Monday, August 15, 2016

A Kind Of Intellectual Elation

I met Paul in May of 1992 at a Dylan show at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. I was on a date with a friend of a friend, a nice guy, and I still feel guilty about how I kinda ditched him that night. I knew I'd see friends at the show and I kept making excuses about needing to go to the bathroom or needing a drink from the bar and I'd leave him sitting there waiting for his date to return and Dylan to begin. 

Out in the lobby I did run into folks I knew,  but I was surprised to see my friend Andy Paley, one of Brian Wilson's co-writers and ex-best friends, among them. I was on a big Brian Wilson/Beach Boys music jag at the time. I used to say that it was "informing my new music" and it was ...but mostly Brian's music and life story was a great narcotic for a girl still reeling from a broken New York romance (and lost record deal and lost-stolen car, lost booking agency, manager,...) . The smokey phantasm of Brian's great music lead me down a yellow brick road into an enchanted forrest of weird dreams which included some Beach Boy "visitations"; new friends related to the Beach Boys story (Andy being one of them) and a brand new song-cycle of tunes having nothing to do with the lost New York boyfriend. I still remember zoning out alone, after my VW bus was stolen (and all my belongings as I'd just moved back to San Diego from New York) listening to the Surf's Up CD, the song Feel Flows captures that hazy rapture perfectly, you don't even need the hash pipe.

Along with Andy, Dominic Priore was in the lobby and Wes (John Wesley Harding), and Paul Williams. It was remarkable meeting Paul, I'd just read his old CRAWDADDY! pieces on Brian's SMiLE period. We hit it off right away. I was very happy to talk to another Brian fan and asked him if he'd join me for lunch at Canters the next day. I wanted to ask him a million questions about what it was like smoking pot in the tent at Brian's house back then or what did the SMilE music sound like on those original acetates. 

We met the next day and shared a pastrami on rye and then proceeded to talk through the rest of the day. Paul then invited me to come back to the Dylan show two days later, on May 19th and join him and his wife Donna. It would be Paul's birthday. 

I wouldn't say I fell in love with Paul that day but he made a huge impression on me. It was just such a pleasure to meet and talk with another lover of music and not feel the least bit geeky about it and have it parlay into discussions of Stephen Hawking's theories of black holes and Science Fiction or whatever. It's always a great kick to meet a fellow traveler. 

Later I was to realize that this experience I'd had with Paul, a kind of intellectual elation, was not particular to me, others had had it as his friend or through reading his books and essays. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Acoustic Guitar / Strings Magazine Presents Cindy Lee Berryhill

CLB and Renata Bratt at the Acoustic Guitar and Strings Magazine studio.

Cindy Lee Berryhill and Renata Bratt recently stopped by the AG offices to 
perform three songs.

With Berryhill on acoustic guitar and Bratt on cello, they played “Horsepower” and “An Affair of the Heart.” They closed with the touching “Somebody’s Angel,” which is inspired by the Kenny Rogers song, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” as well as Berryhill’s own experience as a caregiver as her husband’s health declined.

In between songs, Berryhill offers compelling backstories about angsty attraction, country blues great Mississippi Fred McDowell, and a little about her upcoming album, The Adventurist.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Cindy Lee Berryhill and Al Stewart talking about Umberto Eco and Chuck Berry 
before the shows at McCabe's

June 14th  City Winery New York City ...  Al Stewart and Cindy Lee Berryhill

June 18th   The Birchmere  Alexandria, VA ...   Al Stewart and Cindy Lee Berryhill

July 8th       Java Joe's   San Diego, CA... Tom Brosseau, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Gregory Page

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Merle Haggard and This Girls Kern County Radio

I didn't want to like Merle Haggard. Just like I hadn't wanted to like the other messed up, some dying young, iconic music artists (i.e. Janis Joplin), as a kid they scared me. I knew he'd, Merle, done something bad. I didn't know what, but why would I want to like some one that did something bad to someone and went to jail.
When I was 4 years old we moved from Los Angeles to Delano, CA about 30 miles north of Bakersfield. My memories are of wide open fields of dirt, grapes, cotton, big sunflowers growing wild. Endless acres of poppies and purple lupines. 
Sometimes we'd go into Bakersfield and my dad would rent us horses and ponies and we'd ride along the Kern River. At night the Bakersfield sign and the old downtown hotel with its walkway over the main drag, was a magical place, somehow it, with its neon green light, was as mystical and promising of fun, as anything at Disneyland.
In 1999 I was working at Joe Tabler Book in San Diego, and I came across Merle Haggard's autobiography Sing Me Back Home (originally published in 1981), it was a buck ninety five and I thought 'what the heck, lets see what Merle has to say'. I found deeply moving. I saw a bit of my childhood in it, my days in Delano. A little. 
And I remembered the kinds of music the local radio stations in Delano and Bakersfield would play. While Bakersfield KCHJ (letters confusing like LA's 93 KHJ, but oh so different) would play country western sounds and present an evening program called "Freeway 99", the Delano station- on in my bedroom- so I wouldn't be so afraid of the dark--was what I knew best. My dad would put it on each night after tucking me in. It was just he and I at that point and he did a good job of comforting a scared little kid. 
Delano's local station was the last standing Voice of America in the country, and it was shrouded in some mystery. I've put a link at the bottom of this post to a article about what all that little station was up to over the years. Delano's station even played an accidental role in the Manhattan Project. Apparently at a most inappropriate time the Trinity Project countdown and the Delano frequency crossed wires:

“The final countdown began at 5:10 a.m. with a crashing rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ Just as Bainbridge (a Manhattan Project scientist) gave the signal to Allison (another Manhattan Project scientist and the countdown announcer) in the control center, radio station KCBA in Delano, California, crossed wave lengths with the Trinity frequency."
....The National Anthem, (opening of Delano's morning show) provided stirring accompaniment for Allison as he intoned the announcement: ‘It is now zero minus twenty minutes.’"

Mostly I went to sleep to old crackly sounding WWII hits like, "Over There", "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", The Marine Corp theme song or big symphonic musical escapades like Tchaikovsky's Serenade For Strings. I must have had a lot of marching dreams back then.

Merle Haggard thank you for the music that could cut to the core, the attitude, the book (!), and the remembrances of growing up in Kern County. Here is a song you inspired. While reading your biography i was struck by the caption on the photo above and your "Look at that grin...." After reading the book I had a wild dream and your phrase made so much sense..Here's that song. Thank you Merle, turns out I liked you after all.


Article on Delano VOA radio station

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Paul Williams Talks To Bruce Springsteen

Paul Williams, Bruce Springsteen 1975

This excerpt is from The Map or Rediscovering Rock and Roll
published 1988, by Paul Williams:

I taped an interview with Bruce Springsteen in 1974, at a time when CBS wanted to drop him from the label because he wasn't selling enough records, and we talked about a performer's ability to decide his own destiny.

Paul: "I sometimes wonder if the way that the record business is now can actually stop things from happening, just in the sense of stopping them from happening on the radio, or..."
Bruce: "Yes. I mean, it's like- First of all, only to a certain degree. I don't really want to get into the specifics, because I know some things that have been done to me, you know (laughs) and I don't want to sound like, I don't want to whine. But they could stop it to a degree. They can't stop you going out there and playing every night. they can't stop you from being good. They can keep it off the radio. They can make sure it gets low airplay, or no airplay, or what er, which, it hurts, yeah. But they can't well gosh, like, Ive been playing, we've been going for two years, and the second records the biggest, its sold what, 70,000? That's nothing. That's zero. And I don't know, I don't think they can--
   "It depends on who they're dealing with, who they're messing with. It depends on the person, its like anything. Some people can be stopped, and other people can't be stopped, you know? It depends, if you're dealing with people who can stop, or not. Like me, you know, I can't stop, they can't make me stop, ever. Its like once you stop, that's it. You might as well....I don't know what I'd do.
   "But its like that. If you're dealing with people who can say, 'well, hell, Im going to go back to , you know, hanging wallpaper (laughs), that was easier than this.' them you can stop. Those people who are going, 'Oh man, Im gonna go back to college, forget this stuff,' those people can be stopped. People say, 'Hey, what should I do? Gee, I don't know if I want to play or if I want to get married to my girl, Im having a real hard time deciding...' Well, if you have to decide, the answer is right there: don't do it! If you have a choice, then the answer's no.
   "Its only the ones who, some people really don't have a choice, and those are the people who--The record company, I don't like to use the term 'the record company', cause they always get painted as the bad guys--its like the pressures of the business, or whatever, are powerless in the face of what is real. (Laughs) You just can't stop somebody with things like that. I don't think."
Paul: "Something that bothers me, but that you seem to have been able to get around pretty steadily, it the tendency for there to be nowhere to play except big arenas. "
Bruce: "Well, its simple. What you gotta do--Like, I did the Chicago tour, right? I did that tour because I had never played big places, and I said, 'Well, I aint gonna say nothing, because I don't know what they're like.' So we went and played them. About fourteen nights in a row. Went crazy. I went insane during that tour, the worst state of mind Ive ever been in, I think. And just because of the playing conditions for our band. The best part of the tour was the guys in Chicago, great guys, it was nice. But I couldn't play those big places, it had nothing to do with anything that meant anything to me, at all.
   "Those big arenas. So I told Mike, 'Im never going to play those places again.' And that was it. So he knows that usually we don't play any place over three thousand, that's the highest I like to go. I don't like to go any bigger than that. And thats even too big."
Paul: "The challenge comes when you get more popular, which is inevitable."
Bruce: "Right, you know, but--It's like, theres no way! Im always disappointed in acts that play those places. I don't know how The Band can go out and play like that. I don't know how Joni Mitchell can do it. I don't know how you can play there. You can't. You can't effectively do it, I don't think. "
Paul: "I guess its because somebody--like the Who, you'd expect them to do different, but I guess what they'd have to do, really would be to have somebody come in and book a concert hall in New York City--"
Bruce: "For a week."
Paul: "For at least a week. They're doing four shows in Madison Square Garden and it sold out in an hour. So it would have to be at least a week of two shows a night, or maybe more. "
Bruce: "Yeah, you gotta do that, and you also gotta realize that if you get that big, some people who want to see ya, aint gonna see ya. See, I don't know, Im not in that position. All I know is, those big coliseums aint where its supposed to be, you know, it just aint where its supposed to be. Its just too big."
Paul: "It's always a drag, especially if you're not sitting in the front row."
Bruce: "Like I said, its something else going on all over the room. You go to the back row, you can't see the stage, talk about see whats on it. All you see is a blot of light. You better bring your binocs, you know. "
Paul: "I guess people go just for the event..."
Bruce: "See, it turns into-- what happens is you go to those places and it turns into something else that it aint. It becomes an event, rather than, I don't know, whatever else it is. Its just hard to play. But that's where everybody's playing, any more."
Paul: "It's the biggest part of the entertainment business, I mean bigger than movies, bigger than television, much bigger than records. Arenas....that's the biggest, in total dollar gross...."
Bruce: "I don't know how they do it, I don't know how you can even expect to do it in a place like that. Especially like, especially our band, it would be impossible to reach out there the way that we try to do. "
Paul: "Oh yeah, I think so. What happens is you end up playing an imitation of yourself, that the best that--"
Bruce: "It's like, forget it, you know. That's what happens. So you start being somebody you read about. "

And of course it came to pass that in 1985 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played show after show in baseball stadiums, in front of 50, 60, or 80 thousand people at a clip, and still lots of people who wanted to see them, didn't get to see them. And thats' just how the wheel turns, one week your a punk, the next week your a cultural icon, next week maybe you're an old geezer talking about glory days. It doesn't matter. Fred Goodman said in Billboard of a Giants Stadium Springsteen show, "It was tough to shake the feeling that one was watching MTV with a live adjunct rather than a concert But criticism on this level pales next to the stamina and energy offered by Springsteen and company. In performance, he is clearly setting the standard for everyone else to meet, and he is probably the only person who can best it."
So the man had the freedom not to be imprisoned by last years vows. And on the other hand, who could begrudge any punk today for holding the attitude Bruce himself expressed so earnestly in 1974?

