Erin d’Quincy MacLeod Chats with Reinaldo García
For Scene Magazine
Reinaldo García’s studio affords a view of the entire Monterey Bay, from Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, northward to Santa Cruz, and beyond. The room is packed with recording equipment, CDs, cassette tapes, and his various manuscripts, and everything seems arranged to be as it is. Sipping occasionally from a bottle of water (“It’s a perk from the health club where I exercise three days a week,” he explains), Reinaldo holds forth from a swivel chair in front of his computer screen.
Reinaldo released EMPYRICON, his seventh CD, last week.
Q: Tell us about your latest release.
A: The title came to me one day as I was free associating. It sounded otherworldly, yet solid as steel. Awhile later, I googled the word, and it appeared in vague heavy metal, “mythological” contexts. I still don’t know if it’s a neologue or not. It contains a variation on the word “pyre,” which means fire, and “empyreal” refers to the celestial firmament. I almost chickened out and named the CD after one of the cuts, Universal Smile.
Q: You’ve spoken before of not finishing a CD so much as staggering over the finish line. Did that happen with EMPYRICON?
A: To a lesser degree than before. Just after finishing FAMILY ROMANCE, I told engineer Richard Bryant I wanted to record some of the three dozen songs I’d written in the past year in a rapid, spontaneous way. Last October, we held our first session, and all of the principal recording was finished by December 2006. I wanted something that reflected exactly where my head and heart were. I wanted less overdubs, a more immediate sound.
Yet still, as the mixing process went on, I had to temper my urgency with the realities of other people’s lives and schedules. That’s the hardest part of the process for me, because I have the least direct control during mixing. And while I’m waiting, my fresh ideas grow stale, and I’m left to wrestle with “what is.” Still, since I’ve been through lengthy mixing processes before, I knew enough to be as patient as possible.
Q: Let’s talk about the songs.
A: I wrote Your Latest Masterpiece after reading a lot about bird flu and other epidemics which were, or are, supposed to attack us from the Third World. I worry less about the direct effects of terrorism (after all, Monterey must be a very low priority target) than about communicable diseases hurting our daughter Victoria. Plus, I wanted to tell a short shaggy dog story. I stole the line about “Frankenstein smelling of cats” from Minnesota writer James Lileks, who in my opinion is one of America’s genius writers. Five mornings a week, Lileks dishes out heaping plates of joy on his Web site, http://www.lileks.com/bleats/index.html.
Q: 2SB is an odd title.
A: In the 1970s, Bryan Ferry had a solo record which featured a gorgeous song called 2HB. It was filled with Humphrey Bogart movie dialogue and noirish references. Months later, it hit me: “To Humphrey Bogart.” 2HB. Last summer, a local big-fish-little-pond hotshot starmaker sent me some e-mails, saying she’d looked at the lyrics on my Web site, and thought them brilliant. She invited me to perform at her monthly “Songwriters Showcase.” I of course accepted, and at the only event I attended, a month before my scheduled appearance, I handed her some of my recorded work.
Q: What was the show like?
A: Depressingly typical of Monterey fare. The easy banality local audiences seem to favor. “Protest singers” singing out “Bush lied, people died!” and “No blood for oil!” And doing it as though they were investigating radical, cutting edge concepts. Leftists control Monterey County’s culture, such as it is, and they consider every other world view a pathology. Anyway, a week before the event, she sent me an e-mail, disinviting me, saying my music wouldn’t “fit in with the other performers.” Because this kind of thing has happened to me consistently since we moved here in 1993, I was less outraged than resigned.
In writing the song, I chose to focus on the faux rebelliousness I saw that night. Singers dressing down to amplify their “credibility.” The more sloppily dressed they are, the more truth to power they peddle. That’s their strategy, at least.
Q: The opening line, “[y]ou ruined your body through excess of caution,” is interesting.
A: I seek out ways to turn conventional concepts on their head. The conventional concept here is that one would ruin one’s body by not being cautious enough. I remember a key line from a wonderful 1980s film called MOONSTRUCK, with Nicolas Cage and Cher. Cage says to Cher, “We’re put here on earth to ruin ourselves, to fall in love with the wrong people.” And Philip Roth, in AMERICAN PASTORAL, writes “…The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong what is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.”
Q: Giving oneself permission to be wrong about people seems liberating.
A: “Permission” is an odd word here. We’re gonna be wrong, inevitably. The key seems to be to accept that fact. The woman on whom this song is based radiates a real smugness that bores and infuriates me. Less her personally, than what she represents. She claims to be some kind of cutting edge rebel, when in fact she’s a garden variety bourgeoisie leftist. A woman seemingly ignorant of her own shadow.
Q: You rail a lot against “leftists.” What’s the deal here, anyway?
