If That’s All There Is…

 

 

A while back, Mister and I watched “Love is Strange,” a movie starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a married gay couple who are discriminated against and must deal with the consequences. At some point during the film (which is amazingly quiet and deep), I got to thinking about how some people – no matter how big their dreams – simply live out, well, meager lives. And how those big-dreaming people can be the most awesome souls on the planet. And how they can positively influence other souls in the world, and actually make a real difference. And how, as wonderful as those big-dreaming people may be, they may never, ever see their big dreams come to fruition.

 

As I was watching “Love is Strange” and having these thoughts, I began crying. For it was at that moment that it occurred to me that being a good person may have to be enough for me in this lifetime. (Please don’t challenge my assumption that I actually am a good person. Thank you.) And y’all – I am such a big dreamer. The thought that being good may have to be its own reward took me by surprise. And I sort of lost it. I won’t lie. I’m still processing that idea.

 

“Cal’s trying to find himself,” said Lee. I guess this personal hide-and-seek

is not unusual. And some people are ‘it’ all their lives – hopelessly ‘it.’”

spoken by “Lee”

in East of Eden by John Steinbeck

 

And then when I finally finished reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, I encountered the above quote near the end and it did its part to floor me. I was shaken and stirred, if you must know. And there was nary a martini in sight.

 

After reading the lines spoken by Steinbeck’s character, “Lee,” I was so affected. And it occurred to me that I may very well be one of those souls who is eternally “it” – forever looking for me. It was a profound thought and as I’ve been living it all my life, it turns out I am far too acquainted with the idea. I know Steinbeck was a genius and all, but damn! How did he nail me so well? I’m guessing he nailed a lot of us with that one. I’m still processing that idea, too.

 

“Is that all there is? Is that all there is?

If that’s all there is my friends

then let’s keep dancing.”

written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller 

 

While wallowing in this intellectual soul stew, I thought of Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is” and couldn’t shake it. I’ve always loved the song, but I’ve never felt myself drowning in it the way I have recently. I mean, if I’m to accept being good as my life’s purpose, and if I’m to accept an eternal search for my true self as my life’s work, how do I  handle it? How do I stifle the big dreamer in me without letting go of the me in me? Is that what “Is That All There Is” is?

 

At about that point in this particular existential pseudo-crisis, Mister and I watched “Six by Sondheim.” This fantastic documentary gives a lovely overview of our greatest living stage musical songwriter (just my opinion, thank-you-very-much), while delving into six of his brilliant compositions. I loved the movie and it was quite moving. Mister was aware of my soul searching, so after watching it he suggested that perhaps I could shift my focus from self-doubt to self-acceptance. He pointed out the lyrics to one of Sondheim’s masterpieces…

 

“I’ve run the gamut, A to Z.

Three cheers and dammit, C’est la vie.

I got through all of last year, and I’m here.

Lord knows, at least I was there, and I’m here.

Look who’s here, I’m still here.”

“I’m Still Here” From “Follies”

written by Stephen Sondheim

 

I’m working on it.

Finally!

 

 

You may not believe this, but I finally finished reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

 

Perhaps you recall a post from the beginning of February, in which I described the impetus for picking the book up in the first place. And how I’d gotten through at least enough of it to be inspired to write a song. Though I didn’t go into details at that time, a lot of life (namely health stuff) was swirling around me and I was slow in attaching myself to Mr. Steinbeck’s tome.

 

Cut to the last few weeks, and I found myself wanting to get through the danged thang if only to put it on a shelf and be done with it. And then something funny happened. At around page 400 (I kid you not), I finally got interested. So the last 200 pages of the book were really compelling for me.

 

As a general rule, I believe life is too short to read bad or uninteresting books. I don’t know why I kept coming back to East of Eden, but I’m glad I did. In the end, I absolutely loved it. I’m guessing my failure to find interest in the first two-thirds of the book is due to my own shortcomings. Sticking with it, however, is due to my tenacity. (See – sometimes I’m nice to me.)

 

One final thing… When I re-read that original East of Eden post from early February, I loved the last lines about saying Yes to life. If nothing else, finishing the book and revisiting that post reminded me to go for it. Whatever it may be…

The Bushwick Book Club of Santa Barbara County

 

 

Late last year, a wonderful friend contacted me and asked if I’d like to take part in her book club’s project: read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and write a song or two inspired by the book. My first thought was – I haven’t read East of Eden. Next, I thought about how – for a variety of reasons – I hadn’t performed in front of real people for quite a while. I ruminated and I ruminated and finally I sat down to respond to my friend’s query…

 

“…The truth is I like your idea / challenge, and the fact that it makes me uncomfortable to think about it

seems like a good reason to sign up.

Maybe. So yes. Put me down as part of The Mission.

I think. Yes. Yes. I’m in.

Am I?…”

 

And with a hit of the send button, I committed.

 

 

At first, as I read I flagged the bo0k with post-its, thinking I’d come back to an inspiring word/phrase/section and attempt to compose a song at a later time. But after a while, I remembered that when the bug hits, that’s the time to scratch it. So I allowed myself to be in the moment and wrote when the light-bulb flashed.

 

Once I’d written the song, I knew I needed to practice. Like I said, I hadn’t performed for quite a while and I didn’t want that to hold me back in my delivery. So I began working to memorize my song (thank you, Franz Liszt for forcing us all to do that) and to tweak my presentation. I knew this wasn’t a grand showcase or anything, but preparation is key. And I wanted to do well. For my friend and for myself. I suppose I also wanted to do well for “Charles” – the character that inspired my song. (It never occurred to me to want to do well for Mr. Steinbeck. Oops.)

 

 

So last week I drove myself to Santa Barbara to get my Steinbeck on, along with several other songwriters. The event was held at The Guitar Bar in downtown Santa Barbara and that joint is gi-gorgeous. Seriously. A few folks referred to it as “guitar porn” and I agreed. The shop’s owner, Jamie, was such an amiable guy and his generosity in allowing the Bushwick Book Club to stage its meetings there is fairly grand. His place is comfortable and welcoming. I strongly encourage music lovers and players to stop in his store, next time you’re in Santa Barbara.

 

 

Anyhoo, back to the show. It was truly fascinating to hear how other folks were affected by the book. Some were drawn to the same language. Some were drawn to the same characters or plot lines. And as songwriters, no two of us were the same. My brilliant friend, Kate Graves, performed a lovely song that was as sweet as it was heartbreaking…

 

 

I hadn’t seen Tom Prasada Rao for a few years and it was good to catch up with him. He was inspired to write 2 songs and I loved them both. But that first one – wow. I told him I want need a recording of it and I wasn’t lying…

 

 

When my spot in the line-up rolled around, I took the stage and va-va-voomed my way through my tune…

 

 

And then it was over. The good people attending the meeting made their way out of The Guitar Bar toward home and we musicians packed up our gear. Jamie and his crew began putting the shop back in order and good-byes were made. I hit the road for my drive back to Los Angeles and left Santa Barbara in the rearview.

 

 

When I think of how easy it would have been to simply not respond to my friend’s invitation to participate, I have to shake my head. Saying Yes to something that made me uncomfortable was a good idea. And I’m glad I did it. Giving my word and agreeing to perform were very real commitments to me. Putting in the time and rehearsing were also commitments. I was forced (by myself) to actually show the hell up. And I did.

 

I’d like to embrace this year with that attitude of Yes that got me through the first presentation of The Bushwick Book Club of Santa Barbara County. I’d like to have a little more faith in myself. I’d like to grab hold of opportunities to see the people I adore most in this world (I’m talking about you, Kate Graves). I’d like to own being Me.

 

 

Here’s to grasping our lives. Here’s to facing fears. Here’s to You and Me.