Larry’s going to be performing with Kevin Kling next Tuesday at the Open Door Theatre for the series Two Chairs Telling:

“The Twin Cities’ most eclectic storytelling series Two Chairs Telling is returning to intimate Open Eye Theatre for 2010 with five months of pairings mixing and matching storytellers, musicians, poets, and spoken words artists who lean towards the lyrical narrative and the narrative lyric.”

If you’ve never seen either of these two live, you won’t want to miss this one. The two will sit down for the evening to swap stories, songs and friendship bracelets.

Well, probably not the bracelets. Although that would be sort of awesome.

Performance starts at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10 (and the low low price of $5 for an additional ticket). More details here and here.

On the back stoop

Music has great healing power. It makes grown people cry. It brings laughter to the faces of those in pain. It unites thousands of people to withstand the force of Bull Connor’s fire hoses in those times of Civil Rights in Alabama. It soothes a teething baby to sleep. It opens up the heart of a 10 year old boy, incarcerated in a 12×12 foot cell in a Gulf Coast county still recovering from the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina.

The boy’s name is Michael. He’s one of the children whose rights are being championed by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mississippi and New Orleans’ offices.

One year ago the detention center he’s being held in housed over 60 juveniles. Some four to a cell. Two in a bunk, two the floor, wrapped in a World War II woolen gray Salvation Army blanket beside an open toilet. The metal cells resemble the inside of a boxcar decorated with toothpaste-smudged grafitti. The youth were denied educational, medical and mental health services. They were in lockdown 23 hours a day.

Through their successful advocacy the Southern Poverty Law Center uncovered these unspeakable abuses, which included the sexual exploitation and assault of teenage girls by male staff. The SPLC secured reforms inside the detention center. The most important reform is a hard population cap that reduces by more than half the number of youths exposed to the horrors of imprisonment. In order to achieve these reforms and to ensure their sustainability, SPLC works hand in hand with the youth detained in the facility, and impresses upon the staff the kids’ incredible strength and potential.

SPLC contacted me to work with Shakti Belway, Director of Community Engagement and staff attorney, to begin giving a voice to these children through narrative, photography and song.

Shakti also brought in hip-hop artists from the Gulf Coast to collaborate: Skipp Coon, Truth Universal and Chuck “Lyrikill” Jones. Not only at the Detention Center, but with youth and elders in the New Orleans community.

Over four days we created ten hours of digitally recorded interviews, several hundred photographs, and five collectively written songs recorded live on my digital recorder! All bearing witness to the failing education system and endless cycle of incarcerated youth, often for minor offenses such as truancy or running away from home.

Ten year old Michael* wrote about being suddenly woken by prison guards from his dream where he was the superhero, Wolverine, with metal claws that could rip its way “out of here to go home.” Michael, in his own words, sang, “I want to go home!”, a call and response version of Chicky-Chicky Boom.

Three young incarcerated women each created interview questions and then took turns interviewing each other, playing the role of Oprah Winfrey. These questions became the first verse of their song “Freedom:”

Why do we make
the choices that we make
why do we do
the things we do
Why is it so hard
To get a second chance
In this life one should live
To sing and dance
In this world of freedom, freedom, freedom!

They also addressed their biggest fears—being incarcerated in a predominantly male facility with male guards:

My greatest fear
To not go home
To be stuck here
To be left alone
To be raped
By prison guards
When looking back
On the past
Life’s been hard
In this world of freedom, freedom, freedom!

Lastly, they addressed the injustices of the system, including the court process which seems to ignore the perspectives of youth:

Because I’m a kid
They feel I don’t know
Right from wrong
But I know so
It takes more than one
To prove someone wrong
At least two sides
And this is mine
In this song
In this world of freedom, freedom, freedom!

While I was working with the young women, Skipp Coon worked with three young incarcerated men. One of them created a polyrythmnic beat track using two toothbrushes against the jailhouse wall that we recorded in GarageBand. We then tracked all of their layered choruses and verses to their rap “Diz Here”. Here’s a few of their words:

[Diz here] Ya worst nightmare. 
Don’t stay here
Stay outside wit ya family
And ain’t no girls here

HCJDC fear don’t stay here
[Diz here] JDC fear
Ain’t nice here

. . .
Darkness up in the cell
It feel like hell
Hearing voices and seeing shit
Shit I was scared

Stay in school
Go by the rules
And keep it cool
And keep it smoove
You know wat to do
Don’t play hooky dude

Cuz dis drama is really cruel
They’ll thrash you
In a minute
Or maybe two

Permissible allowed to do
what you achieve
and be the best that you can do
anything is true
since my grandma done lost her life
I wanna get right
HCJDC bruh dis shit ain’t the life

. . .
visualize
da better time
instead of being
in a cell
enclosed in mind
takin orders now

you got the officers that treat you wrong [stupid lil bustaz] the judge who won’t send you home

. . . .
Ya mama want you home bruh
Don’t push away from her

You, on the streets you doin wrong
Some popel spare ya life
Some people lenienit but some
Other folks they take ya life [lord]

The following Monday two community elders from New Orleans, DJ Markey and Yvette Thierry, spoke to and were interviewed by over twenty youth between the 7th and 12th grade.

DJ spoke of his and their shared fight to further integrate our public schools for all children of disability, including autistic children like their son. He also spoke about his love of New Orleans with these amazing words:

New Orleans. Jazz was born here and the heart of life is improvisation. You have to make it happen when it’s happening. You can’t run to the closet and try to hide. Always thought jazz was a grand lesson for everyone. All have to learn to improvise. Like I said I have no regrets in that regard. We were doing the work as we were supposed to be doing it. It’s what chooses you, not what you always choose.

