Black Music Matters


Andre DeShields

With racial division out in our urban streets, I reached out to one of my all-time black American idols to share a bit of appreciation.  Click on the image above to see André De Shields perform a Fats Waller favorite.

Dear Mr De Shields,

Back in 1979, after finding a $100 on the floor of the restaurant where I worked as a busboy, I knew exactly what to do with that money.

The summer before, while visiting my grandparents in Brooklyn, I saw the TV commercials for Ain’t Misbehavin’.

Though I never saw the show in New York, when I found that $100 bill, I went right to the Aquarius Theater in Hollywood to buy as many tickets as I could afford.

The woman in the box office saw how excited I was and wound up selling me tickets to four shows – all in front row center!

I was so excited!  I could hardly contain my joy!

The first three times I saw the show, I watched how you fooled someone in the front row beside me during “The Viper” song.

Each time, I watched you encourage them to step up and take a hit off that sweet-smelling reefer — only to yank it back right as the fool reached for it.

I’m sure, by the fourth time I was in attendance, you had recognized me – the same old bushy-haired kid in the front row, completely enthralled.

That fourth time, as you sang “The Viper,” you looked me square in the eye and held out the reefer for me to take.

Of course, I knew the trick, and I wasn’t about to be fooled in front of a full house.

Each time you held it out to me, each time you stepped closer, I kept waving you off, smiling, not to be fooled.

Finally, you gave me a wink, a little nod, as if to say “I know you, kid.  I’ve seen you here four times.  I ain’t gonna trick you.”

So, just as I stepped up to take the reefer – you snatched it away, like always!

Everyone laughed, including me, pleased in the end to have played the fool.

It’s now more than 40 years later, and I’ve been watching the show on YouTube with my 15-year-old son.

Before it’s too late, I just want to take a moment to tell you how much I appreciated you, how much I enjoyed your performance, and how much joy I still recall and carry with me four decades later.

So here’s wishing you all the best, including great health that may keep you kicking for another forty years.



Almost immediately, I received this reply:

One never knows, do one?  Nuff said!


The Viper (André De Shields)


Viral Hope


Viral Hope

                                                 –for Dale, Spring 2020

Quarantined, I reach for a joint, a toke

To quell the nerves, to nullify the pain

But I’ve promised my son I would not smoke

I sacrifice the mask of holy grain


I reach, instead, for the phone, send a text

To friends who, like me, dine on jars of jam

Who isolate with fears of what comes next

In return, I’m served a meal of echoed spam


I close my eyes, recall a ‘90s rave

A thousand dancing fools, a single thrum

Each a part of something grand, an enclave

Our single hopes compose a common hum


While single viral cells may change our route

Some views are best atop a lonely butte


Starlight on Bernie Sanders


Not the aches and pains of advancing age, nor even a recent heart disruption, can stop Virgo Bernie Sanders on his quest to become the next American President.

With both his Moon and Mars in assertive Aries, old uncle Bernie pounds his fist and stomps his feet, insisting that everyone’s hunger is equally hungry, deserving to feast on imported rhetoric.

Only Mercury and Venus in Libra hold him back, both making a warrior indecisive, debating what he covets most — the luxurious house on the lake or his portrait on the wall of a government office.

Saturn in Taurus dresses him down in well-worn, disheveled shrugs, making him skimp as he saves.

Jupiter in Gemini keeps him jetting here and there, grabbing the mic at public events, lecturing crowds on social equity, ethics and justice, and everything for free.

When old Lao Tzu was Bernie’s advanced age, he left his desk, packed up his bag, and wandered off toward the mountain – never to be seen again, but heard across millennia.

Sound like Bernie to you?  Leave a comment and let me know.


St Greta of Thunberg


Bells rang across precocious pews this month when environmental-icon Greta Thunberg turned 17.

With her Sun, Moon and Mercury all in earthy Capricorn, it’s no astrological surprise that combating a climate catastrophe burns in her heart and mind.

Saturn rules Capricorn, the CEO of the zodiac.  Greta’s Saturn, her CEO, is in chatty Gemini — so she leads with crisp intelligence and talks, talks, talks.

Jupiter reveals how we travel through life, the persona we present to the world.  Greta’s generous Jupiter in Leo makes her the center of attention, the star of the global-warming debate.

And both Venus and Mars in Scorpio explain her extreme intensity, her direct and demanding passion, her stinging rebukes, her blazing blue eyes.

Some goats like Greta make it to the mountaintop early in their lives – only to discover a lack of horns to defend their hill.

Sound like Greta to you?  Leave a comment and let me know.


On the Cusp of 2020

Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere; and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself. — Unknown


Born at the birth of the 1960s, I’ve always viewed a decade change as my own personal milestone.

I remember the end of 1969, pedaling my bike down a tree-lined Van Nuys street.  At the end of 1979, I drove my VW Thing down the Ventura Freeway, twilight closing in on me.

The night the 80s ended, I was up in Tahoe, alone with the flu.  And the night we rang in the new millennium, I stood up for a friend at his surprise L.A. wedding.

Tonight, as neighbors fire gunshots into the San Francisco fog, I’ll remember the start of 2020 as spending the night at home with my son — making some dinner; laughing at some videos; staying up till midnight, talking.

Such a blessing to put in my pocket as bullets rain down from the sky.


A Tale of Two Zens

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Many many years ago, a Zen temple high in the mountains was renown for imparting wisdom. After its founding father passed away, the temple was left in the capable hands of two brother monks – a bald monk and a monk with long flowing hair.

When pilgrims came to the temple seeking wisdom, they were naturally drawn to the monk with the long flowing hair.  This made the bald monk very very sad, for he could not grow his hair, and he envied his brother’s appeal.

One morning, the bald monk gave a talk on the importance of detachment, the importance of not attaching to negative thoughts and worldly things.  To prove their own detachment, the bald monk instructed all the pilgrims to completely shave their heads, to demonstrate that they were not attached to their hair.

One by one, the pilgrims shaved their heads to earn the bald monk’s approval, to prove they were not attached to their hair.  Eventually, all the pilgrims were equally bald.

The monk with the long flowing hair, however, did not shave his head – not because he was attached to his hair, which grew naturally from the top of his head, same as his arms grew from his shoulders, same as his  legs grew from his hips – but to prove his detachment from detaching his hair.

Eventually, the bald monk, with the support of all the newly bald pilgrims, banned the monk with the long flowing hair from meditating in the temple.  And so the monk with long flowing hair eventually moved on — leaving the temple, leaving the mountains, leaving attachment behind.

The Learning Process


As pointed out in Treescape, a finished product does not appear all at once like a bolt of lightening, though it may appear that way to an audience.

Creative endeavors follow the learning process.  Things start out rough and unfamiliar, awkward and even ugly; and that’s an essential step.  A week-old embryo does not at all resemble the eventual baby at birth.

Even a simple sketch develops in stages — tentative pencil lines first, followed by cautious inking, then wild water color.

At the beginning, we already know what we want to learn or create.  By the end, however, we often discover a surprise awaits us — often different than what we expected, if not much better than what we had imagined.

Here are ten sketches of a simple street scene.  In the early attempts, I’m trying to learn the placement of all the major lines and shapes.  In the middle stage, shading and details are discovered.  In the final versions, color is revealed.

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We rise to great heights by a winding staircase of small steps. — Francis Bacon


Lotsa Portrait Practice

Despite computer meltdowns in mid-April, some of which weren’t corrected till late-May, I kept myself detached and distracted from all the drama by drawing and painting quick small portraits…

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Sometimes, computer meltdowns will yield surprising results — provided we let go of the drama and discover what’s there to be found.