just got back from busking for 1 hour 20 minutes on my Mbira during which time i made exactly $1, not very cool. i was on the famous broadwalk, loads of tourists strolling around, lots of people were into it but noone wanted to give me any money, even with my 'iPOD of the masses' sign and then, on the reverse side 'help me get to Uganda so i can learn from a master'. i guess i need a)a new sales pitch or b)another instrumentalist, of which there are loads around but they are all either lazy or unreliable, or both.
But whatever, i like playing and need to be in good condition for when i go to uganda in june wooooooooo i booked my plane tickets last week, cost almost exactly the amount as the 3 months rent i have saved, so its like im going for free, if you look at it one way. i lost my false teeth in a choppy sea last weekend (quite comical at the time, and i am kind of getting used to not having front teeth, they really aren't that important except for bubblegum and clarinet and eating melon) and have been spending the time i would have been practicing in the library delving for the first time really into what ethnomusicology actually IS, its history, methods of fieldwork, heros, villains etc etc. it seems the debate at the moment (and in anthropology aswell i guess) is to what extent a researcher in the field can be an objective observer, and whether this is even as worthwhile as the researcher trying to immerse themselves and be a participant in the culture they are studying. it all comes out of the shitty colonial past and its legacy, and how researchers are often percieved to have similar facets as old colonialists, or tourists, and how the idea of a westerner being able to come in and then purport to define and understand another culture is pretty arrogant, and how to get round these things. it seems i could even do a fieldwork project on the process of doing fieldwork if i wanted to. but that is a bit esoterical for me, i think i am either going to investigate how and to what extent lamellaphone (Mbira) traditions are being passed on through the generations in rural uganda, or how urban hip hop artists are responding to their culture and what it is about hiphop that has made it even reach to the far corners of the world. but great stuff, i feel like i am finally applying my learning to something really useful and exciting.
so when people ask me here what i have been up to, i tell them about that but then i tell them that generally life is amazing because i am sucking the sugary juice out of every moment and that really does have alot to do with living in the forest, though it unpredictable ways. in the last month i have spent maybe 4 nights under a roof (when it rains) even though i could stay in numerous places any night; it is starting to be a bit unnatural and stuffy in houses, i feel like i am slowly being de-conditioned back to a more kind of bestial (in the nicest sense of the word) state (it could also be that it is often pretty hot here at night). i just cannot emphasise enough how much more easy and joyful it is on the mind to open your eyes in the morning to light sprinkling through leaves and birdsong so close. most of the time i sleep in a hammock, hard to get out of, so my bed is in my rucksack and all i need to make it complete are two trees. punch the sky.
and i have been going on little trips to try and see california as much as possible before i go. my jazz teacher uses the word 'trip' to mean general journey, within a song or within a human's growth, something necessary i guess, and i wondered on friday 6pm, as i stood at the north edge of santa cruz on highway 1 with my thumb out, what exactly people are looking for when they go on a trip. the night before i finally had a defining 'acceptance' moment when i felt like i was in the fabric of the people i was around when, at a keg party (a party with a barrel of beer) for ryan's goodbye and hello to a fishing trawler in seattle, i was having a little dance in a trailer and everyone was like 'KEG STAND BEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' and i smiled and felt my legs lifted above my head as i held onto the keg and beer was pumped directly into my mouth and everyone was like '1234....' and i managed to hold on with open throat for 34 seconds, very respectable i was told, keeping the british end up, and noone noticed when i stumbled off into the forest a little while later to throw up spagetti and beer.
but anyway, i digress, the week before me and nick hitched up to a deserted beach about 20 miles away just to watch the sunset over the water and for kicks (epic pics on facebook), on the way back the crazy old hippie driver was telling us about arcata, 200 miles north, which he said had 1000 year old redwood trees and the nicest people in the world, so we decided to go there this weekend, but then nick was busy but i was in the travelling frame of mind so i decided to go by myself. that weekend there were 2 great jams happening and a BBQ at my old house, but i shunned them all for a trip into the unknown by myself. why? i like these people, i don't have much time left with them, why go? what are we travelling for? what was i looking for? solitude? the unexpected? i couldn't work it out, and felt a bit bad, but then i got a ride and then another, who told me that there was no way i was going to get to arcata and back in 5 days, so i let him drop me off at half moon bay, a little town between santa cruz and san fran, where i slept in a huge tree by the beach and reassessed. i decided to make my way up the 1 (the highway that winds slowly up the coast and is the stuff of chilli peppers songs and dreams i think) and see how far i got, instead of taking the faster but less beautiful 101.
