Beyond Living: Fingerpicked Ruminations on the Hereafter and Its Messengers: Notes About, Liner Notes and Song Lyrics

buy Beyond Living

Beyond Living: Finger-picked Ruminations on the Hereafter and Its Messengers has come from the pressing plant this week. It’s a collection of charming antique and antique-sounding songs from the USA, UK, Australia, Japan, Hawaii and Denmark that focus on mortality, immortality, and a life that is mindful of spirit.

Along with my open-tuned guitar picking, singing and speaking, you’ll hear musicians from Japan, Hawaii, Australia, and the LA folk and jazz scenes, including Joe Dolce, Moira Smiley, James Kimo West, Ried Kapo Ku, the band Amana, Auntie Nona Beamer, Steve McGee, Ray Armando, Vic Koler, Chris Conner, and anime film songwriter, Tim Jensen.

On this particular CD, I wrote only two of the eleven cuts, but I wrote new English lyrics from translations of two songs by Donto, a legendary Japanese new wave rock star turned spiritual singer/songwriter, and one 19th century hymn in Danish.

I also commissioned a long overdue Hawaiian translation of Donto’s famous hula, “Nami,” by Auntie Nona Beamer’s adopted son Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, an instructor of Polynesian languages at University of Hawaii in Hilo, and an opening chant for it in the ancient Hawaiian style by the late recording artist and kumu hula, Ried Kapo Ku, which opens the CD.

I also had the gall to record a 12-minute guitar solo consisting of 15 different songs.

I had the liner notes and lyrics translated into Japanese so I could take it to Japan on my concert tours there. There are two different covers, but the CD itself is the same in both versions.

I painted the cover in watercolor pencils. My idea is that the Bardo looks like a quasar or a morning glory, which have the same mathematical shape.

Photo by Ruthie Ristich of Alicia Bay Laurel at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts.

Beyond Living: Finger-picked Ruminations on the Hereafter and Its Messengers
Liner Notes and Song Lyrics

Music that contemplates death does not have to be heavy and dark; think of the songs typical of an Irish wake, a New Orleans funeral parade or the Mexican Day of the Dead.

 I collected and recorded these folk, Americana, gospel, Hawaiian, Australian, Danish and Japanese songs to honor the many I love who have passed on, and to uplift and comfort those who are grieving, providing hospice, or dying. However, even those not currently focused on the mystery of death and dying may find themselves dancing along to these sprightly tunes.  I find that, quite often, lyrics about death contain valuable instructions for living.

During 2007 and 2008, an inordinate number of people close to me died, some elderly, others in their middle years.  My mother and my father died on August 15, 2007.  They were 500 miles apart, and had not communicated in over 45 years.

I assumed responsibility for my mother’s care during the two years before her death, held her hand as she lay dying, arranged for her cremation, wrote her obituary, coordinated her memorial service, eulogized her, put her affairs in order, and remained in her home, settling her estate, for a year after. My sister did much the same while caring for our father.  We held hands over the phone, facing these challenges together, and still do.

Our parents’ simultaneous deaths came one month after the death of their friend Davida Solow, the mother of our friend since birth, Benida Solow, in whose home I lived while I cared for our mother.  A month before Davida’s passing, our adored Aunt Ruth Lebow died.  We’d known both of these women all our lives; their children were our earliest companions, and remain our friends today.

Auntie Nona Beamer, renowned Hawaiian singer/songwriter/dancer/storyteller, and my beloved mentor, died in April 2008.  That spring, two cherished artist friends, Mayumi Hirai and Mela MacVittie, perished from cancer in mid-life.  

Other dear friends and family members died shortly before or after: Peter Kane, Jacqueline Lynfield, Steve Gursky, Marty Jezer, Anson Chong, Fred Stoeber. My stepfather and Benida’s father-in-law, exactly two years apart.  My sister-in-law’s mom.  Both of my brother-in-law’s parents.  My cousin Jay Lebow.  A 40-year-old friend’s 64-year-old father. 

It seemed as if the door between the physical and the non-physical swung wide, and messages zinged both ways furiously.  I collected as many as I could. 

Then there’s the case of Donto.

Takashi “Donto” Kudomi, a legendary Japanese singer/songwriter, died mysteriously on January 23, 2001.  He, his wife and their two young sons were watching a hula performance dedicated to Pele, the volcano goddess, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  At the end of the final chant, Donto fell to the ground unconscious, and was rushed to the hospital. The next day he was pronounced dead at age 37 from a brain aneurism.  He had been in perfect health until that day.  Returning a year later to Pele’s home at Halema’uma’u Crater, Donto’s wife beheld him as a rainbow.

