The old college friends for whom I wrote this, my 55th Class Reunion Report (submitted 54 years after graduating from Harvard, ab 1963), are now in their early 80’s. With financial assets generally 10 to 1,000 times larger than ours, they’re from the social class into which Mitsuko and I were born, the people we refer to as “the birthies”, the people we sing about in our songs.
Written not long after we’d mistakenly declared our music dead, we were bravely trying to accept a very major loss.
The text is exactly what I sent off, but we’ve added links to other pages of our site and sprinkled in a few pictures.
I didn’t realize it then, but walking out of graduate school meant stepping off the escalator to success, meant a life of often being a bit short of funds.
But Mitsuko and I have never been poor. With luck, work, and skill, we’ve lived like maharajahs on what we’ve had, on little more than a couple thousand a month.
The car we bought used 19 years ago for $800 is falling apart, but does just fine for local shopping. The decaying 8-room house we rent for $1,100 on the edge of the Pittsfield slums, under our care has become a Bauhaus eclectic Asian temple of a home.
To be sure the kitchen counters are only fake marble, but they’re 10 feet long. The gas stove with one knob missing cooks us infinite elegant meals. The gouges in the hard wood floors, the old nail holes pockmarking the walls, are hidden by rugs, batiks, paintings, and framed prints. Uncanny clean together rich and magical, our place protects us, it’s a privilege to live here.
However back to Taos, which is where we were when I sent in my last report. It was the winter of 2013, past the half-way point of our decade in that trashed Shangri La. We’d been there long enough to see the deep sky grow dirty and the stars dim, the locals get brutalized, the Anglos lose their hope. We knew it was time to move on, but we still loved the place and were dragging our feet….
Until one freezing morning I slipped, hard smashed hip and knee on the ice…..
It was god awful. I couldn’t walk. My left leg wouldn’t support me, I could move it only with my hands. Thigh and butt shrank to half their size. The future looked grim, I had no insurance, never before had I healed myself from anything quite so serious. Nights were hell, days I stewed in our most comfortable chair devouring Hornblower, Cellini, Mailer, anything to take me out of my miserable now. The three weeks before I could stand felt like forever. But then picking carefully from years of tai chi, aikido, dance, and yoga, I cobbled together a rehab program and with it quickly trained myself back to strength. Hanging onto walls and furniture, soon I could haul myself into the kitchen to cut vegetables, do dishes. Next came unsupported steps. Within six months I was back to more or less full power. Now my leg is almost normal, and 10 miles is a stiff but doable walk. If we’d had money for doctors, they’d have carved me up and quite possibly I’d be walking with a cane.
The “catastrophe” threw me back into exercise mode, and these days except for inevitable rot my health is better than it’s been for years. My resting pulse is in the low 50’s, my waist is less than 29 inches. Of course since I keep my head shaved, as I’ve shed pounds I look more and more like ET. There just doesn’t seem to be much to do about that. And my mouth is a bit of a disaster area, with gaps between my remaining teeth. But Mitsuko loves me anyway, and chewing’s no problem since we cook our own food and don’t eat meat.
The catastrophe also sped up our departure from Taos. “Move while we still can” became the mantra. As we saw it, the essential thing was to not get stuck. So for real we started looking at possibilities, and within months had settled on Pittsfield, Massachusetts as our new home. We’d never been there, but the Berkshires are beautiful, and Wikipedia told us the town had no serious academic presence, low per capita income, and a population which had shrunk from 70 to 40 thousand since GE started pulling out in the 60’s. Also it wasn’t far south enough for fire ants, killer bees, and Zikka, nor North enough for minus 40. Plus we knew no one who lived there, it would be a clean break. The deal was clinched by the words of a hip acquaintance, “Pittsfield is the sort of place I make sure to drive around.” It sounded perfect!
In September 2014 we loaded up the biggest truck U-haul rents, a “jumbo” with a fierce wild crane painted on its side, hitched our little car behind it, and pointed its nose east. Fueled by endless sandwiches made by Mitsuko as we drove (peanut-butter strawberry-jam on wheat bread, bought in Walmarts with big parking lots near the interstates), plunging through infinite seemingly identical cities, after six surreal days we were here. The whole thing, the packing loading driving unloading, took us way beyond exhaustion, but in our life to get stuff done, often that’s what we must do, it’s why we’ve developed a bit of worker strength.
Now three years later we’re amazed with so little information we made such a fine choice. Pittsfield’s going to hell, but it’s been doing it for so long no one finds it terribly disturbing. Our air’s much cleaner than in the pricey Connecticut valley burgs, almost real mountain air, and since no one has money we feel right at home. You see more people with cigarettes in their mouths than cell phones glued to their ears. It’s a precious fossilized relic of old America. Call us naive romantics, but to our eyes the tree-lined quiet slum streets look elegant, and and we know they’re livable. To be sure the local politicians dream of turning the place into a big brother of chic Great Barrington. Downtown they’re putting state of the art computer parking meters everywhere, clearly hoping poor people will get the hint, go away, make room for a renaissance. But the town isn’t listening and each year there are more boarded up buildings.
So we’ve thrived. With pick, shovel, trowel, weeder, rake, and hoe, with more of that unavoidable back breaking labor, we tamed the chaos in our back yard, turned it from a cane infested vacant lot covered by foot deep drifts of disgusting compacted garbage, into an urban oasis, a space with lawns, flowers, and a small productive vegetable garden. We installed a new wordpress theme, figured out tagged links, and deepened untravelledpath.com into a densely interconnected document unlike anything else on the web. For the first time in 10 years we went to Japan, where we charmed and were charmed by Mitsuko’s family.
Slowly the dust settled. One by one we scratched residual matters off the list. Then in the summer of 2017 we finally felt grounded enough to start work on a fourth CD. Crossing our fingers and toes, we dove into recording ….
….only to smash into an invisible wall. Nothing worked. We tried different combinations of our instruments and different miking. We tried over-dubbing. We tried recording in the morning, we tried in the afternoon. No matter how we wiggled, it all sounded busy and lame.
But we’re often a little slow to understand the obvious, so for 4 months we stubbornly continued to knock our heads against that wall. Until eventually after one particularly disappointing recording session we realized we didn’t need to do it.
We’d already had an outrageous 25 year run with our music. We’d recorded a world class CD, shown it’s still possible to create elegant music that’s truly different, invented and with our own hands built a small ensemble of unusual instruments, and on our website explored why conventional music is going nowhere (excessive dependence on simplistic mathematical theory, misidentification of music with performance, materialistic infatuation with large groups of musicians and pointlessly complicated soundscapes, disappearance of local musical styles, etc.)
To insist on wringing more accomplishment from our music trip would be greed. Greed which if we didn’t watch out would cost us our happy.
In fact in our recent recording we could already hear it happening. Terrifying. Suddenly everything fit. Of course we couldn’t find that zone or slide into an effortless together groove. We were too uptight. Too concerned with making the CD that would finally do it. Our state of mind was totally wrong for weaving magic.
The conclusion was inescapable. If we didn’t chuck this being “Musicians” with a capital “M” thing, we’d be throwing good time after bad. At best we’d record a so-so CD, and the cost could easily be our love of music.
Besides up to now we’d gotten along just fine without any official identity. More than fine. If instead we’d done what we were supposed to do, stayed on a well travelled path to some generally approved of existence, we’d never have found our way into so many different lives.
Maybe after all we had to bow to that wall. It had alerted us to the dangerous turn we’d taken towards the grim, to a shrinkage that had snuck up on us while we’d been busy trying to be good.
Anyway since we had no positions from which we had to retire or resign and no successors to train, backing off from music was easy and remarkably painless. For a couple of days we felt unsettled. “What the hell are we now?” But then we noticed we were smiling more, noticed we had more time to do what we really wanted to do, more time for fun. And at last we were free to write about things other than music.
Of course we’ll continue to sell Work In Progress. We could use the money, and since nothing else out there sounds even remotely like it, the CD comes with no “best by” date. “Your music is timeless” is the way the dairy guy in our supermarket put it. Or in the words of a native American story teller, “The world needs your music”.
Someday they’ll start finding us, all those people who’ve given up looking for music that’s different, who’ve lost all hope of hearing magic in anything new, who desperately need to chill, who night after miserable night lie awake unsleeping. There are billions of them.