 6-8 feet and really fun. After that, the wind picked up and it was all about the music.

Ocean Beach on Friday

BEST FESTIVAL DOG: The pleasant female pit bull hanging out on the main lawn at the banjo stage.

Talk about a chill dog and this dog was really fun to hang with. She just chilled on the lawn and nothing phased her at all.  People walking by practically stepping on her, strange smells, food dropping all over the place.  She was at the next blanket over and we enjoyed Dave Alvin, Mavis Staples and Allison Krauss together.  Why does Dave Alvin play blues harmonica in first position, I will never know but it did not even get a howl out of this pooch.

Favorite dog

BEST HORN SECTION: Booker T. and the three guys just nailing the classic tunes

The Booker T.  show on Sunday at the banjo stage was packed with talent. Lead singers nailing the classic R&B tunes. The horn section, seemingly a bunch of youngsters, were never introduced but these guys sounded great and  played with both power and dynamics. At festivals like this it is often the supporting characters that are what elevate the whole experience. The Booker T horn section was outstanding.

Booker T.


I was hanging out with friends on the Gold Stage when I heard this amazing trumpet player. Who could that be? Turned out it was Terrance Blanchard wailing away. I made a b-line to the Swan Stage and caught the set from the road which is a good perch to see what is really going on on stage. Then Bob Weir was invited into the jam and he sang a tune “Days Between.” Very cool!


Besides being a great harmonica player, Aki puts on a completely entertaining show. His style is what has been called Bollywood Blues and he sings these awesome songs in what I guess is in Hindi. He has the ability to lead a group, play and sing extremely well, communicate with the audience with joy and humor and keep every tune playing back to back just like Bob Wills did it with the Texas Playboys. His band often used the sitar. Talk about some cultural fusion! What is also cool about Aki’s approach is he really lets player take extensive solos.

Paul with Aki Kumar.

BEST BANJO PLAYER AWARD: Tim O’Brien’s Banjo Player

I actually did not hear too many banjo players. The banjo player with Tim O’Brien’s band did not bother me too much. He gets the award.

Tim Obrien

BEST WOMAN TRIO: The Wailin’ Jennys

There seems to be more and more woman trios out there, singing great harmonies and pickin’ some fine mando. The Wailin’ Jennys put on a great set at the Swan Stage. Really good three part harmonies with some modern touches. They did an a capella versions of Paul Simon’s Love Me Like a Rock that was awesome.

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco is a little like Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Big-name bands, many kinds of music and a festive atmosphere. One of the amazing things about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is that even though there are tens of thousands of people, it is always a  peaceful event, and in the end people seem to get along just fine and often make new friends. Everyone seems to pack out the trash pretty well too. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Warren Hellman’s party.  Communal music therapy.


“The Knowledge Illusion” – Some Quotes

We live in a community of knowledge, and unfortunately communities sometimes get the science wrong. Attempts to foster science literacy cannot be effective if they don’t either change the consensus of the community or associate the learner to a different community.

People tend to have limited understanding of complex issues and they have trouble absorbing complex details (like answering factual answers to factual questions). They also tend not to have a good sense of how much they know and they lean heavily on their community of knowledge as a basis for their beliefs. The outcome is passionate, polarized attitudes that are hard to change.

…shattering people’s understanding by asking them to generate a detailed causal explanation also makes them less extreme.

From The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman (Author) & Philip Fernbach
Riverhead Books (March 14, 2017)

John O. Lyons (3 September 1927 – 7 September 2003) – The Wiki

“The self, as Hume saw, cannot be aware of itself, and as soon as it is it ceases to be a self because it is lost in the seas of influences upon it. Boswell begins his journal with the observation that the discipline of recording his experiences and emotions will lead him to an understanding of himself. No doubt the process of composition assist his memory of his life, and yet it also distorts that life.”
The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century, Southern Illinois University Press (1978)

Wikipedia submission – January 2018

John O, Lyons was a professor emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin from 1960 to 1993. Previously he taught briefly at Bowdoin and Dartmouth. He received a B.A from Kenyon College in 1951, an M.A from Columbia University in 1952 and a Ph.D from the University of Florida in 1960.

He received two Fulbright-Hays Fellowships, one to the University of Baghdad (1964-1965) and another to the University of Tehran (1970-1972). Before entering Kenyon, he served in both the U.S. Army and Coast Guard.

The College Novel in America, Southern Illinois University Press (1962)

Studying Poetry: A Critical Anthology of English and American Poems, Southern Illinois University Press (1965)

The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century, Southern Illinois University Press (1978)

The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century [1] [2]has been referenced in numerous papers and articles ranging from history, philosophy to psychology.

