Waves Across the Pond: an Interview part 1

The “Waves Across The Pond” event is just a few days away! Steve Lawson & Lobelia will be here in Newburgh Tuesday afternoon, and then we’ll head over to the Wallkill River School to do the Workshops. I’ll just say again how thrilled and excited I am to have a chance to meet and work with these fine folks. For more info ’bout the project, go to the official project page.

As preparation for the performance part of the project, I contacted Steve via web-chat over Skype to discuss what we might play, either song-wise or conceptually.

What followed was a really cool “dual-interview” – where we both got to ask questions of eachother, exchange ideas, and talk about everything from our personal musical histories to concepts for group improvisation. I think it’s freakin’ Awesome.

Here’s the transcript, albeit slightly edited, in 2 parts. This is part 1:

STEVE: [interview starts] Neil, you’re clearly proficient in a dizzying array of musical styles and environments – did you start as an improvisor, or in a stricter classical school?

NEIL: I started with classical, young age, Beethoven & all that.

STEVE: did you break away from that, or stick with it and do both when you discovered jazz and prog?

NEIL: I’ve always maintained the classical thing. It tied well into my “prog” interests, and that led me to jazz – after a fashion.

STEVE: With prog rock, did you start with it in the more traditional ‘rock music plus classical virtuosity’ sense, rather than the jazz/fusion Mahavishnu end of things?

NEIL: Definitely the former. Although straight up rock held no interest for me back then.

One of the reasons I wasn’t interested in rock because there were no – or very little – keyboards. Unlike prog – “ELP” etc.

STEVE: right! When was that? Did you get into ELP first time round, or are you too young? 🙂

NEIL: 1st time around! I think I got Trilogy 1st, right when it came out. 🙂

STEVE: Keith Emerson must’ve been a revelation for a classical pianist discovering popular music…

NEIL: You’ve no idea. I didn’t understand half of what he was doing but lord, it felt good. Like Rock’n’roll is supposed to feel, I guess. lol!

STEVE: for sure! It seems that now so many boundaries have been smashed, it needs to mean something else… you can’t be radical just by playing Mussorgsky in a rock trio any more 🙂

NEIL: No you certainly can’t, tho it’s still really fun. 🙂 The other thing that caught my ear were these strange tunes by Billy Preston – “Space Race”; and Deodato’s “2001”.

STEVE: So who were the gateway bands into jazz and fusion for you then? Weather Report? Mahavishnu?

NEIL: I had a friend in the early days who was a Charlie Parker FANATIC. We’d get baked (yes, I said that) and listen to Bird for what seemed like days. I didn’t get it, at least not very much of it. But Prog led me to Mahavishnu. From there it was back to Miles (electric) – and then backwards to Bebop. I got the big picture all of a sudden, about how all this music is connected.

STEVE: aha! That’s really interesting. So you went back to BeBop? Did you study jazz harmony at all? And did the ordered nature of bop make more sense to your classical brain than the openness of what was starting to happen in fusion at that time?

NEIL: I’ll answer that question like this: The first time I heard a Hendrix Record, I didn’t like it. It was ‘too open’. In the beginning I preferred the tightly knit arrangements of Mahavishnu to the “we always solo & we never solo” approach of Weather Report. I’ve gone completely the other in the last 15 years; now I’m trying to reconnect with my “roots”.

STEVE: good answer! Did the openness bother you because it didn’t make sense, or because it just sounded like there wasn’t any thought going on? It’s always interesting how people perceive a lack of rules…because Hendrix’s songwriting was often very simple, it was the stuff on top that made it magical…

NEIL: That’s awesome. I had very narrow tastes until my lovely wife, who’s a singer songwriter herself, introduced me the amazing artistry that is songwriting. Before then, I’m somewhat ashamed to say – I had no interest. Can you believe it? It was like “what the heck are these guys playing? They’re just noodling around.”. I REALLY didn’t get it, lol.

STEVE: Of course 🙂 We all have very narrow taste, in the grand scheme of things. I was fortunate enough to listen to John Peel – a DJ on BBC Radio 1, who played pretty much anything, from extreme hardcore punk to electronic, world music, singer/songwriters, prog, reggae… he changed my life 🙂

STEVE: Did you listen to any indian music back then? did that make sense?