A: Ah, leftists. First, most of them are in revolt against Christianity, which they perceive as our culture’s major oppressive force. So their normal human desire for a religious connection, the void created by their rejection of Christianity and/or “normal” living, is filled up by the religion of secular progressivism. Now, most Christians whom I brush up against have a real blind spot to their own shadow, the so-called “dark side.” And so do most secular progressives, or leftists. Appearing to be “virtuous,” in the public arena, is their highest aim. And, interestingly, being a “rebel” is, for them, a kind of virtue.
Another odd thing about them is how reactionary they are. That is, they refuse to abandon the 1960s paradigm. Their insistence that the Iraq War is a “Vietnam quagmire” seems to me to be a wish to re-live their youth from the 1960s. Whatever one thinks of the Iraq War, it’s nothing like the Vietnam War. They want to re-experience their sense adolescent outrage. It’s a way of feeling vital. Of giving meaning to one’s life.
Q: “You embrace all of the popular causes,” from 2SB, seems apt.
A: Yes. In condemning all that’s “wrong,” i.e., global warming, homophobia, racism, the war in Iraq, and on and on, they set themselves up as judges of the rest of us. It’s a new form of pathological Puritanism. They’re not only blind to themselves, they’re crippled and impoverished, because they’ve projected what is organically theirs onto the rest of us. I would just leave them to their plight, except they have such a pernicious effect on my life that I can’t ignore them. They control the local media and all arts venues.
Q: The third song is a country/western waltz, complete with pedal steel guitar.
A: Played by Fred Noseworthy. Yeah, it’s called After Your Collapse, a song which resulted from my Mexican wife’s total psychological breakdown in June 2004. Nearly three years and dozens of therapists, acupuncturists, crystal healers, and charlatans later, she’s almost all the way back. But during the summer, fall and winter of 2004, my wife was in desperate straits, and I was terrified that whatever black hole had sucked her in would kill her.
Q: Any idea what caused it?
A: To tell you too much would violate my wife’s privacy. Let’s just say childhood traumas inflicted by her mother lay dormant for decades.
The breakdown occurred just after she’d reached the pinnacle of corporate life in America, having earned an MBA in her spare time, along with a flashy job title and nice pay raise. After having been homeless 13 years earlier (just after coming to America), I’d thought we could coast for a bit after a furious shared campaign to succeed in my native country. But the gods had a different idea.
Q: Next is Boys & Girls Together.
A: I wrote that lyric on May 24, 2006, Bob Dylan’s 65th birthday. I was very conscious of that date, and also thinking about Yeats. I wanted to write something set in, say, the Irish countryside, and I wanted to write a farewell to romance.
Q: A farewell to romance?
A: I’m apparently at the age that when a man smiles at a pretty girl on the street and says hello, he’s viewed as something reptilian and predatory. I see the lady’s fingers poised over her cell phone, ready to tap in 9-1-1, so I just proceed down the street. Saying hello to women in America, early in the 21st century, can bring trouble. So I rarely do it anymore.
Q: I vaguely remember the title from a 1960s novel.
A: Yeah, before he became a screenwriter, William “Nobody Knows Anything in Hollywood” Goldman was a novelist. I remember my father carrying around a paperback with that title. I was really taken by it. About 40 years later, I appropriated it for my farewell to romance, which I wrote in the open air patio of a local bookstore. And wouldn’t you know, when I perused the stack of remaindered books, there was volume two of a biography of Yeats. Which I purchased.
In 1967, I saw a Swedish film called Elvira Madigan, in which a piece of music by Mozart played a major role. I adapted the melody, and got pianist Gennady Loktionov to play it. Gennady works a lot with Clint Eastwood on his movies’ music.
Q: From that meditative piece, some drumbeats announce Victoria’s Secrets.
A: I wrote that song around the 2006 Springtime Equinox, and wanted it to sound like something fresh out of England, circa 1966. Richard and I later speeded up the track, using his computer, and we also made a radio edit of the song, in which the chorus comes right after the first verse. On the CD, the chorus comes after the second verse. I seem to have a pseudo-elitist problem with the early entry of choruses. It’s as though a chorus is a kind of junk food or a guilty pleasure, and a “grown-up” must learn to ingest them sparingly. Still, I think I prefer the radio edit. A strong, early-entering chorus is always welcome.
Q: From there, we move to Beginners Again.
A: That’s the final song in a series of tunes devoted to the specifics of interpersonal relationships. My wife’s recovery was a bumpy road, during which, aided by the promptings of therapists, she expressed some hateful, wounding things to me, as part of the “healing process.” I served as the dutiful punching bag, while craving a fresh start.
The fresh start, album wise, comes in the form of the title track.
Q: Yes, EMPYRICON has a wonderful effervescence.