Yvette talked about getting their voices heard. As she said, “I’m not asking for a hand out but a hand up!”

They both addressed the disastrous affects of Katrina, not only on the physical and emotion level, and how when they came back to rebuild their community the powers that be began to destroy everything that they had worked for, including shutting down existing schools and replacing them with charter schools that fail far too many students and don’t provide full inclusion.

DJ shared these thoughts about his first return to the city:

I drove back where my mother and father were and back there on Desire and Florida Streets; and there wasn’t a car there. Everything was deserted. There in the middle of the street was a buzzard. It was only me and that buzzard in the intersection. I never seen a bird like this in the city before. They show up when there’s something dead. It was a transcending experience. The buzzard was just looking at me and saying , “Why are you here? Everything is dead!” For which I said, “If you’re not into rebuilding here this is not a place to be.”

The participating youth were asked to go home and write down their thoughts for lyrics the next day. They not only came back with their written thoughts, but some had written complete songs. Here’s an incredible set of lyrics by a 15 year old boy. The name of his song is Dreams:

Wake up every morning, seeing other people dead,
We don’t try to help them out we just laugh at them instead
We try to fight the law, but we end up in jail
There is only two ways to make it, that’s either heaven or hell

So reach for the stars and don’t you ever look back
Haters are there to try and knock you off track
Just keep dreaming, and don’t let it go to waste
Be ready for the challenges that you may face

Dreaming is our life, we are living in this white world
Kids are going to jail, and men are raping little girls
How can you complain when you haven’t tried to change
Times are very different and it’s feeling kind of strange.

So believe in yourself, take care of your own
Don’t let no one tell you, you are not strong
Perform for yourself and don’t stand in the crowed
Cause the more you stand out, you’ll make New Orleans proud

I sit here

We broke into two groups again; one group joining me to write melody and song,  the other working with Truth Universal and Chuck “Lyrikill” Jones to write spoken word.

In my group Cassandra Tran, a young biracial Vietnamese and Northern European girl, came with a spoken word poem. She asked me to play a blues pattern which concluded with a line “change these ways”, which immediately turned into the chorus and name for our song. The song concludes with Cassandra reciting her poem:

No more prisons
No more drugs
No more pain
I’m in need of love
From somebody
Who really cares
Someone who understands
Who’s always there
Justice, freedom, equality
Time to rebuild
Our Community

Change these ways

No more corruption
No more fear
No more situations
Where good folks disappear
Into their bedrooms
Into the night
No more cover up
It just ain’t right
Time to build-up unity
Time to rebuild our community

Change these ways

Time to be heard
To create good jobs
I’m sick & tired
Of my kids being robbed
Without an education
Opportunity
It’s time to rebuild our community

Change these ways

We live a life for a dream,
Tryin’ to aim for our
Goals
Along the way we plant
The seeds,
Our story starts to take hold
Mama said build your ambitions
Daddy fought for a new revolution
Not gonna live in the old days,
We’re gonna change these ways.

Change these ways

After we recorded Change These Ways in the backyard of where we were gathered, we quickly broke down the recording equipment to record the beat track and then layered spoken verses and chorus to their Hip-Hop song called This Is Life.

The plan now is for all of us to get back together in the recording studio and re-record our shared works with support from New Orleans musicians, with the focus always on the youth. By June we hope that many of the incarcerated youth will be out of the detention center.

The recording will then be shared with the world!

A few weeks ago, my wife Jacqueline and I traveled on the California Zephyr—an Amtrak Train running from Chicago to Reno–with three other couples: Fiddlin’ Pete & Kathryn, Scott & Pam, and Kris & Karen. We called this journey the Liberty Train, with the goal of playing music across the western states.

Amtrak didn’t know we were coming.

Most all of us on this journey had been friends for nearly 40 years. We met in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where we either grew up and went to college, or married someone who did.

Fiddlin’ Pete and I have played music together through most of these years. When we were in our twenties, he and I hopped freight trains together. The most memorable was the ride we took across the Great Divide from Missoula, Montana to Washington State. En route we would stage fake fistfights in our open boxcar for the waiting cars we would pass at intersections.

During this journey Pete reminded me of crossing an area called “Moon Canyon”, so-called because of the river rafters who would drop their pants and moon the passing freight trains. We had that affection bestowed upon us as the train roared above canyons that dropped thousands of feet below the trestle before heading into a mile long cavernous tunnel to get to the other side.

Also on board with us on that ride was Dubious, a beautiful dog with golden hair and black markings on the tips of her ears, tail and all four paws.

I got Dubious in a dream. One night I dreamt that I was going to get a dog. The next day I walked down to the local bookstore and shared the dream with a friend who ran the place. A young couple overheard my conversation and said they said they just gotten a puppy. They also mentioned that they were about to leave for Los Angeles. The next day I got a call from my friend at the bookstore, telling me to come on down and get my dog. Sure enough, the young couple had realized they weren’t able to take a puppy with them on their trip, so they passed her onto me. They had named her Doobie after the Doobie Brothers or the slang word for a joint. I called her Dubious as in doubtful. It stuck.

——–

Fiddlin’ Pete can calm a raging storm with his bow! When we walked the tracks to hop a boxcar in the freight-yards of Missoula, Montana, a Yard Bull or railroad cop came running up and told us to get out of the yard. Pete asked him if he would like to hear a fiddle tune before we left. To our amazement the yard bull said yes. After listening to a 10-minute version of Cumberland Gap and the Orange Blossom Special, he pointed towards one of the trains and said, “That’s the train you want to ride. Get in the third card over. Make sure you hammer a wooden wedge into the side of the open door so it doesn’t slam shut when the train starts to roll. And whatever you do–don’t tell anyone I gave you permission to ride.”