(Paul's son Alexander, 14 years old, read this aloud to us this week as we drove up to see Springsteen and meet with Jon Laundau, and while listening to The River all the way there -ed. encinitas 2016)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Out Of That Whale Like Jonah

Balboa Island, Newport, CA. Mother Ruth and me

Tonight a woman approached me and with teary eyes she said "I LOVE your song about your mother". I didn't really know her and I wasn't sure which song she meant, she saw my confusion and said "the song you put up on Facebook. It made me cry, it was just so, touching. " 

These are the moments we hope for as artists. They are gifts. This song she referred to, is one that never made it onto an album, in fact, by the time I wrote this song and the entire song cycle my time as a Virginal Vessel of Monetary Possibility had already passed.  And that time had come and gone a very long time ago.

And so the question of relevance arises. Am I, or is my message as a songwriter relevant. Its not a question actually, because any artist worth their salt passed over this conundrum in their crappy van drivin'-bad part of town livin'-ramen eatin'-mid 20s. Its actually more of a spiritual riddle.

What do I have to say? 
Can I hear the ear of the listener listening?
If you listen their is always something to say. 

One of my favorite philosophies espoused by Paul Williams, rock journalist extraordinaire, was that an artist requires time to get to know by the listener. He would sometimes spend hours listening to the same album or piece of music- trying to get inside the feeling place of it. He was fascinated by an artists individual vision, something only they had. And even when you do learn their language they may switch it up on you, like Dylan, and you are then required to learn a whole new language. 

As a songwriter, I notice, I need a lot of room. To make mistakes. To find the sweet stuff. Whatever this place is...the pure place where you get your juice for a new's a place that isn't touched really by the cares of the world. It doesn't give a shit about Facebook, Kim Kardashian, what's trending on Twitter, or the World Bank. I'm not saying we don't ever write about that stuff, it's just not the real juice. 

The juice is the pure place that makes you wanna write and share a feeling. It's that spiritual quest. Man. Did you watch the Keith Richards documentary? You see him in this place where there is only music and the people that make it and those in the zone with it. That's it. 

A screen grab from super 8; me and my mother Ruth, Hermosa Beach

We all have shit that happened to us as kids. Some of us can ignore it, maybe well into our adult life, and go forward not noticing how its making us limp. I thought I could be like that. I hit the age of 19 full-drive, moved to LA, went to acting school, put together a punk rock band (The Stoopids), and had this weird-wish-vision of myself on stage at the Hong Kong in LA, singing a snarly song with my band, then, the band would drop back, pulsing, and I start talking, ruminating about overcoming the troubles of our lives. I thought; what the fuck? Are you wishing yourself a punk rock messiah. Jonathan Livingston Seagull+SexPistols. But our first gig didn't even happen. 

Instead, I had a crushing depression. It was just my brain, the way it was wired. But also living the past 10 years ignoring that my most important person in the universe, my mother, had suddenly died.  With no funeral or tomb to visit, and no mention of what happened to her,  she simply disappeared from the Planet, and from the photo album, and the lexicon of our family. 

My sister had a photo of herself, torn in half with a mother-arm over her shoulder, nothing else but a serrated edge, a free fall where the mother would be. Later, in archaeological expeditions of the house and unknown drawers, and relatives photo albums a meager few photos were uncovered. 

It's amazing how much we can be affected by the people places and things of our youth. Would I have finished acting school? Would I have recorded an album and played shows with The Stoopids?
I moved back in with my dad and second mother and struggled to rise above the murky waters of depression. Darn. I'd never be like John Lennon 24 and famous.  

Right before the veil of suffering ended I had a visionary dream. I followed John Lennon into a painting. A man followed behind us and he was full of foreboding, I knew it was Lennon's killer.  At last I ended up at a rodeo and met that dark eyed man who represented the killer. We jumped off the rodeo fence and grabbed some grub from the pancake breakfast. While sawing our sausages in half we looked deeply into one another eyes. His were dark dark evil pools. But as I looked further something remarkable happened. We saw each other. We smiled. We fell in love. And the killer was transformed to lover. It was a remarkable healing. I awoke grateful,  knowing it was time for me to move forward. 