up early the next morning, squashed banana and peanuts, got a ride quickly to the bottom of san fran and then a train to the dead centre of the city, a lady named suzanne saw my Mbira and we chatted, turned out she was going north too and would i like a ride? yes please, so the potentially very time consuming job of navigating san fransisco (and getting to a place where i could get a ride out) was sidestepped, and we chatted about uganda and her trips to bosnia as a NGO bod and positive language, they dropped me off at a little beach town named stinson where there was a kind of fete thing going on, hot dog, bluegrass, pretty girls in citrus dresses, onwards! got a few little rides, one with a french stone oven maker, another with 3 gentlemen in a mercedes who tried to catch me out on my knowledge of cellists (not that i claimed to know any), then a magic ride with a kayaking instructor and drummer, he was only going a little way up the 1 but by now i had decided to head towards some hot springs about 50 miles inland, and he was going that way. we stopped by his house in santa rosa for a jam, and the jam was so good i decided to accept his offer of a diversion from the hot springs (which i would have been lucky to reach before nightfall) to his friend the carpenters house. he told me it would be a 'trip' so we went.
jason the carpenter and drummer/bassist was quiet, greying hair in a ponytail, his friends were a (by now familiar) assortment of the good, the bad and the slightly crazy, we drank stout and jammed hard, they had an old moog synth that i got acquainted with, 3 jams lasted about 45 mins each, no stopping, not much eye contact but riproarslideaway stuff, he had these cow bells that were tuned pretty close to my mbira so it got pretty intricate at times, lush, then pasta, garlic and butter and hammocking it up. woke up the next morning and oh my goodness, just near where i am sleeping there is a full on lake!!!!!!!!!!! with canoe, surf board (i worked out to put on the canoe to form a bed) dragonflies, the works, and no humans! so i spent most of the morning lying around on the canoe reading carlos castanada and silently canoeing or swimming to the reeds where the dragonflies were (blue, red, gold) till they all saw me and flew up all at once in a chute of colour.
but then it started getting really hot and i was in the middle of nowhere with many directions home and pretty scummy water in my water bottle so i walked the 2 miles or so back to the 101 and sat down in the hot sun and waited for a ride. it was mothering sunday and i wanted to get to a phone so i could call mum before she went to bed but there was nothing happening and every time a car came by and i stood up i got dizzy and sort of fell back down again, a mite scary, but then a huge white chevy truck pulled up containing a heavily tattooed gent and his chatty girlfriend, i passed around a spliff but he said he couldn't smoke because 'i am in rehab....and a quaker'. at first he was a bit condescending towards me, calling me 'rainbow boy' i guess cos i looked and smelt like a hippie, but i am quite adept these days at figuring people out, and second guessing what they are thinking of me and then becoming, for a short time at least, what they want me to be (i could talk for ages about social dynamics of hitchiking, they are fascinating and very conducive to great conversations and working out the psyche of a group of people, if you ever want to hear 10 life stories in a day, go hitching) so i told them how happy i was that this was the first truck i had been picked up in (true) and that the slipknot loud on the cd player was pumping (also true), and headbanged along in the back, and we all opened up like flowers to each other, he had just got back from quaker chuch where he had spoken to the congregation about his feelings towards his mothers death in a car crash 2 years before. the loud music, fast driving and kind of subdued fraglity of his manner made sense and i told him some stories of england and he smiled.
then they wanted me to try some of their organic high-high weed, so once again i found myself back in santa rosa in a motel eating fast food and smoking a huge blunt. the guy was like 'because i can't smoke, every second toke you take you have to hold in for 30 seconds'. i did and then i could barely walk, they were new lovers to each other and were eager for me to go so they could romp, so we got back int he 2007 chevy and suddenly we were stopped at a gas station and they were pointing towards the freeway. i could hardly think, so i grabbed as much of my stuff as i could and said a cheery goodbye.. as i stepped onto the tarmac a police cruiser slowly cruised passed me, my heart skipped a beat (hitchhiking is illegal, i have never got any bother but my state of appearance with shocking red eye meant there was potential for problems). i realised they had dropped me in about the worst place ever to try and get a ride back onto the freeway (i was about 70 miles from san fran), there were roadworks where i would normally have hitched from, cars whizzing by in every direction, pollution and no shade. so i sat down and tried to gather my thoughts and hitched.
but no rides for ages and i was getting a bit weary, then out of nowhere this little old bum appears, much like the one at the beginning of kerouac's dharma bums which i was and am reading, who told me it would be better to hitch round the corner. i told him i would never get picked up there because that area was full of roadworks. he told me to trust him and walked off. so i walked around the corner, and lo and behold there is a big cardboard sign in the dirt saying
with a littel smiley face, and i was like NICE ONE! and picked it up and IMMEDIATELY this little white VW polo pulls up, and we are in the middle of a busy lane of traffic so i hold all my stuff to my chest and jump in, turn to the driver and it is this girl, and we look at each other for about 3 seconds, stopped with shit loads of traffic piling up behind us and had this crazy connection, can't put it into words, maybe you know what i mean, it has never happened to me like that before, and we said hello, and then she drove, and we didn't look at each other again for a minute, was funny but in a very warm way, and she was only going 5 miles down the road and we started chatting, and after preliminaries i was like 'what are you all about' and she was like straight away 'happiness' like she had anticipated the question, and i was like 'thats funny, me too!' and then we chatted some more, and she had been grocery shopping and was only going 5 miles down the road, and i said that was a shame that she wasn't driving further cos i was enjoying her company, and she was like 'im going to drive further' and in the end she drove me all the way to san fransisco!!! like an hour away or something. and we had such similar life stories, similar parents, similar problems, similar ways of dealing with said problems, i think that was the main thing, like the sea of life had both rounded us in the same way and it was like there was nothing to say and it was just nice to share space with her, and i was obviously still very stoned from the blunt and was struggling to express myself well, but i managed a stirring few words on my views on activism and how that fits into every day life, justification of existence and happiness, and she said i was inspiring, but then she told me about her life, and she is a rock for the people around her whilst she tries to keep her own head above water and i told her that i wasn't the inspiring one, she was, i was just floating around california like a child in a womb, no worries, she was one of the people that are the dam that stops the tide of human suffering overwhelming everything and it was a shame she was driving because i wanted to hug her tight. then we got over the golden gate bridge and we stopped and got out and i played mbira to her with every fibre i could muster and then we said bye.
and then i sat for a while on fisherman's wharf and let that wave pass over me and then i had a huge pang to go and see rich and ernie, i wasn't sure whether they were back from their cruise but i decided to chance it, walked a long way but got there, and they were in (first they thought i was a cold caller and didn't answer the door) and whoop home for a moment, artichokes and happy conversation, ernie thought the photo of him with simon made him look old, it didn't, then an exceeding comfortable and warm night. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm i fell asleep thinking i had answered my questions about trips and goals. i dreamed about love.
and i only lost my mobile, my california lonely planet and max's stove, a good weekends work.
' why do you call a car park a car park when a park is somewhere there are trees?'
'do you call trees trees in england?'
alice recorded me playing Mbira and then overdubbed some lovely guitar and vocals on top. you can here it on her myspace page, its called bukatiende www.myspace.com/alicemacleansmith
fuck i now have a continuous line of hair between my collar bone and my pubes, i think i am getting close to being a man, scary stuff, im going to be 21 in less than a month (gutted that i have missed an entire year of 21st birthday parties) and i still consider myself only containing a little recepticle of knowlege, last night max and all that crew had some hardcore mudwrestling and although i could see the greatness of it in theory, i just didn't really feel like doing it, i went and played and talked quietly about music with a guy from my latin american class, then went to see jono who has been on a hunger strike for the last 8 days (admirable) and then bed before midnight. i don't want to grow up but it kind of seems inevitable. maybe i just need some botox. but then i look around me and so many older people are so immature, maybe age has two meanings
oh wow check out this article http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6654175.stm
china, capitalism, corpse, comedy
so i have about 3 weeks left, agenda items
record definitive music with max and others
write short notes to people telling them they are excellent and thank you and that they should stop worrying
mum coming in a couple of weeks, we are borrowing jonos trailer, i am actually really looking forward to it (another sign of growing up)
write some sort of eulogy to america, i have lots to say but hard to crystalise it
spend at least 2/3 days on a drunken rampage with jono et al and rip some stuff up
oh no im suddenly spent, once again i read my words back and they seem very self indulgent, so forgive me, but who gives a fuck you can see me soon and berate me face to face :)