NEIL: I had a few Ravi Shankar albums – not sure where I got them – but it was Mahavishnu that got me into indian classical music. Plus, my bassist from the A. Animal (Conrad) group went off to Ali Akbar School of Music to study Tablas. He came back and tried to teach me everything he learned.

STEVE: wow! That must’ve been quite a schooling

STEVE: Did that change your view of improv?

NEIL: Yes, but the willingness to experiment coupled with not worrying about “if you know what you’re doing or not” has always made for interesting music. 🙂

STEVE: I guess McLaughlin made it easy to compare prog structure with indian freedom just by listening to Mahavishnu and Shakti

NEIL: It expanded it in different directions….

NEIL: McLaughlin’s magic was to combine serious post-bop harmony with open modal improv and indian rhythmic structures, which can be frighteningly complex.

NEIL: I grok that shit big time. 🙂

STEVE: ha!

NEIL: So – Have you always been a bassist?

STEVE: I started in classical too, on violin and trumpet – but was appalling at both of them. Had given up by the time I was 13, and for my 14th birthday I got a bass guitar. I was rubbish at that too, but was at least interested in it, and spent a lot of time seeing how many weird noises I could get from it…

NEIL: Violin & Trumpet, wow. At parent’s urging – or was it something you wanted?

STEVE: I wanted to play both violin and trumpet, but didn’t want to play the music I was given – a large part of my motivation to make music teaching mean something comes from just how bad my violin and trumpet tuition was. And my classical interests moved to the more progressive end – Messiaen, Bartok etc.

NEIL: So you’ve had an unusual approach to the bass right from the beginning.

STEVE: Yeah, I guess so – I was in a band to start with, but left when I broke my arm.

And then I just got a distortion pedal and tried doing solo versions of Pixies and Jesus And Mary Chain songs, strumming chords, and making a big noise!

NEIL: “Pixies” & “Jesus & Mary Chain” is actually after my time; I’m not that familiar with that music, expect in terms of the history. What band were you in when you broke your arm?

STEVE: oh, just a crapy school band – we didn’t even do any gigs. We did a cover of White Room by Cream, and Substitute by The Who. That was about it. I was awful 🙂

My second band was more interesting – I found friends who couldn’t really play, but were interested in making an odd noise, and we formed a band and started gigging. It was largely indie rock, but with a strange experimental edge, and a large dose of unintentional incompetence 🙂 The Pixies were a REALLY important band for me. I’ve often described their album Doolittle as Sargent Pepper for late 80s indie kids 🙂 JAMC were massively influential… blending the anarchic mess of punk with an amazing sense of melody. Both were really surf-rock influenced… but at the same time, I was listening to Stanley Clarke and Weather Report. I had really wide listening taste at the time.

NEIL: How did you find yourself getting into looping?

STEVE: Looping was an interesting journey. Before looping, I was tapping a lot. Trying to do the Stuart Hamm thing, with melody, bass and chords. But, like most people who head down that path, it looked great if you were watching me play, but I sounded like two really mediocre bassists duetting.

NEIL: 2 mediocre bassists, lol. Were you using effects as well?

STEVE: some delay and chorus, not much processing..But I really wanted to be able to play whole pieces. I was strictly a 4-string player back then, so struggled to play chord melody stuff; and then read an interview with Michael Manring, who talked about looping, and a light was switched on. it made so much sense. So I started experimenting with just the 2 second looper in my ART processor.

NEIL: What year was that?

STEVE:…this was probably 95…and in 97, I’d started writing for Bassist Magazine here in the UK, and was doing gear reviews, so I requested a Lexicon JamMan to review

NEIL: I think I bought my Lexicon JamMan around the same time… 🙂

STEVE: I got the last one that Lexicon had in the country, but wrote the review anyway, even though no-one would be able to buy one – I just wanted to be able to keep hold of it. Then I paid Lexicon for it instead of sending it back…and it had 8 seconds of loop time. 🙂 Which after 2 seconds felt like MONTHS. I fairly soon upgraded it to 32 seconds, and it fast became my main way to realize my musical ideas. I was in a quartet that was fashioned after Shakti at the time, even though I’d never heard Shakti… spanish guitar, elec. violin, tabla and bass..