We all have to meet our Waterloo. Sometimes its early, sometimes its late. Regaining my footing took me about five years and then I burst Out of that Whale like Jonah. My first album came out of that pressure cooker. And every song cycle since has had its own war to wage.

(Even this brand new one, The Adventurist...) 

It's not about whether we are relevant to some Music Official-fancy person, or to the unblinking mind-set of the Reality TV Eye, it's whether we are seen by "the seer's", the truth-seekers, the music-lovers, those who are actually authentic and bearing a message. 

So the real question is: 
Are You Telling The Truth?

I'll do my best. 

My mother, grandma Ross, grandma Berryhill

FAMILY TREE (the song that made her cry)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

St. Marks Church And Saying Goodbye

This past summer I ran into writer Gillian McCain at a party she and Legs McNeil held for musician Michael DesBarres. Gillian reminded me that my late husband Paul Williams and I had performed at the St. Marks Church in the East Village back in 1993, and that it was she that had booked us! That church later played an important role in my grieving Paul's death and had a hand in the letting go of and saying goodbye to Paul's spirit the day after his passing.

Thank you Gillian for sending along these photos of that day in 1993. 

Paul Williams, Anna Kaye (age 12ish), Lenny Kaye. Lenny played a few of his own songs and backed me on a few. 

 Sound check and my Gibson w Lenny's extra amp. 

*         *         * 

From "The Midnight Hour" posted April 17, 2013: 

Alexander wasn't surprised his dad had passed, we talked about it over breakfast. "Sometimes I thought he was faking it," he said. What do you mean, I asked? "I just thought that maybe he would get better, that maybe he was just pretending to be getting worse".  I said I sort of understood that feeling. And told him when my mom died of cancer, when I was eight, that I'd made up a story, that I'd believed for years, that she had been an archaeologist on a mission to dig up old bones and ruins and had contracted Valley Fever. 

We walked by the St. Marks Church and saw that their would be a ceremony that night for Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, the night of Passover dinner. So we went. This felt right. We were staying right around the corner from the church where Paul and I had played a show together back in 1993, he reading from Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles and me singing songs that he'd inspired. Not to mention that this had been the venue for one of Lenny and Patti's first shows together, or the place many beloved beat poets had read their poetry aloud to deep listening ears. I love this place, St. Marks Church. And in the nights ceremony we washed one another's feet and drank wine and broke bread and sang some melodies and uttered some words. And through it all I felt Paul's spirit, his energi, his unbound self, rise and lift and move from that limited encasement called the human body. 
Deo pro vobis
What do you want Paul?  "..want to go up in the sky"
What do you mean? "Good music goes up"

                                                         *         *          *

Paul and I had been together about a year and a half at this point.
This is how I look before a performance; anxiously waiting. This is how Paul looked most of the time.

A rather somber me with Lenny Kaye's delightful daughter Anna.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Joy of Riding A Bike

I was one of the last kids in my Delano CA neighborhood to learn to ride a bike without training wheels. At the age of seven I knew I was a late starter, my dad had tried to help me get comfortable with riding without the extra wheels, but I just couldn't get the hang of it. It wasn't until a kid a block away, Lonnie, two years younger than me, made me try riding his bike which had no training wheels. He said "it's easy, don't sit down on the seat, its about keeping your balance so stand up and pump and it will feel kind of like running". He was right. Almost immediately I could ride his bike. It was about keeping your balance. 

Once I got the hang of it and had the stupid trainer wheels removed I was riding that bike all over town. One day I rode into downtown Delano and bought a new goldfish, the last one had died. The new fish was in a baggy and I carried it on my handle bars all the way home. 

My best friend Lisa Mashburn had 2 bikes both with butterfly handlebars and banana seats. I ditched my Schwinn for hers and we rode all around the neighborhood for hours with matchbook jackets clipped on our wheel spokes, making our bikes sound like "motorbikes" bbbbbbbb. 

