Tuesday, June 15, 2010
It’s been a year and a half since I’ve written a story and I miss writing, it’s good for me and I know it...My last story was a blog I called “Continental Drift” (http://continentalclubshow.blogspot.com/) where I articulately agonized the sussing out of my Sturm und Drang over a huge blank canvas to fill being one of the three uber venues of Austin’s HUGE SXSW 2009.
This was a one shot deal and to me and it had better hit the bulls eye as this show was scheduled as an opening show; that means “grand opening” or in other words, the anxiously anticipated re-opening of the upstairs gallery at the “mighty” Continental Club.
But all the while, as I was in deep quandary about what to do for my show, it was cloaked in a minor panic of a very real concern about whether or not our strategic SXSW opening date was going to happen at all or any time in the foreseeable future for that matter.
You see the city had shut down the upstairs club for safety reasons and kept it shut down for an undetermined amount of time costing my pal and owner Steve Wertheimer a ton of money every month in rent just to hang on to the space for when the City of Austin loosened its bureaucratic death grip from his certificate of occupancy..
It’s damn hard to pull out all the stops when you’re busy chasing the barrel around…It was time for me to create a show no matter what…A big, important, fun and interesting show…So I decided to take Winston Churchill’s advice which is: “When going through Hell, keep going”…
Since I had lost my downtown BENEON studio of twenty two years just one year before and had found it rumored that I had died and God knows what else, I knew I had to make the best out of this exposure and saw it as a chance to really cut loose and try something new..I felt like this was a perfect opportunity for a huge rite of passage for me, so I was taking this very seriously... So to me as an artist and closet songwriter, SXSW = ART + MUSIC SHOW! So for this, I knew I had to make a huge splash. So I aimed high and started visualizing a big publicity stunt.
Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a great little documentary that my pal Stephanie Todd and I made about how the movie was made for the opening of the music show..
Ever since then, I’ve become very preoccupied with recreating a new life that sprang from that show, which is one of making music in the most profound and expansive way I can muster.. Starting with spending the next eight months with Bill Browder in Layton Depenning’s studio recording a CD that is so authentic to my current sensibilities that it will capture that moment like a beautiful 45 minute snapshot and set this new sonic life of mine in motion.
That started a year ago.
Right now, I am sitting in an airport waiting on a flight to New Jersey.. It’s only natural coming from my Spirit house Safari training (see www.spirithousesafari.blogspot.com) for me to want to whip out my trusty ibook… Because for me, writing is the best way to scratch the surface of my subconscious and when I do, it seems the dialogue pretty quickly begins to spew from my inner schmoozer. At that point, I just back sit as comfortably as possible and take notes, usually for hours on end... It’s very similar to painting without the moving around part, which is too bad. So, that’s what I’m going to do now and it really feels good to be back home in my head…So in the words of the late and great Jackie Gleason...
“And away we go!”
There’s so much to tell. There’s so much processing that I just haven’t taken the time to flesh out; at least to the point where I can feel very satisfied with some sort of resolve as to why the hell I’ve actually been doing all of this with so much verve and for this amount of time without getting burned out or moving on to something else, which is usually the case with me as I am the king of project A.D.D…So the big question is just that: What is the compelling force here? I’ve got to say that it’s very strong and I’m thinking that if I can get a little clearer picture of exactly where it’s coming from, then maybe I’ll have a better understanding of where I might be going.
Given the amount of work that I’ve invested in understanding my inner world, I’m hoping that I can rely on this relatively strong foundation of mine for staying grounded enough to navigate these potentially challenging waters of the entertainment business. I’m hoping that at my worst, I’ll at least be able to muster a somewhat resilient house of cards to hold me up.
So far, my success has relied on decent song writing, pretty good public relations skills and publicity instincts, low expectations, hard work, absolute dumb luck and a lot of help from my friends, which is pretty much the sage advice that the venerable Chet Atkins gave me back when I met him on a set that I was designing for him commissioned by Austin City Limits and the Nashville Network back in the early 90’s.
I’ve been rather enjoying a memoir style of story telling emails from my new acquaintance, Denny Bruce, who I was introduced to by my dear quasi big sister and his ex- girlfriend, Pebbles Wadsworth…Denny coincidentally got Terry Allen (who you’ll see more of here) his first record deal on his own label called Takoma Records. So in his honor, I’m going to continue here for you…
Turned out, Chet Atkins was a pretty witty fellow. I sensed that he was full of mischief early on in my encounters with him on and off the set. I’ll never forget the sly grin and twinkle in his eye of comedic camaraderie after I teased him by asking him if he was okay with my designing his stage set like the inside of an elevator - given the nature of his “easy listening” style..
