(collection of past Homepage greetings and stories)
April 1, 2005   -to-   July 1, 2005

April 1, 2005
Howdy, my fine, blossoming friends,

It's been over three weeks since I've written a single thing. Wait, there
was that one lengthy letter I sent the City of Seattle, begging for mercy. My hand on a bag of donuts, I swear I never saw that dang Do Not Enter sign. Before I realized my little moving violation, I was already hurtling headlong up the I-5 exit ramp and rockin' out to Guster. Fortunately, I caught on before I'd gone even a mile and nobody was hurt. I do feel a little embarrassed at my honking and raging at all the idiots going the wrong way. Actually though, I believe it may have been no accident that I had a momentary lapse of reason and entered the freeway going the wrong way; I strongly suspect that there may have been higher powers orchestrating my hands on the wheel because my "mistake" seemed to liven up everybody's commute and make the time go faster. So it wasn't all bad. Plus, local evening news for once had a lead story that the whole family could watch.

This inspired angle on the adventure; my selfless service for the "public good" was the central focus of my sixteen-page, single-spaced (8-point type!) letter to traffic court suggesting leniency, forgiveness, and if at all possible, a key to the city. Ordinarily, I wouldn't nominate my own self for such an honor but I figured that, since I was writing anyway, I should ask for what I want. (I watch everyday, Dr. Phil!)

So, other than the one letter, it's been way too long since I've written, worked on my book or updated my website with a new rambling. Though I usually have no concrete reason, this time I have a truly ironclad one: Over the last few weeks I had to transport myself, my little dawg, and all our belongings from our abode of six years to a new location a few miles away. Until yesterday I was still living out of boxes.

The February evening before I was to leave for California to play a concert at The CoachHouse, my landlady appeared at my door with a couple of people I hadn't seen before; I knew instantly that they were realtors because they were both slobbering uncontrollably and excitedly glancing back and forth from the roof to the porch - to the windows and driveway: all bonus features in their estimation, that would add millions to the market value. It had obviously been assumed that I'd be gone and my landlady's plan was to bring these folks into my home without my permission or knowledge. She would have gotten an appraisal so that she could put the house on the market without alerting me; therefore keeping a renter paying her mortgage right up to the last possible moment before the sale.

Imagine my surprise, having believed her frequent promises to give me lots of notice if she was ever even slightly considering selling the house. Imagine her surprise when I stood in her path and declared, "Sorry, you can't come in my home without an appointment. If you want to call ahead and ask me when I can be here to allow entry, you may do so." This was not the scenario she'd envisioned and it did not go over well. In fact, it went over so poorly that her countenance began to appear less and less like a landlady's and more and more like that of a large, gnarly beet. She grew angry and nasty and tried to intimidate me into allowing her and her cohorts to trespass by uttering threats of eviction. I told her to do what she must do. Which she did, dammit. She showed up an hour later with a flimsy, store-bought document telling me I had twenty days to leave. Whee! Twenty whole days to find a suitable home! It was almost too much time and I wondered what I'd do with my long, leisurely afternoons. That wasn't enough; she wanted to cut me to the bone, so the next morning she left a nasty note demanding that I immediately discontinue feeding birds, squirrels, raccoons and cats - all of whom had lived in the dense trees and foliage since before I'd even lived there. Fortunately, she said nothing about grizzlies, so I took advantage of the loophole. Could I help it if the cats and raccoons got into the grizzly bear chow? I was so upset that I accidentally bought, opened and spilled three large bags of birdfeed in the backyard and a gallon can of raw Virginia peanuts. Man, I get shaky and accident-prone when you kick me out of my home! I must work on that.

I'm joking about it all now, but I really was upset for a time. I kept trying to remind myself to breathe but it's hard to remember when your cozy little world is bumping around in your throat. The house itself was fine but nothing special. Each year I decorated the yard with baskets of flowers I'd planted, delighting myself and passersby with bursts of color and fragrance, but I knew I could do that anywhere. I was certain that I could find a home I liked better. What I was most sad about was the abrupt departure I was going to have to make; leaving my neighbors and the animals I'd grown fond of, feeding and watering and caring for various creatures for six years. I'd found homes for six cats and helped a few through crisis. I had wondered for years if it was the right thing to do; feeding animals that lived in the trees and hollows, but it just seemed to me that since society has taken away natural woods and waterways, creating the dangerous, concrete-covered world these animals are forced to live in, I just wanted to make sure they had enough water and food to not have to journey miles over busy motorways in order to survive.

Once I knew I was moving though, I felt sad that I'd created a situation making the animals dependent on me. There was no way I was going to just instantly stop supporting them. I started planning ways to continue to feed the critters after I left. Fortunately, my former neighbor is a good friend and loves animals too. Together we created a way for her to continue caring for the various creatures; I buy the food and she puts out pans of water and is gradually lessening their weekly feeding so that over the months the creatures can have a chance to find other sources and not come suddenly to the end of their dependable food supply. It's not perfect but it's the best solution we could come up with.

The other part of what was so disheartening the night I received the 20-day notice was that I had a concert scheduled for the very next evening in Southern California. I'd been so looking forward to it and had received dozens of emails from folks who were planning on attending. I felt a real sense of purpose in going there and singing and telling my stories. The last thing I wanted to do was to carry my despair onstage and have it cast a somber mood on the night. As it turned out, I was a little better the next morning; a little sad, but not overly devastated. I was traveling with my friend and business manager, Michael Munniks, and his girlfriend, Marilyn. Marilyn must have seen the stress in me because she bought Michael and me a massage at the airport just before we boarded the plane. It went a long way toward getting me breathing again.  The concert itself was wonderful, a great, full house of happy people, a light mood and the best sound I've ever experienced onstage - I felt blessed and didn't give a moment's thought to my predicament back home the whole night. I played two brand new songs; Things That I Don't Know and February Skies, and the reaction went beyond my hopes. It always feels great to play something new and find that the audience loves it from the very first listen. The night was so successful and the crowd so uplifting, that I felt a sort of afterglow and my mood became peaceful and hopeful for the several days I was in California.

      Upon my return to Seattle, I instantly began my search for a new home. My first concern was my little pooch, who absolutely must have a picture window on the world in order to be emotionally healthy. Hey, if you were a foot tall you'd go crazy without a window seat, too. As you might imagine in this modern world of terror, many landlords are deathly afraid of fluffy little dogs and refuse to rent to anyone hosting one. No problem, I simply disguised Bungee as a fuzzy house shoe and was able to secure a lovely home in my old neighborhood of fifteen years. I called upon my friends to help me move and they showed up in droves. They are a wonderful group of friends but reckless in a mob, showing off for each other with fragile items and rebellious about reading box labels. "It's not fun!" Carson wailed, kicking a vase around like a Hacky Sack. "I know," sobbed Ricky, dragging a painting in the dirt. "I can't stand to read 'em, either!" It went on and on like that and I just did my best to ignore them. I would have turned off my Gameboy and redirected them but I was winning, bigtime.

After we got everything moved in, Carson went to the store for a twelve-pack of Labatt beer and a couple of pillow-sized bags of chips and we enjoyed our first celebration in my new home. Sitting there with the sun streaming in through the living room windows, sipping beer and laughing with my friends, I had the wonderful feeling that the move was going to bring much love and good fortune into my life. I've been a bit of a hermit these last few years after my father passed away and I realize that it's time to come out of my cave. Now I live in a warm, inviting home with lots of windows, in a part of Seattle that I love; streets and neighborhoods I enjoy walking and running through. I have a large, open backyard, plenty of room for tossing a baseball back and forth with a friend, shady places to relax after and tell stories based not much in reality. It's a good way to live and I'm feeling good about it.

I'll still be a few more weeks getting everything in place. My friends all drove away that afternoon nine days ago and I began to slowly put my house together. It's taken me 'til yesterday to find my box of underwear, buried as it was, deep in the dark corners of the basement. It didn't trouble me though, I knew I'd eventually find them. In the meantime, I turned the hardship into fun; using the experience to create some quality time with my pup. Each evening for a week, I've washed out my one pair in the sink and dried them over the heater vent as I regale my little pooch with tales of walking 13 miles in the snow to buy a pair of slightly-used briefs when I was just a poor, misguided child. (she glances skeptically at me and threatens with a growl to nip me in the buttocks)

Not only have I regained my underwear box, (79 pairs! - including the two thongs and the Cosmo Kramer boxers) I have also discovered my remote control in the loft above the garage - where it was stuck inside a box containing all my shoes. At last, I can watch Shawn Hannity and walk on gravel!  (same thing)

I'm now residing less than a mile from where I lived during the decade and a-half when I recorded and released my first 7 CDs; near a place I used to ride my bike just to see the large, granite boulder that bursts abruptly out of the ground and causes the street to bend and curve. It's a surprising sight, yet powerfully calming; a dark gray stone rising with obvious purpose from the earth on a generally-flat neighborhood street of tidy yards and neat sidewalks. It bulges and assumes it's space as a reminder that the natural way of living things is not mowed and trimmed, but vibrant and alive and unruly. It vibrates it's slow, steady pulse, compelling everything else around here to fall gradually into it's peaceful rythm. I doubt you can be a coffee achiever and live near it. I went to it in the rain the other day with my friends, Jeff and Joie. They'd never seen it or heard of it. We walked the narrow dirt path around it where scores of kids have traced it's circumference over the decades, feeling where the rock is polished smooth from their climbing it on summer nights to sit twenty feet in the air and whisper secrets and giggle like children must do to thrive. I'm sure I'll climb up there myself some cool midnight this summertime; my pooch tucked into my jacket and a cold beer in my pocket. Maybe I'll see you there. If you come, be sure and bring a straw.

Thank you to the folks who've ordered my Friendship and Goodwill CD. It is a compilation CD of earlier recordings; a collection of songs intended to foster friendship, compassion and respect among young people. I'm working on ideas for getting it into schools around the country. It is just one small gesture, but I believe we must help children to feel connected and compassionate toward each other and not afraid for their well being. From what I've seen and heard from kids in the classes I've sang for and shared this CD with, they really do understand and value the ideals in the songs I've shared with them. You may read more or order Friendship and Goodwill by clicking here.

Some of the sweet kids at Bryant Elementary who simply had to meet Bungee dawg.

A friend of mine who has suffered the passing of one of her adult children has been going through a crisis of spirit and emotions. She posed questions about faith and has been in pain that she cannot find hers lately. There is no way I can  know her specific pain, but I understand the essence of it - as you probably do, too. This morning I sat watching the rain out my window, listening to the blustery wind and watching the waving branches of the trees and wrote this to her. It was probably mostly for myself. ~
Because you ask questions about faith, that alone is proof that you are still have it. Your faith is just changing shape, no longer assuming the imaginary form you once gave it. When we're young, we think of faith like a thing; something that me can have and hold. We define ourselves by our faith and consider it a shame to lose. In fact, for decades we may deny losing it even in our worst despair. But then we get older and suffer loss and disappointment and devastating failure and find that we cannot define ourselves by our faith - it would be like defining a tree only by the days that it blooms. A tree is still a tree when it's lovely blossoms fall; when it's verdant leaves go dry and brittle and break from the limb; when it's sap can barely rise the height of it's trunk. It is still a perfect tree. And we are still spiritual human beings; even when we have lost our way and cannot remember what faith is or recognize it as it modulates inside us. In some ways, these times of despair are when we become our most real; our most humble and open selves. We begin to realize that we know almost nothing. Our lives become more like the weather; clouds blowing in and out on gusts of salty wind; we are the heavy, overcast days where only a pretender could say with any authority that there really is a sun shining above the dense, slate ceiling. But we are also made up of the light piercing through rain clouds, slicing the gaps in the raggedy, overhead shroud and gleaming like diamonds on every living thing it glances upon.

As Rilke said to his young poet friend;
"Live the question."

Live your questions about faith and expect no definitive answer. But know that to ask them is to actually have faith. And know that in every breath; within every slight breeze or gust of blustery wind is the reply you seek. Don't expect it to take a shape you know, allow it to become something different in you than it has ever been in any other human. We can have faith - and sometimes lose it - or we can be faith. To me and all the people who love you, you are faith.

Thanks my friends, for checking in on me now and again. I'm so fortunate to get to write and sing my songs for my livelihood and it couldn't happen if you weren't listening and sharing my music with the people you love. Thank you for that. I hope this springtime brings you sweetness and laughter and some moments of passion you thought you'd lost long ago. Take a deep breath now and then. Maybe I'll see you on the rock this summer.

In Friendship,

PS, I'm always happy to hear from you.

PS-II, I'm looking for a wonderful dentist who knows and loves my music.
If that is you, please email me.

May 6, 2005

Howdy my springtime friends,

Here we are in May already - which disappoints me a little. I prefer April, which seems more the cradle of glorious springtime; where life is bursting forth from every bush and flower and tree. It's a month I have always wished was twice as long instead of a day short. Who decided that anyway? Shouldn't August be about ten days long and September and April a good solid 40 days each? It just makes sense to me, but then I'm no expert on the calendar;
I just noticed that I'm drinking my tea out of a dang Santy Clause mug. Holiday-wise, I'm a dang mess. But I'll tell you one dang thang I'm an expert on and that's playing the same three chords over and over again in every song. But hey, you never noticed, so why am I revealing such a thing?  Because I'm honest to the core. Springtime has that effect on me, it's got me feeling like I need to come clean on some things; to open up and declare truthfully what I think about all kinds of important stuff. Needing a forum from which to spout my great truths, I had an idea and sent out an email invitation asking if anyone would be interested in inteviewing me. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the voluminous response. Hundreds emailed me back saying YES! and wanted to know also, if I might be interested in refinancing my

home or in enlarging various parts of my anatomy. I said yes to everything even though I rent my home and can't imagine anyone messing with proportions like these.

Having interviewed the interviewers, I finally settled on the one that could get me the best deal on beer. The following is our interview.

Q: What kind of person are you: morning or evening?
A: Ooh, that's tough. I think I'm both. In the mornings I tend to puncture walls with a baseball bat and scream for peace. In the evenings I mend the holes and curse my lot in life. Both times are fun.
Q: Favorite color?
A: Yes! How did you know? Want to guess what it is? Never mind, I promised never to tell.
Q: If your house was on fire, what would be the one material object you would try to save from the fire and grab on your way out?
A: Out? Who says I'm leaving? Seriously, it would take a pretty viscious fire to get me off the couch. But I guess if I was really forced to vacate. . . I'd take the empty gas can. No use leaving incriminating evidence.
Q: Do you have house plants?
A: Are you speaking biblically? Cause that's private. Yeah sure, I've had a couple o' plants in my day but I ain't namin' names.
Q: How do you put your shoes on? One sock-one shoe, then repeat? Or do you put on both socks, then your shoes?
A: Are you kidding me? Are there really sock-shoe, sock-shoe people? That blows my mind.
Q: What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: My favorite? Like, one I prefer over others? No way I could ever be that way with ice cream. I'm equal opportunity all the way.
Q: Which decade featured the greatest music? 50s or 70s?
A: That's a tough couple of decades. How do you possibly hold Me and You and a Dog Named Boo and Teen Angel up against each other and say that one is best? I'd probably have to go with the 70s, but just barely and only because of Baby I'm a Want You. Can you believe how well that song still stands up today?
Q: Speaking of decades, if we showed people a picture of you right now, dressed as you are, what decade would they say you were from?
A: Well, that's just cruel. My shoes are unmistakably the Two-thousands, look at these babies glow. But my clothes could conceivably be from a few years back. Nothing particularly "today" about overalls and a corncob pipe, is there? My hair? I'd have to say that what's left of it is up-to-the-second 1999. Many people think I'm in a Boy Band.
Q: Incidentally, do you think Boy Bands are over?
A: I pray not.
Q: Do you dress Left or Right?
A: Wow! I was just talking about that with an elderly lady down the street. She felt that dressing Left suggested something I (as she put it) "wasn't ready to back up." I didn't know what the heck she was talking about but anyway, I'm swingin' to the right now and starting to enjoy the new attitude in slacks and short shorts.
Q: Do you believe in Bigfoot?
A: Well, believe might be too strong a word. He's a little flaky for me. I mean, come on man, sit still for a minute and take a dang picture!
Q: How about UFO's? Do you believe aliens exist?
A: You tell me. This very morning I "lost" two hours and ten minutes. Where the hell did it go? I posit that I was abducted in the shower.
Q: You don't think you might have simply fallen asleep in the warm water?
A: I can't completely rule it out, there was what appeared to be the impression of a drain mark on my face but that could easily have been placed there by laser. I think they messed with me, man.
Q: Let's change direction and get a little more topical; how do you feel about steroids?
A: If one ever hits the earth, we sure won't be talking about them stupid baseball players anymore.
Q: How about Enron?
A: Enron Hubbard? The founder of Scientology? I never met him but I had an eerie feeling he'd come up in my interview.
Q: Maybe topical isn't so good. Let's get more general. What's a typical afternoon like for you?
A: Well, I wake up in the middle of it, look around and see if anything looks familiar, then I turn over and go for a few more winks. If it's cold I might stuff my pooch down by my feet.
Q: That's a typical afternoon?
A: Oh! No! That's not typical. I thought you wanted something edgy. Actually, I spend all my afternoons volunteering at a convent.
Q: A convent? With nuns?
A: Oh, no! That's the wrong word. I didn't mean convent, I meant Nascar track. I volunteer there and help the less fortunate to be able to hurry and burn up the last of our oil reserves so that we can drain Alaska. We'd just as well get to the end of it and start looking for other things to use up. It's something I feel deeply about.
Q: Well, I must say, this interview has been interesting. I've never done one quite like it.
A: What? Are we through already? You never even asked me about my beard! Or why I never became a big star. Are you sure you have no more time?
Q: Well, I think I understand the deal on why you didn't become a big, oh, never mind. Okay, one more question. In your song, Still Believe, you say "how can we live like this and still believe?"  I've always thought that line was insipid; utterly ridiculous. Want to try to make sense of it for me?
A: Ooh. That hurts. You had to pick my weakest link, didn't you? I must be honest with you and say that I have no earthly clue what it means. In fact, I cringe when I hear it. I've been hoping it was one of those things that someday would reveal itself to be a great wisdom, a moment of inspired clarity that would prove me light years ahead of my time. But I fear that isn't likely. I think you'd just have to chalk it up to some bad bong water.

a rare photo of Michael Tomlinson having a "bad hair" day.

Well my friends, I actually do have a lot more to say, but I have a concert tomorrow night here in Seattle that I'm producing and I have much to do. Also, Brian Dina, my webguy, is leaving town for a week so I have to get this to him tonight. Check back in a few weeks and I'll have one of my lengthy ramblings up.

I hope you're doing well this springtime.

Yer ol' fren

May 23, 2005

Howdy my friends,

I'm crouched here in front of the open window with my little pooch (no, that's not what I call my belly) looking out on a wild spring rain as I write you. Today has been one of those kinds of blustery days that really makes you feel alive, witnessing the passion of weather that wants to be all things at once - and pretty much accomplishes it. Several times throughout the day when the sky would lighten, I would poke my head out the window, note some blue patches above and decide to go for a run. By the time I'd get my running shoes on and open the front door, rain would be pouring down in cold sheets. I don't mind running in a light rain - or even a heavy summer rain - but one of these freezing spring rains can make a man delirious and leave him stumbling around begging strangers for a nice mohair sweater. "Can ye spare a feller a dang space heater, maam? Maybe one o' them big Costco units?"

And if the thought of begging isn't bad enough, when is the last time you put on a tee-shirt, wet yourself down thoroughly with cold water and walked around in public letting people get a good look at you? No, thank you. Not unless I'm wearing my padded Batman tee.

Finally, a couple of hours ago, the sun came out and the sky was clear enough that I figured I could get in a few miles and make it back before the sideways rain started again. My timing couldn't have been better; just at the end of my run, a block away from home, dark, ragged clouds returned and started pelting the earth with giant raindrops again. I love just barely getting away with something.

Where I'm living now I can run from my door through neighborhoods bursting with lush green trees and bushes, flowers and plants sprouting so prolifically they almost obscure the sidewalks. I zigzag through these narrow, shady paths until I reach a beautiful, wooded ravine, less than a mile away, then jog along the northern edge of the gorge, across a wooden foot bridge to gaze through the leafy foliage to the creek below. Several moist forest trails switch back and forth to a wider trail at the bottom that snakes the length of the ravine and emerges almost a mile away. On another bridge further up, the earth is probably a hundred feet below me - which allows me to run alongside leafy crests of trees a hundred feet tall. Until I ran that path and saw them zipping insanely from limb to limb and tree to tree, I had no idea that squirrels were as reckless at a hundred feet off the ground as they are ten.

Eventually, I follow one of several meandering paths to the bottom of the ravine, running through the trees and beside mossy rocks tumbled along the bed of the clear, flowing stream. It's astounding to realize that I'm actually in the city. I'm sure most people don't even know this place exists in the middle of Seattle; this wide, woodsy cleft in the earth, descending below the level of traffic and city noises, where you can hear the music a creek filled with fresh rain makes falling over logs and stones. The only sound of a machine is the occasional airplane crossing the sky.

A few days ago I was walking this same route with my little dawg, Bungee, allowing her to sniff everything and go at her own pace for a while - which is to say just slightly slower than a snail. I found a bench along the creek and just sat there in the sun, closing my eyes and soaking in the warmth and the sweet music of the water cascading over red cedar logs. Every once in a while I'd hear someone hiking up the trail - almost everyone had a dog or two with them - and I'd smile at them and give a slight nod, too calm and peaceful to break the spell and actually speak.

I thought of a day about a month ago when I was feeling particularly troubled and unsettled. It was a Sunday morning and I'd decided to take a long walk and try to clear the feelings of chaos. About a mile from my house it occurred to me that I should have brought my little pocket radio, one of these little $7 units that you wear around your neck on a string. I've bought several over the years just for one reason: to listen to Mr. Garrison Keillor. I knew Prairie Home Companion had been on the air on KUOW for probably about twenty minutes. I didn't want to go all the way back home, and since I usually carry a few bucks in my pocket when I'm out for a walk, I decided to stop by Bartel's Pharmacy at University Village and buy myself another cheap radio. A man can never have too many.

I walked into the drugstore and was immediately displeased by the long lines. I had tied my pup outside and didn't want to leave her for too long. I could see her through the glass, so I wasn't worried about her, but it was getting hot out. Unfortunately, the little radios I was interested in were behind the camera counter, which means that you have to wait for every doofus that has a question about film, a camera, a clock, a blender or a DVD player before you can get waited on. I waited as patiently as I could, fretting the whole time that I was missing great sketches on Prairie Home Companion. Finally, it was my turn and I asked the sales lady if I might look at a particular radio I could only barely make out on the wall behind her. She went right into a sales pitch on the merits of this particular radio and I waved her off. Please, it's an $8 radio. I bought it and a package of batteries, upset that I had to buy an 8-pack of batteries when I only needed two. I absolutely hate to carry stuff in my pockets and I knew the six extra AA batteries were going to thump around in my pockets and make me feel heavy and encumbered.

Outside, Bungee greeted me like I'd been gone for seven years. I went along with it; why stifle that kind of enthusiasm? It's rare and wonderful and I've wished I could find that kind of exuberance in a girlfriend for ages. I tried to break through the unbelievably thick and difficult packaging that housed the cheap radio. It seemed more something you'd package precious diamonds in. I finally was able to tear it open. I inserted the batteries, untangled Bungee's leash and began to walk out of the shopping area and off toward the quiet neighborhood I'd been headed for in the first place. I hoped I hadn't missed too much of Prairie Home Companion and put in my little ear buds, tuning quickly to KUOW. Yeeoowwwww! The deafening screech almost shredded my eardrums. The white noise was high and piercing. I'd turn this way and that, trying to gain better reception but it seemed I couldn't get a clear signal no matter which way I turned. It was pissing me off, just one of those things that isn't logical, like when you've got the garden hose hung up on something and you're cussing and jerking the thing, blaming the entanglement on the ignorance of inanimate objects. "You stupid water hose!" All the way across the vast parking lots of University Village I kept trying to tune in and listen to my favorite radio show. Shreeeeeeeeek! Screeeeeeech!! ssssssssssccccchhh! It was infuriating. I reached the traffic signal at Sandpoint and figured that once I crossed and got away from the stores and traffic that my radio signal would clear up. It didn't work that way at all. For three blocks I kept fussing with the dial and at the same time wrestling with Bungee's leash as she straggled as far behind me as she could possibly get. She must have had a premonition. I twisted my body this way and that to enhance my reception. No good. I probably looked like I was having a walking seizure. SShhkkeeeeeeeecchhh! SShriiieeeeeeek!! The irritating distortion was killing me.

Suddenly, I'd had enough. Without even realizing at first what I was doing, I told Bungee to stay, then stepped several yards away and jerked that useless radio from around my neck, jumped up into the air and slammed that little piece of shit as hard as I could onto the sidewalk! My follow through was excellent and man that crash felt good! What a satisfying explosion of cheap manufacturing materials! When that junky little bundle of plastic and metal met the hard cement, it shattered every which direction in the most lovely possible slow motion. Coming out of my bliss, I looked around rather sheepishly and noticed a few folks here and there who had stopped their yardwork to observe the insane man making an Olympic sport out of electronics chuckin'. What could I do but grin and shrug? I'm not a particularly explosive person and trashing a radio is not a thing I can recall ever doing before, but I definitely did enjoyed the experience. Tremendously pleased with my destruction of the source of my irritation, I calmly picked up every single piece of that radio; every shard and splinter of plastic and metal, gathering even the bent and ruptured batteries, and walked cheerfully over to a dumpster and deposited the whole broken mess inside. There. That ought to do it. I was shaking a little from the experience and my right arm ached a little, not having had occasion in some time to throw anything that hard. But I'm telling you, counting the batteries, that was the best $11.57 I ever spent in my life. I was no longer upset over anything; not the landlady who kicked me out a few months back; not the phone company who slammed my account and caused me to spend 3 hours in voice mail hell; why, I even felt just giddy 'bout the Bush Administration! Suddenly my day brightened like I couldn't believe. I was not going to get to listen to Garrison Keillor tell me the latest news from Lake Wobegon but I felt better than I had in days. But that wasn't all.

The creek in Ravenna Park, Seattle

Within less than a block, a man walked toward me, leaning back against the leash as he attempted to constrain his eager little dachshund, who seemed hell bent on getting to know Bungee in the most intimate way. It was all about love, but Bungee, having all the love a little princess dog could possibly stand, seemed stand-offish. The man was probably around 70 years old, wearing a light blue crush hat. We started chatting, first about our animals, then about the weather; the world; life at large. There was something about him that immediately made me feel even better and it really got my attention. I've sometimes had people tell me that they feel better when they're around me and I always thought it was just their imaginations. But this fellow was having that exact effect on me. I actually felt inexplicably happier and more hopeful as this old fellow talked. I felt like my heart was filling up with joy just standing there with him. It wasn't what he was saying, it was just a sense of love that he exuded. Perhaps he'd have thought me an idiot standing there thinking about how much love he was expressing, but I'm telling you the honest truth; it was real and it was astounding.

It was like the surprising feeling you get when some rare moment of peace overcomes you; when there is no specific reason for your feelings of calmness and ease, it's just there. That's how it felt to stand on that sidewalk and talk with this old boy. I wondered if he knew.

Did it have to do with my rip-roaring release of a few minutes before? My savage burst of anger as I slammed that cheap-ass radio to the ground? Maybe. But I can't even begin to tell you how moved I was or how uplifted I felt standing there talking with him. I wish I could explain it better than I have. He just gave me hope. He somehow made me feel that the world is full of people like him; people that just quietly live their lives, never seeking fame or attention, just good hearted people who wander around spreading love and joy by their presence.

A lovely truck I plan to steal soon

A couple of weeks ago I went to a memorial service for someone who lived his life like that; a man I didn't even know. His name was Sandy Doan and he'd laughed and played in this world until he was 90 years old. I'd heard many wonderful stories about him over the years from my friend Jeff LaBow, who'd grown up spending summers down the beach from Sandy. Though I didn't know Sandy, I asked Jeff if I could attend his memorial, which was to be held on the beach at Whidbey Island, on Bell's Beach in fact, a beautiful flat stretch of shore that lies at the foot of sandy, tree covered cliffs facing north toward Camano Island. Jeff and his girlfriend Joie, stopped by my house to pick me up and we drove up to Mukilteo and took the ferry over to Whidbey Island.

When we descended from the headland and arrived at Bell's Beach there were already around 150 people there, everybody visiting and wandering between three houses, little kids running in the grassy yards in front of the beach. Finally, everyone was asked to sit and be quiet and, one by one, the friends and family of Sandy came forth to speak into a microphone to the colorful gathering of kids and adults scattered on decks and along the grass. His six-year-old great-granddaughter sang Amazing Grace and it was stunning. You think you know a song until you hear a child sing it and then it takes on other meanings entirely.

Remembering Sandy

Sandy's grown grandson spoke, awkwardly at first, unpretentious and disarmingly likeable. He said, "If you'd have asked my grandad what he did in life he'd have said he ran a pharmacy. But that's not what he was. My grandad was a fisherman. He was the best fisherman anybody around here ever saw and he planted the love of it in me so that to this day, there is nothing on earth I'd rather do than fish." He went on to tell stories of his grandpa dragging the kids out of bed at 4 a.m. on summer mornings to row out into the channel and fish. He talked about the totem poles his grandad had carved for all the kids up and down the beach, endless summers' worth of kids, both related and not. Sixty-six totem poles in all. Two of them were dusted-off and brought out for the occasion; stuck in the sand a few yards down the beach, emerging like brightly painted Phoenixes from a boneyard of sun bleached drift wood. The children whose names had been painted on the poles so many decades ago were standing not twenty feet from me, protected from harm all these years by the fierce eagle beaks and powerful spread wings Sandy had carved so long ago. I thought how proud I'd have been as a boy in the Texas Panhandle to have had such a monument carved for me. Sandy had seen to it that 66 kids over the years had felt that proud and special, having their own unique totem poles carved just for them.

Friends and neighbors spoke about Sandy, how much he loved people and fishing and playing cards. How he would constantly tease and playfully berate everyone. His own grandson had said "Somehow, Grandpa could insult you, tease you, torment you, the whole time you fished or played cards. He'd call you all kinds of things and when it was over, you realized that you'd never felt so good about yourself in your whole life. You walked away feeling like for every minute he spent with you, you were the most important person in the world to him."

The children release balloons to celebrate Sandy's life.

After the last person spoke, the children released balloons into the air; glorious colors drifting into the high open atmosphere to say goodbye to Grandpa Sandy.

Though the memorial happened a few weeks after my radio demolition and my strange and wonderfully unexpected conversation, I realized listening to Sandy's grandson talk that this is what the man in the blue hat had done also; he'd somehow magically left me feeling better about myself, feeling that life was better than it had been a few minutes before. That particular day, I'd felt pretty awful. And minutes later this fellow had materialized out of thin air to caress me with his words; his eyes; his heart - I'm still not sure what - and shift my outlook, to give me back my hope and goodwill. It made me think that it's about as great as calling as a person could have: to wander around town making people feel good about themselves. I'm just a beginner, but I hope I'm as good at it as he is when I'm 70.  

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

A couple of weeks ago I played a concert here in Seattle. I was excited about it until I got a cold two days before the event. It's always disappointing to know that I'm going to have to perform without my full voice - and perhaps sneezing in all the most poignant passages. "An' them danged homes with yeller winders shine their, ah, ah, ah-choooooo! warmth into my soul. . . " The concert had sold out, in fact, the day of the event I was scrambling around trying to figure out how I could get some of my friends in that had contacted me too late to get tickets. It's not like they haven't heard Asphalt Dream about as many times as any human being could stand to, but I'm always happy when they want to be there for yet another concert after all these years.

Amazingly, my voice was up to the task that night. A little rough in spots but surprisingly available for the various warbles, yodels and hums that I chose to put it through. You know how good it feels to sing in the shower? How you can get lost in the joy of it? Well let me tell you my friend, when you have a good sound system and a room filled with happy, excited people, man, it's a pleasure to sing onstage. I get so lost up there that I can actually forget there's an audience at times - and that's dangerous 'cause there's nothing that will pull an audience out of the mood of a lovely romantic ballad like seeing the singer start scratching his ass. I must learn to sing with great feeling, yet not completely lose consciousness and revert to my Texanness. I'm working on it.

 20 Year Anniversary of the release of Run This Way Forever

This summer marks the 20 - year anniversary of the release of my first album; Run This Way Forever. Can you believe it? You were probably only 18 when it came out. I was almost 6. I've been playing around in my imagination with the concept of doing a celebration concert this summer where I will perform every song on that album in their original order. Hopefully, with some of the musicians who actually played on the record. It's an exciting idea and if I can find the right venue around Seattle and find a way to financially pull it off, I'll be letting you know.

Which, by the way, brings me to this: my concert earlier this month is the first concert I've ever completely sold out by email only. I had planned to send out a postcard also, since less than half of my mail list locally and nationally has given me a current email address. Amazingly, the show sold out after the email notice so I didn't have to go to the expense of postcards and stamps. The downside of that is that many folks on my list had no idea I even had a concert. The moral to the story? Please, make sure I have your current email address. I'll always send you early notice for concerts and CD releases. And if you think there's even a slight chance that I have an old snail mail address for you, please send me your current one just to be sure.

Well, it's getting late and I've been sitting in front of this open window for a couple of hours now and it's getting chilly. The rain has paused again and the savory smells of somebody's dinner is wafting in on the cool breeze and reminding me that 8:20 PM is too late to start preparing dinner. I guess I'll have to eat cookies again. Thank you for reading my ramblings. I do appreciate you and I never forget how fortunate I am to have folks out there around the world who love my music and care enough to check in on me. Take some deep breaths now and then even if you don't think you need them. I promise they'll come in handy.

In Friendship,

July 1, 2005

Howdy my skeeter swattin' friends,

A few days ago I was cruising along a winding country road east of Seattle, enjoying the last lush days of springtime and humming ___________. (insert song you wish me to hum) My little dawg was perched on my window arm, her short nubbin of a nose sniffin' the air for the delicate aroma of fresh cow pastures. I chuckled, humorously pondering her little doggy ways, Oh, to be able to receive a thrill from such simple pleasures. But being a more sophisticated, complex fellow, I prefer the more refined scent of llama corrals. As I drove conscientiously along (hands at ten and two on the wheel, sleeping goggles in place) I began subtly clog dancing around the brake pedal, gently at first, but then like a stampeding herd of water buffalo. Unable to completely constrain myself, I broke into the full Riverdance finale. I was in a wonderful mood, happily anticipating the unrestrained flailing of banjos and mandolins and the high nasal twang of bluegrass sangin' - which I would be hearing in the town of Cashmere that very evening.

I stopped here for gas and a Moon Pie in 1936

I was just giving my final bow to the audience (beyond the windshield) when my hoedown came to a violent halt the instant a wayward bee zoomed through my window at 50 mph and stabbed me in the cheekbone. Yeeooowwww!! What the hell was that!? My mind was reeling. Nobody was in the back seat, so I immediately ruled out an unhappy passenger with an ice pick. Then a thought came to mind that I almost tossed out. Nah, no way. Surely not! But what if . . .? Could I possibly have been shot with a tranquilizer dart? It seemed plausible; what with the Patriot Act being in effect and all. Apparently, I must have been driving like someone planning bad stuff for the country. (which is true, I'm planning for the bottom to drop out of the real estate market and giving it everything I've got)

Ooh, another dude get's walloped by a bee

Uh-oh! Suddenly, I thought to check my face in the mirror. I had Bungee grab the wheel and I leaned in close, terrified of finding that the puncture had cost me my looks at such a tender age. Whew! No damage. Still relatively debonair, I noticed I wasn't getting the least bit drowsy though, so that seemed to rule out my Homeland Security theory. Then it dawned on me what had really happened: I'd been stung by a dang rascal bee! That's what it was! Whew, what a relief! A bee sting is regular therapy for me, in fact, it's an annual affair in my life. Every summer I am ferociously stung by a bee or hornet or wasp of some kind. It's happened in the most bizarre places too: twenty feet up a ladder; hunched over in the bushes (never mind what I was doing); standing in a whitewater raft. (a lot of people got paddle bruises that time!) Until this day though, I've never been hurtling down the highway when one of them little buzzing corkscrews tore into me.

As I think about it, I cannot remember a single summer of my life where I went without at least one fiery stinger lodged somewhere in my delicate epidermis. This will sound insane, but actually, I like getting stung. Oh, I don't care so much for the actual sensation, just the effect afterwards. I have this sense that something in the venom is good for me; sort of a once-a-year vitamin.

Gus works off some aggression

Caressing the growing ball on my left cheek, I rolled up to my friend Rick's house in Snoqualmie and hollered at his dog Gus, a gigantic yellow lab who roams the yard looking remarkably like a polar bear with a collar. I opened the gate to the yard and Gus hit me like a truck. That's his gentle mode. I truly believe he genuinely loves me  for my sweet, dog-loving self but we'll never know for sure because I always arrive with a pocketful of doggie treats and I'm scared to break the tradition. If I'm not quick on the draw, getting a couple out of my pocket and into his yawning jaws in a hurry, he will go at 'em from the outside and I'll be walking around all day with a shredded hole in my britches.

Amazingly, this 110-pound dog is a trusted friend of my little seven pound pooch. In fact, I've seen Bungee scold him for accidentally getting a little rough with her and he'll jump back like he's been snapped at by a gator. I don't know what it is about her but she manages to demand some big respect for her fuzzy self.

she begins a 12-step program on Monday

Rick emerged from the backyard where he'd been working on the porch and looked like a man who'd been run through the wringer. His wife, Ruth, had only an hour before left to drive the kids back to Minnesota to see their grandparents. He looked completely worn out. "Damn, you know how hard it is to get a family packed for a highway trip? There's nothing left in the house, they took it all with them. After I had everything packed perfectly and there was not an inch of room for one more thing, they all decided they needed their bicycles, too. So I had to run all over town trying to find a rack that would fit the the back end 'cause there was no way you could stick a pencil in that van. Man, I need a beer and some Gluebrass!"

But before we could take off for the Bluegrass Festival, Carson rattled over the gravel in his new 1967 Ford pickup. A buddy had given it to him the day before and Carson had been up all night scouring it. It was a 38-year old one-owner. His buddy had bought it in 1967 and liked to brag that he hadn't washed the thing since the mid 80s. Carson, having been a Ford man since his boyhood, seemed immeasurably pleased by his good fortune. He'd spent eight hours scrubbing it to perfection and couldn't wait to show it to us. Though rusty in a number of places, that old yellow truck was clean enough to eat off of. "Y'all wanna take her for a spin?" Wobbly and dizzy from the venom coursing through my cranium, I couldn't muster up the will power to tell him we had plans. So I said sure and Rick and I climbed into the cab and the three of us lumbered off, bouncing across the tracks and back toward Snoqualmie Falls.

"I thought I'd show you guys what cowboy shootin' is all about. Want to stop by the range for a few minutes?" Carson asked. We were a captive audience. Carson has been a target shooter for many years and we'd long talked about going to watch him shoot but never had. In the last few years he had gotten into Cowboy Style competition, in which Western clothes and hat and boots are worn and authentic weaponry used. He looked at the little doofus hat I was wearing and then grinned over at Rick and said, "They might shoot that little Sinatra hat right off MT's head, Rick." They both got a good laugh out of the idea.

as you can see. . . no bullet holes

"Dammit," I said, "I ain't takin' my hat off for no play-like cowboys." I hoped he was joking. I'd had enough head injuries for one day.

Once we got there I understood what Carson had been talking about; these people, both men and women, took their historical accuracy quite seriously. Everyone there but the three of us was wearing outfits out of the Old West - authentic to the T. It was bad enough that I was wearing a stupid "Sinatra" hat and sporting a big wallop on my jaw, I was also chugging a bottle of rootbeer that looked exactly like a real beer and, as you might assume, alcoholic beverages are frowned upon at shooting ranges.

To Rick's and my amusement, everyone that greeted Carson called him either "Southern" or "Southern Cowboy." We couldn't help but chuckle.

"What did they call you - Southern Cowboy?" Rick asked.

"Yep," Carson said, explaining the serious customs involved in Western shooting. "you gotta have a moniker to shoot Cowboy. That guy over there is  'Touch 'n Go,' the fellow over there in the ten gallon hat is 'Restless John' and that's 'Grampa Dillon.' I'm 'Southern Cowboy.'"

I'd had no idea my friend was known to a whole society of people by another name. We'd long called him Wally since his real name was Walter Carson, but it was hard to imagine a good Wild West name that included Wally.

I noticed several of the participants looking at me in my hat and orange sunglasses. It was bright out and they were the only specs I'd been able to find at the Snoqualmie grocery store. For $4.99 I thought they were pretty sharp but I doubted they were very protective and tried not to gaze directly at the sun much. I brazenly swigged my fake beer and hoped it didn't get shot out of my hand. Hell, if they could pretend to be cowboys I could certainly pretend to be drinking beer at a shooting range. Touch 'n Go, was the fellow who'd given Carson the pickup. He came over to talk to us and Carson asked him if he remembered meeting me some years back. He didn't. I didn't either. We shook hands and he mentioned that the shower of bullets hitting metal targets and the roar of thick black powder exploding might take some getting used to.

I said, "Oh, I grew up in Texas. There were bullets whizzin' all around our house when I was little." I meant it as an obvious joke but I think I saw a look of deep respect come into his eyes. If those pseudo-cowboys had any idea a real Texan was among 'em, they'd have treated me like a god. Even with the hat.

After half an hour or so, Southern figured Rick and I had seen enough gunplay for our first visit and drove us back to Rick's house, then jammed his brand new 4-decade-old truck into gear and putted his way back home to Seattle. Rick and I piled into his little Toyota pickup and drove east toward Snoqualmie Pass and then north to Blewitt Pass. It's beautiful country. I never get over what it's like living in the Pacific Northwest. Where I grew up in Amarillo, there were dirt yards and dried up prairie grass for miles in every direction, so seeing towering forests and icy creeks and rivers roiling out of the mountains is fresh and inspiring to me even after living here for over twenty years.

We coasted down the grade from Blewitt Pass and arrived in the dusty little town of Cashmere and found the fairgrounds where the festival was supposed to be happening. Not many folks around, it seemed. Though the sky behind us had been sunny, there it had grown ominously dark and was etched with veins of lightning. I love that kind of weather unless I happen to be standing upon a large metal object - which, astonishingly, I soon was. We parked, bought tickets and followed a path into the small stadium where normally, I imagined, one could see cowboys riding broncs or high school marching bands stumbling and playing poorly. Instead, a bluegrass band was picking sweet songs from midfield on a little covered stage to a set of completely empty bleachers. Not just any bleachers; aluminum bleachers. You heard me right. Yep, that's where you want to be in a lightning storm. No wonder no one was out there listening. Not wanting to become a couple of fried bacon strips, we stepped gingerly back off the metal target area and escaped electrocution by slipping into a nearby wooden building. Inside were a couple of hundred folding chairs and about twenty or thirty folks awaiting the show. It was kind of depressing after coming all that way. Nothing like driving a hundred miles for a festival that people living down the block don't even bother to attend.

To our surprise though, by show time every chair was filled. You couldn't help but picture what normally must happen in that old fairground building; I told Rick I was certain we were sitting precisely where, two-thousand pound bulls normally rested their massive balls. It sort of smelled like that, anyway. But then the music started and the place was transformed. By the time Prairie Flyer took the stage, bluegrass music was commencing in high form, making our trip worthwhile.

We had a long drive back that night, so we left early and drove to Leavenworth, a Bavarian tourist village, for dinner. In a town known for it's sour kraut and wieners, we found a couple of the best veggie burgers we'd ever had. I'm not normally one to fill up on fries and burgers at 10:30 PM but hey, it was Saturday night. I had all day Sunday to lie around regretting it.

So that was how I spent the last few days of my glorious springtime - listening to Bluegrass and watching grown men play Cowboys and Indians, while I nursed a golfball-sized bee sting on my cheek. Now summer is here and I must find summery things to do. The temperature is soaring high into the mid-seventies and well, when it's that scorching outside you just have to adjust. Every year Seattle stores sell out of fans the first time we hit 80-degrees. I waited too long last summer and when one of my electric fans broke down, I couldn't find a replacement anywhere in town. It was mid-August and the stores had started selling heaters already! I'm serious. You better believe I've stocked up this year. I've got boxes of fans unopened yet! I plan to wait until there is that rare 90-degree, two-day heat wave and then I'll bust 'em open and start a damn wind storm around here. I'll put 'em out in the yard if I have to.

this ain't the band we went to see but they didn't suck too bad

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

As you may have read in my rambling last month, this summer marks the twenty year anniversary of the release of my first album, Run This Way Forever. If you were around then, perhaps listening to one of the radio stations that went crazy over that record, I imagine it's hard for you too, to believe it's been 20 years. When it first came out I was being played on only one station in the world; a Seattle station called KEZX. They loved that record and within two to three months, I'd sold over 15,000 copies in the Seattle area. That was unheard of in those days - especially for a self-produced, independent release. I had no clue to what I was doing. I only put it out myself because nobody else was interested.

A radio programmer in Phoenix heard about my record and asked for a copy. He called me and said, "I consult for seven stations around the country. If you'll send a copy to each one, I'll recommend that they play it."

Naturally, I took him up on it. I dreamed of having a national audience but was afraid that Seattle might just have been some strange fluke for me: I'd written a song about their favorite mountain and they'd sort of adopted me. I worried that people elsewhere might not like me as much and I didn't know if I could run all over the country writing songs about local landmarks. I mailed Run This Way Forever to all seven stations. In the meantime I'd heard about a couple more that might play me. I could never have dreamed what would happen that year. At every single one of those stations; from Baltimore to Casper, from Orlando to San Antonio, from LA to San Francisco to Fairbanks, I had the number one requested song of the year! And it wasn't even the same song at each station. Some liked Yellow Windows the best, some liked Raining Away or No Bad Dreams or I Will Not Pass You By. Station managers and program directors would call and write me, saying that they'd never had such impassioned personal responses from their listeners. A program director in Santa Fe wrote me a letter that read; "Dear Michael, only twice in our history have we played every single song on an album in high rotation: yours and the Beatles." I pinched myself a lot that year.

That fall I began my first national tour and sold out every show I played. In Baltimore I played a famous jazz club called Ethyl's Place. During my sound check the employees all came out to see who the heck I was, amazed not only because I was a Texas folk singer playing a jazz club, but because I'd completely sold out six shows. In San Antonio I produced my own concerts, renting the San Antonio Little Theater. The radio station was so excited about my coming to town that they were playing my songs hourly and raving about my concert for weeks. I didn't have much money yet but wanted to show my appreciation and called one day to ask if I could buy $500 worth of ads. The promotions person said, "Why would you do that? Both your shows are already sold out." I couldn't believe that hundreds of people in cities I'd never been to were buying tickets to hear me sing - all because of the nine songs on that little home made record.

I have been writing about all this and much more in my book - so I won't tell you everything here. I just wanted to share some memories about that special time in my life and the record that made it possible for me to begin writing and singing for people all over the world. So many of you have embraced me and my music in the years since and I thank you for continuing to share my songs with your friends. The reaction I get from people, from that very first album to the latest songs I've released, is most often one of joyful appreciation that I write and sing songs that feel real and loving, hopeful and rich with imagery and a gratitude for life. It's still magical and a wonder to me that these melodies and lyrics that come to me in my private times have somehow found their way into your lives and that you find them worthwhile; whether for a moment's release, a feeling of shared joy or an experience of deep and profound healing. Thank you for helping me to live this dream all these years. Truly, without your support and belief in me, I would have had to give up and find another way to make a living. (I'm dangerous with a jackhammer)

Whatever you are going through this summer, however pleasant and easy going or difficult or even confusing it may be, I hope you will seek out some of the magic of a summer night or an early morning under the trees, listening to birds and squirrels and inhaling the sweetness of honeysuckles. Some busy day at work, try and get a few minutes outside under a shade tree. In the middle of an evening in front of the TV, turn it off and walk out in the yard and just feel what is there, remember what it was like as a child, when that was a world you knew and loved so well.

Here's what I think about you
for listening to my music all these years

The joy and the magic has never left our world. We are certainly overwhelmed by data; too much information and negative news, too many advertisements, too many stories of despair; just too much senseless stuff flowing into our lives and dividing our attention. Sometimes we are just to exhausted, too weary and disappointed in our lives to experience life like we did when we were young and less numb. But that doesn't mean we cannot find some of those sparks again. We need to remind each other of hope and humor and possibility. Don't be too shy or self-conscious to do this. Every human being on the planet yearns for a reminder of hope. If you can't find joy or hope or love anywhere inside yourself or around you, don't take this on as guilt or shame or despair. It's not anyone's fault. It is not your fault. It is a great misunderstanding we have about what really is. Take deep breaths and dare to trust that the joy of living may still alive in you. Pretend if you must, and imagine that it is possible. Breathe deep breaths and listen to sounds and songs that open your heart. Ask God or Life or the Wind, or whomever you feel in your heart you can ask, for some spark of joy to come alive in your body and mind and spirit. I will be surprised if you do not find some trace of it there.

In Friendship,
 ~Michael Tomlinson

Go to Past Ramblings XVII