Riding bikes in Delano afforded me some autonomy and some freedom. I could ride to school. I could ride to town or to Lisa's house. I remember fondly that feeling of power you have as a kid on a bike on an open road. 

Later that year when I was spending the summer with my cousins in Laguna Beach I had a bad bike accident. Their house was situated at the bottom of a hill with the rest of the street going down and back up on the other side. They had two bikes one of them with no brakes and thats the one I used. I thought I had it managed, flying down the hill then using my tennis shoed feet as drag to slow before the speed bump, but at one point a car stopped half way down the hill and I swerved to keep from hitting it. I ended up with broken front teeth , a trip to the emergency room and stitches in my chin. Thankfully I didn't hit my head. 

In 1995 my husband, rock writer Paul Williams, rode his bike wildly fast down our local hill, on the way back from the post office, with the plan of coasting half way up the up side of the street. Something went very wrong, no car involved, but he ended up over the handle bars and in brain surgery an hour later. 

I met Paul in May of 1992 and by the fall of that year I visited him at his home in the Sonoma area. We rode bikes around his little town of Glen Ellen and along bike trails in the local park. My memory is of green trees whizzing by and Paul, ahead of me several bike-lengths his hair blowing in the breeze and his shirt tails whipping in the air behind him. The joy of bike riding. 

Three years later he was recovering from a traumatic brain injury due to his bike accident. No helmet and riding his bike down a hill at a reckless speed. The same guy that I admired a few years earlier in Glen Ellen both times with no helmet. 

After the bike accident and after his recovery, for many years, Paul's bike lived in our apartment unused. I forgot the things I liked about it. I forgot the feeling of freedom a ride on a bike gives you. The wind on your face pushing your hair out of your eyes. The exhilaration. 

A month ago Alexander got his first real bike. Not like the little-kid-Walmart bikes he'd had, with one gear and back petal brake. This one has twenty something gears, it's light, it's pretty and it taunts you to ride it -just lookin' at it. Like a beautiful pony. "Come on baby, lets go for a ride"

Alex has been riding around getting used to it. But during his school hours, this week, I've been taking it out for a spin myself, just me and the Red Bomb riding up and down Neptune Ave...along the bluff. Past Beacons Beach path and on to Grand View. And I'm remembering....the joy of riding a bike.      
                                                              *      *      *
Sometimes when things go bad we stop doing the things we love. Like when objects; people places or things, are infected-infused with a memory of past loss. Some call that ptsd. I call it deep caution. I lost my mother, she died when I was 8, people die, they go away and we are left with a kind of tattoo, a muscle memory. I have a song; Cry Me a Jordan (Beloved Stranger 2008) which address this loss. 

"Momma died when I was a little girl it broke my heart it shattered my world. Now I'm always expecting the worse when people come close I know someone 'll get hurt. One thing I found out a long time ago, when the  hurting starts young it looks like everyone you'll know". 

How do you Un-learn this kind of caution, or expectation of the worst? That's where my update comes in... 

What does the view look like from here, 2 1/2 years after Paul's passing? Well, there's more time and emotional room for our, now-as of yesterday- 14 year old, son for one thing. He needs some attention, he started 9th grade last month and the transition made him quite anxious. But with some care and attention that seems to be improving. 

And how does it feel to be this age, this person, i am and starting a big part of my life again? Dating. Intimacy. Revealing. Vulnerable...
It's a lot like riding a bike. You learned once. You found joy in it. You fell down and broke something. Then eventually, tired of seeing the damn bike in the corner you try it out again. And there, after all, you remember the joy of riding a bike. 

Harvest Holidays Bike Parade, Delano CA

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Paul Williams' Archive THIS WEEK at MOMA

The Paul Williams archive will be represented at the New York Art Bookfair at the Museum of Modern Art beginning tomorrow, September 17, 18, 19 and 20. You can find it at the Cummin's Bookseller booth. Talk to Henry Wessell's about acquiring it for your university, public library or public collection. And pick up one of these rad catalogues...

If you are interested in buying the catalogue but can't make it to the NY Art Book Fair,
you can obtain a copy ($12.50 postpaid) from Henry, email: