The Grace of Music-Take your Time

paul-shaffer“his carefree feeling about time …….. was coming from a higher spiritual plane”

From We’ll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin’ Show-biz Saga by Paul Shaffer.

Every time I called Sammy Davis Jr. to try and select a song or discuss rehearsal he was either working or sleeping. He never did return my calls. The morning of the show I was feeling some panic. Sammy was flying in, and we still didn’t know what he wanted to sing. At 10 a.m., the floor manager said I had a backstage call. It was Sammy calling from the plane.

‘Once in My Life’ will be fine, Paul’ he said. ‘Key of E going into F.’

‘Great!’ I was relieved. I was also eager to work out an arrangement. … We whipped up a chart, nursed it, rehearsed it, and put it on tape. That way when Sammy arrived, he could hear it. Then another backstage call. Sammy’s plane had landed early, and he was on his way over. When I greeted him at the backstage door with a big ‘We’re thrilled you’re here’ I was a little taken aback. He looked extremely tired and frail. He walked with a cane.

‘We have an arrangement, Sam. You can rehearse it with the band.’

‘No need, baby. Gotta conserve my energy. I’m just gonna go to my room and shower.’

‘I wanna make it easy for you. So I’ll just play you a tape of the arrangement on the boom box. That way you’ll hear what we’ve done and tell me if it’s okay.’

‘Man, I know the song.’

‘I know, Sam,’ I said, ‘but what if you don’t like the chart?’

‘I’ll like it, I’ll like it.’

‘But what if the key’s not right?’

‘Okay, if you insist.’

“I slipped the cassette in the boom box and hit ‘play.’ To my ears the chart sounded great. Sammy closed his eyes and, in Sammy style, nodded his head up and down to the groove. He smiled.

‘It’s swinging man,’ he said ‘but think of how much more fun we could have had if I hadn’t heard this tape.’

His words still resonate in my ears; the notion still haunts me. Sammy swung that night but as he was performing I couldn’t help thinking that his carefree feeling about time — as opposed to my lifelong notion of the pressure of the time — was coming from a higher spiritual plane. As a musician, I’ve always thought I rushed. I still think I rush. The great players never rush. It reminds me of that moment when I watched Ray Charles turn to his guitarist, just as the young guy was about to solo, and say ‘Take your time son. Take your time.’

Welcome to 2015!

Hope you’all had a wonderful holiday season. Here’s some movies that touched my heart and I want to recommend.

On the serious side, ‘Frontera’ is the story of a collision between cultures on the Mexican border. A rancher’s wife dies while out horse riding (ably played by Ed Harris and his real-life wife Amy Madigan). At times painful yet honest, the movie paints a bit more of the picture immigration covers than our representatives would lead us to understand.

‘The International’ is a great expose on how things run globally, camouflaged as a shoot-em-up action adventure. Showcasing the always superb Clive Owen, he is supported by an all-star cast (Armin Mueller-Stahl, Naomi Watts). A story based on the real-life exploitations of two secretive and long standing financial corporations — the Canadian-based Permindex Trade Organization and the Pakistani-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), here-in lies the shadow darkness that if seen, will lead us to a better more human way to do business.

chef‘Chef’ got mediocre reviews which leads me to wonder about reviewers. A joyous romp of fun, beauty, and cultural exploration, asking the always-needed question, “What is most important in this life?” Food is a wonderful vehicle that teaches so much and transports us through this journey of a chef’s effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family. And, ‘Chef’ has great music, a top-notch soundtrack, something movies pay less attention to these days.

I’ll end with ‘Still Mine’, a tender jewel of a movie that deserves wider viewing. It stars two masters of the screen at the peak of their powers, the beloved James Cromwell (of ‘Babe’ fame, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) and Geneviève Bujold (of French- Canadian ancestry, star of numerous European, Canadian and America films). Cultural topics abound in this quiet treatise on aging, self-reliance, God-reliance, government bureaucracy, wood + carpentry and more. This film got little attention when released but nothing diminishes its beauty, power, and lasting impact on those who seek it out. It brings to mind a quote from William James, an American philosopher and psychologist who was trained as a physician and was a Grandfather to 12 Step, “There is an organic affinity between joyousness and tenderness, and their companionship in the saintly life need in no way occasion surprise.”