NEIL: REALLY? But you’d never heard Shakti….? How does that happen, lol! I too have done quite a bit of composing with the JamMan (also upgraded to 32 seconds). Also, I keep having to remind myself about your writing chops – as a writer. You’ve done quite a lot of that from what I can tell. Does it change your listening perspective?

STEVE: that’s a really interesting question.. I don’t know. I’m not sure if I separate out the way I write about music from the way I think about it… It certainly exposed me to more music, and I got to interview and hang out with most of my favorite bassists in the world! There were always MASSIVE holes in my listening. I didn’t hear In A Silent Way till about 2006! Partly because I’ve always been obsessed with pop music, as well as jazz, prog and improv.

NEIL: I hear you – there are still massive holes in MY listening. Stuff i’d heard but never really dug into, classic jazz records….

STEVE: I love the cultural narrative of pop music; its relationship with culture, with growing up…

NEIL: Yes, it’s truly fascinating. My wife Nita & I talk about this stuff all the time, the evolution of music in culture, etc.

STEVE: …so while I was listening to John Zorn and Derek Bailey, I was also listening to chart stuff and obsessing over Joni Mitchell and Bruce Cockburn.

NEIL: John Zorn is one of those “holes” in my listening… but Joni sure ain’t. 🙂

STEVE: Zorn I first heard on a documentary about him. Became mildly obsessed with the album he was talking about on the doc. “Spillane.” It was a bizarre cut-up album, no idea lasting more than a few seconds, with a spoken word narration. Mad shit 🙂 But I was a sponge for new musical ideas.I had so many different motivations for liking music. Some of it was because of how it made me feel, some was because I was interested in the process, some just because it was so extreme.

NEIL: I was always interested in how it made me feel – being able to play music basically saved my life. Not sure if I would have made it through the teen years without it. I recently heard Frisell’s “Billy The Kid”. There’s an idea factory.

STEVE: I know what you mean about teens and music. I first heard Frisell in the 90s…Well, I first heard him on Spillane, but didn’t know it was him!

I’d listened to one of his albums in a shop, and didn’t get it. Then saw him live opening for John Scofield, and it quite honestly changed my musical world. It made sense of so much that was going on for me.

NEIL: I got to Jam with Frisell a long time ago. I auditioned for Percy Jone’s band “Stonetiger”. I don’t think he had his concept yet. I know I certainly didn’t get it (or the audition). But he kept turning up.

STEVE: With Frisell? Wow, cool. 🙂

NEIL: Finally someone gave me “Powertools” and I’ve been a fan ever since.

STEVE: That gig opening for Sco was a revelation. I went for Sco’s band, with Dave Holland, Al Foster and Joe Lovano

NEIL: “ScoLoHoFo” was that band, I think. Frisell’s played WITH Sco a bunch – Marc Johnson etc…

STEVE: …who were great, but it was jazz; it sounded like jazz. It was expertly played jazz; while Frisell played Bill Frisell music. It wasn’t anything. And it was an entirely personal synthesis of everything that was going on in his musical world. There didn’t seem to be any sense in which he was constrained by anyone else’s perception of what he should be doing. It was just a story unfolding. And I was utterly captivated.

NEIL: YES! That’s the real way, the way to yourself – at least what I’ve discovered lately, within the last 10 years.

STEVE: I started buying everything I could find with him on. I got those Mark Johnson Right Brain Patrol records…

NEIL: “Right Brain Patrol”?

STEVE: …and an incredible album called Angel Song, with Dave Holland, Lee Konitz and Kenny Wheeler.

NEIL: Wow, more holes. Ulp!

STEVE: But the revelation with Frisell was all about sounding like ‘you’. I started to tell my students that when I hear a music I love, i don’t want to sound like them, I want to write music that makes me feel the way their music makes me feel, so I need to understand where the story comes from, how music is linked to them soundtracking their world…

END OF PART 1. Part 2 in the next post. 🙂


CoD 2010 Musician’s Concert

Ah yes, it’s that time of year again….

The unwritten posts are starting to pile up. There’s about 4 of ’em right now. But with this event happening tonight (it’s March 18th here ATM) and my continuing desire to use E-Programs instead of paper ones, I’m going to put this up right quick…

So – once again it’s time for the Annual SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance 2010 MUSICIAN’S CONCERT.

For the E-Program, click HERE.


