Cover layout with bleed borders and the original drawings for Living on the Earth.
Wow, here they are, the original drawings from which all of the books, CDs, t-shirts, fabrics, magazine illustrations and other printed images from Living on the Earth were born. Partially lettered in Press Type, yellowed with age, and stained with rubber cement and correction fluid (ah, the tools of the graphic design trade back in the late ’60’s), they are wabi-sabi, shabby-chic, framable, and absolutely authentic.
I will be having a gallery show at which the entire layout will be auctioned during the months of May and June 2008 at the Kurkku Arts and Environmental Center in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.
I created the drawings, lettering and layout for the first edition of Living on the Earth in 1969 and 1970, at the ages of 19, 20 and 21. The Bookworks, Bay Area distributor Book People’s publishing imprint, released it in September 1970 as their second title ever. They sold out the initial printing of 10,000 copies in two weeks. The Whole Earth Catalog’s review: “This could be the best book in this catalog. It is a book for people. If you are a person, it is for you.”
In April 1971, Vintage Books/Random House released the second edition, which became the first paperback ever on the New York Times Bestseller List. Publishers Weekly had never seen a book design like this one before, and published a handlettered review with illustrations from the book to note this. Dozens of books with derivative book designs, illustrations and themes appeared on the market within a year, and continue to appear to this day.
I am preparing to sell the original layout as an archival manuscript (I retain the copyright of the content), and thought you might like to see what the artwork looks like now, after 37 years in the same little blue suitcase inwhich I delivered it to The Bookworks in the spring of 1970. It’s moved to Hawaii from California with me twice.
The pages in the center of the book aren’t as yellowed as the cover and front pages, probably because they weren’t as subject to the acidity of the packaging in which they were stored. The rubber cement used in layout work in those pre-computer days left stains, as did the white correction fluid.
When I updated the information in Living on the Earth for the Villard/Random House third edition in 1999 (which, with minor changes, was also the 4th edition in 2003), I clearly could not re-use the original layout, so I took apart two pristine copies of the Vintage/Random House second edition and used the pages to lay out the revised edition, still using Rapidograph pen, scissors, rubber cement and correction fluid as I did in 1970.
One of the most noted updates in the revised edition was the layout on marijuana and hemp. I realized soon after moving to Maui in 1974 and inhaling the extra-strong product available there, that it made my nasal passages swell shut, obliging me to breathe through my mouth and wonder how long until this uncomfortable side effect would wear off. So I quit smoking pot. When I updated the text twenty-five years later, I had to find and interview someone who still grew it commercially to improve the instructions. I also learned the usefulness of hemp, even without the medicinal effects of tetrahydrocannabinol. Hemp preceeded petroleum as the material of choice for manufacturing almost everything useful. Canvas, which propelled ships across the ocean, derives its name from cannibis. Some environmentalists think we’ll be back to using hemp on a large scale after Peak Oil.
Living on the Earth was initially shelved in the Library of Congress under Home Economics, Handicrafts and Outdoor Living, but the 2000 Random House edition was categorized under Spirituality and Healthy Living, and the 2003 Gibbs Smith edition as a Reference Book. All of the above, would be my guess. I didn’t create it for a publisher. I made it as a gift to my fellow communards at Wheeler Ranch. However, the Universe had other plans.
Update as of 2021: Many of the original page layouts, framed in handmade driftwood frames created by master craftsman Yugi Kamioka, some with mat boards bearing my new additional illustrations, have been sold at a series of gallery shows in Japan. The cover layout hangs in the tea ceremony house of rock producer Takeshi Kobayashi. Fashion designers Kaoriko Ago Wada and Aya Noguchi, both of whom produced fashion lines printed with the pages of Living on the Earth, have framed pages hanging in their homes. Novelist Yoshimoto Banana bought framed pages, too, remembering how much she enjoyed the book in her childhood.
Here is a link to a video of an art exhibition of the framed page layouts at Gallery Speak For, in Daikanyama, Shibuya, Tokyo.
The sound track is an improvised piece called “Everything is Flowing” from the album Songs from Being of the Sun, which Ramón Sender Barayón recorded in 1973, of himself on zither and me on guitar, and both of us singing.
In 2009, Sable Cantus, the choir director at Temple Beth David, in Westminster (Orange County), California, found Festival of Light online while searching for a song his choir could sing for a Hawaiian-themed Hanukkah party at the temple, and contacted me via my website for permission to use it. I not only assented, but volunteered to attend and participate, since I was living in Los Angeles at the time, about an hour’s drive away on the 405 freeway. Sable made sheet music of his choral arrangement of the song, which I have as a pdf document. Please let me know if you would like a copy and I’ll email it to you.
Temple Beth David made the feminist in me sing. The rabbi and the cantorial soloist are women – gorgeous, intelligent, talented women. Here’s a photo of me at the party, sporting a blue and white mu’umu’u (my best approximation of a Hawaiian Hanukkah gown), next to Rabbi Nancy Myers. In the center are two people whose names I don’t know, and on the right is Cantorial Soloist Nancy Linder.
And, hooray, below is a REVIEW of Festival of Light, by Jeanne Cooper, published in SF Gate, the online edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, on December 24, 2009:
“I’ve only just discovered a beautiful slack-key Hanukkah song, “Festival of Light,” by Alicia Bay Laurel, which appears on the 2001 “Old Hawaiian Christmas” compilation CD (SeaWest label), now out of print; you can hear by clicking on the player below, or following the link above. Anyone who’s a fan of ki ho’alu may enjoy it no matter what the season.”
My own assessment of the song:
Festival of Light is sweet and sincere rather than humorous, a Hawaiian slack-key-guitar-inspired folk song combining Hawaiian elements (aloha, ocean) with Hannukah elements (the eight nights surrounding the new moon preceeding the winter solstice, family gathering, candles of menorah). I performed two vocal tracks and two guitar tracks (one Hawaiian slack key, one in standard tuning).
Story Behind the Song:
Rick Asher Keefer, a producer-recording engineer whose Na Hoku award winning Hawaiian CDs include those by reknowned Hawaiian artists Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Brother Noland, and his brother, Tony Conjugacion, created Old Hawaiian Christmas, a compilation holiday CD, in 2001, and asked me to write and perform (probably the first ever) Hawaiian Hannukah song. The CD (and this song) continues to get airplay in Hawaii in the December holiday season.
Rick engineered and helped me produce my first two CDs (Music from Living on the Earth and Living in Hawaii Style) at Sea-West Studios, near Pahoa, Hawaii, in 2000 and 2001. He and his wife Donna Keefer both perished from cancer, he in December 2013, and she in April 2015. They are sorely missed by a large musical community, not only in Hawaii, but in Japan, and in Seattle, their first home. Rick engineered albums by the woman-fronted rock band, Heart, including Dog and Butterfly.
Lyrics to Festival of Light
Verse One Festival of light on a winter night Gathering of friends and family Flickering candles in a row Shining for a miracle in history
Refrain All of this on eight starry moonless nights All of this surrounded by the great blue sea All in the spirit of aloha Smiling in the heart of Hawaii
Verse Two Now is the season for sharing our light Singing and dancing so joyously Thanking each other for kindliness Flowing through our lives so plenteously
Refrain All of this on eight starry moonless nights All of this surrounded by the great blue sea All in the spirit of aloha Smiling in the heart of Hawaii
(c) 2001 Alicia Bay Laurel, Bay Tree Music (ASCAP)
In thinking about my year-end list, it occurred to me that there’s something on it that you folks may not have heard but would be quite interested in. And in hopes of getting it onto more year-end lists than just mine…
Alicia Bay Laurel is best known for her 1971 handwritten and drawn commune guide “Living on the Earth” (later picked up by Random House, and an international bestseller). Alicia became a friend and mentor when I was 15, and I’ve returned the favor by helping to build her website, http://www.aliciabaylaurel.com, and teaching her how to blog.
Her new album, What Living’s All About (available from her online store) includes an astonishingly powerful protest tune, “America The Blues,” featuring wild guitar work by Nels Cline and Alicia sounding more like the Queen of the Punks than the Queen of the Hippies. I made her promise to make it available for free, because this song needs to be heard. Please give it a spin if you’re inclined, and think of it when listing your singles for your year end list.
Alicia says: “This is a song about speaking truth to power—not only to despots, but to our own collective power. The operative lyric here is VOTE. If everyone who could vote actually did vote, we could elect representatives who would work with us to reverse the vast environmental, public health, diplomatic, and human rights problems we earth-dwellers face, and make this a sustainable, joyful world for all who live in it, now and in the future.”
On May 1, 2020 Ramón Sender Barayón and I signed a contract for the first English edition since 1973 of our book, Being of the Sun, with Echo Point Books & Media, a small publisher based in Brattleboro, Vermont.
In the early ‘70’s, while living in on a mountain farm near Popayán, Colombia, Ramon and I wrote Being of the Sun, released as a companion volume to Living on the Earth. The book’s central premise is that each person can find his or her own to way to a dialogue with the Divine, without middlemen, hierarchy, or externally imposed rules of living, while borrowing practices from many traditions to enhance this dialogue. We then offered, as an example, various practices that we found useful, especially practices honoring nature and its cycles, the vibrations of music, and the life-giving light of the sun.
