Silly Grins

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dreamers: A Renegade Harpist

You could have heard his music if you were somewhere in Northern Europe during any number of the summer seasons in the 1990's. From the crowded streets of Amsterdam where virtually "anything goes" to the mile-long pedestrian streets in Copenhagen where the gorgeous blondes are noticeably not into wearing bras...and on to the heavy drinking crowds in Oslo where knife fights are not all that uncommon.

Yeah, some people have seen their 'fair share' of this 'n that.

This post is about a number a things, but most of all, this is about dreamers.
And what can happen.

Neck (Introduction)

Recently, he put out his autobiography. It's all there, a lifetime worth of anecdotes. Wisdom too. Yep, plenty of that; more than enough for one sitting.

His autobiography has become one of my URBs, an Unexpected Reference Book, part of that collection. URBs are the kind of stories that come to mind when you are going through life and maybe need some perspective that deals with the big "what fuck is it all about" question. URBs tend to have well-worn covers with dog-eared pages, loyally waiting with their hi-liter yellow stains...books you want to keep around until you are gone.

Yeah...this is one of those books that is hard to put down, yet the sheer weight of what is going down makes it impossible to hang onto through one sitting. 

And to think that it was a gift. Sometimes people just get lucky. Sometimes...

The author? He's a musician...not a writer. But if you give him a chance, he's got some stories, rough and tumble. Life as a street musician is never easy.


This actually has got a lot to do with dreams, the people who live them, and what it takes. Dreamers wouldn't have it any other way, would they?

One set of heavy pages made me stop. Made me stop because the weight deals with something linked to Verity's Chains, only this isn't fiction. And it is not a dream. Only, I have no idea what to make of it, but there is a lesson in there somewhere. My minds eye can't quite see through that blanket of mental fog, but I can hear something...gotta be real still...and real quiet.

Body (Pablo's)

(If you haven't given Chains a glance, you might want to do so now. Only take a moment or two... gives all of this some sense of perspective, " the links fell apart and slithered to the ground he didn’t smile, or dance, or shout for joy..." )

Okay, here it is, as the Renegade tells it:

We were driving along a country road and we saw a guy wearing a white robe walking along the shoulder.

"Hey, there's Pablo. Let's stop and give him a ride. He's that amazing percussionist I was telling you you guys about."

So we picked up this emaciated fellow who had decided a year before to become a "Christian" which to him meant giving away all his worldly possessions, (even his conga drums) and just asking people for whatever he needed in life--basic things like food and shelter. Eventually, he became exhausted and extremely lonely. When we met him, his health was failing and he was dying to get back into music. We invited him to join our band. Ginger and I brought him home to Seattle, fed him, fattened him up and loaned him a little money so he could get some new drums and reestablish himself in society, which he did in short order.

The guy was a genius at anything he put his mind to. He spoke multiple languages, which he seemed to learn effortlessly, and played a mean guitar. After a beer or two, he'd sing and improvise brilliant song lyrics. (We never managed to have the tape recorder running at those times though.)

Pablo had a fascinating background. He had grown up in Manhattan with his mother and sister. His parents divorced when he was two. His mother allegedly insisted that her shrink had told her the best thing she could possibly do for her kids was to have nothing to do with them. So young Pablo grew up largely unsupervised. He could come and go from their apartment, more or less as he pleased.

When he was just nine, his mother took him to the jungles of Peru where they lived for a year with a native tribe. She wrote a book about the experience and her experiments with hallucinogenic vines ("To Hunt in the Morning" by Janet Siskind). They ate tapir hearts, monkey brains and enormous blue fish from the river. Pablo was physically the size of teenaged boys in the tribe so they assumed he was much older and expected him to hunt jaguars and have sex with women at his tender young age.

When he returned a year later to Manhattan after that exotic, worldly experience, he was truly lost and life was a tremendous struggle. At the age of fourteen, he ran away from home for good. He spent years traveling through Central and South America, studying Afro-Cuban drumming from great masters and mastering Spanish and various native dialects.

And what music we played! Pablo performed with us for a year or so and our collaborations with the dance company took on a whole new level. Man, did he force me to develop my sense of rhythm. He was a monster conga drummer with distinctively original riffs. Then, one day, he up and quit and abruptly went to Ecuador to start a business importing sweaters. Not long after that, he switched gears, returned to college at Evergreen for a stint studying naval warfare. Slowly, he became a full-fledged paranoid schizophrenic, haunted by voices, and finally he took his own life -- an event that deeply touched my friends and me as well as the rest of my family whom he had adopted.

Foot (Afterthought)

If it's true that the mist can be burned off, I'm not too sure if I'm ready for what I might find.  Blogging is something obviously new to me, but definitely worth the time wherever it can be found.

So, what's this got to do with dreamers? Plenty, I'm sure. 

By the way, this blog entry is dedicated to Kathryn. After reading her 'Living the dream can be a nightmare' post, I made the 'tend to do so with the understanding that it isn't easy' comment with the renegade harpist's story in mind; he's one of the many 'open-eyed dreamers' whose existence reminds me that trying to fit one's reality into society's rules makes as much sense as continuing to live like a rat, live like a rat chasing chunks of cheese in a tricked-out maze. 

Why continue to play along when you know you could be looking for another way out? Why not look for a way out instead of preparing to chew through whoever is in front of you? 

Maybe it all depends on where we find ourselves when, and if, we ever wake up. 

*(Shot from the hip, edit it later...maybe)


  1. Nice post Will, great story. Some sparks just burn out too quickly in this world...

  2. One of the hardest things in life sometimes can be knowing when you are being a quitter and when you truly need to take another path.

  3. Pablo's story, as told by Mr. Michael, is somehow very disturbing. I keep thinking that a fair number of really 'bright' people tend to have difficulties in playing along with the rules of society. "Burn out too quickly..." There's definitely a feeling that his departure was somehow premature.

  4. Kathryn: Knowing the difference takes something like wisdom...which seems to be lacking. That feeling of "I should be taking another path" can be quite hard to come to terms with.

    Congratulations on your new job.