Later in 2001, I met her, singer/songwriter/bassist Sachiho Kudomi, through Seawest Studios, near Pahoa, Hawaii, where we had both recorded CDs.  In 2002, I helped her organize a first-year memorial for Donto at Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, a Buddhist temple in Hilo, and organized a Hawaii tour for Sachiho’s all-woman band, Amana. 

I have since performed with Sachiho and her band during three visits to Japan, at numerous events, including at a huge Donto memorial concert in 2006.  In May 2008, we recorded two of Donto’s songs for this CD at Donto-in, the temple Sachiho built in his honor, in Okinawa.  In January 2009, I debuted “Mele Nalu,” Kaliko Beamer-Trapp’s Hawaiian language interpretation of Donto’s famous hula, “Nami,” (Wave) at the final memorial for Donto at Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin.  Kaliko is Auntie Nona Beamer’s adopted son, a scholar of Polynesian languages teaching at the University of Hawaii, and a member of the von Trapp family of “Sound of Music” fame.

I first admired the songwriting of Steve McGee and Joe Dolce when I met them at the communes where we lived in northern California in the late ‘60s. In the early ‘70s, we all lived and composed songs on Maui. All of us made music in both places with the dazzling singer and midwife, the late Janet “Sunny” Supplee.  Her presence is particularly felt in this recording, since it was she who taught me the 19th century hymn “Oh Come, Angel Band” while we were living at Wheeler Ranch commune, where, at the time, I was writing and illustrating Living on the Earth, and Steve McGee was composing his song “The Garden.”  Joe Dolce went on to become a platinum-selling musician and songwriter in Australia and elsewhere.

Death teaches us that life is fragile, and therefore to make use of all available opportunities to be kind and to forgive.

Alicia Bay Laurel, Los Angeles, Spring 2009

*           *         *        *

This recording was conceived, arranged and produced by Alicia Bay Laurel, for Indigo With Stars Records.  Recorded, mixed and mastered (plus a lot of producer-type guidance) by Scott Fraser at his studio, Architecture, in Los Angeles, with additional recording as follows: Some of the parts for Nami, Mele Nalu and Bosan Gokko recorded in Okinawa at Donto-in by Kikou Uehara, some of the parts for Nami at Kazana Studio in Hirotsu, Japan by Tim Jensen, and some of the parts for The Garden and Nami at Maui Recording in Lahaina, Hawaii by Lynn Peterson. 

Liner notes by Alicia Bay Laurel, translated into Japanese by Reiko Ashidate.  Photo of Alicia Bay Laurel at Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, by jazz vocalist Ruthie Ristich.  Graphic design and cover painting by Alicia Bay Laurel. Digital layout preparation by Al Lopez.  Japanese digital layout preparation and calligraphy by Atsuko Sano.

A thousand thanks to those whose inspiration, kindness and generosity helped to make this CD possible: Joe Gallivan, Sachiho Kudomi, Yoko Nema, Hiromi Kondo, Reiko Ashidate, Nona Beamer, Keola and Moana Beamer, Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, Tim Jensen, Mayu Uotani, Joe Dolce, Scott Fraser, Lynn Peterson, Kikou Uehara, Mana Koike, Kaorico Ago, Ried Kapo Ku, Moira Smiley, James Kimo West, Ray Armando, Chris Conner, Vic Koler, Steve McGee, Naoshi Omote, Yukata Arata, Kohki, Yumiko Kawashima, Satomi Yanagisawa, Keisuke Era, Koki and Ayako Aso, Setsuko Miura, Yoko Utsumi, Kim Cooper, Ruthie Ristich, Rick and Donna Keefer, Atsuko Sano, Jessica Mercure, Benida Solow, Ron Grant, and Lea Grant.

Profound thanks and love to my mentors now gone to the spirit realm: Esther Silverstein Blanc, James Leo Herlihy, Jean Varda, Louis Gottlieb, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, John Fahey, Helen Nearing, Auntie Nona Beamer, Uncle Sol Kawaihoa and Auntie Clara Kalalau Tolentino.

THE SONGS Note: Some of these songs have lyrics that were not sung or only a portion of which were sung.  I include here only the lyrics that were actually sung (or spoken).

1. Mele Nalu (Song of the Wave) by Donto Kudomi, (1997 Goma Records JASRAC). Donto’s famous hula, Nami, translated into English by Reiko Ashidate, re-interpreted as English lyrics by Alicia Bay Laurel, 2008, and re-interpreted as Hawaiian lyrics by Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, 2008. The song opens with a Hawaiian chant composed and performed by Ried Kapo Ku, (2009 Na Manupo Music). Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Ried Kapo Ku (vocal, ipu heke [Hawaiian gourd drum]), James Kimo West (guitar), and Sachiho Kudomi (electric bass guitar).        

Opening chant:

‘Ae, he mele nalu no Donto

(Here then, a wave song for Donto)

Ha’alele a’e ‘oe i ke ao nei

(You leave this world)

Ho’opili ‘ia i ka poli o Pele

(Drawn to the bosom of Pele)

Me ka wiwo’ole i kou pono

(Unafraid because of your righteous goodness)

E kali mäkou ma kahakai

(We wait on the shore)

No kou pane ë

(For your reply)

Aia lä!  Ke änuenue!

(Behold!  The rainbow!)
Eia au i ka poli o ka nalu

He mele kaʻu e mele aku ai

Ka huna kai e pulu nei

I ke ʻehu o ke kai

Palena ʻole, launa ʻole

Kani ʻole ka leo o ka nalu

ʻO kuʻu leo ke kāhea nei

Lohe ʻole ʻia mai nō

Auhea-hea-hea wale ʻoe

Auhea-hea-hea e ka nalu

Auhea-hea-hea wale ʻoe

E ō, e pane mai nō

Riding waves that praise the island

Waves of tears are falling down my face

Is this the place beyond all knowing?

Far beyond the singing of the waves.

Waves can weary with pollution

But the waves always continue to appear

Come on, waves, give me an answer

Let me know you know I’m here

Hear me, hear me, hear me, hear me, ocean!

Answer as I call to you once more.

Hear me, hear me, hear me, hear me, ocean!

I am listening from your shore.

Oneone ē ka nalu

Kāwili pū i ka lepo o ke kai

Mau nō naʻe ka poʻi o ka nalu

A pau loa ke ao nei

Inā hoʻi ua lohe ʻoe

Pane mai i ke kani o kuʻu leo   
E nānā mai i ʻike maila

ʻO au nō ke lana nei

2. Hill of Death by Joe Dolce (melody, 2004) and Louisa Lawson (lyrics, first published in Louisa’s late 19th century Australian feminist newspaper, The Dawn, and later in her 1905 poetry collection The Lonely Crossing) Dolceamore Music APRA (Australia).  In 2004, Hill of Death won the Best Folk Gospel Award in the Australian Gospel Awards. Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Joe Dolce (vocal), James Kimo West (guitar) and Chris Conner (upright bass).

No downward path to death we go
Through no dark shades or valleys low,
But up and on o’er rises bright
Toward the dawn of the endless light.
For not in lowlands can we see
The path that was and that to be,
But on the highlands, just where the soul
Takes deeper breaths to reach the goal.
No downward path to death we go
Through no dark shades or valleys low,
But up and on o’er rises bright
Toward the dawn of the endless light.
There we can see the winding way
That we have journeyed all our day,
Then turn and view with spirits still
Our future home beyond the hill.

3. Bosan Gokko (The Monk Song) by Donto Kudomi (1995 Yano Music JASRAC), plus Yamadera No Oshosan, a traditional Japanese children’s song. Translation of both songs by Reiko Ashidate and Yoko Nema, set into English verse by Alicia Bay Laurel, 2008. The piece opens with the first lines of Shoshinge, a sutra by Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), the founder of Pure Land Buddhism, translated by Yoko Nema. Sachiho Kudomi (vocal, electric bass guitar), Yoko Nema (vocal, harmonium), Hiromi Kondo (djembe), Ray Armando (congas), and Alicia Bay Laurel (guitar and spoken word).

(Translation of opening lines of Shoshinge)
I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha,
Who has eternal life,
And light beyond human knowledge.
(Translation of Bosan Gokko)
On the mountain, the temple bell tolls.
The aroma of supper greets me.
Potatoes cooked with tofu;
Let us say grace and enjoy it.
No electronic sounds at the temple.
When I hear ravens call, I go home.
Yes, I would be really comfortable
Living in the temple.
A candle burns in the silent temple hall,
Before dawn, the time of the wisdom of the universe.
The sun rises. Wake up!
I am a pillar of Japan.
So long I gaze at the lotus
Blooming in the pond of the garden.
Head shaven and devoted to the temple,
I am reincarnated into this world again.
Take care until I see you again
Live and let live.
Live and let live.
(Rough translation of Yamadera No Oshosan, a traditional Japanese children’s song)
High on the mountain, there is a temple.
In the temple, there is a priest.
The priest wants to play with a ball
But, there is no ball.
The priest is longing to play with a ball
But, there is no ball.
So the priest plays with a cat.

4. Waltzing with Angels (medley): Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Moira Smiley (vocal), and Vic Koler (mandolin and upright bass).Oh Come, Angel Band (The Land of Beulah) by Jefferson Hascall 1876. Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet by Marvin E. Baumgardner, (1940 Stamps-Baxter Music BMI). Gathering Flowers was a hit in 1947 for Miss Kitty Wells, “The Queen of Country Music,” both as a solo and in duet with Hank Williams, Sr. I alternate between the two songs here.

Oh Come, Angel Band

My latest sun is sinking fast;
My race is almost run.
My greatest trials now are past;
My triumph has begun.
Oh come, angel band,
Come and around me stand.
Bear me away on your snowy wings
To my immortal home.
I’ve almost found my heavenly home
My spirit softly sings.
The holy ones, behold they come,
I hear the sound of wings.

Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet

Death is an angel sent down from above,
Sent for the buds of the blooms that we love.
For it is so we must all pass away,
Our souls to be flowers in the Master’s bouquet.
Gathering flowers for the Master’s bouquet,
Beautiful flowers that will never decay,
Gathered by angels and carried away
Forever to bloom in the Master’s bouquet.
Loved ones are dying each day and each hour,
Passing away like the life of a flower,
But we shall all be together some day
Transplanted to bloom in the Master’s bouquet.

5. Altid Frejdig, Når du Går (Courage, Always, When You Walk) Melody by C.E.F. Weyse, 1838, lyrics by Christian Richardt, 1867, English translation by Jessica Mercure, set into verse by Alicia Bay Laurel. Alicia Bay Laurel (sung and spoken vocal), Chris Conner (upright bass). Often performed at funerals in Denmark, this hymn served as a rallying call in the struggle against the occupation of Denmark from 1940 to 1945.

Altid frejdig, når du går
(Courage, always, when you walk)
Veje, Gud tør kende,
(On paths only God may know,)
Selv om du til målet når
(Even if you don’t reach your goal)
Først ved verdens ende.
(Until the end of time.)

Aldrig ræd for mørkets magt!
(Fear not the powers of darkness!)
Stjernerne vil lyse;
(The stars will shine.)
Med et fadervor i pagt
(With the Lord’s Prayer as your pact)
Skal du aldrig gyse.
(You will not quake with fear.)

Kæmp for alt, hvad du har kært;
(Fight for all you hold dear.)
Dø, om så det gælder,
(Die, if you must.)
Da er livet ej så svært,
(Then life is not so hard,)
Døden ikke heller.
(And neither is death.)

6. The Garden by Steve McGee, 1969 (self-published).  About finding heaven on earth. Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Steve McGee (vocal, lead guitar), James Kimo West (rhythm guitar), and Vic Koler (upright bass).     

And it’s a hard rocky road that we’re going down,
And I know we won’t make it by ourselves.
For it’s love and believing in what we have found
That will take us to the garden that the Great One has grown.
Love, only love, can take you there
To the place where we all can be free.
Love, only love, is the way to find peace;
It’s the answer to all that we need.
And it’s a place where the people are filled with joy,
And it’s a place where we all can be free to roam.
Where the music flows as though it came from above,
It’s a place that we all can call our own.

7. Auntie Nona/Kahuli Aku/Pupu Hinuhinu  Auntie Nona by Alicia Bay Laurel (2008 Bay Tree Music ASCAP), Kahuli Aku by Nona Beamer, (circa 1955), Pupu Hinuhinu by Nona Beamer (circa 1955), sample from The Story of Pua Polu by Nona Beamer, 1996, on her gorgeous CD collaboration with Keola Beamer, The Golden Lehua Tree (all from Starscape Music ASCAP). Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), James Kimo West (guitar), and Chris Conner (upright bass).

Dear Auntie Nona, mother of aloha,
Songwriter, storyteller of our isles,
We loved your twinkling eyes; we loved your gentleness;
We loved your intellect, your heart and smiles.
A leader of community who fostered peace and dignity
Always with serenity, yet practical,
Keeper of the ancient chants, you could do a rascal dance,
Sing about Hawaiian plants and animals.
(Melody of Kahuli Aku)
You taught the children hula and decency
Your songs with nature themes, Hawaiian nursery rhymes.
These songs went on to be classics of the repertoire,
Along with your stories of your life and times.
Hula girl in Waikiki, Columbia University,
Taught for half a century, Kamehameha School.
Beamer family music camps, Mauna Kea oil lamps,
Soon your face will be on stamps because you’re so cool.
(Melody of Pupu Hinuhinu)
Please, Auntie Nona, from your perch in heaven,
Visit our memories and our dreams.
Angel of aloha, bless us with peacefulness,
Beamer of love and light, send your beams!
You kept an open mind; your eyes were color-blind;
You welcomed every kind who came to learn.
You loved the mountains high; you loved the ocean side;
You traveled far and wide, and returned.
(Melody of Kahuli Aku and the ending of Pupu Hinuhinu)
(Voice of Auntie Nona) Yes, you are always loved.

8. Hang Out and Breathe by Alicia Bay Laurel (1969 Bay Tree Music ASCAP). Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Joe Dolce (vocal), James Kimo West (guitar) and Vic Koler (upright bass).

What I want to do now is hang out and breathe,
Take care of the family at hand,
Live in the moment and be who I am,
For things may go different than that which we planned.
Oh happy most wonderful,
Hang out and breathe ’til I die.
Meet my Creator with open heart,
Surrender my body with joy in my eyes.
When I can remember to hang out and breathe,
And let all my worrying cease,
Thing can go crazy and things can go fine;
I’ll be a love fountain in a garden of peace.
Oh happy most wonderful,
Hang out and breathe ’til I die.
Meet my Creator with open heart,
Surrender my body with joy in my eyes.
Nothing is more simple than to hang out and breathe,
You’d think that’s what all of us do.
We come to this planet to live and to learn,
So don’t hold your breath ’til your wishes come true.

9. Nami (Wave) by Donto Kudomi, (1997 Goma Records JASRAC). Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), James Kimo West (guitar), Sachiho Kudomi (electric bass guitar), Hiromi Kondo (djembe), and Naoshi Omote (congas, surdo, cajon, rainstick, and assorted hand percussion). Choir: Sachiho Kudomi, Hiromi Kondo, Yoko Nema, Mayu Uotani, Tim Jensen, Yukata Arata, Kohki, Alicia Bay Laurel.  

In this, the original Japanese version, I envision the song sung by friends, sitting around a campfire on the beach under a starry sky, playing drums and guitars.

10. Ruminations (medley): Alicia Bay Laurel (guitar and arrangement)

Amazing Grace, traditional Celtic melody, lyrics by John Newton, 1779, The Garden by Steve McGee, 1969, Is This Not the Land of Beulah? by Harriet Warner ReQua, 1890, Will the Circle Be Unbroken by Charles H. Gabriel (melody) and Ada H. Habershon (lyrics), 1908, Oh Come, Angel Band by Jefferson Hascall, 1876, Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet by Marvin E. Baumgartner (1940 Stamps-Baxter Publishing BMI), Angels Are Watching Over Me Traditional African-American Hymn,  This Little Light of Mine Traditional African-American Hymn,  Swing Low, Sweet Chariot Traditional African-American Hymn,  Bosan Gokko by Donto Kudomi (1995 Yano Music JASRAC), Hill of Death by Joe Dolce (melody, 2004) and Louisa Lawson (lyrics, circa 1895) (Dolceamore Music APRA), Long Black Veil by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill (1959 Universal Cedarwood BMI),  Good Night Irene  traditional folk song, first recorded by Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) in 1934 for the Library of Congress. (Ludow Music and Andite Invasion), We Shall All Be Reunited by B. Bateman and Alfred Karnes (1929 Peer International BMI), Kumbaya (Come by Here, My Lord) Traditional African-American Hymn

11. Aloha ‘Oe (Farewell to Thee) by Queen Liliuokalani, 1878. Not penned for someone dying, but rather to a beloved to whom one expects to return.  Alicia Bay Laurel (guitar), and James Kimo West (guitar)