A: I wrote it as a series of phrases I wanted to sing, not from any linear strategy or overall design. And as the lyric proceeded, I started to have fun with it. Most of it was written in our cabin at Rancho San Clemente, a nature preserve 45 minutes from our home. That song always makes me smile. It ended up sounding a bit like Henry Mancini’s 1960s hit, Elephant Walk.
Q: Are you trapped in the 1960s?
A: Musically, yes, in the sense that the 1960s’ popular music prized investigation, inventiveness, and sheer fun. It was all about the discovery of a new musical continent. My attitudes of not repeating myself, of beginning a song with a question, of rigorously pursuing the truth inherent in the concept, were forged in that bright decade, a time which is regularly distorted in the broad culture. We now seem to live in the era of wistful irony, and I am neither wistful, nor an ironist. Irony, to me, is a form of cowardice. A distancing technique which enables one to say, “Hey, I didn’t really mean it.”
Q: The CD’s tone seems to shift here. Next comes Religion No Dominion. In EMPYRICON, you mentioned not joining the local church. Here, you seem to reject religion totally.
A: Au contraire, my sweet!
Q: Several times, you sing, “Your religion, no dominion here.”
A: I’m singing of a pre-Christian world in this song. A place where nature rules, not humans. And by “religion,” I also mean “belief system.” There are no moral considerations in nature. No theories. The cycle of life and death runs everything.
Q: Like a lot of your songs, this one is strongly cinematic.
A: I would love for some smart young director to make a short film based on this song. Yes indeed.
Q: Then you change speeds with San Joaquin Valley Dream.
A: That song was intended to sound like an Enya outtake. But I couldn’t find anyone who could do the kind of electronic music I envisioned. So I let the guitarist have his freedom to interpret the song as he wished. It’s a very unorthodox arrangement, in which Yuji Tojo plays an unelectrified electric guitar as the lead rhythm instrument.
San Joaquin Valley Dream states the opposite case of the previous song. In it, the hand of man has civilized nature via agriculture. Yet still, in the last verse, a silent hawk lifts a gopher into the sky, to carry him to his eventual death.
Q: “Smell the fresh-mown fields / In the dusky heat” is very evocative.
A: In the early 1960s, my father began driving us to Lake Isabella, which was formed when a dam was built on the Kern River. We’d tow my grandfather’s Glaspar boat, and we’d water ski. Anyway, somewhere between Arvin and the Kern River, around dusk, we’d drive by these freshly-mown alfalfa fields, and the smell would drive me giddy. It was something like a marijuana high to breathe deeply this perfume from the open window of a speeding station wagon. I felt as though the alfalfa odors were penetrating my very brain, expanding my skull. And this was at dusk, after a hot summer day, when the air is neither cool nor hot. The temperature of freshly-baked bread.
Q: Next up, People of the Tongue.
A: Okay, this is how open I am to working with new people. A couple of years ago, the guy behind me in line at the local Blockbuster Video store seemed to know the cashier. As they spoke, he mentioned something about singing. I accosted him in the parking lot, we exchanged CDs, and I said I’d call him if I needed a lead singer. Many months later, Bishop Mayfield was doing the lead vocal on People of the Tongue.
Q: This song can’t be literally autobiographical. You mention being born and dying in Fresno. You’re from North Hollywood.
A: When we’d drive Highway 99 to Yosemite in the 1950s and 1960s, we’d pass through Bakersfield and Fresno. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why anybody would choose to live in either of those places. I called them the hell through which one had to pass to get to the heaven of Yosemite. The price you pay to get to Paradise.
Years later, when we moved to California from Cuernavaca, my wife and I spent a year or so in Fresno. What a hellhole.
A little over a year ago, when a local bookstore started a series of open mic poetry readings, I met David Wayne Dunn, a Big Sur poet who was born in Fresno. David is an exceptionally talented writer who easily outclasses the local banal rhymesters. Which means, of course, that he can’t get gigs in the local coffeehouses. David wrote the liner notes for my last CD, FAMILY ROMANCE.
David Wayne Dunn was born in Fresno over 50 years ago, just about the time I started passing through there on the way to Yosemite. The son of an exceptionally abusive alcoholic father, David watched him die of a heart attack.
Q: He witnessed his father’s death?
A: Yeah, at about the age of eleven. As an adult, he was married twice to the same woman, whom he divorced twice. He owned his own landscaping business in Fresno. Around 1980, as I recall, he started a correspondence with a Big Sur poet/artist named Carolyn Mary Kleefeld. (They later immortalized their erotic musings in a book.) Carolyn owns a huge aerie on a Big Sur cliff, purchased with part of her inheritance from the late financier Mark Taper, her father. David and Carolyn corresponded for something like 18 years before they actually set eyes on each other. Carolyn invited David to be her “poet in residence,” and for the last decade or so he’s lived in the guest house, right on a cliff over the ocean. In the process, David has become utterly dependent financially on a capricious, morally empty woman of considerable wealth, who counts as her friends Ted Turner and Laura Huxley, widow of Aldous.