Ramon’s unique contributions stem from his practices of meditation on sunlight and his background as an avant-garde composer and musician. He was, along with Mort Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley, one of the composers who formed the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early 1960’s, and collaborated with audio engineer Don Buchla and Mort Subotnick in the invention of first synthesizer built on the West Coast, the Buchla Box (which was contemporary with the Moog, built on the East Coast).
My illustrations in Being of the Sun are far more lush, imaginative and colorful than those in Living on the Earth, and I bravely offered a drawing of a beautiful young woman defecating into a hole in the earth.
Twenty-seven years after its publication, I recorded three of the songs from Being of the Sun on my first CD, Music From Living on the Earth. In 2013, Ramón and I released Songs from Being of the Sun, a CD remastered from Ramón’s 1973 reel-to-reel tape of the two of us performing songs, chants and improvisations from our book, just before it was published. In 2015, I recorded three more of my songs first published in Being of the Sun on my seventh CD, More Songs From Living on the Earth, and, in 2018, on my eighth CD, Alicia Bay Laurel: Live In Japan, I perform a medley of the four chants for the solstices and equinoxes. I also performed this medley in the film I made in collaboration with filmmaker Luis Olano, of my live one-woman two-act storytelling and musical stage performance, Living on the Earth – The Musical.
If you scroll down, you’ll find a chart I made for the new edition of Being of the Sun, showing the pages on which the songs, chants and improvisations appear, and the locations of existing recordings of them.
Being of the Sun was initially not well received; in 1973, Rolling Stone declared it “the worst gift book of the year.” However, in the intervening years, it became a cult classic, often referenced on Pagan/Wiccan websites, the illustrations pirated into various alternative journals. People spiritually attuned to nature, for example, practitioners of Shinto, love this book. The Japanese translation of this book has been in print from 1974 to 1980, and from 2007 to the present. And some visionaries, like author/journalist/professor of design Alastair Gordon, saw the magic in it right away: “I still cherish the original editions I have of these magical works… Being of the Sun should be required reading for all earthlings. I truly love your spirit and vision…”
Since then, I’ve been licensing the illustrations to fashion designers in Japan. The Hayashi Sisters did a write-up in Japan Vogue Online, published May 25, 2015, about the Salon de Balcony summer fashion line (photo above), which includes clothing and accessories printed with illustrations from Being of the Sun.
Here is the synopsis/review on Amazon dot com:
“A do-it-yourself spirituality and music book, Being of the Sun (Harper and Row, 1973), is the sequel to Alicia Bay Laurel’s classic, best-selling guide, Living on the Earth (Random House 1971 and 2000.) Co-written with author, avant-garde composer and solar yogi Ramón Sender Barayón, Being of the Sun provides a guide to creating one’s own religion, and also offers a compendium of spiritual practices the authors found valuable. Similar to Living On The Earth, Being of the Sun is entirely handwritten in Alicia’s flowing cursive script and illustrated on every page with her line drawings, a shining example of her immensely influential original book design. However, unlike the simple brown lines and cover of Alicia’s first book, Being of the Sun’s design features purple ink throughout, a colorful cover, plus eight full color illustrations within. Ramón created sheet music of the original spiritual songs and chants he and Alicia wrote for the book. Being of the Sun offers a window on hippie life in the early 70’s, and remains a cult classic among nature-worshippers to this day.” ____________________________________________________________________
Here is the cover for the upcoming Spanish edition, which will have the original colors that I used – unlike the Harper & Row and Soshisha editions, which changed the color pallette to suit the aesthetics of the publishers. ______________________________________________________________
In 2013, Indigo With Stars, Inc. released “Songs from Being of the Sun,” a remastered version on CD of an archival reel-to-reel recording made by Ramón Sender Barayon in 1973, of me and Ramón performing some of the sacred nature chants we created for Being of the Sun, just before it was published. It’s available as a physical CD here.
5 star review on CD Baby of “Songs from Being of the Sun” by Gordon Kennedy, author of Children of the Sun, an astonishing book that reveals the 19th century European roots of the hippie movement in the USA:
“In The Sunshine Of Your Love”
“Being of the Sun is an enchanted Solar Mass of relaxing, charming, seductive sounds. If I could pop into the book version like a superflex Gumby, this musical soundtrack would rejuvenate me – and I can’t wait to meet all of the colorful sun children. I visualized Gods-dog and even she sports a nice tan.
“Inside my sauna, the harmonies feed my inner sweat glands with radiant waves of helio-therapy. I surrender.”
Our friend, organic food product pioneer and philosopher Gregory Sams, author of a wonderful solar praise and scientific information book called Sun of gOd, received a copy in April 2017, and posted:
“Being of the Sun” was written 25 years before Sun of gOd. This beautiful book by Alicia Bay Laurel and Ramon Sender taps into the same spirit. Inspirational! All lovingly hand-written and illustrated.
Tigger Wheel was a child living at Wheeler Ranch commune while I was writing Living on the Earth. We’ve stayed in touch all these years; now she and her husband are retired special ed teachers in Texas. She sent me this a few years back:
Another letter to me and to Ramon Sender Barayon from deLIGHTful Gregory Sams:
“After an initial delightful rush into it, I have now finally got to the end of your incredible testament, Being of the Sun. Sorry it took so long, but maybe I was waiting for the Summer to kick in. I’m just amazed at how tuned in you two lovers were, and to what a depth, all those years ago! Thinking that perhaps those sacraments and the light of our Sun gave a helpful and loving hand. It is at once a beautiful spiritual work of art and a practical guide to living a good life – a fitting accolade to the true light of all our lives.
“I was thinking, going through it, that there were so many pages I wanted to post-it note that it would be silly to do so. And then I see the hand-written index at the back. Astounding! The book covers so very much, even how to hand-make your own musical instruments and wind chimes. Got me wondering if you ever assembled that drone orchestra. Loved your words on food and your expression of the consciousness that pervades all. You both really deserved to retire on that book but hey, you’re happy and Sun still blesses us. I’m really happy to know that a copy of my book is in your hands. They are so different in approach, yet complement each other so well.”
Gregory Sams Cultural Change Agent, Organic Food Pioneer Author of Sun of gOd __________________________________________________
VIVIENDO EN LA TIERRA & SER DEL SOL
“Living On The Earth” (Viviendo en la Tierra) es una guía o manual para la vida sostenible, comunal y alternativa creada por Alicia Bay Laurel en el rancho-comuna Wheeler, en el norte de California, a finales de los años sesenta. Fue un éxito de ventas a principios de la década siguiente, y sin ser un libro de cocina, fue incluido en un prestigioso recopilatorio como uno de los 100 libros de cocina más influyentes de la historia de los EEUU. Está traducido al japonés y desde que el año pasado Kachina Ediciones se lanzara a editarlo en español, manteniendo los dibujos originales, podemos tener esta verdadera obra de arte en nuestra biblioteca. Pocos años después de su publicación, Alicia viajó con Ramon Sender a Colombia para investigar a fondo los cultos solares y en 1973 publicaron juntos otra maravilla: “Being Of The Sun” (Ser del Sol), una especie de manual para crear tu propia religión y vivir de una forma más consciente con la naturaleza. Está construido como un diario, e incluye las partituras y los cánticos asociados a diferentes rituales. No tuvo el mismo éxito que su predecesor, y la revista Rolling Stone llegó a catalogarlo como “el peor regalo que puedes hacer estas navidades”. A nosotros nos parece sin embargo, además de una obra de arte, un documento histórico de gran valor. Muy recientemente hemos conocido la fantástica noticia de que Kachina Ediciones se va a encargar de su edición en español para el próximo verano.
Luis Olano Writer and Director of the documentary, “Sender Barayon: A Trip into the Light” December 2018 _________________________________________________________
Certain books influenced me profoundly as a young teenager. I remember pouring over The Last Whole Earth Catalog and planning a theoretical venture into the wilderness. When I was thirteen, my brother gave me a book called “Being of the Sun”. I studied that book for months and began a process of developing my own traditions as a result. I don’t know what happened to my original copy, but a few years ago, I found a new one. Here are a couple of pages:
That book was my bible as a teenager! I colored in it and hung out with it in a sacred space I set up in my room to do my yoga…oh, that’s right! That’s where I learned many yoga poses too!
At the time, I didn’t really know anyone who shared that world with me…it was a window into my dreams for my life and really stimulated my imagination and added magic and warmth, color and joy to my days and nights….
I will introduce you to the book that touched the heart. This is my forever Bible.
In the light of the sun that lives us, Feeling the wind and nature To live comfortably and live, For us now That’s exactly what I need.
The author of this book Live by Alicia Bay Laurel How to live primitive Yoga, mantra and breathing It’s new when you look at it! It is also the magic of the scales from the eyes, It is also my life of the past.
Alicia Bay Laurel 💛 I felt you’re really magical of using all of nature 🌈🌲💖!
One words about ‘’Mekarauroko’’ , the scale from the eye is a Japanese Proverb, To see the light , to be awakened to the truth, to have the scales fall from one’s eyes are the meetings .
Thank you for blowing your wonderful wind into my life!
Nancy Taylor Holistic chiropractor Charlottesville, Virginia ___________________________________________________________
I read your book, Being of the Sun, and I got inspired by the life you wrote about in this book. These days, I spend more time in nature, and it brings me much calm and peace in my mind.
Lei Aloha Smile Communicator Izumo, Shimane, Japan _____________________________________________________________
I have my old copy. It has been such a beautiful influence in my life. Alicia Bay Laurel, I am truly beholden to you for your countless gifts, books that changed my life, set me on my path, and were friends to me when no one else understood. Treasured with all my heart.
Alicia Bay Laurel: So thrilled to see the harvest goddess smiling in your winter solstice altar, dear Hecate Doe!
Hecate Doe: Alicia Bay Laurel, you already know I love me some toilet paper roll Goddesses! You should have seen my Mabon one dancing on my altar, and my Imbolc one was quite cheeky ! I’ve made various Yule ones for 50 years (ack) but this is the first year I’m diligently making one for each Sabbat. Although I design and change up the skirt and blouse on each one over the years, the original inspiration came from your beautiful book.
Alicia Bay Laurel: Wow, I am very honored that a page from Being of the Sun has become so deeply woven into your spiritual life, dear Hecate Doe!
Hecate Doe: Alicia Bay Laurel… and then some. Because it was before scanners, my books are all cut up, the pieces carefully guarded. My 50-year-old son was thrilled to hear that I’ve “met” you; he still remembers the words to [the song] “Receiver Believer” and can play Winter Solstice chant on the old recorder. For the last 50 years, we’ve always sung and played “Receiver Believer” every Yule!
Here are the two pages from the new edition of Being of the Sun that give the locations of the existing recordings of the music in the book. All of these recordings are available from our online shop (there’s a link in the horizontal menu bar at the top of each page of this website).
Just thinking about you this morning as I was going through an old box of books I used for research on SPACED OUT and came across these two beauties…I’d completely forgotten about them!
Your work still inspires and brings joyto so many… (moi meme)
Much Love, Health and Beatitude for 2021
Alastair Gordon Author, Architecture Critic, Visiting Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Design New York, New York
Thank you for this loving message, which brings me joy. And beatitude!
I have great respect for you and your work, and am thrilled to have had my work be part of it.
Last year, I finished the layout for the first new English language edition of Being of the Sun since 1973. I thought of you while I was restoring the color drawing that you used in your great book, Spaced Out.
Being of the Sun was so amazingly influential for me. I saw a copy in the Lafayette CA library when I was 14 in the ’80s, checked it out and based a large part of my life on it. My approach to spirituality was influenced by your book.
Intended to be a companion volume to Living on the Earth, this book goes deep into a communal way of life in 1973.
Alicia Bay Laurel and Ramon Sender share their vision of yoga, healing, sun songs, moon songs, meditation, ceremonies, communes, solitudes, and more in a how-to format connecting us back to our inner child, naked & free!
May the holy words found in this book heal the world at a time when we need them most!
Tracy Conti and Stephen McCarty Solar Return Shop Echo Park, Los Angeles, California
I finished reading Being of the Sun, and I loved it. It’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to see my dad read it to my [future] children one day. It will be a lovely bed time book.
Bianca Scott Herbalist and Writer Tigard, Oregon ____________________________________________
We don’t own or keep much in our lives, but this is one of the most treasured. This book came into our lives and gave us such joy. Wonderful images and genuine words of love and care for the planet and each other. Gratitude each day for the arrival of the Morning Star, bringer of life and joy to each and every living being on this planet.
My name is Alix, from Amsterdam. Currently I am on the island of Ibiza, in Spain.
Yesterday, I had the most perfect, aligned, beautiful ceremony with the mushroom. It told me to step in to the light, for I am a light being. It told me to always search for the Sun.
Then this morning I stumbled upon a vendor with retro books. The first one I was drawn to was your book Being of the Sun. I hope that you feel, as much as I do, how your time capsule found the right place at exactly the right time.
Thank you for your wisdom, for I will hand it over to my unborn children.
Being of the Sun found me at my local used book store the other day. It was the first book I noticed, and grabbed it . Being of the Sun speaks to my soul! I’m so grateful it found me. I want to thank you personally from my soul to yours.
It is almost everything I already believe in, and soo much more. I didn’t realize that it was the sequel to Living on the Earth, which I actually just went in search for and ordered along with the new edition of Being of the Sun, because I want to be able to color it, but didn’t want to ruin the original. I’m so happy that your book had found me, and grateful for being, and to get the chance to thank you for inspiring me and soo many others.
Its like you said in your book, the human race is awakening, and the universe listens to everything that we say feel or think. I’ve recently been awakening over the past few years, which has been a blessing, yet difficult at the same time, just because of the world we live in. I find soo much comfort in your books and I’m soo happy that you decided to write and publish them.
I hope that your books continue to find their way to more beautiful souls in search of their own spirituality, just like me
Stephanie Rose Gracon Avon Lake, Ohio
This is the “Breathing Cloud” It has lots of openings for air and there are prisms to breathe rainbow colored light.
Caroling Wholeo Geary Artist and creator of the Wholeo Dome
So here’s the magazine interview with me that Takashi Kikuchi wrote for 88 (pronounced “hachi hachi” in Japanese) Magazine, a permaculture journal printed with soy inks on recycled paper. Kikuchi-san is the editor, and he was assisted by Maki Ozawa, who interpreted for us. They flew over to Ohshima (island) to interview me, and they also interviewed me at Koki Aso’s house in Hayama, since he and Kikuchi-san are friends. Every one of the 88 covers is a work of art. I recycled the cover of a May 2005 issue into the shoe box shrine I made at Doshi Camp in Yamanashi Prefecture at the Kurkku weekend workshop.
Page one of the November 2006 issue. This photo of me was taken in the forest in Ohshima, on the path to the ancient style rice straw hut. The way the embroidery on the dress echoes the curve of the ferns is a tribute to the superb designer’s eye of the photographer. His name is Hiroshi.
Page two. Behind the writing is an illustration from Living on the Earth of a girl awakening at dawn at her mountain encampment to the sound of a bird calling. She sits up nude in her sleeping bag, wherein her lover still snores. It’s got to be one of the most evocative drawings in the book.
Page three. Now here’s a wink from the Universe. In 2002, when Mana Koike and Sachiho Kojima came to Hawaii Island and recorded a CD of Tara songs onwhich I sang backup, Mana came to visit me at my home, and I gifted her with a Japanese language edition of Being of the Sun. The book had been out of print since the 1970’s, and Mana thought she might want to re-publish it herself. I was thrilled with her offer, but not counting on it, either. When Kikuchi-san and his crew came with me to Mana’s house in Ohshima, Mana showed him her copy of Being of the Sun, and he had Hiroshi, the photographer, take this picture of it next to the Japanese edition of Living on the Earth. Not long after the magazine came out, I received an email from Soshisha, Ltd., which had published both books in the 1970’s and still publishes Living on the Earth, to discuss publishing Being of the Sun again.
Page four. Again, the graphic designer for the article has chosen one of the other most evocative drawings from Living on the Earth – the title page image of a young man and woman dancing on a hilltop under a moonlit sky while a dog dances beside them. I’m looking very serious in the photo at Koki’s house. I’m probably discussing politics. I wish I could read the article! I wanted to get it translated for my blog, but, mercy, it’s 5 to 15 cents per character, which adds up to hundreds of dollars! Kikuchi-san (“Kick” is his screen name) sweetly featured my new jazz CD, What Living’s All About in a sidebar, with its cover art that echoes the image of ecstatic dancing in nature by moonlight.
Look for this sign above the door and you know you’re at Yukotopia.
Tonight I visited Yukotopia Dead Heads Land Night Club where its fifteenth anniversary party is in full swing, featuring Sandy Rothman, a masterful multi-instrumental player from Berkeley who had played at the grand opening and the tenth anniversary festivities as well. Sandy played in several bands with Jerry Garcia, and sings with the same kind of friendly, slightly sardonic, laid-back delivery for which the Dead are known. The three other players live in Tokyo. Lots of joy emanated from the stage during their sets and the audience loved them, too.
Meet Roku Uehara, the club manager and sound engineer, Yuko Tsukamoto, the club owner, and their friend, Masahiko, the official club photographer.
After Sandy and the Anniversary Band played their acoustic sets, the Warlocks played a couple of electric Grateful Dead sets and the audience danced.
Everyone in the room at least swayed in their seats to the band, but most were full on dancing.
Yuko’s got all kinds of Grateful Dead items for sale—books, DVDs, CDs, Jerry Garcia dolls, tie-dye t-shirts, and posters.
Dead head tie-dye on the ceiling.
Poster for this week’s events.
Yuko and I enjoyed our dinner at a sushi diner just down the street from the club, with this cool, super slow conveyer belt that circled three sushi chefs who constantly replenished it with dishes of sushi. Each dish cost $1. Not everything in Tokyo is expensive, it turns out.
Lila Downs at the Barbican, London, April 2006 Photographer: Damian Rafferty
My favorite vocalists of late all sing in romance languages. They are already legends, but if you haven’t heard them yet, get thee to iTunes and check them out. You don’t need to know Spanish, French, Italian or Portuguese, although, if you do, it will no doubt enhance your thrall.
From Brazil, dig Rosa Passos (pronounced “Hosa” Passos), a soprano whose hip, creative phrasing enhances the cool “beach samba” style of Brazilian pop standards. When I first heard her, I realized I’m more accustomed to hearing this music performed in an alto range, and Rosa’s high, vibrato-less voice gives even 1960’s Jobim chestnuts a fresh youthfulness.
From Peru, Susana Baca gives voice to an African-American community in a country without Caribbean frontage. Rich with complex rhythms and responsive chorus, Susana’s music takes you right to the emotional and spiritual center of her mysterious and earthy world.
From Mexico and Minnesota, Lila Downs combines a degree in opera singing, a bloodline of the majestic women of the ithmus of Tehuantepec, and a cool New Jersey saxophonist boyfriend to create traditional Mexican music with soaring vocals, hip arrangements, and sometimes political rants.
From Mexico, Montreal, and lots of road time in between, Lhasa de Sela grew up traveling with singing parents on a school bus, and began gigging at age 13. In Montreal she partnered with Yves Desrosiers, a monster guitarist and brilliant producer, to create two emotionally urgent yet surreal CDs.
From Asti, near the French border of Italy, comes a dapper, older attorney turned singer/songwriter named Paolo Conte. With a gruff voice, fabulous jazz piano chops and eerily retro band arrangements, Conte creates the most gorgeous, profound and hilarious poetry imaginable. If you do not read Italian, be sure, when you purchase one of his CDs, to get one with English translations of the lyrics in the liner notes.
Note 14 years later: I still adore all of these recording artists, and I would like to add to this list Maria Bethania (vocalist from Brazil), and Badi Assad (guitarist/composer/percussionist/vocalist from Brazil).
A year before the Blum’s daughter, Katie, left the nest, eventually to get her degree in social work, the Blums moved to Kailua-Kona, on the island of Hawaii, leaving their beloved band behind. Kona Community Hospital was thrilled to have Barry as their only orthopedic surgeon, and the Blums were thrilled to trade their Mill Valley digs for a spacious, airy home on a hillside with a huge view of the ocean. Soon they began looking for band members.
The Kona Traveling Jewish Wedding Band onstage.
This time their band didn’t just play lots of wedding gigs. Gloria and Barry assumed leadership of Congregation Kona Beth Shalom, and they began performing Jewish wedding ceremonies in addition to the music. The band recorded a wonderful CD called Shaloha Oy, the title track being a minor key, up-tempo send-up of Queen Liliuokalani’s timeless Aloha ‘Oe. On the cover is a blurb from me: “Gloria Blum is the Janis Joplin of klezmer.”
Gloria singing with the band.
Kona Beth Shalom became a kick ass congregation, producing Karen Breier’s Shaloha Cookbook, which garnered an article in the New York Times, and adopting a torah (Old Testament scroll in Hebrew) that had belonged to a Czech congregation massacred during the Holocaust. The governor of Hawaii attended Kona Beth Shalom’s celebration of the old torah’s expert restoration.
My illustration for the backs of Gloria’s Feeling Good Cards. This image is copyrighted by Gloria Blum.
Gloria’s gift to humankind, a method of teaching appropriate behavior, self-esteem and social skills to mentally disabled teenagers, inspired her to create a resource curriculum guide, Feeling Good About Yourself, and also a communicaton card game, Feeling Good Cards, enjoyable by any group of people. Last year I drew a card back picture exactly to Gloria’s specifications, and re-designed the graphics for the box. That’s Barry playing his bass balalaika, and Gloria beside him, singing with her arms upraised in joy.
Cattle ranching history in a mural by Marcia Ray in the food court of the Parker Ranch Center, Waimea, Hawaii
When people think of Hawaii, they don’t often think of cowboys, but, in some parts of Hawaii, cattle ranching is still a way of life. Mind you, these are cowboys who proudly hula and make feather bands for their hats. These are the people who created slack-key guitar.
Pasture and ocean seen from the Old Mamalahoa Highway, from Ahualoa to Waimea
The cattle pastures of Hawaii overlook the ocean and enjoy a perpetually balmy climate. I figure this is where you reincarnate if you were a very good cow last time.
Clouds creep over the crest of Kohala Mountain toward the pastures.
Hawaiian cowboys are called “paniolos,” a Hawaiian-ized word originally meaning Españolo, or people who speak Spanish. The first cattle were given to Hawaiian chiefs by visiting British tall ships, and they roamed the islands destroying everything in their path, until the Hawaiians imported people with cattle controlling skills to put an end to that. The first cowboys came from Argentina, speaking Spanish, and bringing guitars, Spanish open tunings, roping and riding, and the Brazilian tipo, a tiny four-stringed instrument the Hawaiians adopted as the ukulele (jumping flea).
Braddah Smitty, whose beautiful heart resonates in his voice.
Last night I spent three happy hours in Tante’s Bar and Grill in Waimea, Hawaii, the heart of the vast Parker Ranch, listening to the great Braddah Smitty and his band. Braddah Smitty’s very Hawaiian family includes his famous uncle Gabby Pahinui, the father of modern slack key guitar, and Gabby’s guitarist sons Cyril and Bla Pahinui. Braddah Smitty resembles his uncle, and sounds a lot like him when he sings Gabby’s hits “Hi’ilawe” and “Moonlight Lady,” but his talent is unique. His rich baritone soars like an opera star’s, but without the pomp. Braddah Smitty is all about having fun. The whole room has no choice but to join him.
An member of the audience performs a masculine hula to Smitty’s music. Several others, including my friend Lynn, got up and danced when they heard songs to which they knew the choreography. In hula, there is only one correct choreography to each song, so that dancers from disparate locations should all be able to move in unison.
He is also all about heart. He graciously invites in whoever wants to play along. Among those sitting in on this occasion was the ancient and legendary Uncle Martin Purdy, son of the famous cowboy Ikua Purdy, depicted in an enormous bronze riding horseback and roping a cow, that stands in the parking lot outside Tante’s Bar and Grill. His wife, Auntie Doris Purdy, played ukulele and performed a stately hula from her chair. Her daughter played guitar, and a couple of young local guys sat in on guitar and ukulele and sang.
The whole line-up of Smitty’s band and friends picking and singing at Tante’s by the great stone fireplace.
I’d kanikapila’d (jammed) with Braddah Smitty a few years ago at the birthday party of Edie Bikle, best-selling children’s book author and the owner of Taro Patch, a scrumptuous gift store in nearby Honoka’a, and he remembered that I played slack key, so he invited me to play some songs during the break between the sets.
I perform some slack key tunes for the folks at Tante’s.
Edie and her boyfriend Tony, both present and clearly having a wonderful time, egged me on, and so did Lynn Nakkim, novelist, comedienne, former Green Party candidate, Waimea resident with her own horse ranch and my friend for over thirty years, whose idea it was to come to Tante’s in the first place. So, I played two slack key pieces over one hundred years old, and sang and played two original slack key songs, Auntie Clara and Living in Hawaii Style, all of which I recorded in 2001 on a CD of the same name. Edie carries it in her store.
Afterward, I joined the line-up of friends playing along with the band. This is what “kanikapila” means. Everyone joining in the music together.
At the end of the show, the audience rose as one and joined hands in a circle, something I’ve never seen happen in a bar. We all sang Hawaii Aloha, the unofficial national anthem, swaying and harmonizing together. Then that trickster, Braddah Smitty, sang the Hokey Pokey, and we all got really silly dancing that. After that, people were hugging and kissing each other Good Night and Aloha, and heading out into the mist.
I met Noriko at Hoshi Hana’s art opening last Sunday. She told me she played shamisen, and I asked when and where I could come hear her play. When I found out it would be the following Friday at Zeque (pronounced zeck-you) Sushi and Grill in the South Lake Mall in Pasadena, I called my friends and happily reserved a table for twelve. We all had a wonderful time.
Michiko, Takako, Hideko and Noriko.
The ensemble was, as follows:
In the lavender kimono, Michiko Yoshino (professional name, Bando Hiro Michiya), a traditional Japanese dancer, who sang some songs with the shamisen trio at the beginning of the set.
In the peach kimono, Takako Osumi (Kineya Yasuyo), shamisen player.
In the yellow kimono, Hideko Kamei (Kineya Kichi Kazu), shamisen player.
In the blue kimono, Noriko Britton (Kineya Roku Kensho), shamisen player.
An instrumental piece with fierce and complex rhythms.
Sometimes the songs were instrumental only and sometimes the women sang while they played. These were not songs for dance performance, but rather just for listening, Noriko explained to us later. Hoshi Hana told me that Noriko lived across the street from her parents since before her birth, and she had encouraged Hoshi Hana to learn music. “I was lousy at the koto,” she grinned. Hoshi Hana’s destiny clearly lay in the visual arts and in a world more bohemian than traditional, although she is beautifully bi-lingual.
Zeque’s appetizer specialty is a sort of giant sushi called a Mount Fuji, with three layers of rice and your choice of any three sushi toppings, two as fillings and one on top. One of these arrived with slices of avocado ornamenting the sides.
Just as we were all leaving, I saw the trio heading for the parking lot with their instruments and ran after them to photograph them one more time. So sweetly did they turn and smile.
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