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Tuesday, November 19, 2002

This past weekend at the Rancho saw many firsts.

If I go back a couple of weeks, I may be able to relay the events in perspective. Two days after the election, Elia performed First Woman on the Moon at the First International Latino Theatre Festival in Los Angeles. The standing-room-only crowd, who had waited outside in the L.A. rain for close to an hour, was spellbound by the dreamy performance. The audience was an international mix of Theatre and Art professionals, critics, students along with a healthy number of L.A. and Joshua Tree friends and fans. Elia's well-deserved standing ovation, beaming, standing naked, except for the galaxy crown constructed by Robbie on her head, felt like an upbeat Hollywood ending to a year of trials and losses, but it was completely real. The production crew, Marcus, Debbie, Rob, Rocio, Carlos, Ricardo, helped me to help Elia get her most fascinating piece yet - with ambient music by Tony Mason and an overture by Fred Drake - up and flying. Elia, despite the fact that she got hit by a flu the day before the performance, on top of teaching a ten day workshop as part of the Festival, gave the most beautiful, deep, elegant and provocative performance of her brilliant career.

Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, one band, Lo-Five, was finishing up a great record with Chris Goss producing as another band, Casino, was arriving to make some magic. Next, Joshua Tree original Shawn Mafia, a favorite at the Beatnik open mic, layed down some absolutely unique (albeit with a loving nod to his hero, Tom Waits) spoken word/songscape/soundtracks to an urban apocalyptic carnival in his fervid imagination, with our Nomadhouse drum hero Ray Woods providing the perfect beat and Tony capturing the madness on tape.

The following week, with Elia still in L.A. enlightening her students and battling a flu, I had the joy of hosting a mostly Neil Young open mic night, in an overflowing Beatnik Cafe. Next day, Desert Post weekly ran a picture of me that Billy took at the Turtle Days festival earlier this year along with the announcement of Elia's birthday party for me. (Thanks, Steve!) First, though, I had the privelege of participating in a benefit at Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown, for our Joshua Tree friend, musician Albert Williams (Alice and Albert). I did a couple leftover Neil Young songs (Sugar Mountain, Mr. Soul) from the night before. That place was packed and they raised about $1400 to help with medical expenses related to a bad car wreck. It was good to Albert taking in all the love of his many friends.

Then on Friday, the 15th, Elia produced what was the most incredible birthday party I've ever had. She had asked a dozen or so friends to perform songs of mine at the Beatnik. Each and every performer blew me away with his or her unique, heartfelt and dignified versions of these songs. I'm still completely reeling from the experience. The evening opened with a recording of Fred Drake doing Like A Baby, a song I wrote in 1982 with my friend Michael Hayde, so the evening actually covered twenty years of songs. Many deeply felt thanks to Amanda, Robert Allan, Elia Arce, Sue Bradley, Karen and Michael Callahan, Dean Chamberlain, Dennis and Michael, Elbi and Tibi, Folk Hero Joe Fairbanks, Bob Forrest, Joe City Garcia, Tal Hurley, Adriene Jenik, Mando, Ruben Martinez, Tony Mason, Marilyn Mileham, Tirzah Mueller, Linda Sibio, John Schreiver, Snot (can I call you Eric?), Elaine Stacy and Debbie Winski for learning some of my songs and then teaching them to me. Muchas gracias y besitos to our most excellent emcee, Marcus Kuilland-Nazario. Deep appreciation to Billy Bizeau for recording the evening. (My first listen to the playback was incredible.) To Tommy and Katrina for hosting us at the fabulous Beatnik Cafe, where everyone is absolutely at home, supportive, loving and encouraging to the oddball artists who pass through. Elia, I can't begin to tell you how special it was.

(Also, I must thank my wonderful collaborators in song over the past twenty five years, Debra Quinn, Bob Kuhn, Don Kaiser, Cathie Kimble, Michael Hayde, Ruben Garcia, Jeremy Gilien, John Vargas, Jeff Morrison, Fred Drake, Robert Allan, Joe Garcia, Billy Bizeau and Tony Mason. I am very lucky that each of you had mornings, afternoons, evenings and wee hours to make up songs with me.)

Following day, (okay, we're to this past weekend at the studio now) the day of many firsts:

Recorded basic tracks for my two newest completed songs, Death of Cool and To Smokey, For Fred, 5/93 .
First was DOC with Tony engineering, Billy on drums, Robert on bass and Dean Chamberlain and I on electric guitars, recorded live, with the second of four being our favorite. The firsts here are: All of us working together at the same time, Roberts first time working with Dean, my first time playing electric guitar with a band on a recording, Deans first time recording at the Rancho, his first recording at all in nine years. The song title refers to Miles Davis' Birth of Cool, released in 1958 (the year Fred and I were born) and I wrote the song in the weeks after Fred and Mario Gardner died this past summer.

Next, after the band Zabraskie arrived from Vegas, we did Smokey with their drummer (and previous Rancho guest/collaborator with Fred) Dave Forrest on the beloved Gretsch drum kit, Robert on 12 string, Joe City and me on acoustics and Billy engineering. Later, Adriene did a pretty vocal part. Another first, the combination of Joe, Robert, Billy, Adriene and me.

The words to the song were written for Fred when Smokey died. Fred's mom had found my handwritten poem among Fred's belongings this past summer and given it to me. Adriene, Fred and I all lived in Smokey's building in Hollywood when he passed away in May of 1993. We all then moved to his beloved desert, with Adriene buying Smokey's Hobe Chobe retreat in 29 Palms. Having her sing on this song, at the Rancho, with all the participants there, was the completion of another full circle.

For me, it was the first time working in the Rancho since Fred was there. As always, we approached the recording in the spirit of "What Would Fred Do?" I think Fred liked the activity, the sounds, the subject matter, the atmosphere around the Rancho. We only wish he was around to do a harmony, say the exact right thing, play the lap-steel guitar.

Our great friend, Chris Goss, is recovering nicely from a surgery last week. He will be back in working with some very happening musicians in the next week or so. He paid the Rancho the greatest compliment. He said he looks forward to getting back in to the studio, which he now associates with healing.

All of us at the Rancho greatly appreciate the amount of work Chris has brought in. We couldn't have done it without him. Rest up, Chris, and then be ready to rock. You are always a welcome, well-loved part of the Rancho.

We have so much to be grateful for as the day of giving thanks approaches. The great gift Fred Drake and his family entrusted us with is off to a fantastic start in its second incarnation. We hope the many blessings we enjoy this season are yours, as well.

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