Recovery Trainings Beginning in 2015

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Merry Christmas from #RecoveryNC

the-wound-is-where-light-entersThis is my final missive for 2014 as I will be off over the holidays. I have a desire to share something that may not seem Christmassy, so bear with me.

The spiritual path says that no thing is responsible for my feelings. No person, no event, no thing outside of myself is ultimately responsible for my feelings. Yet I am finding myself just not getting into the spirit of Christmas as is my wont. I mean, I just love Christmas, which, I am chagrinned to admit, is annoying to a significant percentage of the population. It’s an intrinsic gut sort of thing, permission to let the little boy still inside of me out and believe in all things good. So I’m still enjoying the thought of the impending holidays but it’s not to the decibel level I usually feel. I don’t know, but it seems to me it’s the news.

Ferguson and other shootings, beloved comedian is serial rapist, profound immigration insanity, football violence and UNC/Collegiate sports inappropriateness, the slow death of my hometown-Detroit, once the industrial capital of the world and on-and-on. Not to forget the broader picture of increasing poverty, disease and homelessness at home while we increase war around the world. They actually told us this War on Terror would be a 40 year war and they meant it. Unthinkable and so stupid.

And let’s face it, I’m just getting started. For example I am studiously avoiding ecological topics. It is painful, absurd, “negative” even, to write all this down in a holiday letter. Yet it feels like the times warrant some comment.

To me, the issue starts and mostly rests on our profound denial of so much here in America. I have been watching cops shoot black teens since the late 1950’s. Seriously. It does go in waves, as does much of life but this is not remotely a new thing, it’s as old as the hills. Of course, there are many facets to it, such as the hard job police have and the over-all stress of the job. But let’s be clear people, we have been militarizing the police with equipment and training for decades. What’s the problem with that, you ask? The problem is that police are taught not to shoot and the military are taught TO shoot. It is insane for us to live as though we citizens are combatants in our own land. And however bad acting those teens are, they are my brother citizens in my country. They deserve so much more. We have been creating a serious permanent underclass for decades in this country while beefing up the militarization of the police. For decades. Does that sound ……prudent?! Advisable for the greatest good of all?! It all reminds me of that 1965 quote from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, “I ain’t black but there’s a whole lot of times I wish I could say I wasn’t white”. I point out the age of the quote because to these eyes we have spent the last thirty years getting more segregated from each other, not less. Further apart not closer. The thing is, we know better. We have the knowledge and the understanding to turn this ship in a truer direction. We just don’t seem to have the will.

Which is why it gives me wonderful hope to see the national protest response to the police shootings. I have not seen US organically hit the streets to speak our mind like this in a long, long time. You know, like those Forefathers we love to quote from advised us to do. The stupidity of Iraq did not inspire us and to me it is a very good thing, our protests. As a people we have a collective will and it would be in our best interest to express it. The conscience of an informed group is God’s Will on Earth. And if the term God’s Will is problematic for you, think of it as “For the greatest/highest good of all”.

So, if you have hung with me this long I thank you. I wish to not be a downer, yet recovery has taught me that change begins when you see and accept reality. In truth, that is half the battle, the job is half done, change is happening immediately once people see the truth and accept.

What, you might ask, do the problems of society have to do with addiction recovery. Everything! Nothing happens in a vacuum, the old way was to silo treatment as this segregated thing that does not rest within a bigger problem. Our recovery movement and Recovery Oriented Systems of Care models show us that we need full integration to address the problem of addiction in our community. As Joe Schrank says in The Anonymous People, “There is nothing that impacts American life more than addiction.” Addressing addiction is our most pressing concern because it will open the door for solutions to so many other problems.

So, let’s just say that I got it out and now will endeavor to stick solely with addiction recovery topics for a while. No more broad social commentary for at least….two (?) months. Whadoyasay? As you may remember this spot is to spotlight favorite art; movies, music etc. So allow me to say Merry to All and trumpet the best Christmas movie ever, the movie that captures that human desire for all things good that Christmas signifies, the feel goodenest film of all time!   Yes you know it!

Blessed be!

Recovery Rally with ARCO

Betty Currier, our Matriarch of Recovery Community Organizations here in North Carolina, watched me taking notes and leaned over and said, “You write this up for everyone, ok?” How could I refuse her? “This” is the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) Executive Directors Leadership Academy conference in Denver a couple of weeks ago. It was a blessing for me to go. Forming some 10 years ago, now starting to gain energy and momentum from the efforts of a hard-working team, ARCO was filled with leaders from around the country. I’ll try to give a summary for you.

wantsneedsARCO, Faces and Voices and the whole Recovery Community Advocacy movement grew from a group of recovering people and recovery allies, from multiple pathways of recovery, some of whom are researchers, writers, policy brainiacs, providers and the like, wanting to fill the gaps created by a system that treats addiction as an acute disease rather than the chronic condition it is. ARCO, a sister organization of Faces and Voices of Recovery, brings together those in and out of government and non-profit orgs. to teach, communicate, network, brainstorm and fellowship.

Faces & Voices of Recovery was founded in 2001 at a Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota, the culmination of more than two years of work to provide focus for a growing advocacy force among people in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, their families, friends and allies. Since then, the addiction recovery movement has exploded – in the US and around the globe. In 2001, Faces & Voices of Recovery adopted a Core Positioning Statement, laying out the principles for a national campaign and elected a 22-member Campaign Advisory Committee to provide leadership to the campaign.”

It is as if small creeks and tributaries around the land have flowed together into a river. A river of recovery and life.

Here is a copy of the conference agenda. Allow me to relate some of the highlights.

Working agreements:

  • “Have fun, Keep it confidential, Stay open, One speaker at a time, Show respect, Silence those phones, Ask questions, No profanity”

Quotes I heard:

  • “It’s all about the power of change”
  • “I am grateful for the affliction of my addiction because it led me to help others”.
  • “If I belong [to the group} than I’ve got to pay my dues”
  • “……turn destructive to constructive.”
  • “The movement is tired but not burnt-out. We are re-energized at this time. We are hitting our stride and it’s time to accelerate.” I like that and can relate.
  • And: “What is our next role as a national advocacy organization?”

A core issue, that came up repeatedly, was related in Tom Coderre’s helpful overview of SAMHSA and the future of our movement. He talked about how we are poised on the edge of a transition and the challenge now is to come together and form an organized, consistent message with a distilled list of issues. We need to understand, together, the big picture so we may wisely pick the next battles. To me, that sounds like something the human race needs too.

PS: Some statistics came out in trainings and they gave us a useful snapshot. For example:

  • “The USA averages about 110 overdose deaths a day. The equivalent of a plane crash.” Every day.
  • Another one: Average age of psychiatrists in America: 68
  • A definition of mixed feelings: SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices
  • Beyond the foundational tools of The Anonymous People showings and Recovery Community Messaging Trainings, topics of interest included:
    • How to get your MCO (Managed Care Organization) to pay for Peer Support!-{I’m paraphrasing}
    • Making the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2014 a Reality
    • The big picture on creating money streams-how to bring in the dough-re-mi
    • Recovery Schools-collegiate and high schools
    • Leadership and Recovery Community Orgs and Centers
    • And more.

A core truth spoken again and again is; Activation + Engagement = Self-care.

It was hopeful and gratifying to feel the desire amongst groups of people to model and grow the vision of Wellness. A Holistic approach to health building and the fuller picture of recovery.

My final take-away is one pondered many a time. The hard part, the rub, the sticking point is ………transitions. This is not a bad thing but a fact we want to illuminate. Allow me to use some examples to illustrate this point.

For some twenty years of recovery I have studied nutrition and other health building sources for my own growth, health and healing. It’s a fascinating science and it’s been interesting to learn truths as I wade through all the misinformation. Meanwhile, the point is: in the beginning you start out having to give up all sorts of foods which feels like you are deprived. 1) If you have a sugar issue you go through a detox-and that holds for other foods too. So you feel like you are giving up so much, which is …annoying. And 2) You think you’re gonna stay in that feeling, eating boring tasteless food that’s “good” for you, while continuing to have cravings. . There is some detox, but if you study and learn (especially how and what to cook) your meals get delicious and wonderful. At home we simply do not eat sugar or flour at all and only a little dairy and my meals are fantastic! Combining all we have learned and cooking a lot, my overall health has been greatly improved, including mental health. I will say that a cleanse is advised and you do have to cook! A key: Bone Broth

Now I must admit that out in the world I have allowed in a little regular “junk” in, but that aside, my regular diet is extremely healthy and tasty and I am not in a state of hunger ever. I’m not craving anything.

So it’s all about the transition, when we don’t “know” and are detoxing. The journey over the river feels fraught with perils but once safely on the other bank of the river we are happy.

Switch out drugs for sugar and you have the same story for those suffering from addiction. My recovery is simply the best thing that ever happened to me, ever could happen to and for me, now that I’m on the other side of detox and initial discovery. Looking back I am filled with gratitude for it all, but starting out, the journey seemed fraught with peril.

This is what I see in all of the Recovery Advocacy Movement. The citizens and providers and government(s) feel resistant and fraught with peril and we are charged with holding a space that creates comfort for those who are on this journey across the proverbial river to another shore. Comfort through sharing and instilling hope and faith.

If I may, that seems relevant for the world. All the belief structures and attitudes and philosophies and paradigms that are changing and make us nervous. I mean we don’t even have capitalism anymore, we have corporatism and everyone’s arguing in the media and nervous, when clearly we need to change. Change that comes in these fast-paced times that often seem out of our control make for perilous feelings! It seems best if we meet them by recognizing this is precisely where we are at now. In a boat punting across a mighty river, on our way to a safer shore.

Happy Thanksgiving

Today the subject is service and charitable giving. I began this space for “reviews” of art; leading films, books and music which bring us understanding and pleasure. With the coming holidays, the topic of service seems congruent because it is such a true source of pleasure.

My path to recovery was somewhat …”typical” in that addiction led me to long-term treatment which led me to 12-Step. In my work as a licensed alcohol/drug counselor I got enough overview to realize my beloved 12-Step has some shortcomings. This is one aspect of the Recovery Movement concept of multiple pathways to recovery in that no one knows what is best for all and we long to be inclusive. How I would characterize it is that one does not have to join twelve step to enter recovery, but that the underlying spiritual principles are highly recommended. All spiritual paths and religions have underlying spiritual principles and they tend to all distill down to the same ones. Every religion has a “Golden Rule”. One underlying spiritual principal is service. Service within twelve step offered me a step-by-step guide that was instrumental in my release from the bondage of self and addiction. The disease of addiction is a disease of self-centeredness and isolation. A simple commitment in early recovery, say taking the key to a meeting and opening the door each week, setting up tables and chairs, gave me numerous benefits. Addiction makes the simplest actions seem insurmountable, so the consistency, competence and connection with others that comes from commitment each week builds esteem out of the darkness. What the spiritual books taught me is that service is the truest path to self-esteem. No amount of therapy will actually build my esteem, I have to take action. Consistent action builds a pattern of good works while plugging me in to a community. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of good therapeutic talk. Cognitive awareness of the influences of my life is helpful. But action that takes me out of my head, commits to responsible living and helps others is the surest way to removing guilt and shame and crafting the web of recovery that is healing and forms stability.

This topic was triggered for me by stories in the media, starting with this.

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Science of Mind and other spiritual systems report much payoff from the practice of tithing, giving 10% of our net income to a charitable organization. So much so that I would have guessed higher numbers than this survey reports. Truly connecting and helping others just feels so great. As the article/study says “We find a strong and highly consistent association between generous practices and various measures of personal well-being like happiness, health, a sense of purpose in life, and personal growth. In our book we discuss the various causal mechanisms that produce this association. While greater well-being can encourage generosity, practices of generosity also enhance well-being. The causal mechanisms we identify involve everything from reinforcing positive emotions to developing a sense of self-efficacy to expanding social networks to increasing physical activity. Generosity, for example, often triggers neurochemical systems that increase pleasure and reduce stress. It also has the capability of reducing the maladaptive self-absorption that many ungenerous Americans experience. By giving away some of our resources for the well-being of others we can enhance our own. By clinging to what we have, we shortchange ourselves.”

