Music, Marley and Me

(c) 2016 Klaus Polkowski

Julian Marley and me, African Music Festival (c) 2016 Klaus Polkowski

The greatest adventure of this summer was blogging for the Zelt-Musik-Festival (ZMF). Writing 27 consecutive Blogstage posts through the month of July, I attempted for the first time to blog in German. I didn’t really think anyone would read it. Much to my surprise, they did!

Hanging around the backstage area became a natural part of my routine as I searched for stories behind the scenes of Freiburg’s most popular music festival. A security guard’s story followed that of a popular music artist. It didn’t matter who the subject was. The goal was to highlight the very important part every participant plays in making the long-running festival the most amazing part of Freiburg’s summer landscape. In partnership with my love Klaus Polkowski, we danced in the magic of music, culture and encounters. He with his camera. Me with my pen.

The spirit swept us into August where the African Music Festival audibly took us to far away places. It was there that I asked Julian Marley, son of the great Reggae artist Bob Marley, what color his music would be if it had a hue at all.

“It would be transparent. Or rather, every color in the rainbow,” he said. It includes everything. Because music is everything. One world. One color. One love.

At ZMF the world-famous clarinetist Giora Feidman said the color of his music depends on the time of day. A rose reflects a different hue in the morning than in the late afternoon. So it is with his music.

And Mischa Maisky, a most benevolent Albert Einstein-looking world-class cellist, told me his color would be blue. Because he likes the color and it can be both sad like the blues or happy like the sky. It too depends on the mood and the melody.

What I learned this summer is how truly connected we are. No matter our passport or our taste in music, we all feel love and sadness the exact same way. Our world is much smaller than we realize. Each individual carries a thread to the next one and while we might sometimes feel abandoned and alone on this great planet, we are never, ever truly alone because we carry that connection with us no matter where we are. The ever-gyrating pulse of our being strings each of us together.

We are one. Yes, we are.

Farewell, My Prince

Words. They frame meaning. They help us get through things. They give us ways to express thoughts and feelings.

Today I woke up in a foul mood for no particular reason. Then I discovered my beloved Prince had died at the age of 57 (thanks, Facebook. You really are good at sharing these things).

prince symbolPrince gave me words at a time when I didn’t have any. Growing up as a teenager in the South, I would listen to his music with my best friend as we got ready for parties or whilst cruising the strip. His lead title Purple Rain flowed through me, giving me solace and a place to go in my head when I was confused or felt alone. That song still reminds me of the smell of fried chicken and Coke-sweetened Jack. I can sense the upholstered car seat of the guy whose class ring I liked and the slight odor of mildew streaming from the air conditioning vents.

When my daughter was born in 1999, I cheered because I felt — in some small way — I had given tribute to Prince. His song 1999 always made me smile. It felt like a particularly fine accomplishment to have spent that year on such a special occasion as the birth of my first child.

Prince was an icon, a masterful musician and a symbol for me as an awkward adolescent that it’s okay to express yourself in strange ways. He influenced my writing, granting me the courage to be different and to live my art as he did his. For a short time, he even changed his name to a symbol during an argument with his record label Warner Brothers. He did what he wanted. He lived his life through music. He was music.

His personal bank account of time ran out yesterday at 10:07 am Minneapolis time on April 21, 2016. There are more than just doves crying today.

Farewell, my Prince. May you party with the angels like it’s 1999. I will miss you until the end of my days.


Run (in the Forest), Run!

What does running have to do with the power of slow? There really is nothing Slow about running per se. With a minor exception of one blazing summer as a Washington, D.C. intern, I’ve never been the jogging type. But I do love my walks through the woods. I do them every chance I can get.

Run Phones meEvery now and then I’ll bring my iPhone with me to listen to music. But as I briskly jaunt through the forest, those annoying ear buds kept popping out of my ear. Dangling down to the forest floor, they seemed to mock me. I was about to give up every listening to music on my iPhone again until RunPhones contacted me. They offered me to try their product in exchange for a review on my blog.

So I agreed.

The headband comes in two types of styles — the warmer, fleecy type for winter and the cooler, thinner material for summer. Both are washable so you don’t have to worry about them getting funky after a while. I got the summer kind (thankfully). As the temperatures rise, I don’t really want anything on my head. I was ready for an itch-a-thon, but the headband is so comfortable, I soon forgot I was wearing it at all. It’s like having a portable stereo without the cackling ear buds to ruin the fun.

Another bonus is I don’t have to jack up the sound to have the high fidelity that the RunPhones provide. I always felt like ear buds were making me go deaf. Now I’ll be stylin’ whilst maintaining my hearing too!

I may never take up jogging again, but I’ll certainly be listening to my tunes  more often whilst traipsing through the forest.

Of Love, Music and Passion

Without love there would be no music.

That is what Russian clarinetist Roman Kuperschmidt said before he played the most moving melody I’ve heard in a long time yesterday.

His eyes glowed with true passion as he made his instrument sing. He grabbed us with the first tone ~ for two hours we were enslaved by his beauty.

It was amazing.

Over the weekend at Freiburg’s music festival I witnessed that talent mixed with a love for music makes all the difference. Some bands were technically good, but their passion was missing. Others were phenomenal, even on the smaller stages, because they were performing for the love of it alone.