That trip was the start of our lifelong fascination with trains. And the Liberty Train trip was a way of going back to our train-hopping roots. (Albeit in a more comfortable fashion. This time, we bought tickets for a sleeper room).

The sleeper room (so-called, I assume, because that’s about all you can do in there) is roughly four feet by eight feet. There are two sofas facing each other with left about a foot to spare for personal belongings. Lastly, there were two large windows to look out onto the world.

At bedtime the two sofas folded together into one bed. An upper bunk dropped from above with a foot and half between you and the ceiling.

To pull your pants off took a fair amount of work. Trying to pull them back on when you had to go the bathroom in the middle of night was near impossible. In the old days of open boxcars, you’d just hang out the open door and let it rip.

Our car was number 531. It was under the charge of Willy the Porter. He made it very clear that he didn’t want anyone but him opening and closing the beds. No explanation why. It was just one of Willy’s rules. Willy ran a tight ship–or in this case, a tight sleeper car. It was his little fiefdom.

It was Willy who first informed us of another rule: it is “against the protocols” of Amtrak to allow live music on the train because it might offend somebody. Who that “somebody” was, he couldn’t say. All we knew was that somebody was going to get pissed off and that somebody was Willy, so we did our best to humor him.

It’s important to note that when we first boarded the train Jacqueline and I discovered that all of our friends had sleepers on the upper level. Our room was the only one on the lower lever, which meant that our dream of sharing this train ride with our friends was in danger.

I talked to Willy about changing, but all of the sleepers on the second level were booked. So I approached an elderly couple in the sleeper across from Chris and Karen, and once I explained our predicament they graciously agreed to change rooms with us.

Willy told us we could stay in their room until Denver. At that point somebody else would be boarding the train and would be given the room. Somewhere between Chicago and Denver, though, Willy decided he liked us. He either negotiated with or simply told the other folks who had reserved our room that they would be sleeping in our old room on the lower level. Fiefdom indeed.

——–

One of the many benefits of a sleeper car is that you get three square meals a day.

Our waiter during mealtime was an elderly African American man who had worked for Amtrak for as long as Fiddlin’ Pete and I had been playing together. He had the most amazing ability to walk down the aisle of a moving train, carrying plates of food and drinks without spilling a drop. His flat footed feet shuffled outward, while his knees served as a shock absorber to prevent his body from tumbling.

Since he was doing all the work I assumed that he was the “Willy the Porter” version of the dining car. He laughed at the suggestion and turned his head toward a younger man counting a wad of money in his left hand. “He’s the boss.”

——

It’s important to note that if you disobey the orders of any of the Willy the Porters it can be quite serious. The first time they give you a warning. The second time it’s more like a scolding. The third time you’re booted off the train.

The first day we behaved ourselves. When nightfall came, though, Fiddlin’ Pete and I went into the lounge car separately with our instruments to play some music.

Pete scouted it out first and it looked good. I followed. We asked some folks if they wanted to hear some music. Everyone wanted us to play. So we straddled our legs over the top of a couple of chairs.

Just like in that freight yard we played a couple quick fiddle tunes that got everybody in the mood. We began to mix it up with some old sing-a-long train songs like the Wabash Cannonball, Rock Island Line, and—appropriately enough—the California Zephyr. People gathered around and sang along with us. An elderly man there with his wife knew a lot of songs by Johnny Cash and Tennessee Ernie Ford and soon began to lead us all. Later he told us that singing on the California Zephyr made their trip.

Within our growing circle in the lounge car were folks traveling from Japan, Australia, Germany, and all parts of the United States. A young Australian man even joined in with a hand drum. Folks from other countries seemed very enchanted hearing live music. From their comments and looks in their eyes this was the America they were looking for—raw and rebellious.

But it wasn’t long until we saw Willy the Porter’s head pop up from the stairway coming up from the lower level. I was waiting for him to say something, but he just stood and listened with a big smile.

Around that time another crewman on the train by the name of Brian came weaving down the aisle through the lounge car with a great big grin on his face. He quickly came back with a digital movie camera and filmed us as we played the Orange Blossom Special. (You can see his butt blocking our camera:

We called it a night around 11 o’clock.

After breakfast the next day we sat in the lower level of the lounge car. We were outside of Denver and heading up the grade into the Rocky Mountains. We were beginning to see hillsides of dying timber, devastated by the pine beetle.

Brother Scott’s birthday was in a couple of days, and his wife Pam wanted to celebrate early by giving Scott a few gifts. It soon became apparent why. There were a clacker, wooden block, jaws harp, and a triangle.

Scott, who owns and runs a small manufacturing firm called Cords Set, has always wanted to play music. The Liberty Train was his chance.

When Fiddlin’ Pete and I pulled out our instruments, though, the Willy the Porter of the lounge car came right up and said, “I heard that you guys were playing music on the upper deck last night. It is the general policy of Amtrak to not allow people to play music on the train. I’m sorry but you can not play music on the train today.”
“Tonight?”
“Not tonight either.”
“Tomorrow?”
“Not tomorrow either.”
“Is this rule written down somewhere, so we can read it?”
“Yes. It’s in the book.”
“Where’s the book?”
“I don’t have the book.”
“Can you go get the book?”
“It’s final. You can’t play music on the train today unless the conductor says otherwise.”

The Liberty Train had just been derailed.

Scott was left standing there with a handful of percussion instruments he wasn’t allowed to play. Not one to be deterred, Scott came up with a plan. We’d get off the train when it made a ten minute stop at Grand Junction, CO, and play music at the station. And that is what we did.