As usual, we are pleased to present an amazing assortment of musics with more stylistic diversity then you can shake a stick at! Jazz, Classical, Rock, Funk, Ambient, electronica – you name it, we got it.

Musicians at SUNY

Last Year’s Concert

This year we are featuring Performances by:
CARY BROWN
DAVE LEWITT
NEIL ALEXANDER  (hi there!)
IAN CARROLL
DAVID NICHOLS
OLEG ARZOUMANOV
STUART ISACOFF

Special guests are numerous. Harrison Roach (singer-songwriter type), Guitarist Scott Barkin, and I’m pleased to announce that I will be doing  a very cool short piece with my daughter Rebecca – performed entirely on handheld devices.

As our old friend Richard Cameron-Wolfe (brilliant composer, and the Musician’s coordinator for for the 1st 10 years I worked there) posted on our Facebook event page:

Music dances in the aether; dancers sing through space. When the essence of our being is made vulnerable/tangible through our respective arts, the existence of the eternal moment is confirmed.

We’ll be videoing again this year. I’ll try to get some footage up ASAP (but it’s going to be waiting in line behind a dozen other items waiting to be posted). (!)

Anyway, thanks for reading. Maybe we’ll see you there. 🙂

VISHNUFEST: Lila’s Dance

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZpW_ZGf7Po

Finally – after a failed attempt to stream the gig and crashing iPhone apps (re: Audioboo!! You listenin’??), 2 days later I finally got one song up on Youtube. There will be more; I have 90 minutes of footage and will need to go through it all, but as soon as possible I will post more trax.

All in all, it was a tremendous experience – dare I say the musical “thrill of a lifetime”. I hope we get to do it again.
My best –
– Neil

Vishnufest: The Sets

So – I did say I was going to write a post about playing the music of John McLaughlin, and all that that entails.

Well…..this isn’t it.

However, I wanted to – for the sake of those who are fans and cannot attend (or can and want to know what to expect) – post the complete list of material we will be performing over the next 2 nights. Once again the venue is:

Le Poisson Rouge – 158 Bleecker St, New York, NY

Shows 1 & 2 are tuesday night (tonight!) and show 3 is wednesday night.

So, without further ado, here are the set lists for this year’s VISHNUFEST.

Show 1: The John McLaughlin Songbook – Before & After Mahavishnu.
Extrapolation
New York on my Mind
Guardian Angels*
Do you hear the voices?
Electric Dreams
Freindship
Devotion

Special: SUITE FOR CHOIR:

I Am My Beloved’s
One Truth
Law Is Not Love
God Then, God Now
Name of Truth
Walk

Show 2: BEST OF MAHAVISHNU

Birds Of Fire
Miles Beyond
Celestial Terrestrial Commuters
You Know You Know
Vital Transformation
Dance of Maya
One Word
Meeting of the Spirits

Show 3: RETURN TO THE EMERALD BEYOND

(-includes String Quartet, Premik Russel Tubbs on sax/flute and Melissa Stylianou, voice)
Eternity’s Breath
Lila’s Dance
Can’t Stand Your Funk
Pastoral
Faith
Cosmic Strut
If I Could See
Be Happy
Earth Ship
Pegasus
Opus One
On The Way Home To Earth

And there you have it! Hope those of you in the area who like this music can make it – you won’t be disappointed. 🙂

Love to you all –
– Neil

The Sunlit Path: VISHNUFEST 2009

“A long, long tine ago…I can still remember how that music used to make me smile….”

It’s been a long way around. But if, as the physicists say, the Universe is curved, then it figures you’d end up back where you started. So why am I still somewhat surprised? If you’d told me someday people would want to hear this music again I might have laughed, and given a sad little smile…

First, a little background: I first got the “Birds Of Fire” disc back when I was 12 (13?) years old. At the time I was deep into ELP – particularly “Trilogy”, and was just discovering bands like “Yes” & “King Crimson”. (Alternately, another friend I used to hang with would play me Charlie Parker records ALL DAY.)
Anyway, when I tried to listen to “Birds”, I really just didn’t get it. I could tell it was something special, interesting, but…. just “out of reach” of my developing ears..
As time was passing, I was being introduced to more and more great music: the Classic Genesis Lineup; “Tales From Topographic Oceans” and “Relayer”; Patrick Moraz “Story Of i”; also “Bill Evans at the Village Vangaurd”, Herbie Hancock “Headhunters” (and way too many more to mention). It was an exciting time. I was also playing with my High School Big Band, and was writing and arranging for them. I was in it up to my ears, and…loving it.
But I noticed a disparity (at least in my mind) between the Rock & the Jazz worlds.They kind of didn’t “talk” to each other. (What a shame, I thought….)
There were many “moments” – you know what I mean, those points where you experience music in a new way, or hear something startling that changes you’re whole perception..
One of those moments that sticks out in my mind as being relevant is when I went to see “Lasarium” at the Hayden Planetarium in NYC (now the Rose Center). Amongst the Pink Floyd and other prog and experimental tracks was a weird little piece that featured, without a doubt, the coolest synth solo I’d ever heard. The track was called “I Remember Me”, and the synthesizer was played by non other than Jan Hammer. Here. have a listen:
I Remember Me

I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point I pulled out “Birds of Fire” and listened, with new ears, to the most astonishing music I had discovered yet. Around the same time I became aware of their other records – “Inner Mounting Flame”, “Between Nothingness and Eternity”, “Visions Of The Emerald Beyond”. Then I got my hands on the Mclaughlin Book, which has the first 4 CD’s in score form – every part written out! My musician friends and I dug into this stuff will military-like discipline. We each learned all the parts – not just our parts, but all the parts. We would mix & match. Play them slow, fast, in different registers, etc. We “workshopped” this stuff to death! I made it my personal mission to get inside this music and be able to play it well – not just to be comfortable with the odd time signatures, but to “feel” them, to internalize them. I learned and memorized 90% of the material. In addition, the music had very strong spiritual connotations, and I was very drawn to it on a lot of levels. I began to see the odd time signatures as “mantras”….

Over the next few years the house of cards slowly came down, and the heyday of Jazz Fusion and Prog Rock came to an end. To quote George Duke from the Billy Cobham/George Duke Live record, “Disco’s taking over the universe”. Disco and Punk Rock. (The latter I learned to appreciate, thanks to my beautiful wife.)

I continued to play this music, mostly with my group “A. Animal”, but interest was waning. We played a lot of original stuff too, mostly in the progressive vein. It became apparent that people were “just not that into it”. (I’ve only recently realized a satisfactory blend of prog rock and jazz elements with NAIL, but that’s another story).

In 2000, I finally gave up the ghost, and looked towards playing new music – moving forward into uncharted territories. One of the first folks I met along the way was drummer Dean Sharp. We began to work together, producing the CD “Galvanized” along the way.

Around the same time, drummer Gregg Bendian was forming “The Mahavishnu Project“. At the time I was full time in “The Machine”, and trying to reinvent NAIL to include ALL of my influences (from Eno to McLaughlin to Metheny to King Crimson to Bill Evans). But they certainly caught my attention, and I began to court the band as something I was interested in. It just so happened that I knew all the music…!

I finally secured an audition with Gregg in early 2008, and did my first gig with the MP in May of that year. It was a little rough getting “back on the horse”, but much to my delight, like riding a bike, it all came back.

And now we come to something I thought I would never see, not to mention get a chance to play: a live rendering of “Visions Of The Emerald Beyond” – complete with string quartet, winds, and vocals. And at a killing NYC venue besides!
Well, I’ve gone on too long already. I’ll stop here, and present to you:

Vishnufest 09

Vishnufest 09

THE MAHAVISHNU PROJECT Presents:

THE 4TH ANNUAL VISHNUFEST
REDISCOVERING & EXPLORING THE CUTTING EDGE JAZZ-ROCK OF JOHN McLAUGHLIN & THE MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA.
3 Shows in 2 Days. Info: Mahavishnu Project
JULY 7th & 8th, 2009
It’s All Happening At:
Le Poisson Rouge
158 Bleeker St. New York, NY
Tickets are $23 at the door / $18 in advance
ADVANCE TICKETS STRONGLY SUGGESTED. THREE SHOW DISCOUNT PASS AVAILABLE.
THE MAHAVISHNU PROJECT (Vishnufest 2009 band)
Gregg Bendian, drums
Chad McLoughlin, guitar
Neil Alexander, keyboards
Zach Brock, violin
Jim Cammack, bass
Melissa Stylianou, voice
Premik Russell Tubbs, reeds
Esther Noh, violin
Matt Szemela, violin
Jon Weber, viola
Leigh Stuart, cello
Randy Taber, live sound
And introducing The VishnuVoices Choir with Melissa Stylianou, Abigayl Ventner, Missy Castleberry, Martha Cluver, Avery Griffin, Roosevelt Credit, John Young and Matt Hensrud.

…Maybe I’ll see you there?
– Neil

Rules of Engagement: Fighting Frustration as a Performer

NEIL’S “3 Rules Of Engagement”: My three personal requirements that make a gig, well, worth doing.

I have been a performing musician now for more then 35 years(!). I still LOVE it – and that’s saying something! But in the last decade or so I began to find myself in situations that were not entirely to my liking, breeding anger and frustration. Hmmm…

I’ve heard it said that being a Pro musician means that you take a lot of work that maybe you’re not that happy with…or does it? When I left “The Machine” and began to take a wider variety of gigs, I found myself getting tremendously frustrated in certain situations. I had to ask myself some tough (for me) questions – did I want to be a professional musician or not? Does that mean I have to do gigs I hate? How can I keep myself from falling into the trap that so many have fallen into before me? After a bit, I came up with these three “rules”, or guidelines:

1) Acceptable Financial Compensation. Commensurate with the work involved. ‘Nuff said.

2) High Visibility/High Profile
. A situation that puts me/us in front of a LOT of people, or the RIGHT people, and makes visible use of my abilities – in other words, lets me show my stuff.

3) Spiritual and/or Personal Satisfaction. This one’s a little harder to define. It could mean music that brings me great enjoyment or other such satisfaction, or that lets me experiment in a very creative way. Generally, it’s music that I can feel good about and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I can generally tell, as I find myself getting angry & frustrated with music that doesn’t have this quality – even if it’s an “easy” gig.

Generally, any TWO of these rules MUST be met for me to take the gig. For example, playing extremely creative music to an empty house for no money WON’T do it for me. Subsequently, playing a show that pays well but doesn’t have at least ONE of the other qualities, well, doesn’t really do it for me either.

Though these “rules” are not generally “hard & fast’, they can really help in critical decision making. It’s especially important to apply these guidelines to my own Group NAIL, lest we find ourselves in situations which are not beneficial to the group’s presence in some way.

I have to say that at this time, the Mahavishnu Project (as great as it is), is only meeting ONE of these requirements (can you guess which one?). In addition, I have been putting in a lot of time in rehearsals, and am beginning to feel frustrated. I had to do a bit of looking inward – and that’s when I remembered my 3 rules of engagement. (My next post will be about the upcoming Vishnufest shows…!)

Whenever I am offered work as a performer, be it gigs or recording, I look to these guidelines. When taken into consideration, they can save me a considerable amount of frustration and help me to make what can sometimes be difficult decisions about whether or not a gig is worth the trouble!

As usual, your comments are always welcome. Thanks for reading. 🙂

The Jazz: FREDDIE JACOBS QUARTET – KENSHA

FREDDIE JACOBS QUARTET – KENSHA

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FFHJBUtsX0

From a recent jazz gig with Trumpeter Freddie Jacobs. This guy has been a great influence on my jazz playing. Featured here are myself (pno), Freddie (tpt), Cameron Brown (bass) and Bob Meyer (dms), another cat who has been extremely supportive and helpful to me. It’s a pleasure to work with them, and they have made me feel at home in the world of traditional Jazz as I never had before.
This was recorded at The Falcon in Marlboro NY, on April 25th 2009. Enjoy. 🙂

MUSICIAN’S CONCERT ONLINE PROGRAM

So – I’ve moved this post to it’s own PAGE, in order to maintian some semblance of organization (whatever THAT is). And now we can get on with other more blog-y posts, like part 2 of the Tribute Band thing, or tech notes, or… you get the idea.

– Neil

The stage at last night’s show: 9/27, Benji & Jakes

The stage from Benji & Jakes. I suppose someone should actually take a picture of us PLAYING. That would be novel.

A Moment, With Rain

A moment, with rain. Cue Music: “Story From A Stranger”, by Pat Metheny. I’m home… it’s raining. My cat is curled up by my side, next to the laptop on my desk. Very different then the day that was supposed to be. But, we all know (or should) – that change is the way.

