A Day in the Bryce

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These photos are from a solo trip I took to Bryce Canyon in Utah in late September 2011. The fall equinox turned out to be an ideal time of year to visit, as the summer heat has abated for the year, but there is still about a good month of fair weather (avg. low 80s) left before the first snowfall in mid-October.

Technically, Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon…

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A proper canyon normally has a river running through it, the remainder of a larger body of water it was eroded by. Bryce has no such thing – its erosion is the result of millions of years of rain/snow freeze/thaw, creating cracks in the rock with an immense amount of pressure that breaks it into fins, boring holes in the fins to form bridges that eventually collapse, leaving massive spikes and bizarrely-shaped towers known as hoodoos.

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Bryce is referred to as a natural amphitheater. Parts of it actually look like a huge stadium filled with hallucinatory audience members. I guess they had to call it Bryce Canyon because calling it an amphitheater might confuse too many people into thinking it was a place to go hear concerts or lectures.

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The weather was A-1 perfect all the time I was there. It had been stormy most of the month earlier, which not only makes for bad hiking, but there is great danger of being struck by lightning if one is out in the open, lightning also being one of the main causes of erosion.

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I remember my grandfather mentioning that you could shoot the same spot once an hour, and get a totally different picture each time because of the movement of shadows in the sun.

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It’s nearly impossible to convey the feel of space in pictures…. in many of these shots the thousands of rock shapes seem to blend together, making it hard to distinguish what’s close from what’s farther back, and I was wishing I had a 3D camera.

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You can almost imagine clusters of conspiratorial hoodoos, planning an evening of mischief against the tourists.

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It’s like a giant, millions-year old Rorschach test. What does this remind you of? Hmmm….. (My friend Vera from Moscow commented “These pines remind me, it still must be somewhere on Earth planet”)

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This is why we drive slowly through the park. This guy stood here perfectly still for about 2 minutes, probably wondering why everyone was staring at him. Later in the evening after dinner at the lodge, I saw a couple of deer strolling across the same woodsy path people were taking to get to their cars or rooms for the night. Neither species seemed bothered by the other. The perfect neighborhood.

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A sign in the lodge room I occupied read “Remember: You are staying in a living museum. Sometimes the exhibits like to visit the guests.”

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Nothing to add here. These signs are posted at every scenic view point.

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There are over 100 miles of trails throughout the park, both along the rim and inside, from easy strolls to hardcore back country hiking requiring special permits.

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I was told this tree is 1,600 years old. Whether it’s actually alive I’m not sure, though I’ve heard it said if a tree’s bark is intact, it’s technically alive…. I doubt any of us will leave this much evidence of our existence 1,600 years from now.

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This fearsome chipmunk guarding the trail head reminds us: no feeding the wildlife! Cash only!

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Peek-a-hoodoo.

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A natural bridge. Many years from now the top center will erode away, and finally collapse, starting a new hoodoo family.

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The rustic Bryce Lodge, sole overnight accommodations in the park area. Advance reservations strongly advised, although Ruby’s Inn just outside the park is a reasonable alternative, with daily shuttles into the park available.

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Bryce Lodge is rather pricey, basic (no TV, as if you’d need it, or refrigerator, again not an issue because it gets plenty cold at night), but somehow this open air back porch was the coolest thing about staying here.

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Aside from the obvious wooden sign, how can you tell this is a horse trail?

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Every so often I was able to persuade another friendly visitor to take a shot of me so you all would know I was really there. BTW…. this is my first ever visit to this place, after years of obsession. Fall equinox turned out to be the best visiting season in my opinion.

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The rim trail goes on for a few miles, affording plenty of beautiful sights for casual strollers, but at some point, one may find oneself desiring something a tad more immersive.

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Navajo Loop is considered a “moderate” hike. It’s only about 1.3 miles’ length. Of course, you’re walking up or down steep switchbacks for most of that mile.

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So of course, I took the plunge. Here’s a view looking up, for a change.

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Switchbacks descending into Navajo Loop.

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Disappearing into a dark hoodoo corridor; note the tiny hikers congregating at the “entrance”.

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Hoodoos keeping silent watch far overhead…. at this point you know you’re somewhat committed to the task. You don’t want to disappoint the hoodoos.

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Into the corridor, referred to as Wall Street…. by the way, you don’t want to be here during a storm either due to flash flood danger. If you visit Bryce, check the weather first every day like I did.

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And here’s Solo, occupying Wall Street at around the same time protestors were doing something similar (in name, at least) in New York City. Looks like I’m really going through with this.

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What we found at the end of the corridor.