Martin, Professor Jack; McLellan, Professor Ann-Marie (2013). The Education of Selves: How Psychology Transformed Students (1st Edition ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 256. ISBN 0199913676.
Martin, Professor Jack. “A Case against Heightened Self-Esteem as an Educational Aim” (PDF). Journal of Thought. vol 42 issue 34 (Fall/Winter 2007): 16.

Above is my Wikipedia submission

Above is my Wikipedia submission that still is awaiting approval.  For some reason there are not enough references. I have not time to dally in the bureaucracy of Wikipedia. I have the ability to add something to the internets. I thought it fitting that I post it here.

John O. Lyons was my father. He lived an incredible life. His book The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century is amazing for its insight and depth. Like many books written in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s by the “Greatest Generation” that are now out of print, the authors were not out to make a buck. Instead, they were were scholars in order to uncover the truth no matter where it lead.  By the time John O. Lyons was 21, he had read extensively as during his tours of the Pacific during World War II in the Navy and Merchant Marine, he had absolutely no distractions and spent the entire time reading. There are few scholars today who are in that situation. If you are interested in his reading list at that time send me an email. This  reading list will give you an understanding as to the breadth of knowledge that was the foundation of his writings.

Below are some quotes for the book.

“The problem is perhaps most succinctly posed by Lichtenberg who goes back to Descartes and says that he should have said “It thinks,” not “I think” – which moots the whole question of personal identity.”

“My message is, put baldy, that the self, which modern doomsayers accuse of being invisible, was a fiction in the first place. This may not ease the pain and feeling of the loss, for a hypochondriac suffers just as grievously as the truly sick, but it may help us understand the illness.”

“The invention and spread of movable type is probably the most important mechanical contribution to the idea of the unique self, but other forces – religious and political revolutions, the rediscovery of the admiration for classical models of being – retarded the assertion of the self. The intimacy between the writer and the “dear reader,” which we tend to think of as beginning in the eighteenth century, assumes a situation that was rarely assumed before that time.”

Quotes from The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century.

If you care to post here on this website and add to the knowledge base (that is essentially the concept of Wikipedia – a common accepted notion of facts and the truth), feel free to comment.

YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study

UPDATE: 2/2024: This Azabache CD published in 2000 had over 2 million streams and digital transactions in 2023. Each stream payed out 0.000758311565 US$ minus the 24% for taxes (7 hundredth of a penny). So the album is actually being paid more per stream than a few years ago. We are not sure why. The services were YouTube Music, Spotify, TikTok, Pandora Premium, Facebook, Tidal and others. One of the fascinating questions is what does YouTube Music and others pay for taxes in this arrangement? 

Between July, 2021, and June, 2022, YouTube paid more than six billion dollars to rights holders globally.
The New Yorker – Inside the Music Industry’s High-Stakes A.I. Experiments

If YouTube paid the same taxes as the artists (24%), this would amount to one billion four hundred forty million (6 billion * .24). I highly doubt anyone is keeping track of this.

UPDATE: 10/2023: This CD now streams at about $900 per 1 million views. For those keeping score. However, the streaming services and providers are now taking out about 24% for taxes off the top. 

The Original Story from 2018

How much do artists get paid for YouTube videos? The other night I was going over some fascinating numbers for the 2000 Azabache CD that a few years ago we started selling on CD Baby which then registered the album on all the digital streaming services and affiliates – Amazon, iTunes, Deezer, Spotify… the list goes on. This article is a look, for those who are curious – and I am sure there are many, at what the accounting looks like from just YouTube when you get paid “royalties” though their Content ID system. Do let it be known that the payout to artists entering the program is 30% while YouTube gets 70%.

Below are the plays just on YouTube which for 2017 came to 2,561,994 – that is two and a half million plays for just one year of a CD that is now eighteen years old!

On that CD I co-wrote one of the songs and most of the arrangements. I had a feeling at the time that the music would resonate with people as everyone on the project was in the zone. I choose to not be paid as “work for hire” on this project but wrote up copyright agreements instead. Below are the YouTube royalty statistics for 2017.