As a 12-Step saying goes, “You got to give it away to keep it.”

Then this story came along and warmed my heart so. An NC story if ever I heard one.

“Jason Brown was once the highest paid center in the NFL. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alum walked away from the game in 2012 and became a farmer. Now, he’s fighting hunger in Louisburg.”

As we enter Thanksgiving and the holiday season, I feel compelled to give thanks for all those who labor away, and to list a few trusted and beloved local charities that work to address the foundational problems of hunger and homelessness. No child should be hungry ever and it’s hard to change if you’re on the streets. So to me these are favorite issues. What are the issues that stir your heart?

The Food Bank of NC
The Interfaith Food Shuttle
The Healing Place
Freedom House

McKinley Morganfield

cullit101waters-bigIt all comes back to McKinley. But allow me to step back a bit. I had asked my older brother, Crispin, a seminal influence in my life, which record I should buy, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? I was taking my little allowance savings down to the record store to buy the first record of my life, and these were the first American releases for both bands and I wanted his input. My brother had already taught me a lot about life and was a budding musician with a band on his way to becoming one of the greatest rock and roll saxophone players alive, playing with everyone from the aforementioned Stones (Steel Wheels tour) to James Brown-that’s his horn section and sax solo you hear on the recording of James’ biggest charting hit, Living in America. Plus many more in-between, to this day. One of my brother’s wise traits was to never push me directly but to just give me some information, and I sensed his leaning toward the Stones and I chose that album. Pouring over the liner notes, in the song-writing credits, I saw the name McKinley Morganfield. I asked Crispin “Who’s this guy?” thus beginning my musical tutelage into the riches of American contemporary music starting with the Father of all rock and roll, The Blues.

An aspect of growing up in the rich fertile milieu of Detroit during the 60’s was all the music! The rock scene was strong and I got to see, in my high school and various teen dance locations, Bob Seger, Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5 and many others. PLUS! The Motown Review would come through the city, sometimes down the street at the Roostertail, a catering spot that was fairly easy to get into even at my young age, and featured many artists performing their 3-4 main hits, one after another. These gigs were integrated, black and white standing together and quite consciousness raising.

And let’s not forget George Clinton, who had moved to Michigan and expanded his Parliament/Funkadelic universe and used to play a milk industry union hall on the west-side and you’re talking psychedelic, baby.

Plus, Fillmore-like old theatres were bringing in the budding rock giants-Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who and for a few bucks all that was available. I saw amazing triple bills like Ry Cooder, Captain Beefheart and Ted Nugent for three bucks. Creativity abounding in the air and the city vibrated.

To me the master was McKinley and still is today. We know him as Muddy Waters. One year before his death I was blessed to bring him to northern Michigan and he did not disappoint. A Buddha, a Teacher, an entertainer par-excellence. Of course, the Blues is the soil rock and roll sprang from and was expanded to rhythm and blues and soul, which I adore. In the end the fountain of the blues is the water of life that resuscitates me.

We have talked about American oligarchs who made fortunes from the Slave industry and how they learned the science of breaking a people to control them. This began with denying their rituals and spiritual practices and this translated into the fields they were working. Many tribes of Africa had developed complex means of communicating over long distances with song and speech and this was taken away once the slaves were put to work here, so they could not communicate amongst themselves. If they could communicate amongst themselves, then they could organize. What developed as a response to that became known as field hollers, which became what we would call songs. The slave owners let that practice flourish since it helped the slaves work more productively. From that grew the church’s influence which gave us Gospel. From that grew the Blues and then everything else. Sinning music on Saturday night and redemption music on Sunday morn. Muddy, born and raised around Rolling Fork, Mississippi, trekked up to Chicago, plugged in to an electric amplifier and the rest is History. No Stones, who took their name from a Muddy Waters song, or Eric Clapton or Led Zeppelin or many others would exist in the form they do without that northward trek.

The Carolinas have a rich blues, rhythm and blues and soul history, from which grew Beach Music. Beach music is Carolina soul and NC should truly take pride in that tradition. Like Muddy, many of the original greats have passed on, but some form of the bands still play live and God bless’em.