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Looking straight up. The Bryce hiking experience has been described as exploring a cave with no roof.

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Of course I don’t know of many caves with tall trees growing inside them.

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How come there’s another tree growing out of this tree?

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Some of these pines have minds of their own, the strange ways they grow….. or maybe the hoodoos cast spells on them after dark…

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Out into the open, for a bit of level ground and, of course, more amazing views.

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Before starting on this hike, I made a mental note to take lots of breaks. Taking lots of breaks is easy when you’re stopping to shoot pictures every 3 minutes.

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Navaho Loop turned out to be the ideal beginner’s hike (why it’s one of the park’s most popular)… just challenging enough for a feeling of accomplishment, and many rewarding views inside.

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At this point I had a choice of joining the Queen’s Garden trail which went about an extra mile, or proceeding up the remaining half mile of Navajo Loop. I opted for up.

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Gigantic arrowheads surging skywards…

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Many of the hoodoos have names…. I gave this one my own, the Old Hound Dawg Hoodoo.

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Not a cruel joke…. just a short split off to look at the Two Bridges. They’re kind of hard to see, again because of the dimensional thing.

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Zigzagging back up, stopping to rest in the shade of the switchbacks…. one thing Bryce has over the Grand Canyon, escape from relentless sunlight.

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Almost to the top…

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…and an incredible view once we make it over.

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That towering, top-heavy hoo-dude just right of center is referred to as Thor’s Hammer.

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This photo came out looking to me like a surrealist painting. The zigging trail in the center is probably part of the Queen’s Garden split off I ended up not taking. Oh well…. next time….

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More surrealism.

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Yes, I’ll be coming here again. And again.

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One last look before heading back home. This one I think I’ll be blowing up into a large poster.

Thanks for coming along on this first amazing trip to one of the most amazing areas in the country.

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Grand Canyon of the Kaibab

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I’ve visited Grand Canyon National Park four times in my life, in 1973, 1975, 1976, and 1982. Each visit took place at the more popular South Rim site, and more than once I was told by people I met there that I just HAD to try to make it to the North Rim. In late August of 2017, after much deliberation and procrastination, I finally realized this goal on a solo vacation road trip, no small accomplishment in itself. I don’t take a lot of road trips; I am admittedly a somewhat inept traveler, and though the experience excites me and I have many great memories of traveling with friends and family, my running gag is I’d enjoy road trips a lot more if it didn’t involve leaving home.

Visiting the canyon’s north rim involves considerable preparation. It is more remote than its southern counterpart, and offers less accommodations and facilities. If you plan to lodge or even camp there, you need to make reservations well in advance. Their season is just under half a year long, from mid-May to mid-October, due to heavy snowfall that forces closure of the access road. Hiking in the area is made more strenuous by an altitude of 9200 feet (about 1.75 miles), a serious consideration for people with respiratory issues. Visiting this place is not to be made on a whim.

My travel strategy involved driving to Jacob Lake Inn, a lone rustic resort located 45 miles northwest of the park, about an 8-hour trip (not including rest and fueling stops) from Los Angeles, resting up there, and then driving the final hour early first thing next morning. At that point you are already in the thick of the Kaibab National Forest, ascending a narrowing plateau (also called Kaibab) until, like the Spanish explorer Coronado many years before, you arrive at a clearing at the tip, and the Grand Canyon yawns before you.

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Aside from numerous glimpses through the trees, there’s not a lot of indication of what lies ahead until you actually arrive at the edge, and the Grand Canyon Lodge is strategically positioned in a place where you really can’t see anything until you walk through the building and out onto a sort of veranda overlook.

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There is a fairly large viewing room on the way through the lodge, containing comfy couches and offering a panoramic view through large plate glass windows.

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The lodge is where visitors register for their accommodation arrangements, sign up for mule rides into the canyon, attend presentations by rangers, browse souvenirs, enjoy food and drink at the deli, saloon, or full-service dining room, or just generally hang out. Aside from a small information canter, it is the sole service facility of the park area.

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Although officially referred to as the Grand Canyon North Rim, I feel a more appropriate title for this place might be the Grand Canyon of the Kaibab, given its locale at the tip of the Kaibab plateau and in the thick of the Kaibab forest. It seems to be more about the Kaibab than it is about the Canyon. Aside from the lodge views, actual canyon vistas are largely obscured by dense forestal coverage which extends even beyond the rim in most areas.