Azabache YouTube  Royalties 2017 – $162.52

Cinco a Diez $9.48 72,473.00
This Moment $51.04 213,489.00
Luna Cha-Cha-Cha $0.01 42.00
Simplemente Complicada $0.63 2,523.00
Surrender $0.00 5.00
Montuno Street $19.71 257,237.00
Batman and Spiderman $70.44 1,982,296.00
Besitos de Coco $10.74 33,216.00
Thanks for the Mambo $0.47 713.00
$162.52 2,561,994.00 Plays

So if you were ever wondering how much the artist gets paid (if anything) when you listen to a song on YouTube it is $0.00006343496 – or around six thousandths of a cent.

1 view pays $0.00006343496
It takes 157 views to make 1 penny
1 dollar is made after 15,764 views

If each time a YouTube video was played it paid the artist a penny it would a different story 2,561,994 * .01 = $25,619.94. When was the last time you bent down to pick up a penny. I do it all the time now.

I do not know the whole story about the woman who stormed YouTube with a gun a few months back but I did hear that it had to do with the meager payouts. Perhaps the general population should be more informed as to these business arrangements as I often am amazed at how little people know about publishing and royalty payments in general – especially in the digital age.

So how did we get to this situation?  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 which I believe is against the spirit of the U.S. Constitution.

 [The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

– Article I Section 8 | Clause 8 – Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution.

The reason that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is so flawed is that it is impossible to have your music NOT on a platform. Meaning there is only an opt-in but no opt-out as the DMCA created a “safe harbor” which should now be obvious to anyone was a gift to the tech industry.  If Azabache decided to leave the YouTube program there would be no way to make it so our music would be off the YouTube platform. In what way does that qualify as the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries? There is nothing exclusive in terms of copyright when dealing with YouTube. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons for the huge income disparities in our society.

So each year we split up our meager earnings from this project. Create other works of art and music. Play our gigs. Teach. Do our day jobs. Bring truth and beauty into the world and keep the spirit whole.  Just like before the internet when music publishers screwed over the artists, the artists keep it real and bring the joy.

Below is an extended sample of a song called “This Moment.” I usually do not care for Latin music in English, but love this song and Manny Martinez’s lyrics and rhythm just work. 

This Moment
J.M Martinez/ (5:54)
Arr. Paul Lyons

You can no longer purchase the CD online however there is now a vinyl version that was created in Colombia.

The full original sheet music arrangements for many of the songs are available at Paul Lyons Music.

Michael Watson and Amazing Musicianship

It never ceases to amaze me how many truly phenomenal musicians call New Orleans home. Most of these musicians are unknown to the jazz world and the rest of the world.  I heard Michael Watson  play trombone and sing  in April 2018 at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans and was blown away.  An incredible trombonist and an extraordinary singer,  it is truly odd that more people do not know of this amazing talent.

We heard him play with Bill Summers and his band Jazalsa. Ben Casey on bass, and one of the many great Batiste family drummers on drums.  The entire band was outstanding.

To get an idea of the breadth of Michael Watson’s musicianship and talent, here are two videos. At the show I heard, his trombone playing was both explosive and extremely sophisticated all at the same time.

I do not understand why these videos have so few views. I must have strange tastes in music.


3 Best Music Documentaries on Netflix Streaming – November 2017

I Called Him Morgan

I have watched this documentary two times it was so good. The great trumpet player Lee Morgan lived a life of many ups and downs.  When he was just eighteen, Dizzy Gillespie hired him and Morgan became a featured soloist in Dizzy’s big band.  Before the movie I only knew Lee Morgan from reading album covers and the Blue Note sessions, in particular John Coltrane’s Blue Train. I had heard of a rumor that Morgan was shot in a bar at a young age by his wife. You hear a story like that and your imagination just runs wild with scenarios – all fictitious.

I Called Him Morgan is inspired by a cassette tape interview of Helen Morgan, Lee Morgan’s wife.  Besides the amazing trumpet playing and prolific music-making, what is refreshing about this documentary is that all the people interviewed are black; there are none of the usual erudite white jazz critics.  Just about every person that was on the bandstand the night Morgan died is in the movie and is interviewed. Billy Harper’s and Wayne Shorter’s insights and emotions are particularly illuminating.  The photos of the Blue Note sessions are incredible. In the end it is inspiring to see these incredible musicians all seemingly healthy and vibrant in their seventies and eighties.

The Zen of Bennett

Even if you do not like Tony Bennett, this documentary about the making of one of Tony Bennett’s duet albums is beautiful. The film features Bennett’s recording sessions with Andrea Bocelli, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, and others. It is very informative for anyone who wants to live a long life, what are the qualities of the “good life.”