We all have talent in something, but if we don’t love what we do, we aren’t living our potential.

What I learned this week is to encourage my kids to do what they truly care about doing. The world will be a better place for it.

Our personal bank account of time is meant to be spent wisely. Why waste those precious units in pain?

Love is the answer. It truly is.


Made it through the Rain

It’s time to be honest. I am going to out myself.

I was a Barry Manilow fan as a kid.

You got it.

I loved him.

Would have died for him.

But what was a rural tween to do other than to make up dance steps to his songs and pretend he was singing them to me?

I once made up a dance to “I Made It Through the Rain” for a talent contest. Halfway through the performance, I completely forgot the choreography and had to wing it for another unbearable three minutes. I was on the cusp of puberty, getting familiar with the sting of embarassment whenever I did something I perceived as horribly wrong.

But somehow I made it through the dance.

And now, all these years later, I think back to that fighting moment in which all eyes were on me and I had no idea what I was doing. I had to make it up as I went along.

I think my love for Barry got me through. And perhaps a steely resolve that what my heart says speaks much louder than the voice of reason.

I recently made it through the rain again. My mother calls it ‘bounce’. Resilience is indeed what gets us to the other side of things.

And you know what? When you survive the downpour that life offers you, the sun seems to shine a little brighter and you feel, maybe only for a moment, that perhaps, like Barry’s heartfelt sonorous vibe, that sun is shining for you.

Becoming Gold

Music has healing properties. And it seems that just when I need it, a song will show up to tell me just what I need to hear.

Marc Cohn is a singer-songwriter whose music touches my soul. In his song She’s Becoming Gold, he sings of a woman who has seen her measure of tragedy and disappointment. In his words, the man of her dreams isn’t quite who he seems and the baby won’t sleep through the night. But something is moving inside her so that, despite her external circumstances, she has the ability to tap into her inner gold.

We all do.

What I have learned in life is that no one can really give you what you need. You have to find it within yourself. If you go searching for happiness on the outside, you will be sorely disappointed. Happiness is not a destination, but a way of being.

Have you ever tried getting beingness from another? How did that work out for you? Probably not too well.

So how can you get to that place of solid beingness? It starts with one small decision to opt for joy over sorrow. It begins with your choice to believe in the goodness of life.

I am a true believer of that goodness. What may be masked as tragedy has a deeper meaning, a true opportunity to look inside yourself and to thank the Universe for the chance to learn from your mistakes. And with that shift in your mind, body and soul, you will see the true purpose for which you were brought here.

As with most things I write about, it requires trust and time to unravel the mystery of your days. If you show true patience, it, like the music that shows you the way, will reveal itself to you.

Every time.



Better Days

Bruce Springsteen sings of them. So do the Goo Goo Dolls. But the best lyrics I’ve heard recently about better days is a line in Dave Matthews’ Song, “Cry Freedom.” “The future is no place/to place your better days.”

Better days refer to better times. It usually is followed by “When I do X,Y,Z, then A,B,C can happen,” such as “When I have lost five kilos, then I’ll be happy.” Deferring the good stuff in life is not a good idea because you really don’t know when your personal bank account of time will close forever.

Better days are here and now. If you let them in. And they can be found anywhere at any time in the still, small moments that frame our lives.

Getting to your happy place isn’t hard if you make it a habit every day. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you think about? Your worries? Your to-dos? Or do you focus your attention on what’s right in your world? Do you greet the day with the reverence it deserves?

The good news is if you are reading this, you get another chance to make today that better day. Are you with me on this one?

Dust in the Wind

Sometimes all we are is dust in the wind, as Kansas rightly sings. The first time I heard that song was at a talent show when I was ten years old. A few friends of my sister sang it. The message stuck with me all these years.

As you glide through this life, ask yourself, are you really dust in the wind? Or are you perhaps the wind itself? Or are you both?

Ride that wind and see where it takes you, my dear friends. It is worth the journey.

Biding Your Time

After attending a recent concert of international singers at my daughter’s school, I am convinced that music can heal the world. You can’t help but feel touched when voices rise up like that. Just try to listen to soul, for instance, and try not to be moved by it.

Music can also help us with hard times. We have all had the experience of waiting for someone we love; whether it’s because they are overseas in the military, on travel or simply live far away.

Busby Marou sings of it in his song, “Biding My Time”. It’s lovely and reminds me of the songs by Jack Johnson.


The Importance of the Summer Mix

As I have already said in an earlier blog post, “The Soundtrack of Our Lives”, music is the sonorous accompaniment of our days. It’s the grease that oils your remembering machine: the oh-my-god effect when you hear a song hidden in your history, somewhere buried deep down in a place only music can touch.

It permeates your skin. It penetrates your soul. Music is the balm to give you back your bounce.

So as you embark on our summer journey (or winter for you lovely folks in the Southern Hemisphere), consider putting together a mix of music to keep you company. Whether you’re on the subway or cruising down the autobahn, there is nothing like jamming to good tunes. Need inspiration? Everyone has their own tastes, but here are some of my favorite albums currently:

Looking 4 Myself (Usher)

Making Mirrors (Gotye)

Go (Vertical Horizon)

Here and Now (Nickelback)

What are some of your favorites? Please share because I’m in love with iTunes and need to feed that relationship!