Soon Fiddlin’ Pete and I were serenading a father with his baby daughter outside of car number 532. Scott danced around like Bojangles with that triangle in his hand.

Later that day a young kid came running up to us and looked at Scott, as if he’d seen a rock star, and said, “Aren’t you the guy who played the triangle?”

Our journey ended in Millpond, CA, at the music festival there. You can watch a clip of us playing here:

On this journey I wrote a song to not only honor the California Zephyr, but more specifically to honor the man who gave me the boots I was wearing on this trip. His name is Olen Edwards. The verses to his song, My Old Friend, tell the story.

Listen to the song

My Old Friend

I’ve walked the world over
In these boots of my old friend
From Boston, Massachusetts
Back on home again
From the State of Oklahoma
To Chicago on a plane
On the California Zephyr
To Reno on the train

My old friend. My old friend.
It won’t be long until I’m with you again

In these boots of Ostrich leather
On Sunday he would preach
In small country churches
From the pulphit he would teach
The road to salvation
With a guitar on his back
On the California Zephyr
Heading down the railroad tracks

My old friend. My old friend.
It won’t be long until I’m with you again

These boots are anointed
That’s what his wife said
When she gave them to me
While he lay in bed
In a veterans home
Where old warriors go
On the California Zephyr
Taking me back home

My old friend. My old friend.
It won’t be long until I’m with you again

Size 11B
The same size I wear
When I put them on
Felt like they were always there
In moments of decision
Looking down I hear him say
On the California Zephyr
On this guitar I play

My old friend. My old friend.
It won’t be long until I’m with you again

On the California Zephyr
In these boots of my old friend

Words & music by Larry Long

Leo Kottke at NectarsI first met Leo Kottke in the fall of 1969. It was on my first night of college at St. Cloud State University, and Leo was playing at the Ratskeller Coffeehouse, located in the basement of the Atwood Student Union. It was a dark cellar with a dozen or so hardwood square tables and chairs. At the end of the evening, the Ratskeller was empty save Leo and I. Not by intention. I just got lucky.

A few months later Leo released Armadillo, a groundbreaking recording recorded live at the Scholar Coffeehouse in Minneapolis. The rest is, as they say, history.

Leo is more than a one-man band. Leo is a one-man orchestra. His guitar work on 12 and 6 string guitars is somewhere between the slow, barbiturate sound of John Fahey, the swift flat-picking of Doc Watson, and the electronic stealth of Jimi Hendrix gone acoustic. His singing voice is another unique mix—between the soft baritone of Dean Martin and (as Leo puts it) “geese farts.” But it’s Leo’s slow, drawn out humor that pulls it all together in a live performance. His storytelling is random mix between the Smothers Brothers, Garrison Keillor, and Samuel Clemens. There’s always a storyline woven throughout his shows. You don’t know where Leo’s heading until the night is over and even then you’re not entirely sure where the story went, but it was a journey worth taking.

Back in the ’80s a mutual friend of ours, bassist Billy (Williard) Peterson, produced several of my recordings for Flying Fish Records (now distributed by Rounder Records). Billy brought Leo into play a couple of my tunes: Catfish Rag (Troubadour CD) and Mad About The Way Things Are (Run For Freedom/Sweet Thunder CD). The Leo you see on stage is the same Leo you meet off stage. Vulnerable and genuine with a lonely rye wit.

Forty years after first hearing Leo that night at the Rathskellar, my wife and I are in Martha’s Vineyard at a small nightclub called Nectar’s near the airport, watching Leo perform. ( www.nectarsmv.com) The show isn’t listed on his tour schedule, which is crammed with concerts across the country. www.leokottke.com) As far as I can tell, he’s traveling alone.

When my wife and I arrived earlier at Nectar’s Leo was doing sound check. Afterward he sat down with us for a chat. I shared the story of hearing him for the first time at the Ratskeller. Leo said, “I remember that. They hired me to play two nights for fifty dollars. When I got done playing on the second night they handed me a twenty-five dollar check. I told them I was supposed to get paid fifty dollars. The guy in charge of the Ratskeller quickly replied, ‘Now you’re not.’ I guess he didn’t think I was worth it. And now 40 years later I’m still making a living at this.”

Leo Kottke at Nectars (flash not included)I asked Leo if it would be all right if I took a photograph of him during his performance. He chuckled. “As long as you don’t use a flash. I just can’t get this one guy out of my head that used a flash at one of my concerts years back. In the middle of my show I could feel the eyes of someone staring me down from the end of my guitar neck somewhere down by the tuners. I couldn’t help but look… and sure enough there he was, holding an old antique camera with foursquare cubed flash bulbs on top of it. He was smirking. I stopped and smiled, waiting for him to take the picture, but he didn’t. So I moved my guitar neck a few inches to the right and there he was doing it again. I stopped and posed for another picture, but he didn’t take it. He just went away. I thought that was sure odd. Then toward the end of my concert I heard the sound of someone talking to the right of me. I was lost in a song. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was possibly the management or something. So I stopped and looked over and there he was with that antique camera with foursquare cube flash bulbs. This time he flashed the picture and it blinded me. I didn’t think it was funny, but the audience all started laughing. Then he sat himself down in the middle of the auditorium toward the front row. Halfway through my last song he stood up and walked right out down the middle aisle. I never saw him again.”

We were concerned about the turnout for the concert, since half the folks on the island had fled in the wake of an impending hurricane that was suppose to have hit on the previous day. It never materialized, but that didn’t stop a torrential rain from poring down nonstop for over 24 hours.