Jaco is a 2014 American documentary that depicts the life and death of jazz musician Jaco Pastorius. The film was directed by Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak and produced by Robert Trujillo of Metallica and John Battsek of Passion Pictures. The film features interviews with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana, Jerry Jemmott, Jonas Hellborg, Bootsy Collins, and Flea. (from Wikipedia)

If you are a bass player and do not know who Jaco Pastorius is, you are not a bass player. Jaco redefined the bass. The movie Jaco gives a deeper insight into Jacos’s life, his family life,   great footage of concerts and interviews and his tragic struggles with mental illness.  We all miss this guy.

Two other great Documentaries NOT on Netflix

The reason you are reading this post is that  you have a Netflix streaming account and are looking for movie suggestions, it is raining or snowing outside, and you just cannot get it up to go to church or the corner bar.   Suffice it to say that the greatest music documentary of all time is not a music documentary but a boxing documentary called When We Were Kings about the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” heavyweight championship match in 1974  in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. What happens in the course of that event and the musicians involved is phenomenal.

And then there is the movie  Muscle Shoals about an Alabama city that holds a prominent place in music history and the funky rhythm section that finally gets some recognition. But you are limited. You have Netflix streaming.

2017 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Official Pelican Café Awards

The 2017 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival was blessed with great festival weather – sunny and never too hot or too chilly and the winds never blew too hard. Out at the ocean there was a large short period swell in the water and moderate onshore winds in the afternoon so unlike some years in the past the surfing was not happening. Good thing there were over 100 bands and 6 stages to experience some great music. Coinciding with the festival were the Blue Angels flying maneuvers over the city of San Francisco. Sometimes a single jet would stall right above Golden Gate Park and then shoot like a rocket straight up only to then arch moments later with a big turn. Many oohed and aahed. Some who have seen the darker sides of war and reality and probably have been through this  routine before, looked to the sky with one-finger peace signs on both hands and sneers on their faces. The middle-aged woman M.C. at the new Victrola Stage just sighed and said something about if only we used all that money for the schools. Starting with Billy Bragg on Friday and going through many acts was a theme of political awareness and either concern for the state of things in the world or ways to contend with the fear and despair.

One of the ways was to simply enjoy all the music and friendly company. As you can see by the photo below, the festival began quite peacefully.

Stressful beginning. Victrola stage in background

Francisco Torres solo on Watermelon Man – Trombone

There are no trombones in bluegrass music  that is certain, but at the 2017 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival there were at least two. I heard more saxes, trumpets and trombones than I did banjos.  Both the banjo and the trombone have known to break up marriages as both are actually very hard to play. Francisco Torres plays trombone and plays it very well with Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz group. They played at 11:40 am on Saturday at the Swan Stage.  The crowd,  a bit subdued, seemed like they were either waiting for the coffee to kick in, the neighborhood blunt to take effect or maybe were simply biding time till “that cool band plays at 2:30.” Overall the band seemed a bit under-microphoned but Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz group band is full of veteran-pros and eventually you knew you would hear something great. I have heard Francisco Torres play trombone live before and was impressed. This guy has great chops and outstanding musical sensibilities and can even channel John Coltrane. His solo on Watermelon Man was outstanding.

Don Bryant

People who have been attending the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival for years know that part of the fun is discovering new musicians and bands.  On Friday I heard the The Bo-Keys. The horn section was fantastic playing with impeccable ensemble. The baritone sax had this beautiful fat sound and and held down the bottom like a anchor.  The arrangements were a little unimaginative but I am told that that is the classic R&B style (I guess Tower of Power never got that memo). Anyway, the second half of the set featured Don Bryant and let me tell you this guy is still going strong. Decked out in a gorgeous ornate black and silver jacket, at 75 he gave a clinic on singing R&B. He was channeling the voice of Otis Redding, James Brown and Sam Cooke all at once – all while having a  great time. The style of blues shouting has many casualties in the vocal world and I hear that people who sing in this style are often  frequent visitors to the  Ear, Nose and Throat clinics across the land. It is an especially difficult style to sing night after night. Don Bryant seemed like the Pavarotti of R&B  and for the entire set he  looked like he was having a gas. All the E.N.T. people should really just figure out how this guy does it. Case closed.

I would rather live a short life of love, than a long one of fear

Lucas Nelson

Swan Stage

There are basically two approaches to attending the festival. One is to pack light, stake out your spot on one stage then meander over to other stages. This way you can maximize your band count. I know many people who do this and I have come to the conclusion that if you choose this route it is best to go the the festival solo. Alone, you can head off and hear Allison Brown in a moment’s notice. The other approach is to simply bring enough food and drink for the day and stay at one stage that your party has chosen as the best. Sunday I was traveling solo but nevertheless ended up spending four hours at the Swan Stage around a very friendly crowd. For me, the line-up of Poor Man’s Whiskey, Randy Newman and Lucas Nelson (Willie Nelson’s son) was the highlight of the entire festival. Outstanding!

Most Improved:
Poor Man’s Whiskey

Speaking of which, Poor Man’s Whiskey’s set was excellent. I am not sure if there are new members in the band or they changed their beverage of choice but these guys brought it on – great vocals at times, awesome songwriting and some truly interesting guitar solos. Their sound is many things – a bit country, a bit rock and roll, a little Northern California jam-band. During the set one of the band’s members proposed marriage to his girlfriend. That was pretty special.

It’s play time now. There’s no democracy. Democracy’s gone.

Randy Newman

Randy Newman

When musicians become commercially successful sometimes people no longer take them seriously. Randy Newman’s body of work is outstanding. Sitting at a grand piano playing solo he quieted everyone down and truly delivered. He played some new songs (a funny one about Putin) but also played classics like Short People.

TIE: T-Bone Burnett & Ornette’s Prime Time Band Reunion

The Pelican Cafe has been giving out these awards for six years now and this is the first time that the judges have split their decisions. In the category of Most Avant Garde we have a tie! You had to have been there.  T-Bone Burnett did over an hour of a new direction he is going. Electronic music with prerecorded tracks, a drummer and T-Bone Burnett doing spoken word. There was some mention at the beginning of T.S. Elliot but at a festival like this, subtleties are lost.  Probably pretty cool stuff if you are in the right mood and a smaller venue. At a festival this size you need to paint with a fatter brush. Ornette’s Prime Time Reunion Band played many of the old tunes and sounded really interesting. There were loud like a rock and roll band.  I now am musing over what it would have sounded like if Ornette and Charlie Haden had done the gig as a duo.  Maybe they were up in the clouds flying around in those airplanes. Stranger things have happened lately.


The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco is really like Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Big-name bands, many kinds of music and a festive atmosphere. One of the amazing things about Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival is that even though there are tens of thousands of people, it is always a  peaceful event, and in the end people seem to get along just fine and often make new friends. Everyone seems to pack out the trash pretty well too. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Warren Hellman’s party.  Communal music therapy.













San Francisco Pride Parade 2017

June 25th, 2017 was the day of the big parade for San Francisco Pride – a celebration of diversity. For many years I had not paid attention to this event, usually trying to avoid the traffic congestion associated with such a large crowd in town. This time I had relatives and family marching along with the California Bluegrass Association Pride float. Below are mostly photos of California Bluegrass Association Pride float but I could not help myself to get photos of all the “diversity” and “causes.”

Intact Genitals are a Human Right
Intact Genitals are a Human Right

I vaguely remember the Gay Pride parade as being in the Castro but that was years ago. This year it was amazing how many sections were corporate – VISA, Google, Facebook, Workday, Wells Fargo, Intel, Bloomingdale’s, Levis just to name a few. These were all pretty tame in terms of visual presentation and you just had to wonder about the concept of punching the clock for your corporate job and walking down Market Street for your gay pals at VISA – how tame.

Foreskin is not a Birth Defect and It’s Not Your Mother’s Penis 

Signs at the SF Pride Parade

How times have changed as there are surely a few old timers in the gay community scratching their heads about the irony of success. Unlike a lot of parades the music in the Pride Parade is not really the showcase. When there is music it seemed to steer towards a prerecorded sort of night club drum and bass thing. Strange I never heard “I Will Survive,” Tina Turner or even Tony Bennett. There is a musical history to this movement.

Nevertheless, here were some truly interesting and bizarre groups. My favorites where the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” (just the name is awesome), Church Ladies for Gay Rights dressed in loose-fitted old fashion dresses,  and the many church groups marching.  -The group against circumcision – Foreskin is not a Birth Defect and It’s Not Your Mother’s Penis was an interesting juxtaposition to the many medically altered people marching.

California Bluegrass Association Pride Float
California Bluegrass Association Pride Float

Then the California Bluegrass Pride Float came by. The float was truly awesome with the rainbow colors and a sort of front porch theme. The band was picking some fast fiddle tunes when they went by our spot. I am not sure if bluegrass has been played in many parades but the high register of the instruments and the lack of brass and drums make it a bit tricky to garner much impact.  It sounded a bit like bees a buzzin’.  But overall it was truly great to see some headline acts participating on the float – veteran Laurie Lewis along with members of the band Front Country.

While in the San Francisco bluegrass community there are actually very few openly gay people,  you could tell it was pretty special for Brandon Godman who came to San Francisco after being outed and discriminated against in Nashville. Brandon is an amazing fiddle player and was welcomed into the San Francisco musical community with open arms. In San Francisco, people are usually not discriminated against for who they love and choose to sleep with. Just ask the Church Ladies for Gay Rights standing up for others in their community. Women have been shit upon and pushed around since the beginning of time so look out –  the Church Ladies got your back!


Where is Janice Raymond?

The Internet has a strange way of broadcasting value and worth. A forty-year-old book about transgender issues can be a cornerstone of critical thought at the time but then gets misquoted and passed off as old fashion. Today the book is out-of-print but fetches around $100 used on Amazon for a used hard cover edition. You have to wonder why the publisher does not make another printing? Modern books read like pop self-help books, quoting daytime TV shows and sourcing checklists of acceptable pronouns. The Transgender Empire written by a “radical lesbian feminist” (how did she ever get that label?) is both academic, historical and cuts to the chase and journeys deep into the topic. Below is just a short quote from the 1994 reprinting.

The medical model is also a disease model. And here exactly is the rub. If transsexualism is treated as a disease, then does desire qualify as disease? As Thomas Szasz asked in his New York Times review of The Transsexual Empire, does an old person who wants to be young suffer from the “disease” of being a “transchronological, ” or does a poor person who wants to be rich suffer from the “disease” of being a “transeconomical”? Does a Black person who wants to be white suffer from the “disease” of being a “transracial”?

All these questions, of course, raise larger social and political issues and remove these conjectural “diseases” from the medical/psychiatric framework.

From The Transgender Empire – Janice Raymond
Reprinted in 1994 by Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
Originally published in 1979 by Beacon Press
Copyright © 1994 by Janice G. Raymond

Download the pdf

BREAKING NEWS! We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite – Temporarily out of stock.

$45.73 on amazon.com

Temporarily out of stock. Order now and we’ll deliver when available.

Great to hear that vinyl is still the go to medium! Booker Little on trumpet is completely amazing! This is an album that I am not familiar with that is perfect for these times. It is truly incredible that it is over 50 years since this was made. It gives you the feeling that in present times we are moving backwards


Toots Thielemans – An Epic Life

A bit late on this post but it does not really matter as Toots Thielemans was a timeless artist. His life and music were extraordinary. If you want to read the standard obit, peruse the the New York Times – Toots NY Times Obit. We will be hearing his music for years to come and his genius will live on.

If you want my take on great Toots Thielemans albums see https://sfjournal.net/blog/essential-toots-thielemans-albums/

As the year came to and end it was interesting that there was a lot of media covering the musicians who passed away in 2016. Prince, Bowie and George Michael seemed to get all the press. Interesting artists for sure but their lives and music were retold incessantly in print and on the radio. Toots on the other hand lived to 94, at least 30 years longer than the three above and played in so many genres and eras it was a life that had a Forrest Gump quality. He was places that defined music and art for years. Imagine in the late 40s playing with Charlie Parker and then Benny Goodman the next year – two people who were at the top of American music but in very different social and cultural worlds. For many years he was working in New York just scraping along, playing jazz gigs and studio dates – TV commercials and movies. Then an amazing era where he played Brazilian music. A few years on salary with ABC studios. Imagine that happening today!

One thing left out of the usual obits is the fact that where he finally made some money was with writing a song called Ladyfingers that was recorded on Herb Albert’s Whipped Cream & Other Delights It was a simple little ditty but with every album sold – over a million, Toots got a penny. So he took his $100,000 and bought a house and probably breathed a bit easier.

There is an interesting eBook you can read about Toots written by his friend Paula Marckx. If is more like just hanging out with Toots for a few hours but fun to get his take on his life and the twentieth century.

The Sound of Toots Thielemans
by Paula Marckx

Within the book are a lot of links to unusual videos. Toots traveled a lot and did all kinds of commercials. Here is on from 1982 in Japan. Pretty hilarious!


Anyway, rest in peace Toots. Thanks for all the great music. Most people probably have heard Toots from the theme to Sesame Street and various pop albums. One that I remember that had that enchanting Toots Thielemans solos and sound is Night Game by Paul Simon, a song that is never ever covered. Too difficult to pull off with the changing meters and that amazing harmonica solo.

We will be discovering more of Toots work for years to come. It was an epic life.