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If you compare the South Rim views, for example, this panorama at Toroweap Overlook:

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against what is probably the defining vista on the north side, the famous Oza Butte:

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the dominance of forestal presence is undeniable. The north rim is over 1000 feet higher in altitude than the south, emphasizing a significant geological variance that provides the environment of a completely different park. Calling it Grand Canyon of the Kaibab in no way degrades the immense wonder of the canyon — it provides the locale with a deserved identity of its own, as opposed to referring to it merely as the northern version of a shared area.

Okay, so backtracking a bit… I mentioned staying at the Jacob Lake Inn, as a way of completing the first major leg of my trip, basically a day’s drive.

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Jacob Lake Inn is a neat little family-owned resort — that is to say, it serves as both an inn and a small, self-contained sort of township — which offers comfy little cabins right at the intersection of the road that leads into Grand Canyon Park proper. It’s a great getaway even if you don’t plan to head up the plateau, with its woodsy seclusion, modest nature trails, and even a couple of gazebos to relax in the outdoors, one of which has a little rock waterfall fountain next to it that was perfect for evening meditation.

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There had been showers in the weather forecast, and I came very close to canceling my reservations and the trip altogether, but am so glad I didn’t. It did rain a bit the night I stayed in Jacob Lake, but I’d never have known it if not for the drops of water I saw all over my car the next morning. Scattered clouds gave way to a brilliant blue sky, making for an exhilarating trip up the road after an early breakfast. I had brought along my waterproof hoody just in case, but never needed it once.

Since I arrived at the park way too early to register for my room — check-in time is 4:00 PM — I laced up my hiking boots and made my first stop the trailhead of the Kaibab trail, which descends 14 miles down to the Colorado River (recommended as a two-day hike, with camping facilities halfway down), and is capped off by a steep 6-mile ascent up to the south rim (third day of the hike). A rim-to-rim hike is no minor undertaking, and only for those in excellent health and physical condition.

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This trail is described by park staff as “brutal”, starts out unrelentingly steep and never lets up for a step. But for me, visiting the canyon is about more than just standing at the edge and going “ooh” “ahh” and trying to snap pictures through a lot of trees. So I was determined to get at least a taste of immersion. I used my iPhone Pacer app to gauge a healthy half mile down, sidestepping copious patches and puddles of mule emission, and considered that a realistically satisfying effort. That was definitely enough.

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The reality of high-altitude respiration joyfully bitch-slapped me numerous times on the way back up, and I allowed myself many rest stops before arriving back at the trail head. I thought about back when I was 19, hiking all the way to the bottom and back up the same day, and was further slapped by the reality of the passing of 44 years. Shortly afterwards in the car, I unlaced my (what felt like) 50-pound boots, and didn’t put them on again for the remainder of the visit.

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I had really wanted to stay in one of these sweet wooden cabins on my visit, but apparently even six months wasn’t sufficient advance reservation — they were all snatched up when I registered online back in February. So instead I settled for a small room in one of the lodge’s two motel buildings further back down the road. I had to park across the road and carry my luggage down and then back up steep rock stairs built into a dirt hill, and it wasn’t long before I looked forward to being in a place where I could take normal deep breaths again.

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Why couldn’t I have just stayed up there in the lodge?? I would have paid more. Oh yeah… no rooms for visitors.

There is a paved rim path for the less hard-core strollers, installed down a ways behind the lodge, so people can get deeper views of the canyon beyond the veranda plaza. The path features extensions out onto the rocks with iron railing built onto them for the safety of the strollers, and all visitors are strongly advised to keep their bodies within the railing at all times. And of course, many do not adhere to this advice.

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The concern is not so much for a careless sightseer losing their footing and plunging to certain terrifying death; the canyon is in a state of perpetual development through erosion, and one of the rangers pointed out many instances of recent rockfall, which happens as result of accumulation of ice, rain, and wind cycles, and can happen unpredictably. In fact, this year the opening of the hiking trails had to be delayed due to rockfall damage to the piping system that supplies drinking water to parched hikers. The ranger who gave a geology talk assured us that hikers dying in rockfall is a near non-occurrence, but I’d add that a good rule of thumb is if you hear a boom, make plenty of room.

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So, speaking of room, once I got checked in to my long-awaited quarters (delayed by a problem with the scan key card that wouldn’t unlock my door and kept having to get reset), I showered, changed into warmer clothes and prepared for an evening of sunset snapping. I was too late to reserve a spot in the dining room, which fills up quickly for dinner, so I opted for the offerings of the Deli of the Canyon. Overcooked pizza slice, probably from frozen — less than impressive. The battered fish I had for lunch earlier in the dining room was more up to quality. No biggie. I joined the others at the rear lodge viewing area to catch the last rays of sun dissolving over the horizon as they cast their colors across the resonant landscape to the east.