This didn’t seem to bother Leo. He was in top form that night, sitting on a chair in the middle of a dark stage before an audience of a few hundred. After his first song Leo jokingly said, “I’m damp. I’ve never been so damp in my whole life.” He then went right into his second instrumental. When the song was over, Leo braced his guitar on his lap. “I’m feeling some remorse about what I said. I have been damper than I am right now. All I was trying to say is that I’m really damp.” And then off he went into the next song.

Leo played a two-hour set with no breaks held together by a meandering storyline and accentuated by rapid fire guitar playing that occasionally edged towards the gypsy sounds of Django Reinhart and the melancholy of sultry torch songs with an eastern European feel.

It was as if I blinked and the night was over. Leo simply stood up, a guitar in both hands, took a bow, and walked off stage. The audience gave him an immediate standing ovation. He walked back out with one guitar, sat down, and said, “I’ve never been so damp.” Then he launched into the encore.

Like well-aged wine stored in an oaken barrel Leo Kottke just keeps getting better. Thank you Leo.

Reverend Denniston speaking at dedicationHalf of Martha’s Vineyard fled to the mainland yesterday to avoid the oncoming storm that arrived this morning. We were ferrying over as they were leaving.
We started our trek from South Station, Boston, to catch the ferry at Woods Hole. Along the way I met Reverend Dean Denniston, who was sitting across the aisle from us on the South Station bus. Looking rather dapper in a black suit coat and tie with a folded red striped cane on his lap, he was reading Braille during the two-hour trip. He looked a bit like Ray Charles with his black sunglasses.
Once we arrived I waited to exit last, as I had my guitar with me. The Reverend was waiting as well and after a bit we were the only ones left on the bus. Hearing that I was carrying a guitar case, the Reverend mentioned that he played the blues slide guitar and was just learning “Little Red Rooster”.
He asked if I could help guide him off the bus and onto the ferry, so we chatted all the way to Martha’s Vineyard. Reverend Denniston had grown up in Oak Bluffs, a town with a large African American community.
His father was Rev. Oscar E. Denniston. He presided over Bradley Memorial Church, the first African-American Church on the island. The senior Reverend Denniston had founded the church and remained pastor until his death in 1942. The family lived in the church’s sanctuary.
The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, in partnership with the NAACP, acquired the building earlier this year, and is turning it into a museum honoring the African-American history of the island. The second floor where Rev. Denniston was raised will be converted into two affordable housing units.
Reverend Denniston was asked to give a family blessing at the groundbreaking ceremony, where the Governor of Massachusetts and other local dignitaries were scheduled to speak.
The Reverend confided that he had mixed emotions about returning to his family home. “But as in most times when one is truly called,” the Reverend said, “the calling seldom comes at convenient times.”
It felt to me like he had been called to this event for a reason. He agreed. I said, “There are miracles that happen each day if we find the time to take notice.” The Reverend quickly responded, “No, it’s not a miracle, it’s simply grace.”
As we continued to talk, we found a shared friend in Guy Davis, musician, actor and son of Ozzie. (Guy and I both performed at Madison Square Gardens for Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday celebration.)
The Reverend invited my wife and I to the dedication, which we accepted. Half of the attendees were African-American, most of whom have lived in Oak Bluffs for decades.
Church HistoryLindsey Lee, oral historian for the historical society, said there was a treasure trove of history inside Reverend Denniston’s home — photographs of parishioners and family members, church letters and documents, and well-worn pews. She and her staff had cataloged almost 80 boxes to be added to their permanent collection.
Mass. GovernorAfter the Governor and local politicians spoke, the Reverend gave a simple blessing for the memories his father’s home, the blessed Bradley Memorial Church, with the wish that a new vision will be created for generations to come.
After the dedication the Governor left for the JFK Library, where he was speaking at the family service for Senator Edward Kennedy along with Vice President Biden, Senator Hatch and McCain and others.
This morning Senator Edward Kennedy’s public memorial service was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Mission Hill. President Obama gave a beautiful eulogy.
The last of the Kennedy brothers. A man who spent his life in service to others. A man who never gave up, weathering great storms of both family and personal tragedies. The last of a political dynasty.
The impending hurricane that sent locals scattering never materialized. Instead it was a rainy and windy day as my wife and I walked the quiet streets of Oak Bluffs…

Waiting in Line Outside the Kennedy LibraryMy wife and I waited three hours in line last evening to show our respect for Senator Kennedy with thousands of others at the JFK Library in Boston, Massachusetts. The stories of those in line were rich with affection for the Senator and his family.

In Memorial: Edward Moore KennedyOne gentleman behind us talked of when he was young and being Irish Catholic reduced him to second class citizenship. Let alone being a gay Irish Catholic. “The Kennedy family changes all of that for me.” he said. “Senator Kennedy not only lifted up the Irish, but all dispossessed people. He was the first in the Senate to speak up and secure funding for those with HIV and AIDS during the era of President Reagan. He opened the doors for immigrants from around the world to find a home on our shores. He will be greatly missed, especially in these times of trying to secure health care for all Americans.”

Looking out onto Madison Square Gardens was like looking out onto the Grand Canyons for the first time. Breathtaking. I walked up to a security guard and asked him, “Where did Mohammed Ali box?” He looked at me and said, “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about that before, but I will now.”

There was no distance between the audience and performers. The moment was when Pete Seeger sang Amazing Grace and all 20,000 people stood up singing. No one can engage an audience like Pete.

Bruce Springsteen spoke with great eloquence. Maggie’s Farm with Ramblin Jack, Kristofferson, Richie Havens, and Arlo Guthrie was a hoot. Rufus and Martha Wainwright sang a most beautiful, tender ballad of Pete’s. Before going up on stage Kris Kristofferson turned and laughed, “ I don’t know what I’m doing.” He did well! Ani DeFranco and he sang, “There’s A Hole
In The Bucket.”

I sang with others beside Joan Baez on Jacob’s Ladder and Bernice Reagon on We Shall Overcome. We were all F.O.P.’s (Friends of Pete), according to the techs. A polite (or not so polite) way of referring to the lesser known musicians who were personally invited by Pete. To us it was a compliment.

Seeger90 will be televised as part of Great Performances for PBS in the coming months. Will be interesting to see how the editing is done.

He Was A Real Good Man

(Honoring Craig Wilkins)

I met Craig along time ago
When I went to college
Right after I left home
Much older and wiser than me
He just got out of the military
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

With a smile hard to resist
With a twinkle in his eye
He called himself a feminist
Long before Robert Bly
The last in the room to say good-bye
He was real good man. With a real slow man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

Listening to some old fiddle tune
With Diane Odegard
And their friends at the Grand Mantel Saloon
Life with Craig it wasn’t hard
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

From that South Jersey front porch stoop
A real class act people say
Always one to tell the truth
One beer to mourn. Two beers to celebrate
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

His mother taught him how to cook
When he was just a kid
From recipes not found in a book
Until Craig said, “Mom, I want to get slim.”
“So cook your own damn food!”,
His mother told him
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em uch better than Craig

With Candy the love of his life
Together they built a home
Not long after she became his wife
They got that FHA loan
Craig cooked for Candy
each night when she came home
He was real good man, with a real slow hand
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

Through their love they had a son
Ethan, a real good guy
Who like Craig, has now become
The last in the room to say goodbye
With a twinkle in his eye
He’s a real good man, with a real slow hand.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

On that bus his father rode
To work each morning
To MN DOT where they love his Dad a lot
Craig their ‘Newsline King’
The ‘wittiest, pithiest editor you have ever seen!’
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

When you lose someone you love
What more can one do
But to love those who are
Still here with you
What more would Craig want us to do?
He was real good man with a real slow hand.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

Words & music by Larry Long

 Larry Long 2009 / BMI

It’s official! Larry will be among over 40 other performers honoring Pete Seeger for his 90th birthday. at Madison Square Gardens on Sunday, May 3, 2009. You can find the latest information here:

www.Seeger90.com

Tickets will be available to the masses if you’d like to attend. Among the performers on hand to celebrate: Arlo Guthrie, Billy Bragg, Kris Kristofferson, Ani DiFranco, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle and John Mellencamp. 

Can’t quite make it to New York in time? The event will be recorded and filmed for release. Plans are also in the works to live stream the event as well. We’ll send out/post the pertinent details as soon as we know, along with any other updates about the event. So check back.

Larry will be posting a journal entry about the event and (I’m sure) some great stories about Pete, but he wanted to get the word out today to coincide with the official announcement of the event. 

More details as events warrant…

This afternoon I received a note from Jack Niedenthal, who is producing a film called “Ña Noniep” in the Marshall Islands. He was asking to use one of my songs, Freedom, Oh Freedom, in the movie.

I originally wrote and recorded Freedom, Oh Freedom with the youth of Alabama. It tells the story of Ezra Cunningham, who was a pioneer in Civil Rights and a member of their community. It was originally featured on Here I Stand: Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song. You can listen to a gospel recording of the song here.

Jack sent me the recording that he would be using in the movie, which you can listen to here. He also included more about the film and the Marshall Islands as well:

Kery Ann Lejjena, Carly Ann Note, Lulani Note and Cinderella LajidrikI am currently wrapping up production on a film I am making in the Marshall Islands. All the music in the film was performed by four 8th grade girls from the Majuro Cooperative School, of which I am a Board member. We are a private school and so we must constantly look for ways to raise money. I funded this movie out of my own pocket (also wrote, directed and produced, and yes, even acted). All proceeds from the film go to the school.

As we were wrapping up the recording of the Marshallese music we selected for the movie, the girls asked me if they could sing an English song they knew. They sang your song, Freedom, Oh Freedom. They did it so well I almost passed out while recording it….

Na Noniep - Marshall Islands“Ña Noniep” is a film about the spiritual battle between a ri-anijnij (an evil Marshallese witch) and a noniep (a Marshallese fairy) for the soul of a 13 year old boy, Liki.

Liki is an off-the-chart brilliant student who can solve math problems without using pencil or paper and who can read a thick novel in a few days. His goal is to attend high school in America…. Miko, Liki finds his life threatened by Miko’s evil grandmother, Lijimu, who is a woman known throughout the islands as a horribly diabolical witch. Lijimu casts a spell on Liki…. Only the noniep can help him, but first the noniep must overcome the enormous power of the evil Lijimu.

“Ña Noniep” is in Marshallese with English subtitles, and English. The film stars Randon Jack, Lulani Ritok, Kyle Trevor, Netha Gideon, Matiti Johnson, Alson Kelen and Sarah Enyeart. The film is scheduled to open at the K & K Theaters on March 6.

[…]

The Marshall Islands are between Hawaii and Guam in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The entire country only has 50,000 people. The Marshall Islands are most famous for their use as a nuclear testing ground by the US in the 1940s and 1950s. All 4 of the girls singing your song and playing the ukulele are Bikini Islanders, whose families have been displaced by this
nuclear testing for over 60 years. More info on the US nuclear testing in the Marshall
Islands can be found here: http://www.bikiniatoll.com.

K & K theaters is a 3-plex theater (the only one in the Marshall Islands) who will show our film. The arrangement is that they get half of the $3 price of admission, and our school gets half. We are not talking about a lot of money here. Most people here get $2 an hour as wages….

It is indeed an honor to know that this song’s pure message transcends cultures and geographic borders even today. For more information about Ezra Cunningham or to hear him speak about his life, visit the Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song website.

Thank you to Jack Niedenthal for sending this to me, and a special thanks to the singers, Kery Ann Lejjena, Carly Ann Note, Lulani Note and Cinderella Lajidrik.

Scottish Castle and Graveyard

Scottish Castle and Graveyard

I have had the opportunity to tool around in some beautiful European cities and until now I would say I would rate them for beauty and interest—Paris, Leningrad, Barcelona, Florence, with Amsterdam, Venice and Warsaw also on the list. But Edinburgh just became number two behind Paris. It is a beautiful city with a funkiness that is hard to describe. Like you’re walking around in a Harry Potter scene or a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson (like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which is based on a real person here)  Both authors grew up here by the way. There are these gothic buildings everywhere with creepy  black spires, even on public schools. And  the city is just full of cobblestone little narrow “closes” which pass as streets on 3 different levels.

The original city was the Royal Mile which starts out with the castle that is on a huge 4 story volcanic rock and then runs, cobblestone street, with shops on each side much like the wizard shopping area in Harry Potter for a mile down the hill to the Holyrood Palace where Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles etc still stay in when they are here. There are these little 4 foot closes that run off of that street with historical names like John Adams, John Knox, etc. lived in apartments off them. There originally were water or cow pastures along each side so huge stone arched bridges were built to get down to the main land on each side. With as many as 9 to 12 arches to span the distance. Over time the water was drained and tenements developed under these bridges with buildings being built here and there so much that it is impossible to see the arches of the bridges any more. The city is literally on different levels so when you try to follow a 2D map, you think I will go here and turn right on this street but that street turns out to be 50 feet below you!  And half are one way. After walking around for 5 days I finally have the gist of how to at least make my way across but driving would have been twice as hard.  And people drive on the left side of the street here so forget it. We walked or took cabs.

It’s easy to see how J.K. Rowling who grew up here came up with the atmosphere for Harry Potter. It feels like the novels here. (The buses look like theirs too.  They just dont fly.)

4,000 Accused Witches Died Here

4,000 Accused Witches Died Here

But it all is great fun and Scottish people are very jolly. The food is great and the history is amazing.  We have been staying and eating in 700 year old establishments all week.  The place is full of stories of creepy things like tenements bricked off during the plague and people left to die inside, or the lake next to the castle used to dunk women to prove they were witches—over 4000 of them!  And then there were the 2 serial killers who ran an inn on one of the closes and smothered 18 guests to sell their body parts for cash. Several Stevenson stories are based on real people here. The ancient cemetery has a watchtower in it to watch that the bodies were not stolen by gravediggers. Then there are all the royal stories of people killing each other like Mary Queen of Scots having her husband kill her lover in her rooms (we saw the blood stain on the floor at the palace today) and then her husband mysteriously dying etc.

The Royal Museum displays the quillotine that was used on over 400 people, etc, etc.  

Every corner is full of pictures and history of the different kings or the Catholic/Protestant struggles that were played out a great deal here. We also spent a lot of time studying kilts and colors. I actually got a kilt in the historical colors of my region.

Roslyn Castle

Roslyn Chapel

Our hosts were very gracious and took us out to dinner at some lovely places at St. Andrews, the home of golf on the coast, and in Edinburgh, traditional haggis and steak or little villages.  A musician friend drove us all over for two days.  Today we visited Roslyn Chapel which was displayed in the movie The Da Vinci Code and is Totally mystical much more than even shown in the movie.  There is a spot within the chapel where two ley lines of geographical/spiritual importance cross and when you stand there you feel this electticity in our head, hard to describe—something is happening there. I tried it 5 times with the same feeling in the same place above my forehead. Different from a holy feeling like we had at Mary’s house in Ephesus—like some kind of physical feeling. And there are over a thousand elaborate carvings everywhere with all sorts of references to the Knights Templar and all of that mystery.  The land is owned by the St. Clair family (name said to be perhaps the descendants of Christ).  They won’t allow the excavation of the tombs below the building which by radar have been shown to hold the bodies of at least 20 knights in armor and who knows what else.

There are carvings of aloe vera, corn and other plants only known to grow in America but the carvings were done in the early 1400’s. The explanation being that the Knights of Templar visited Indians in America before Columbus?  Lots of fun stuff.  We bought a ton of books to read so more on that later.

Scottish Dogs for Obama!

Scottish Dogs for Obama!

We also visited the Royal Palace today and across the street is the Parliament of Scotland, a new building.  We couldn’t understand this modern building and the excitement of our hosts over it until we stopped in and realized that Scotland was not allowed to have its own parliament until 1998 so this is tremendously exciting to the locals. That lack of political understanding was a bit embarrassing when you see how much people here are aware of our news. The press here is so great and every paper is front page on Obama and their excitement over him.  We have been wearing our Obama buttons and everyone comments—there is such excitement and even working folks expressed to us that they stayed up all night to watch the results and hear Obama’s speech.  That is how involved with our election the folks over here are.  I collected front pages with amazing headlines and huge pictures of Obama in 7 languages.

Well, I need to get back to bed.  More adventures later…..

Larry & Jacqueline Long

Be The Change

When all do better we all do better
     Children of earth standing together
     Be the change you believe in

—Be The Change by Larry Long

After completing a successful run of the play Wellstone! at the Sabes Jewish Community Center through September, I received the following email from Deb Harley:

“Hi Larry,

So how would you feel if we used your song “Be The Change” for the video we’re hoping to create in support of the Obama campaign?”

Be the ChangeOne week later Deb brought together a large group of people to film, “Be The Change— Minneapolis for Obama” at the Rose Gardens across from the Lake Harriet Peace Garden. With the help of Joe Chouinard and video production from Jeff & Rita Nohner, Deb Harley pulled it off!

