THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD?

The Little Engine Doesn't Run Here Anymore

The Little Engine Doesn’t Run Here Anymore

For years I have thought of myself as a lyricist only.  My claim is that I can play guitar well enough to write songs, but I am not a guitar player.  My self image is that because I only play rhythm guitar, I am not really a musician.  I have learned recently just how wrong I have been all these years!

It all started with a Christmas CD I wanted to do. I had a few Christmas songs written, and I really wanted to do a CD for last Christmas, it was October and time was running out.  I wrote the needed songs to fill out the CD, and started to record.  I realized that I need more instrumentation than just a rhythm guitar and a harmonica.  I needed steel guitar, mandolin and synth sounds to fill in and complete each song and to help each song be unique.  I also realized that I had no studio musicians to hand to whom I could turn the songs over, and get the sounds I wanted.  I realized it was up to me if I was going to get anything at all.

I began learning how to play the needed instruments.  Not well, and certainly at a master-level, but good enough to fill in and make interesting the recorded songs.

I began recording my practice sessions track by track.  I would work on a line here and a line there.  Just hoping that I would eventually have enough good sections to piece together and get something interesting enough out of to use in the overall recording.

It came together.  It was hard, but I got it done.  At first I was skeptical of the finished product, but then again I have several friends who are accomplished producers, tell me they liked the album.  It’s titled, “Cactus Christmas Tree,” and you can find it at, http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/hilarymarckx2 if you want to check it out.  It could be better, but by doing it I got the courage to do another one, which will be a whole lot better.

CK Chesterton once wrote something to the effect, “If something is worth doing at all, it is worth doing poorly.”  I take this to mean that if we just put off doing something until we can do it with perfection, it may never get done.  But that we should start and just get it done.

I remember a little book my mother used to read to my sister and me titled, “The Little Engine that Could.”  The story has a very small engine with a very big load, on a very steep grade.  All the way up the grade the little engine says, “I think I can!  I think I can!  I think I can!”  Then after it finally makes the summit it says, “I knew I could!  I knew I could!  I knew I could.”  But sometimes you don’t know you can until after the fact.  Now I know.

Success is a product of dreams come true.  You start with the dream.  You work/struggle/fight/create through the process, and then, sometimes surprisingly, you succeed.  Then, success breeds more success.

I am now in the final stages of a new project.  It is for a Broadway Musical, and as usual, it is a hell of a lot bigger than I am.  I have just completed several of the close-to-final mixes and I am getting excited.  Much if it is way out of my genre and much more complex than I have ever attempted.

Out where I live the trains have ceased to run.  The long, lonely, whistles have ceased their calls.  The clack-clacks of steel wheels on steel rails have been silenced.  But in my mind there is a small child who still remembers the steam and call of a whistle in the night.  And a too small engine that challenges me to attempt the impossible.

More to come on this.

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CARL PERKINS — success & choices

Patching It Together

Livin’ Life Big

Not so long ago I watched a video with Carl Perkins and Paul McCartney.  They were talking about their own lives and Carl was talking about the fateful car wreck that changed his life.  He and his band were on their way to New York City (I believe) to play on the Perry Como Show.  Their car crossed over the center line and hit another car head-on.  That crash put the breaks on his rise to stardom, and he watched Elvis Presley, as well as a host of others, soar to stardom, playing his songs.

In the video Carl said that he was lying in his hospital bed, and and had the thought that he could not hang onto what he had lost, but only to what he still had.  WOW!!!  He also said that for many years he was never on stage, but always behind the scenes.  Then he looked at the camera and thanked us who bought his records for the birthday parties, vacations, bicycles and for the lifestyle he was able to have because of the success of the songs he wrote.  This one quote is worth the 45 minutes of time I spent watching an already great video.  What a lesson!

It’s a lesson too many of us learn either too late, or we don’t learn at all.  I know so many really great musicians with really bad attitudes.  Never willing to work gratefully with what fate dishes out, but ready to carp, complain, and whine about everything from the people who give them work, to all the other lousy musicians who have made it big, because the industry wouldn’t know a good sound (such as theirs) if it bit them in the ass.  Whoa cowboys, ease up on the two-gun nastiness!

We all know someone (maybe ourselves), who has used their bad attitude to burn all their bridges, lose jobs, stifle their chances at even a modicum of success.  I used to work at a drug and alcohol rehab center where I heard many such stories.  One stands out.  One of the men I counseled had been in the really bad-ass Cell Block “D” of Leavenworth Federal Prison.  After getting out he began using drugs, and selling.  He told me that at one time he carried something like four Glocks and six hunting knives on his person at all times.  Through his violence, he also took a fix-it ticket and worked it into a prison term at a maximum security prison.  There is no end to what a bad attitude and a depressed state of mind can accomplish.

BUT on the other side of the attitude coin there is true success.  I was there on that bad attitude side of the coin, and it took me from being a nationally known photographer to losing business, my car, my house, also my mind and close to my family.  I discovered some self motivational materials and gave them a try.  Well not the first time.

The first time I gave them to a friend who was losing everything, and they turned him totally around.  But while he was turning around, I was spinning in a free fall to the bottom of the tank.  Once I hit, I was re-introduced to similar materials as I gave my friend, and this time I was ready to believe it.  So don’t say that I know not of what I write.

I should say here that whatever it is you believe is absolutely correct.  So if you believe everyone is out to get you, they probably are.  If you believe that all the good musicians are broke and won’t make it because the industry only wants to produce trash, you are right.  If you have convinced yourself that you have to sell your ass and your principles and your art to get anyone to listen to you, bang on the spot.

Paul Quinnett writes in his book, Pavlov’s Trout: The Incomplete Psychology of Everyday Fishing, that he understands two approaches to life.  The first he terms, The Depressive’s Reality; the other, The Delusional Fisher’s Reality.  And of course as I am writing this I cannot find the damn book to get an accurate quote, but here, in my own words, is what I remember him writing.

Quinnett claims that the Depressive will make absolutely logical (for them) claims of why things will not work.  These claims sound completely rational and will bring failure every time because what they predict sounds so right.  The Delusional Fisher, on a other side of reality, just sort of believes that the next cast will catch the illusive fish sought after all day.  The motto for the Delusional Fisher is, “Just one more cast!”  If that fisher is a Depressive, when darkness settles in they are already washed up, well fed, and in front of the TV, while the Delusional is still making that one more cast and waiting for that fish.  Eventually the Delusional, if no fish are caught, will need to be dragged from the stream or lake by well-meaning friends who will end up enduring a tide of vitriol until some fish, on maybe another day, is actually caught.

A Depressive not only understands the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Entropy, but believes in it.  The Delusional Fisher won’t even consider such a theory.  The theory of Entropy holds that all energy seeks a common ground or state of being.  That common state is always cooler, slower, lower, calmer, less, but stable and constant.  And, there ya go!  And yes, we all will dissolve into paste; and yes, probably no one will even remember us in one hundred years; and yes, it is probably good enough for government work and the women we hang with; and yes, so what, so who gives a shit; and, yes that is possible, but it ain’t very probable; and yes, and yes, and yes…  We’ve all heard ’em, and we’ve probably all used a few of them never realizing just how devastating statements like those are to our success.

Years ago, when I was trying desperately to get something to work for me, and I was starting to consider the possibility of songwriting, I was bar-tending in a little dive down on the waterfront side of Sacramento, California.  Sometimes business was non-existent so I would take my guitar down there and leave it out so I could practice it when no one was there.  One night this kat strolls in, order a beer and sits off to himself and sips on it.  Pretty soon he comes over to the bar and asks me if that was my guitar.  I said that it was.  He asks me if he played it gently, could he play it a little.  I said he could.  Well he starts doing some intricate finger-picking runs and he started really getting my attention.  I start watching his left hand, and I notice a pleat-like pattern that goes all around his wrist, and I realize it is a scar.  I asked him about it, and he informs me that he had been in a car wreck some years prior, and his hand was cut off.  He said that he was told that he would never use that hand again.  He also said that he figured if that was true, that it was time for him to learn how to play guitar.  I knew right then and there that some of us say “can’t,” some of us say “maybe,” and some of us actually commit to “yes.”

I have made some really bad decisions in my life.  I have made some really great ones.  The most powerful one I have ever made was to step past all my manufactured fears and to yell, “yes,” at my life.  Life is worth living with as many yeses as possible.

At this point I can almost hear you asking, So, what does the term, “success” mean to you? For me it means finding joy in what you are doing.  It is important to make a living at what we love most, so we can continue doing it.  But success is not determined by any outside force, it is determined by our own inner source.  My advice is to set your goal as high as you can, and never be satisfied with less, and like a true Delusional, settle nothing less than the big one.  Yet, to also find meaning and hope and joy in whatever level of success you have attained.  It is at this point many get confused, lose focus, and turn on the self-destruct mode.  Never confuse true success with outward achievements.

Learn to adjust and adapt.  If I am not catching fish, I try another fly.  I anticipate what flies I will use during the Winter when I am tying them, but I also take a portable fly-tying kit with me to the stream where I can tie what might be hatching that I don’t have.  The same is true with pitching songs I have written.  I have learned that a rejection will probable be an acceptance somewhere else.  I find places where I can conform my art to the needs of the industry, and I hold some areas back just for me and my art and style.  It is fun.  I find joy.  I do not make a whole bunch of money but every day I am thankful for the successes, and failures, I have had and will have.  My name is Hilary and I am a Delusional!

The video is about 45 minutes long, but if you wish to watch it here is is — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bmn6vWgXS3M&feature=fvwp&NR=1

ON AGE, BEAUTY, AND PERFORMING…

Broken Hearts & A Little Bite

Broken Hearts & A Little Bite

A really powerful and essential question was asked recently, How do you guys feel about becoming a performer over the age of 30?  Do you feel it is ever too late to become a live performer?  It was the beginning of an ongoing conversation I got into late on a LInkedin site, and I liked the question a lot, so I thought I’d try to answer it in this blog

I have performed at open mics since God made dirt, but in my late fifties, I decided to see what I could do at a professional level. I think you need to pick the level at which you want to perform and shoot for that. Some realism is in order, however. I mean, if you are 70 which I will be in August, don’t be disappointing if the twenty-year-olds aren’t screaming at you, or hitting on you or you can’t get hired for their bars. AND if they do don’t confuse your music and wall of sound with your sex appeal. I played with a band up until two years ago and then decided to start concentrating on pitching my own songs, which is doing OK, and playing as a solo act. It’s harder to get gigs, but I like me best, so it seems to work out well.

SO, to answer the question straight on, Where there is a will, there is always a niche, or a venue. You will need both to make it, but if you target your market correctly, make it you will. Best of luck to you! 

Yesterday I played at a venue where there were lots and lots of musicians, a good crowd of fans of all ages, great wine, and lots of camaraderie.  I had this post on my mind as I looked around the space.  What struck me was what age differences there were.  What also struck me was that crowd response had little or nothing to do with age.  When good was played, it was paid attention to.  And there is something extra about good.  If you want to perform, no matter what your age, if you are good, you will be listened to.  I saw a young girl, probable around 15, go on stage who was an accomplished singer/songwriter/guitar player and all the conversation stopped and the crowd listened.  The same happened with a few men at 60+.  When I finished my set I had 20-year olds come up to me and thank me for my music.  Age seems less a factor than being exceptionally good.  Also,  it seems that while labels are not so inclined to sign Rockabillies, fans are really inclined to listen.  So at 70, with a few broken hearts and a little bite, my style/genre seems to go over just fine.   Actually, I do think genre has a lot to do with fan acceptance.

However, with all that said, I do believe that some show promoters are much more finicky than are the audiences and fans.  The fans come to have fun and listen to good music; the promoters are more concerned with second guessing the fans and making bucks.  But still, if you have product, meaning charisma and groove on stage, age is no issue.

Now if you are considering attaining stardom in the immature and bland  pop market, good luck if you are over 15.  Just how it works.

More Fish/More Grace in 2010


It is only fitting that on the last day of the year, in the last few minutes of light, on the night of a blue moon, and just when it was beginning to rain, I caught a fish.  It was not a large as steelhead go, but it was large enough for me.  It is what is called a “half-pounder,” and it took my reel out seven or eight times.  I landed it and then I let it go.  I caught it on some kind of orange contraption I purchased instead of tied, using a 10′ 6wt fly rod.  Fishing is a mystical experience.  Catching fish is like drinking an ice cold beer on a hot day from the frosted holy grail.

When I arrived at the Cloverdale Airport, which is really two strips of asphalt carved into the upper Alexander Valley below Cloverdale, the sky was leaden and heavy and was spitting short bursts of rain, but nothing that concerned me.  I am a fisher-person, intrepid, resistant to the elements, and besides that fairly manly–but only if you ask me and not Cherie or my kids.

The ground was wet and I wondered if I should take my slicker, but I chose not to do so, manly you know.  My boots are lined with gore-tex, and I wasn’t wading (next time), so I thought I could stay fairly dry.  I did.  It never really got around to raining until I was on my way out.

The air was so thick I could almost drink it.  The light was so silver I could almost spend it.  And the water ran like liquid steel.  I walked in this like one who has been blessed–and I have.  My life is as good as it has ever been.  It has been better in 2009 than most almost all of the front part of it, and it will get better.

This past year I have been gifted with the ability to recognize the goodness and grace that surrounds me in the midst of some real shit.  The world seems to be at war.  Friends are losing homes and lifestyles.   Cherie and I are financial wrecks.  But the goodness and grace goes on!

Somewhere in the midst of the chaos I have been gifted with deep, inner peace.  While it might be said that I have simply gone wackers and lost what little sense I had, I think it is something else.  I have a needlepoint sampler on my wall given to me by an old woman whom I love very much, Lorena.  It says, “A fisherman is a jerk at one of the line waiting for a jerk at the other.”  This is so good!

I am claiming at the end of this year, that the jerk holding the line has finally hooked himself, and it was a catch well made.  I have learned to love, but more importantly, I have learned to allow myself to be loved!

I believe this year, after sixty-six years of faking it I may have finally made it–I think I have finally become self-aware enough to be able to discern the difference between that which is seriously dangerous to me and my life, and is spirit threatening, and that which is simply inconvenient and annoying, and no where close to a tragedy.  And the grace here is to be able to inhale the goodness and exhale the bad–and the grace tastes like life itself.

I am looking forward to more fish and to more grace in 2010.