It’s not like he and I became pals or anything like that, but he did seem to make a point of poking fun at me when he saw me afterwards. That said, I have to add that the funniest thing that happened was at the beginning of the actual taping of the show. During the roar of the audience’s applause after engaging in a remarkable solo performance of his first song “Starry Night”, the director walked out onto the stage and whispered something in his ear, whereupon Mr. Atkins handed him his guitar, looked down and with that same sly grin on his face that I had seen before, he stood up and zipped up his pants. The audience cracked up in a sort of nervous hysterics as he sat back down (still smiling almost as if he meant to do it) took back his guitar and played Starry Night once more, even better than before.
Mr Atkins seemed to really get a kick out of my truck I affectionately call “Ol Paint”, which was (and still is) a beautiful (sort of) multi-colored old Toyota pick up that my next door neighbor - sign painter extraordinaire, Gary Martin had his way with for over fifteen years as he would drag the last bit of whatever color sign paint he had on his brushes across the truck before cleaning them. Gary was known to “letter” “Ol Paint” according to his mood; like the time he was mad at me and painted a bulls eye on my driver’s side door with the words “KILL ME” centered in the middle…Or how about my favorite, “Austin Leaf Blowers Academy” that he inscribed in thick black block letters, with my phone number on the tail gate...
Next to me at a stoplight on Congress Ave., a dark tinted window of a Lincoln Town Car limo lowered revealing Mr. Atkins as he pointed out his appreciation for “Ol Paint”.. by making a pretty funny crack about my level of prestige that must come from driving her around town… I wish I could recall what he said exactly..Oh well..
But the point of all of this is about what I do remember Chet Atkins telling me. Just after I asked him to autograph my guitar, there was one serious moment I had with him, and luckily in that short conversation, I had the presence of mind to ask him how a schlep like me could find his way to make and perform with a band on stage one day as I guess it was on my mind even back then. His answer was short and wise. He said “Number one - Think about what you have going for you and work with what you got. Two - lower your expectations and your luck will immediately get better which will improve your self confidence and number three, the most important of all –work your ass off ”. Well, it seems the old coot knew what he was talking about.
I’ve made a mantra out of the low expectations part – “As a Texas surfer, no wave is too small for a little bit of fun.”
I see myself as the subject for people with repressed aspirations who want to bust out of their hiding places can say: “Hey, if he can do it- anybody can”.. That’s a place I can serve from.
It’s June 8th, 2010 and here’s where I stand thanks to Chet Atkins’ advice... Last night, my band - ‘The “That’s what she said!” Band (Bruce Kirk, Doug Powell, Kathy Rowell, Bill Browder and Lauren Woodward Stanley) and I played all original songs to a admission paying - full house at MOMO’S, a great Austin venue above Katz’s Deli on 6th street. Earlier that day I was responding to enthusiastic emails from Belgium requesting copies of my debut record “Trust Your Equipment- Greatest Hits Vol. 2” for review and radio play after they had seen reviews from (in chronological order) Terry Allen, Vintage Guitar Magazine, The Austin Chronicle, and now Altcountry.nl in Holland!
Translated Dutch to English:
REVIEWS - John Gjaltema
Trust Your Equipment (Greatest Hits volume II)
Ben Livingston is highly recommended by Terry Allen. And that's really not just because Allen and Livingston as music combines a successful career in the visual arts. In many respects, the two more like-minded souls. Livingston is not true in Lubbock, but fits completely in the list specific artists from that city as Terry Allen, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Cary Swinney and Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
This means: intellectually headstrong, progressively across borders and looking crazy at times. These properties are all applicable to Trust Your Equipment. It starts immediately with the title song which opens the album.
As if Nina Hagen gives the start signal, where upon horns break loose and an imminent song follows.
In Fleming Prairie is a nice reference to the observation of a tuna fish by Butch Hancock Can (who can go on a stand in West Texas will see one hundred miles away). The song is a tribute to (the discovery) colors. Livingston has invented an infinite phosphorescent colors in neon as an artist he works with.
Somewhere Down This Road is a song that reminds Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes.
It's All Water is beautiful singer-songwriter working on Zen meditation and a healing massage and much more.
Golfers Are Fat is about shopping malls (they're fun), but is of course essentially very critical. It begins as something of Holy Modal Rounders and ends in a strange cacophony of whistles and percussion.There are more songs full of strange noises. Livingston (vocals Including Texan style & voice characters) brings with Asian-sounding voices memories of the time he stayed in Nepal.
Smart Art School Fools From western swing to yodel with hippies leading to a shooting and overall hilarity as a sort of slapstick western.
As if all this were not enough, there is extra icing on the cake as the diabolical masterful violin playing of Richard Bowden. Reason enough to purchase?
Available at CD Baby.
Here is the last email I sent to Ron, the writer who requested writing about my record at ROOTSTIME Magazine in Belgium, enquiring about management and booking agents in Europe.
Question: Any advice on finding good management or booking agent who might enable a successful tour of Belgium & The Netherlands?
My pal Thor Harris - drummer with Shearwater here in Austin recommends a fellow named Steven at Toutpartout (do you know of them?) but I haven't made contact yet because I'm interested in your opinion... I'm gathering all the geese I can before I pull that trigger.
But the first and most meaningful review or letter of recognition by far was by the venerable Terry Allen.
I suppose now is a good time to bring him up as any as I just woke up wanting to define my feelings from a dream about hanging out with him.
Every so often I come across a person who, for one reason or another embodies a secret mirror who, without doing or saying anything about it, gets me to examine my shortcomings and petty pursuits, inspiring me to dig deeper and stand taller in the world as a less selfish, more real, more solid self human being.
Terry Allen is one of those people..He has a reputation as a contrarian using irony as a cattle prod to express himself, but to me, that description is more of a sensationalistic shtick than the real reason that categorizes him as an icon, at least for me anyway.
To me Terry Allen is a hero who strives to keep a swirling tornado of folklore, modern culture and humanity in check.
I find him more akin to a West Texas Bodhisattva … The kind of person who emanates strength and wisdom without ever taking himself too seriously (?). He appears to consistently operate from a core of stripped down humanity so deep that the result is genuine Texas poetry, no matter what medium he is pushing around.
Living that example makes him a natural teacher. He’s like the camp counselor that you really admire a lot but, because he’s in a class of his own, you never really get the chance to get to know him very well or get to be too close to him and even if you did, you gotta wonder on what ground you’d find a connection anyway and chalk it up to your imagination running away in a spell of hero worship.…
This dream I was just in a few hours ago was profound enough to still be on my mind. It was about observation of him just being himself. All throughout the dream I looked up to him adoringly, almost like a father. Totally intrigued and amused by his antics, beyond inspiration, knowing that the only way I could ever possess a charisma like his was only through osmosis, making me realize that his giant persona was untouchable until I find a similar and satisfying strength in myself. I wonder if Bale is challenged by living in his shadow like James McMurtry is by his dad.
I think I like it here on the sidelines where I can project anything I want on the situation.
News flash: I’m on the plane headed back to Austin and become fast friends through a non stop conversation with musician, Will Sexton from Newark to Dallas. He’s an intelligent and cordial conversationalist who not only is an informal adoptee of Terry’s, but he suddenly validated my theory by explaining his first hand experience of this “living in the shadow of a famous family member..Including directly comparing his and his brother Charlie’s dynamic with Bale and Bukka Allen’s…An amazing coincidence.
My mother had a record called “Lubbock on Everything” by Terry Allen when I was in my late teens when I was still living in Victoria. I wore the grooves down on that thing hanging onto every word, much like the amazingly progressive radio station out of Houston that I was able to pull in from our big public antenna. That station was the KPFT – Pacifica radio, and I never turned it off… KPFT was a radio station that, like Terry Allen shined like an intellectual beacon of hope promising me a more cogent world outside my own.
KPFT Pacifica was famous for getting bombed by the Klu Klux Clan… I guess my attraction to their programming was an early indication of my natural political instincts. My mom says she remembers me saying “Me no go Army!” when I was a tottler…I love that..
My father had very extensive taste in music and literature resulting in a huge record collection and library of which my extremely short attention span and narrow band of cultural curiosity was fulfilled by his all encompassing one.
The metaphor of me and my dad’s difference in style was played out in our coastal waters fishing trips where he had the patience to catch fish and the big generous heart to let me real them in…
Much to his shagrin, I wasn’t a reader at all, like he was.. He devoured literature and used to insist that “books would take me to amazing places”, but unlike for him, reading was very difficult for me, to the point that litrerary description never evoked images in my mind for some reason, with the exception of John Steinbeck way later on which was the only book on a shelf in Southeast Asia… Consequently, I was not a good candidate for a formal education.
I think the three musical records of my dad's that resonated with me the most were Peter and the Wolf when I was a kid , The Beatles – Macical Mystery Tour in Junior high and High school and Terry Allen’s after that. All of which acted as launch pads for my imagination, which I grew to understand would always amuse me and indicate a more than adequate vision for my most all needs...
My first “real” job was working offshore in the oilfields off the Texas – Gulf coast. It was the best paying job for an uneducated kid like me all full of piss and vinegar and wanting to experience the world first hand in dramatic storybook like chapters. My goal was to earn enough money to get myself to Europe where culture and esthetics was a way of life so I could begin to get myself a more sophisticated education through emersion.
I knew I needed to know about this stuff and and could see plain as day in my mind that this would be the only way for me to get it.
My next job was with the Washington Project for the Arts in D.C. That's where I met Terry Allen and his “Panhandle Mystery Band which included Jesse Taylor, Lloyd Maines Richard Bowden and other legendary players that I can’t remember.
My mom was a party designer who had been recognized for her artistic abilities and so was commissioned as an artist to throw the Texas artist show party there at the WPA. I grew up in her mom’s theatre building sets so I did this for my mom and was up there in DC creating a saloon and country dance hall out of an empty downtown DC store front. My mom had called in Terry Allen’s musical forces as I stood in awe of him upon my second encounter…My first was while I was up still working on the set in the middle of a rainy DC night when a loud knock came from the WPA’s loading dock door. I unlatched the locks on the big steel clad door and pulled it open to find a group of big fellows in blue jeans and cowboy boots at the door saying “they were with the band”. Assuming they were Terry’s roadies, I said, “please just set all your stuff over here”, pointing to the backstage area. Wet and well mannered the complied as I went on about my business. I could have helped and should have and for more reason than realizing that that tall Texan in boots was Mr. Allen himself. Ahh, the embarrassment that comes with my selfish nature revealed plain as day.. is instant Karma. There’s a lot more to tell about that time in DC about inagural 2 X 12’s, a Picasso with coffee stains, mouse pelts, quail fur, Gilley’s mechanical bull and the Texas Chili cook off champion just off Pennesylvania Ave. but that’s enough for now.
It was thirteen years before I encountered Terry Allen again. I had dinner with my pal Chris Layton who was a drummer in a band called Double Trouble. An elegant South Texas gentleman who I’d met during his wife Betty’s Texas Monthly party and stuffed him along with the rest of the party into my amazing Orange and white 1953 Caddillac stretch limo for a joy ride around the neighborhood.
Terry Allen’s writes about Ben’s debut CD - “Trust your Equipment”
I heard this CD the first time driving in my truck out to a friends ranch to borrow some bolt cutters. It was cold brittle New Mexico day with wide windy vistas. I thought about a lot of things while I drove and listened...stuff like neon and Cambodia and Thai bands and the sudden impact of dead artists and Tibetan breath music and my old friend Butch Hancock's High Plains tuna fish observation can and Spike Jones and some Buddhists I know and care about in the Texas Hill Country. Driving and listening to music is pretty much my favorite religious experience, especially if the music hooks in with the rhythms of the tires and takes you further than just picking up some bolt cutters. New voices in my head. So thanks, Ben. You kept me listening and kept me moving.
About Terry Allen - Terry Allen has made a career out of creating art based on how things are- not how they ought to be. Terry's background includes musical and theatrical performance, sculpture, painting, drawing, video, installation, and radio works. His sculpture pops up in the most unusual places- from Los Angeles' Citicorp Plaza, to San Francisco's Moscone Center to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He's received numerous awards and honors- including Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. Then there's his music. Terry's recorded several provocative albums of original rock with Texan accent and attitude. Bizarre characters and biting observations- along with insights and inside jokes- populate his songs. Instead of offending simply for the sake of being rude, also shows an unexpected compassion. Whether it is his music, sculpture, or opinion, Terry goes all out. ""
My baby went to the Nut Swamp School
My baby went to the Nut Swamp School