Carolyn’s extreme wealth gives her entre to these luminaries, who then sponsor her writing. I will go on record as saying that in my opinion, Carolyn Mary Kleefeld, while a good painter, is a third rate literary talent with a second rate philosophical process. She thinks and writes “mythically,” and her expressed philosophy is a mishmash of fairy tales and pseudo-psychology.
Q: What you would probably call the worst aspect of the 1960s.
A: Exactly. Hobbit mysticism. Anyway, over the last year, via e-mail, David routinely complained to me of the daily humiliation he encounters, begging for money from Carolyn. Recently, she ordered him into her attorney’s office, where David was told he had 30 days to leave her property. She later changed her mind.
Q: Why do you think he stays?
A: It’s a dry place, out of the rain, protected from the hurly burly of the 40 hour work week. David gets a special cachet from being a “Big Sur poet.” He’s always been a melancholy soul, but this melancholy has been forged into an esthetic style and way of life (and pathetic self-image) through staying at Kasa Kleefeld under the whims of Carolyn Mary Kleefeld. His work reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s, with its masochistic worship of women, and its helpless ennui. And its dark humor. David Wayne Dunn inhabits a comfortable cell, and Carolyn Mary Kleefeld keeps the keys. And he writes about it, very well, for as many hours as he wishes. But he’s still an abused prisoner, who could escape if he wanted to. I know; I tried to help him out. He refused. People of the Tongue was written as a gift to David before he and Carolyn hired me to edit and design his book of poetry.
Q: Next comes a heavy metal exercise called My Pa.
A: That song has a very interesting history. Last fall, I bragged to a woman that if I could have four 90 minute classroom sessions with a bunch of kids, we could co-write some songs, and in two 90 minute studio sessions, record them, then give the kids CDs of their own work. She runs a place called the Lyceum, which places artists in schools, and she invited me to follow through on my boast. Which I did, magnificently. [Editor’s note: A Monterey County Herald article about Reinaldo’s class can be seen after the end of this interview.]
Anyway, one of my students was a 13 year old prodigy named Andrew Parker. He composed and recorded, in his bedroom, a demo of a song for the class to use. I later paid to have it recorded in a studio, with Tim Burke on drums, and Andrew on bass and guitars. Never missing a chance for fresh material, I wrote my own lyrics, and sang them. The result is My Pa.
Q: Lyrically, it seems a departure for you.
A: Yes, simple and spare, hinting at things, and using the diction of a dirt poor white kid, mixed with Old Testament portent. I really love this piece, the last-written and –recorded of the 17 that comprise EMPYRICON.
Q: Then you switch gears again, going mellow with Lazy Summer Song.
A: I started writing songs in December 1971, as a protest against what I judged to be the betrayal of the singer/songwriter movement. Suddenly, everyone was using major 7th chords, and going mellow, to the point of putrefaction. Well, Lazy Summer Song is my one indulgence in that mini-genre. It’s piled high with major 7ths, and was modeled on a Van Morrison song called Fair Play, the opening cut from his great 1974 album, VEEDON FLEECE. When I referenced that song to my bass player, Endre Tarczy, he immediately got it. David “Dash” Kempton played the exact piano flourishes I fantasized. The song really works for me, though I wish in places my vocal had more force. I’m kinda new at the “mellow” thing.
Q: Then you switch gears again, with Universal Smile. That title, for me, has a John Lennon feel.
A: Right you are. The Universal Smile that glows Across the Universe. I wanted a primitive Yma Sumac feel to it, and—
Q: Yma Sumac?
A: She was a kitschy 1950s singer who claimed to be a kind of Inca princess. Some say her real name was Amy Camus, or Yma Sumac backwards. Here’s a paragraph from her Wikipedia entry:
“Yma Súmac was born on September 10, 1922 in Callao near Ichocán (Cajamarca, Peru) as Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo. Other dates mentioned in her various biographies range from 1921 to 1929 . Some sources claim that she was not born in Ichocán, but in a nearby village or possibly in Lima, and that her family owned a ranch in Ichocán where she spent most of her early life. It is also claimed that she is an Incan princess directly descended from Atahualpa. The story that she was actually born Amy Camus (Yma Sumac read backwards) in Brooklyn or Canada is a hoax.”
This song is yet another of the nature-based tunes I wrote since 2005, when my latest outburst began. I was thinking of a particular local woman when I wrote it. In fact, there are references to her throughout the album, and I dedicated EMPYRICON to her. She knows who she is, and I won’t divulge her name. I kept her in my heart during the darkest times of my wife’s mental illness, and that inner image kept me going. I made sure never to act out; I think she’d agree that my behavior toward her has been impeccable
Q: From there, you segue into The Sentence.
A: That’s my re-write of The Doors’ Riders on the Storm, a wonderfully atmospheric piece that is marred by some terrible lyrics: “There’s a killer on the road / His brain is squirming like a toad.” Jim Morrison, an otherwise visionary poet, chose “toad,” I’m sure, because they’re “icky.” I’ve caught and observed a lot of toads in my life, and I’ve never once seen one squirm. But “the killer on the road,” “the actor out on loan” always intrigued me. What had he done? Where was he going? I answer these questions to my own satisfaction in The Sentence. And please note that the drunkard who dismembers his wife and stashes her body parts in his car trunk is neither glorified nor rewarded. The commentator in the bridge sings: “Our hero took off on a one-way trip / Now he lives in a Mobius strip.” A Mobius strip is a twisted strip of, say, paper that loops back on itself, into eternity. The character is sentenced to drive that desert road forever.
I was also paying off an obscure debt. When I was in the 12th grade, my Creative Writing teacher, Gert Wossner, made us read Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer, about a sailor who imagines, if memory serves, a sinister stowaway who shadows him. I used that idea for the hitchhiker the main character picks up.
I went round and round with Richard Bryant about this song. First, the musicians insisted that I wanted to record it at too rapid a tempo, so we slowed it down. Richard seemed to resist my requests to speed it up via computer, and when he added those nifty sound effects, I was satisfied with its present tempo. I only wish my singing had more menace. Like Jim Morrison’s. Because I can’t do that, I sang the song “innocently,” knowing from horror films that the juxtaposition of evil and innocence can be very powerful.
Q: Is Deliverance Day the answer to the murdering drunkard’s plight?
A: More or less. I go through periods in which I really yearn for death, and Deliverance Day is just one expression of that yearning. My death fantasies seem always to be with me, like a bill collector banging on my door at all hours.
Q: Do you think you’ll ever commit suicide?
A: Well, I certainly fit the so-called profile. I’ve been contemplating it, off and on, since adolescence. I get very depressed. I have a whole boatload of repressed rage. I fantasize methods which will really impact those at whom I’m angry. Most recently, I’ve lived with recurring death fantasies since last December. But I think, ultimately, this is all just part of my Inner Theater. And it goads me to write. To explore all kinds of modes of expression before I check out. I have a feeling, also, that it would bring attention to my work.
Q: A pretty extreme career move, Reinaldo.
A: During the 2006 Winter Solstice, I wrote a song about dying:
I've got my wife and little girl in mind
As I leave my life and little world behind.
Crossing over to a place unknown,
Of craggy peaks where wild winds moan,
And desert seas with dirty foam,
Will I still be flesh and bone?
I'm crossing over, leaving home.
I see it all while I'm flying blind.
I can't wait to see what I will find
Crossing over while I say good-bye
To city streets and raspberry pie,
And reading by the fireside.
I've joined the soaring caravanserai.
I'm crossing over the rising tide.
From the land of silk and money,
I'm crossing over milk and honey.
My watch has stopped. Gravity is gone.
I'm sailing toward a crystal dawn,
Crossing over to eternal peace,
Beyond comprehension or release,
I left my beat-up body.
Don't care what I sacrificed
Crossing over to the body of Christ.
Copyright 2007 NADJA MUSIC Reinaldo García
Lyrics: December 21, 2006 (Winter Solstice) Music: February 19, 2007 Monterey, CA
I’m pretty pleased with it.
As I am with Deliverance Day. I like this song’s development, and I’m especially fond of the Hey, Jude coda; that after all the apocalyptic ravings, I wake up in a garden full of loving flowers.
Q: Looking at your backyard, I notice you’re quite the gardener.
A: Quite. Gardening seems to me to be the most unambiguously good activity one can do. There’s no shadow aspect to it. After I’ve watered my garden, I feel as though I’ve taken a deep gulp. And I love the way the plants glisten in the sunlight after a full dousing.
Q: Song number 16: Upside Down World. Artist Laura Lynch, whose work you feature in your CD insert, says it’s her favorite song in the collection.
A: I thought Deliverance Day would’ve been a very strong way to end the CD, with that vision of heaven, fading out. But Upside Down World seems to state what one encounters after coming back to earth, post-enlightenment: the strangeness of human beings. I like the song’s Neil Young/Crazy Horse raggedness. It was the last track we recorded, when everyone was tired, and I lacked the energy to explain exactly what tone I wanted. The musicians went with their instinct, and their instinct was to rock, and so my little hippie ditty grew balls. It’s another song modeled on the early 1970s style, when everyone was “getting back to the earth” and writing songs full of “country wisdom.” I consulted my W.H. Auden Book of Aphorisms for this song, quoting and adapting copiously. There’s a whole verse I didn’t use:
A lazy man always knows the time, it's said.
He's got so much to do, he's going to bed.
The idiot mistakes a snake for a garden hose.
He lands on his back and bruises his nose.
Q: EMPYRICON ends with Open Window, yet another change of pace.
A: As with all of my CDs, there’s an unstated story line through the songs. Your Latest Masterpiece is about being trapped in the coming plague, and subsequent songs often echo that sense of entrapment. After all of the struggles in the songs, I wanted something open and breezy. I wrote the lyrics at our cabin, last September, as the summer was ending. I wanted to embark on a more sophisticated musical style, and asked Yuji Tojo to be as willfully jazzy as he could be, with his classical guitar accompaniment. Again, I fault only my singing. I wished for a Billie Holliday breeziness, but the technical demands of the melody trumped any real freedom of expression for me.
As the album was being mixed, I decided to take a music theory class at the local college. I had reached the edge of where instinct and feeling could take me. I wanted to write melodies that are as original and as quirky, yet as accessible, as my lyrics. More Stevie Wonder/Thom Yorke, and less Bob Dylan.
Q: How’d the class go?
A: A lot of the experience was agony. First, spending five mornings a week with any group of people is tough for me. I’m so well adapted to solitude. Plus, there was a woman in the class who purported to be a kind of New Age visionary, who—
Q: Oh, your favorite type of person.
A: She claims to be a professional “life coach,” and she openly trolled for clients in the class. Nearly every time I spoke with her, she would either “classify” me or lecture me about life and Matters Spiritual. On Talent Day, when we students were performing our music for the class, this woman led us on a “journey of discovery,” as part of her pitch for clients. I was disgusted. During the last two weeks of the class, I was very worried I’d commit some kind of verbal outburst against her, and I’ve learned that in the feminized academic world, any expression of male aggression is a capital offense. In the Gurdjieffian sense, she gave me a lot to contend with, inwardly, and I struggled for compassion and objectivity, and with the fact that she perhaps is a mirror of me. Of that “bossy” aspect that “figures people out.” To their face.
Early one morning, the instructor stood by my desk and thanked me for having “brought so much camaraderie to the class.” Though I realized I’d been doing what I could, in very small ways, to make everyone comfortable in the classroom, I was shocked by his statement. It made me uncomfortable, in the sense that I now had a “role” that I had to continue playing, and which I could screw up. And the observation of that inner process, and others that came into play, brought on a crisis about two weeks from the end of the class that impacted my ability to learn. My irritation with my “imperfections” snowballed into fullblown anger at myself for being susceptible to them. My ambition to be great often devolves into its lesser brother, perfectionism. The desire to be above reproach.
Q: Like your betes noire, the leftists.
A: Touche. [Reinaldo sighs.] I was very hard on myself, and the suicidal fantasies grew stronger and more vivid, culminating during the final exam. I scored 81% on a difficult, comprehensive test. I remember I got so dizzy during the test that the musical notes seemed to leave the page and take wing. I was reminded of that movie SHINE, in which a pianist goes mad while rehearsing a difficult Rachmaninoff concerto. I ended up with a B in the course, after having maintained an A average before the final, which carried the weight of three quizzes.
In my “defense,” over half of the original students dropped out before the final exam. I was one of the survivors.
Q: Did you have your predictable clashes with the teacher?
A: No, though because he was so kind to me I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’s kind of a saintly person who bears his suffering with good humor and dignity. During the course of some of our talks, he revealed a lot about his three grown children, two of whom—a male and a female—are homosexual. He described some of the difficulties his three children have experienced. And I thought I have it bad, with my recently-crazy-now-recovering wife, but some of the stories he told me were hair raising. Which is ironic, because he wears a toupee. I have no knowledge of his shadowy internal, private life, but this guy is by every visual, perceivable measurement, a Good Man.
He calls himself a classic 60s bleeding heart liberal. The downside of this compassion involves allowing students to cheat. Without naming names, I e-mailed him about it, and later spoke at some length with him about the open cheating going on during tests, when he’d leave the classroom.
Q: What’d he say?
A: That those who cheat have to live with the knowledge they cheated. Personally, I think people who cheat lack the capacity for remorse of conscience to begin with, and so “knowing they cheated” is equivalent to “knowing” they had a Big Mac for lunch. I told the teacher that the cheating matters to me because at least one member of our class was intending to transfer to a university, to study music as a career, and that cheaters with good grades can get into a university and take the place of someone who didn’t cheat, and who got a correspondingly lower grade. I tried to stress that cheating impacts not just the cheater, but the whole educational system.
Q: You’re not an ironist. You’re a moralist.
A: By the way, about halfway through the semester I learned that many of my classmates, perhaps a majority, were only in the beginning music theory class because it’s required, no matter how much training or experience the person might have. Some students were taking the class for a second time; others had played classical music in orchestras; one had been a kind of piano prodigy in her youth. And here I was, really struggling to master these esoteric concepts, starting from scratch, in my middle 50s. I may have been the only true beginner in the bunch.
The teacher urged me to enroll in the next class in the path (Music 10B, where the learned theories are practiced and applied) this fall, but I don’t want to go through the same extra-musical rigors again. The “life coach” who irritated me so much has already signed up for the class. I don’t know if I could summon the same restraint a second time.
Oh—I arrived about a half hour early for each class session, and sat in my chair in the empty classroom and wrote song lyrics. About three dozen of them. It was heavenly.
Here’s a sample lyric, written the day before my birthday, based on the late middle-aged woman about whom I know some interesting facts, such as her deep regret over never having borne children. I speculate that her self-designation as a “life coach” is a form of sublimation for never-exercised maternal muscles, and her false superiority is a defense mechanism against her mortifying shame:
Mercy Falls on Marjorie
Mercy falls on Marjorie like little babies in the rain.
Contemplate this mystery and you’ll understand her pain.
Marjorie gives free advice from her tower in the stars.
She perfected this device by trapping fireflies in jars.
She’ll purse her lips and arch her brow while she’s looking down on you.
You’ll wonder why. Don’t ask how she never had a child or two.
Marjorie, she wears a mask of caring and concern for you.
In her sunlight you will bask ‘til Marjorie returns to view
The poor souls littered down below her looming tower in the sky.
This was always her misfortune: Judging through projection’s eye.
Her doctor husband lost his patience
With the wife who was his nurse.
She kidnapped all his wealthy patients.
Mystics can be so perverse.
Perfection is a cross she’ll bear. She’s superior to you.
It’s a mirror she must wear, reflecting all her dreams in you.
Copyright 2007 NADJA MUSIC Reinaldo García
May 3, 2007 Monterey, CA
When I wrote it, I had an early Joni Mitchell song in my head: Marcie, from her first album, SONG FOR A SEAGULL, released in 1968. In that beautiful song, Mitchell draws a very compassionate portrait of a troubled, needy woman: “Marcie's faucet needs a plumber / Marcie's sorrow needs a man.” If I ever set this lyric to music, or find someone who will, I hope the melody will communicate gentle resignation, rather than contempt.
Q: EMPYRICON’s artwork and packaging are, as usual, first rate.
A: Oh, the stories I could tell. The aforementioned Carolyn Mary Kleefeld had given permission for me to use one of her paintings for the cover, but she proved so impossible for my designer and me to work with, that she ultimately withdrew permission to use the image. After which, she accused me of breaking our agreement and “mishandling” our relationship. I lost almost two weeks, and missed my deadline, dealing with her. Ms. Kleefeld retaliated against me in another way, soon after, by revoking funding for the David Wayne Dunn poetry book I’d been hired to edit and design, after I’d started the project and received my first installment. That breach of contract cost me nearly $5,000.00. She can jerk David Wayne Dunn around all day long, but I refuse to take it.
Artist Laura Lynch, on the other hand, was very easy. After I saw her exhibit at the local college, I asked if I could use an image or two for my CD. Laura stated a use fee, I agreed, I mailed her a check, she supplied the image, and everyone went home pleased.
Because I don’t know if I’ll ever record another full CD of songs, I wanted to make sure I broke my pattern and thanked the contributors, all of whom have their headshots, and their names, in the artwork. One never knows when any given good-bye is the final farewell.
Q: What does the future hold?
A: Probably another boatload of travesties, but my intention is to take a summer beginning piano class at the local college, continue composing, and maybe write a vaguely fantasized novel, a comic take on erotic yearning. My wife continues to recover, fly fishing season is well underway, our daughter’s continued development is staggering, my 2006 MINI Cooper is a treat to drive, softball season starts in a couple of weeks, and so forth.
On Friday the 13th, in July, I’ll be the featured performer at a monthly performance salon called, regrettably, This…Is…Now!!! I perform there every month, forcing myself to sing only new material. Except when I’m a featured performer, with 15 minutes, I get five minutes, or two new songs’ worth of performance time, each month.
Q: Are there any other local venues?
A: None I’ve found that will accept me. Except this one.
I do wish the psychic shadows would dissolve. I await the sounding of angels’ trumpets, as the clouds part and sunshine streams down on my little world.
Q: Summer in Monterey can be foggy, yes?
A: In the mornings. The fog usually burns off by afternoon.
Copyright 2007 NADJA PUBLISHING May-June, 2007
Here is the Monterey County Herald article, dated March 16, 2007:
Breaking The Sound Barrier
By MARC CABRERA
In the recording booth of RB Productions recording studio in Monterey, songwriting instructor Reinaldo García patiently coaches 13-year-old Andrea De la Cruz through a song melody.
After a few words and read-throughs, De la Cruz, still dressed in her black and white Washington Middle School uniform, nods her head in approval. She feels confident enough to record. García cues the engineer to play the track, a crunching guitar riff with crashing cymbals.
De la Cruz, a seventh grader, cuts loose.
Eat my dust, little boy/Eat my dust, I'm not your toy.
Eat my dust, with your junk/Adios you sweet little punk.
As De la Cruz gets her rock star on, García taps the girl's shoulder, orchestrating the rhythm so the young singer can fit words to the music.
The teacher helps keep the student's rhythm, which in turn allows De La Cruz to focus on the vocal work and keep pace with the beat. After the session, De La Cruz listens quietly to her work, while a half dozen of her classmates nod their heads in approval.
It's all part of the lesson plan for the “Co-Write and Record a Song“ class offered by The Lyceum of Monterey County, an after-school program in Monterey. The class teaches 12- to 15-year-old students how to write and record an original song.
Students get instruction from García, a trained songwriter and screenwriter, as well as the chance to record in a professional studio. Students even get to take home a CD of their music.
“It's all to get them excited to learn more about themselves and figure out what they want to be when they grow up,” said Juliette Ferguson, executive director of The Lyceum of Monterey County.
Currently, the class is offered as an after-school program to students at Washington Middle School in Salinas. Plans are being finalized to include schools in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. The class will be offered to the general public during the summer. Sign-ups are currently being held, with plans for a June start.
The first class consisted of six sessions -- four on songwriting and two on recording. García's instruction covered the basics, song structure and melody, and related it to the student's perspective.
“It's like a crossword puzzle. You have this many syllables because you have this many notes and this many lines,” said García. “If you can make it rhyme, all the better. But make sure you say something you mean.”
García said he has written more than 700 songs during his career, and recorded seven self-produced CDs of music. A former playwright-in-residence for the state of New Mexico, García has almost 40 years of professional writing experience, beginning with the publication of his first story in Cycle World Magazine in 1968, at the age of 17. He carries over that workman aesthetic into his lesson plan.
“I want them to see that when you take out all of the (pop music) image mongering, it's just a craft,” García said. “It's like doing a crossword puzzle with your emotions.”
The Lyceum's mission is to “inspire a lifelong love of learning through enrichment programs that stimulate intelligent progress, individual creativity and academic achievement.” The songwriting and recording class is an expansion of the music program.
Aside from exposing young people to the fun of writing music and working in a professional studio, Ferguson said the class helps students express themselves constructively.
“It really gives kids confidence,” Ferguson said. “This is going to be one of the really good classes for developing confidence. Then they'll have that tape with their own voices. I think that's pretty neat.”
The Washington students have gained more than confidence in the class. Allyson Bojorques found her voice on record when she wrote and recorded “You Freak.” With its chorus of “You freak/ everyone says,” Bojorques explained it's an anthem for herself and her friends.
“It's about people at my school calling me a freak. Me and my friends stand out from everyone,” she said. “I'm kind of weird.“
The songwriting class may have been the perfect outlet for the eighth-grader's dissidence.
“It's kind of pretty awesome,” Bojorques said.
Eighth-grader Andrew Parker is the musical force within the group -- García refers to him as “Little Mozart.” A bass and guitar player in the band Venom, Parker recorded the original music that was used for the rest of the class. Students wrote song lyrics set to the tune of Parker's music.
Parker had never recorded in a pro studio before, saying he had previously recorded his work on a “crummy little recording device at home.” He came up with the riff on his own.
“I don't know how I come up with stuff, I just do,” Parker said.
While Parker has had a little bit easier time recording, other students were still trying to work their way through the process, with good results. De la Cruz found it hard to sing a lyric co-written by García, but figured it out.
“The phrasing was difficult for me because it's not my song,” De la Cruz said. “The way the syllables and melody work. There's a certain way you have to break the syllables down to fit.”
For the final recording session, De la Cruz wants to bring in her band to record her own music. The band was still thinking of a song to record and wasn't prepared for that day's session.
When asked if she's a rock star in training, De La Cruz brushed off the notion. “I'm not even contemplating that now.”
If she does decide to make it as a rock star, she's got a head start on making the competition eat her dust.
Reinaldo at the TAXI Road Rally, Hollywood, Nov. 2006: