Joe Dolce

Our first contestant for the Living on the Earth Award is singer/songwriter Joe Dolce! Everything you could possibly want to know about Joe’s illustrious career you can research here. He’s politically aware, witty beyond comprehension, emotionally evolved, and brings it all to his music.

I met Joe briefly at the Star Mountain Commune in Sonoma County, California, in the early 1970’s. He’d arrived as I was just leaving—for Vermont, and then Hawaii. But I’d heard our mutual friend, singer Sunny Supplee, sing his beautiful, spiritual, and sometimes sexual songs. I might have run into him once or twice on Maui, too; certainly my friends there were singing his songs, too. Later I heard he’d moved to Australia and had a big hit with a song that was NOTHING like his songs that my friends had been singing.

Hooray for the Internet. We’ve been corresponding a few years now, and, in the summer of 2004, he visited me in Hawaii (see photo above). He’s a pillar of the Australian music scene, a loud voice for the left, a doting grandparent, and the author of a funny, funny email newsletter complete with lurid recipes, political commentary, great poetry, cultural anomalies, reader comments, and torrents of jokes. To get on his mailing list, drop him a line at dolcej@yahoo.com.

Joe Dolce at the USA Folk Alliance Convention in Austin, Texas, February 2006: 

Eco-Wedding

Last September I sang at the wedding of my dear friends, gorgeous young permaculture teachers and environmental activists Tara Robinson and Ryan Holt, who I met through performing music and stories during courses at LaÂ’akea Gardens Permaculture School in Puna, Hawaii.

Tara and Ryan carefully planned every aspect of the wedding to harmonize with their ethics and principles. The invitations arrived wrapped in rich crimson recycled paper. They chose a ceremony site on a high hill overlooking forested slopes and a lake in northern Vermont.

The bridal party dressed in natural fiber clothing and arrived in a horsedrawn carriage. The congregation sat on biodegradable haybales, and the altar included offerings to all of the directions and elements of nature. Tara and Ryan’s friend Sarah Sullivan, a fellow permaculture teacher and environmental activist, co-wrote the ceremony with Tara and Ryan and conducted it. Another wonderful friend from La’akea Gardens, Liz, sang a song she wrote in honor of their wedding. I played an hour of slack key guitar before the ceremony, sang two songs I wrote during the ceremony, and performed an hour of jazz standards after the ceremony. After the reception dinner (in a barn) everyone danced to an eight piece funk band that accommodated Tara and Ryan’s request for a Michael Franti tune with the mantra “All the freaky people make the beauty of the world.”

All of the food was organically grown by local farmers, many of them friends of the bride and groom. The groom and his family personally prepared the rehearsal dinner.

I loved the wedding cake, decorated with fresh glazed fruits. Organically grown grapes in the wine, organically grown apples in the cider; even the flowers (lots of amaranth and sunflowers) were locally and organically grown, and arranged by friends (including me). They used pumpkins for centerpiece vases!

RyanÂ’s brother Sean, a glassblower, provided wonderful bridal goblets.
TaraÂ’s female relatives and friends each created patches with poems and pictures on them, and sewed them together into celebratory bridal quilt that hung on a wall during the reception.

The day after the wedding, the family gathered for a bonfire by the lake to enjoy the luscious leftovers. Nothing goes to waste in this family!

Money and Politics

A must-read by Bill Moyers, former host of Now on National Public Television, and President of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. This is the prepared text of his remarks on an 8-day speaking trip in California on the issue of money and politics.

Mixing and Mastering

This week Scott Fraser and I finished mixing and mastering my jazz and blues CD, What Living’s All About. This is my third CD, but the first one I’ve participated in mixing. I found it not at all tedious (as I’d often heard), but, rather, really quite fascinating, probably because it’s typical of the intensely focussed, slow, painstaking, detail-oriented actions that are part of creating all kinds of art, even forms that appear spontaneous.

We listened to each instrument and voice separately and in combination, looking for “clams” to fix (not so difficult with today’s Photoshop-like digital recording programs). We adjusted volume between the instruments so that each was easy to hear in its moment to shine and each blended with the others without being hidden when someone else was in the spotlight.

In Scott’s studio, the trap drums get five microphones creating five sound tracks that have to be balanced with each other first, before the drums as a group can be balanced with the other instruments. Bass is next, balancing a track from the pickup on the instrument and a microphone on a stand nearby. The piano gets two microphones, both inside the piano, one pointed somewhat toward the bass end of the keyboard and the other pointed more toward the treble. And so forth, with the lead vocal worked on last.

The mastering process balances the volume levels of the songs, so that none are suddenly much louder or much softer than the rest of the collection. Also we listened for just the right amount of silence between the songs.

Steamed Vegetables with Tempeh

Steamed Vegetables with Tempeh

This is my absolute favorite recipe using tempeh (Indonesian style cultured soy). Somehow this particular combination of vegetables, seasonings and cooking method do something special with the taste of tempeh.

Cut into bite-sized pieces: broccoli, red cabbage, peeled carrots, peeled beets, peeled yellow onions, tempeh. Proportions are not too important. Steam them all together over pure water until soft enough that a fork easily pierces everything. Turn the vegetables and tempeh out into a large bowl and toss with olive oil and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos to taste. Optionally, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Save the bright magenta cooking water to drink. It really is delicious! I am not kidding.

Magnesium

Is there a link between heart disease and lack of magnesium in our food?

“Widespread research shows that our diets are seriously low in magnesium, that heart disease is widespread, and that many heart disease cases might be prevented and even treated through magnesium supplementation.” Dr. Andrea Rosanoff PhD, a mineral nutrition specialist whose book, The Magnesium Factor, co-written with the late Dr. Mildred Seelig, has made big waves in the nutrition study community. Dr. Rosanoff, founder of the Center for Magnesium Education and Research, confided to me that many of the “blockbuster” drugs that account for much of pharmaceutical companies’ large profits are treating the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency rather than going to the root cause.

Magnesium can be valuable in treating hypertension and migraine headaches, and is important in keeping bones strong, Dr. Rosanoff told me. “Many of us take calcium supplements to stave off osteoporosis, but without enough magnesium, this practice won’t help our bones and could even make things worse. We need magnesium, especially, in a stress filled life. It is richly supplied by leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. But, magnesium is lost in milling away the bran and germ of the wheat grain to make white flour. Our national diet contains too much white flour and white sugar, which not only lack magnesium, but actually require magnesium to metabolize [digest].”

Clean Elections

What are Clean Elections?

In Maine, Arizona, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, voters have passed laws creating a new system of campaign finance that takes big corporate donors and lobbyists (who expect a successful candidate to repay them with favors later) out of the equasion. Known variously as Clean Elections, Voter Owned Elections, Fair Elections, and Clean Money, the system offers state funding for candidates who fulfill a requirement of raising a set amount (in typically $5000 for State House of Representatives seats and $10,000 for State Senate seats) in small donations ($5 to $100) within their own districts.

The benefits: each candidate is obliged to meet and speak with many of her constituents in raising the initial set of small donations, and the system encourages low-income, minority and female candidates to run for office, creating a greater range of views in the state legislature. Low and middle income citizens are politically engaged by the candidates, not only as donors of money, but of public opinion on issues.

In Arizona, the money to fund the candidates comes from fines paid to the state for crimes and from donations made on the state income forms. “If you don’t break the law, don’t write a check and don’t check the box, you are not paying for Clean Elections,” states the Clean Elections website in Arizona.

Most other states have campaigns going to create this system; in Hawaii, where I vote, the clean elections initiative lost in the state legislature in 2005 by only a few votes, and a new campaign continues this year. In Arizona, one of the first two states to institute Clean Elections, the same people who campaigned to get it passed work constantly to keep the law from being gutted or overturned by the banks, insurance companies and real estate developers who are used to having their way in government, rather than seeing it serve the people.

Arizona’s good news:

•Clean Elections winners hold 10 of the 11 statewide offices (all except Superintendent of Public Instruction), 35 of the 60 House seats, and 7 of the 30 Senate seats.

•Clean Elections is nonpartisan. Major supporters include Republican U.S. Senator John McCain and Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano. Of the 46 Clean Elections winners in 2004, 28 were Republicans and 18 were Democrats.

•Clean Elections has increased citizen participation in the political process. Contributors to all candidates went from 7,000 in 1998 (the last year without Clean Elections) to 90,000 in 2002 (the first time all state offices were on the ballot under Clean Elections).

If you’d like an entire kit including the 14 minute Bill Moyers-narrated video “The Road to Clean Elections” click here.

If you’d like to find the local organization promoting Clean Elections in your state, click here.

Shari Elf

Shari didn’t invent making folk art from found objects, but she informs her high level recycling with a dry humor that makes her pieces irresistable to a growing, adoring audience. To wit: her motto is “Good and Sturdy Art,” and her gallery show at the Light Box Gallery in Kansas City was titled “95% Trash.”

Shari’s marketing history is remarkable. Although she had already made lots of exuberantly whimsical art, both wearable and decorative, before moving from Kihei, Maui (where her family had moved when she was eight), to Santa Monica, California, the roots of her success began at the Rose Bowl Flea Market and the Santa Monica Airport Swapmeet. She was adding a second income to her seamstress business, buying and selling stuff that amused her, and occasionally painting on something to make it into something else: Flowers on oxford shoes, smiling dogs on purses. Whenever someone bought an art piece, she wrote their name, address, phone and email address on a 3×5 card, plus the name of the piece, the date, and how much they paid for it. If the buyer returned and bought another piece, she added the info to the first card. Gradually her booth evolved into a display of all original works of art; gradually return customers became avid fans; gradually she acquired a card file full of client information.

Next she held a yard sale. She made a whole bunch of pieces, sent out amusing postcard invitations to her customers, and sold all of the art from her yard in a day. A month later, she held another sale the same way, with equal success. So she gave up swapmeets, and sold enough art from her front yard to make a good living.  She began performing her original music with her All Star Steamstress Band, which featured two drag queens running sewing machines as percussion to her guitar (or Omnichord) and vocals.

Next came a series of retail outlets that asked to display and sell her pieces, then a formal gallery show in LA, and then a national agent who wanted exclusive right to sell her work. At that point Shari decided to go back to selling it all herself, since she enjoys the personal contact with her fans (who love sending her interesting junk to add to her pieces) and prefers making her art available to them without galleries and agents in between, doubling the prices.

Next she had a website designed, informed by her unique wit, and she self-produced I’m Forcing Goodness Upon You, a comedy album of original music, which made a big splash on the college stations and continues to sell steadily on CD Baby. A few years later, she produced a tribute album of recordings of her original songs by fans, regardless of musical ability, with packaging to match.

She turned her mailing list into an emailing list, notifies her fans whenever a new group of works is available on her site, and sells everything in less than 24 hours. I don’t know another artist who can say that. So, now she works from her high desert home as a mail order business and avoids galleries almost completely (she did have a museum show last year!). She is free of the middlemen that bleed artists, financially self-sufficient solely from her art, and having a good time doing it.

Borcht Salad

This is a staple of my diet—brilliant in color, rich in flavor and abundant in body-benefitting nutrients. For each person, wash, spin dry and tear into bite size pieces, five leaves of a dark green organically grown lettuce, or use two cups of organic cafe salading (baby greens). Peel and grate a carrot and a beet, and thinly slice some red cabbage and peeled red onion, add some of each to your lettuce. Dress with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (the mysterious soy sauce without salt) to taste.

This recipe can be multiplied for any size gathering. In that case, I prefer to grate the carrots, beets and cabbage in a food processor or the Champion juicer without the juice screen under the grinder.

Sometimes I make it into a one dish meal by adding protein: cubed baked tofu, cubed cold cooked chicken or turkey, toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds, grated or cubed cheese. The beets will dye all of these an indistinguishable magenta.

If I’m having company, I might style them with the addition of avocado, pitted black olives, or marinated artichoke hearts. If I’m NOT having company, I like to crush a clove of garlic into the olive oil before adding it to the salad.

Slack Key Guitar

Alicia Bay Laurel and Hawaiian music elder statesman Bobo Brown perform at the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival in July 2002, in Hilo, Hawaii

What is slack key guitar, I am sometimes asked. Is it an instrument, or is it a style of playing?

“Slack key” in Hawaiian pidgen and “ki ho’alu” in Hawaiian both refer to the non-standard tunings of guitar strings used in a style of guitar playing that evolved in Hawaii during the Victorian era.

In guitar parlance, standard tuning (EADGBE from bass to treble) serves as the basis from which most western music, including classical, jazz, rock and roll, country, and folk, is arranged for guitar. However, in flamenco, in Mississippi Delta blues played with a bottleneck, and in the improvised open-tuned guitar music pioneered by John Fahey, the guitar is tuned other ways, and the music is often communicated on paper in a system called tablature instead of sheet music (which classical guitarists follow) or chord charts (commonly used in pop, country and folk music).

Like these other non-standard tuned styles, slack key is finger-picked rather than strummed with a pick. Although Hawaiian slack key evolved from Spanish open tunings brought (along with the guitar) to Hawaii in the nineteenth century by Argentinian cowboys, the rhythms of early Hawaiian slack key often reflected the popular North American music of the day—ragtime piano, with its altnernating, synchopated bass.

Since its emergence into popular music during the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970’s, slack key guitar continues to grow in popularity. Keola Beamer’s album In the Real Old Style put slack key on the radio in Hawaii back then; he’s still pioneering musically with ki ho’alu in a masterful way. George Winston’s Dancing Cat Records includes recordings by nearly all of the renowned contemporary Hawaiian slack key artists.