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Once again, I was grateful I hadn’t canceled this visit based on an earlier forecast of inclement weather. The sky’s ceiling canvas gifted us with abundant sunshine with just enough clouds to shade the landscape with constantly shifting textures. At night the stars above us were brighter, clearer, and bigger than I ever see them even on the clearest nights in the L.A. vicinity, and for about 30 minutes I sat gazing up at them from the plaza, wishing the lodge could see fit to douse the building lights for just a moment long enough to fill our faces with nothing but starlight. Looking out across the canyon, I could see lights from the south rim village area ten miles away, with some flashing red lights I wondered about the purpose of. I suppose I could have walked a bit further back down the road beyond my hotel room for some less light-obstructed star views, but in my haste to get on the road I neglected to pack along a flashlight. For future reference.

I got to bed at a reasonable hour, got up and packed early for a straight shot back home so I could enjoy the remainder of my vacation time there. I turned in my key card at the lodge registration desk, then went out back to get one more good look from the plaza. The more you lean over the wall, the better look you get. They really should mount those wooden chairs much higher.

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My final thought as I walked back to the car: I need to make it out to the south rim at least once more. This was a gorgeous place to be in, oxygen deprivation notwithstanding, but it brought back memories of the considerably more abundant views on the other side. I am far from finished having this space in my life.

EPILOGUE: The drive home went smoothly and quickly. The cool, dry air of the Kaibab gave way to toasty desert plain, and when I hit Nevada it was around 112º… though by the time I got to Las Vegas a thick cloud cover gathered and I was pounded by rain on and off on the way back into the California upper Mojave desert, which was green. I don’t remember seeing the desert that green on past trips. It was a nice little closing touch for this moderate traveler’s low-key getaway adventure.

Sunday 9/3/2017 8:00 PM

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A Revised History of the Future

Introducing my TuneBlog: a collection of recent instrumental works, reflecting new directions and attitudes I’ve started channeling through music. The lead-up to all this was a realization that if I had to narrow down to one thing all that I excel at creatively, it would be music, and that’s the only thing I have any business devoting my mental energy and physical effort towards. A pretty extreme notion, certainly, and probably not completely achievable (yet), but I decided to give it a shot, at least approaching work from that skewed perspective, and see how close I could get. Just release the mind and all practical considerations, and let the music be all that it is from the deepest recesses of the subconscious, guided by a balance of pure intuition and technical methodology. From this concept materialized the creative module, SchizoBrainiac.

In short, Music is not my profession. I have a day job that enables me to function so I can do this. Nothing else supports it, nothing else rationalizes the creation.

NOTE: The following tracks are linked to the SoundCloud.com music site, and occasionally might not display correctly. If this is the case, please just try reloading the page. Many, many people use the site and it is sometimes prone to traffic jams…

PROFOUND OBLIVION

Sometimes you just need to scream at everyone.

A few years back I overheard a conversation, between two ex-musicians, about how they’d decided to move on into more acceptable and productive lifestyles in the working world. Playing in bands, or even on one’s own, can be very discouraging after a period of time, especially when it appears no personal progress is made from all that time and effort. “I just decided: Stop Dreaming,” one of them said. I thought about another guitarist I’d worked with around 1981, an enormously gifted musician with a great ear (never needed any key charts, picked up on melodies and harmonies instantly), who let his wife talk him into giving it up so he could go into real estate. I also thought about my own discouragement, coming from intimates and fellow band members alike, and how I’d allowed it to hold me back and stifle many original pursuits. Feedback is significant for an artist, but it can also be a suffocator. As a result, I believe I wasted years trying to find a more “practical” way to live, an exercise in futility because my heart could never be in anything else sufficiently enough to be productive, let alone prosperous. This opening track is about breaking through the imaginary barrier I’d allowed to form over my personal release, and my commitment to express all ideas regardless of incomprehension on the part of others that could result, and even regardless of the reality that no prosperity may result. And go even further than that. If what I’m doing is too beyond the scope of available listeners, I’ll continue to create music for FUTURE listeners, who may not be in the immediate vicinity, but I imagine that they are. Sometimes, in order to create art, you have to conceive an entire non-existent world for it to dwell in.

This is about fulfillment in one’s life, and how that takes priority over material gain or social status.

EL TORERO ARROGANTE

Speaking of social status…..