I’m gonna keep this short, because I’ve enough to do with emails, etc – and an unexpected free day.

I was supposed to get on an 8:30 am train to NYC this morning, to do a performance called “Available Space”. This show is up all this week (expect thursday) at 12:30, and next week (sat-sun-mon) at 8 pm. Choreographed by Ofelia Loret de Mola, it is a fantastic conglomeration of dance, live music, spoken word, and more. It’s a little hard to describe; check out the Danscores website for more info. We spent about a month making the music, after the original musicians had to cancel last minute.

It gets more complicated….

This is about the spider web – the “web of connections”, remarkable and otherwise, in which we are all entangled to some degree. The amount of connections that have shown up in my life recently borders on staggering. I’m still reeling a little from the last few weeks of people coming together, people from radically different points/times of my life, some of whom are connected in other surprising ways. It spirals around and around, a veritable vortex of people and events. Perhaps I should assemble a time line, to track just how convoluted and interesting this has become. I ‘ll work on that. But for now….

The “Available Space” performance is all consuming; it’s long hours, but great work; no money, but great satisfaction and “visibility”. In addition, when I got the call I was busy with another project. The opportunity arose for Nita Rae, my wonderful wife, to write the music (I was asked for punk/alternative – something Nita does quite naturally, have played in the NY scene for years prior to when we first met in 1985). She would write the music, and I would put the band together to perform it live with the dancers.

Even with the lack of pay, the opportunity was a good one, for both of us. It’s a well publicized event, covered by the NY Times, Village Voice, etc. Cool. I called our old friend and guitarist Jesse Martin, whom I used to jam with all the freakin’ time and whom I have not played with in years at this point, to play guitar. Our drummer is Emily Willis, the 21 year old daughter of Mary Stark, who also has a daughter named Sharon – one of my daughter Rebecca’s best friends.

This is where it starts to get interesting…. because Sharon (and her twin brother Michael) went to a school run by Barbara Sarbin, the wife of my long long longtime former bass player, Conrad De La Cruz (from my first and longest running band, “A. Animal”).

From here it begins to spiral out of control. Available Space is part of a festival called “Celebrate Mexico Now“. It so happens that the director of this festival is someone else I used to know – Claudia Nicolau, the wife of Carlo Nicolau, an incredible violinist and composer I used to hang out with 12 years ago – and haven’t seen in at least a decade. She showed up yesterday to see if the Neil Alexander in the program was the person she used to know.

Why are all these things coming together now?

Why ask why?

At a recent dinner at Mary’s house, with Nita, myself, Conrad and Barbara, a spider began building a web on my head (we were eating outside). Mary referenced this to an animal totem, and found this quote:

Spiders are very delicate creatures that play an important role in the myths and lore of many peoples as the teacher of balance between the past and future, the physical and spiritual. To the Native Americans, Spider is Grandmother, the link to the past and future. In India it’s associated with Maya, the weaver of illusions.

With its gentle strength, Spider spins together the threads of life with intricate webs. Spider knows that the past affects the future and vise versa. It calls us to make use of our creativity and weave our dreams into our destiny.

For many Native Americans, “spider woman” stories are important creation mythologies. One of the common feature of those are wisdom symbolized with spiders’ webs (for example, she taught the human how to weave). Also generally accepted are the ideas that her “thread” connects the human world and the world of spirits or the “above world” and the “below world”. Spider Woman also weaves the “relationship” of the Web of Life and all beings.

“In the beginning, there was the dark purple light at the dawn of being. Spider Woman spun a line to form the east, west, north, and south. Breath entered man at the time of the yellow light. At the time of the red light, man proudly faced his creator. Spider Woman used the clay of the earth, red, yellow, white, and black, to create people. To each she attached a thread of her web which came from the doorway at the top of her head. This thread was the gift of creative wisdom. Three times she sent a great flood to destroy those who had forgotten the gift of her thread. Those who remembered floated to the new world and climbed to safety through the Sipapu Pole the womb of Mother Earth.”

Um, ok.

Perhaps related, or perhaps not, I am going to take a moment to commemorate the 20th anniversary of my father’s death. I get the feeling he’s had a hand in all this, or is at least enjoying it. I miss you, dad. I’d like to think you’d be proud of me.

Love ya all –

the NAIL

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