Once upon a time (can you tell I’m making this up?), there lived a bullfighter who was more well known for his extravagant moves in the ring than he was for his success at fighting, though he was pretty good at that too. People traveled far and wide (as well as near and narrow) to watch the brave torero fling his magnificent red cape, twirling it skywards and catching it as it returned to madden the already tormented bulls… the sequins in his vest flashed blindingly as he would hop and pirouette like a human disco ball, flinging roses to the ladies and pouting arrogantly at the delirious animals charging at him. The screams of his female admirers frequently drowned out the mariachi band accompanying the event; he was never concerned about having a place to sleep at night so much as if he was going to GET any sleep, with all the women he bedded on a regular basis. Ah, the rigors of celebrity! Sadly, one day it all caught up to him…. the guys in the mariachi band were getting tanked on tequila, since no one listened to them anyway, and one of them carelessly spilled half the bottle into the bull pen. The thirsty bull lapped it up and became instantaneously hammered. The torero had spent the last 13 nights getting laid, and (semi-delirious from sleep deprivation) was so focused on showing off his new cape-shaping stunt he didn’t notice the furiously intoxicated bull roaring up behind him until he turned around…. a bit too late. The bull caught him up in his horns and, blinded by the surprised torero covering his eyes, galloped full speed and collided into the wall of the bull pen, killing both instantly.

Okay, enough of this barbaric incivility, let’s take a look at more enlightened culture…

WOLFERS AND TWEETERS

An internet fable. This scenario opens with a gruff, grumpy troll stomping along the web highway, in search of someone to invalidate. Along comes the twittering little Bluebird of Happiness, merrily posting snippets about every little thing she did this morning, all her favorite foods and songs on YouTube, all her little insights and philosophical quotations…. Troll is irritated to the bounds of sanity by all this, becomes obsessed with making Bluebird his next prey. But as he raises his spiked club to strike, she suddenly swoops down, pecks him, and infects him. After a brief head spinning moment, he becomes a full-on internet addict, surfing website after website, starting accounts, making online purchases for 30% below retail, downloading movies, books, music ….. all these things infuse him with a giddy sense of power he’d never known before. He goes on like this for days until he collapses from mental exhaustion…. but Bluebird brings him a cafe mocha grande (with a triple shot) from Starbucks, and he’s up and running again, this time gathering all manner of information from news sites, WikiPedia, Snopes and posting multiple blogs in WordPress…. he has evolved from a brutal troll to an enlightened internet geek, and lands a well paying career as a tech support manager. He marries Bluebird, and they spend many happy days thereafter in the park, texting each other on their smart phones and 4G WiFi tablets.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the park…

THE HARPSCOTCH BUTTERFLY PUDDING EFFECT

Señor Gamboa knew when he awoke that morning this was to be his final day of life, and he chose to spend it in the city park with his 5 year-old great-granddaughter. He watches her dancing hopscotch, her favorite recreation, and as his life slowly ebbs away, he enters a state outside of the bounds of time. He sees the little girl grow into an adult woman, experiences life through her eyes, all the joys and pain and changes — His last vision is of her as a great-grandmother, watching her own successor dancing on into the unknown future.

STARCHILD 4 4E

This piece seemed to come out of nowhere one weekend in early December 2008. The idea, structure and arrangement were completed inside of about six hours, as if it had composed itself with a little assistance from me. After it was completed, I found out about the recent passing of Forrest J Ackerman, the Godfather of Sci-Fi; a man who had been an enormous influence as a catalyst for my imagination, so it seemed right to dedicate the piece to his memory and his name (“4E” was one of his nicknames). The music itself doesn’t really suggest the sci-fi / fantasy / horror realm he has dedicated himself to, so much as acknowledge an abundant life of experiences and accomplishments, and the peaceful satisfaction of releasing it all.

 

DELIRIUM TRIMMINGS

A fanfare for the uncommon — A finale to wrap this set, but to leave with an implication that I’m just getting started. Again.

Throughout the creation of much of this material, there was always a sense of trying to reach beyond what I’d (up until now) been capable of. I think about the future a lot… not so much a future with me in it, but a world way beyond that, with different thoughts, different ways of expression, and of course different music. That’s what keeps me the most interested in continuing to compose. If I thought all I’d be able to do is create music that’s comfortably familiar, current, nostalgic, with more popular potential, I’d lose interest and probably find something else to do. Overall, things are quite stagnant in popular American music right now, and most people seem satisfied with that, but some of us are very hungry for change, some manner of evolvement. I know I am. So I’ve stopped waiting for enough others to take steps and do something about it. There ARE others, don’t get me wrong. Just not enough. Yet.

“A Revised History of the Future” is an exercise in Reverse Procrastination — Music I was going to create about 5-10 years from now, but couldn’t wait. All tracks are protected by copyright.

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