Be The Change—Minneapolis For Obama was posted on YouTube, Friday, October 10th and at the time of writing this newsletter it has already had over 1,700 hits!

“So here it is… we’re proud of our grassroots effort! If you can take a few minutes, we would really appreciate you reviewing it. Our video will also be on the Mn. Campaign headquarters for Obama site. I’ll be interested to see what you think….even if you may be McCain fans! Love to all, deb”

The song, Be The Change, was written for Senator Paul Wellstone, and his wife Sheila. Paul said, “When all do better we all do better!” Senator Barack Obama carries that vision forward.

Thank you Deb Harley for the inspiration behind this video. Vote November 4th!

Music credits for Be The Change:

Vocals: Larry Long and Tonia Hughes

Arrangement: JD Steele

Bass: Enrique Toussaint

Piano: Peter Schimke

Guitar: Dave Berry

Drums: Brian Kendrick

Engineer: Joe Johnson

Studio: Furseal Recording Studio

Photos by: Peter Leach

Be The Change: Paul and Sheila Wellstone were my friends for over thirty years. During their last Senatorial campaign, I flew with Paul & Sheila to a debate in southwestern Minnesota. On the flight home, I asked Paul how he was able to handle what I perceived to be personal attacks. Paul simply quoted Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Pope County Blues: Paul and I first met in the 1970’s when we were both active with farmers fighting to stop a high-voltage power line in central Minnesota. Pope County Blues was released to help get the word out. Radio stations wouldn’t play it, so the farmers made sure it could be heard on jukeboxes across central Minnesota.

Agent Orange: My Country Tis To Thee: Paul was a voice for the Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange, the code name for a chemical herbicide used as a defoliant on 17.5 million acres in Vietnam. Veterans, who were exposed to Agent Orange from 1962 – 1971, suffer from a variety of medical problems including: chloracne, cancer, birth defects, mutations, metabolic disorders, and kidney dysfunction. Agent Orange: My Country Tis To Thee is the soundtrack for Agent Orange: A Story of Dignity and Doubt, narrated by Martin Sheen and financed by the Minnesota Chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Let Us Rise Up & Sing: Paul’s political roots go back to the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota. One of the early champions of the Farmer-Labor Party was Governor Elmer Benson (from 1937–1939.) When the lumberjacks went on strike, Governor Benson called out the National Guard on the company. The lumberjacks won! Being moved by his courage, I wrote Let Us Rise Up & Sing for Governor Elmer Benson after he died in 1985.

On The Bus: On The Bus was collectively written by Ann Hoff’s 4th grade students at Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School in St. Paul as part of my Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song™ program. The song is based on Paul Scott’s story of meeting Paul Wellstone:

“My name is Paul Scott. After a short time in the Korean infantry, I came home and got a job driving the Greyhound bus. When I was asked if I would drive the Green Bus for Paul Wellstone, I didn’t know who he was. I said, “Where is his bus?” “It’s in a garage in Shakopee.” When I went there and said, “I’m the new Wellstone bus driver.” The man said, “You owe me $340!” I paid it. I drove it for one day and it broke down! Then I heard Paul talk, and I was hooked.”

Hard Times Coming Our Way: Mary Harris Jones (1830 – 1930), better known as Mother Jones, was a prominent American Labor and community organizer, and Wobbly. Mother Jones began organizing at forty years of age while Paul Wellstone (1944-2002) began organizing in his twenties. They both left an indelible mark on the progressive politics of our nation. The foundation of Hard Times Coming Our Way is my earlier song, We Love You, Mother Jones.

My Father’s Eyes Are Looking Down On Me: My father, Red Long, passed away when I was young. Without the help of government programs, family, and friends, my family would not have made it. My Father’s Eyes Are Looking Down On Me was inspired by Why Do The Good Die Young, a the song I wrote for my father.

Lay Me Down Easy: LeAnn Little Wolf wrote after the Wellstone plane crashed: “As the rescue crews were approaching the crash site, eagles were sighted soaring above . . . though our time here is brief, an ancient truth circles with the eagles: Spirits never die.”

All songs: © Larry Long 2006

Special Note: “This Land Is my Land. It’s not your land. Get the hell off my land. Go find your own land. From California to the New York Islands this land is mine it’s not yours!” I first heard these new words sung to Woody Guthries’s song, “This Land Is Your Land”, by the Lakota singer, actor, and activist, Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman

The Dalai Lama

For five amazing days in July of 2008, over four thousand people gathered at a coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin, to listen to His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak. He guided us through fifty hours of selected readings from his book Stages of Meditation and Santideva’s A Guide To The Bodhisattva Way Of Life.

His talks, focused on reverent topics of religion and spirituality, were often broken up by a spontaneous burst of laughter from His Holiness.

“Oh, that’s mistake number one!” he said after a false start. He tried to begin again. “Oops! That’s mistake number two.” On and on he would go.

The morning sessions ran from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. After a break for lunch, the afternoon sessions ran from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Evenings were taken up with Tibetan cultural activities like competitive basketball, talent shows, concerts and shopping at dozens of small stands in the ad hoc coliseum bazaar.

During the afternoon the Dalai Lama often fielded questions from the assembled crowd:

“What is the quickest way to enlightenment?” “Lay down.”

“What is the smallest form of a sentient being?” “A sentient being is something that can move on its own from one place to the next. As far as we know now, it’s the amoeba. That may change, though.”

“Does Buddhism believe in a force of universal good?” “All organisms are in this manifestation. Consciousness is the energy of the Buddha arising.”

One woman had a more personal question: “This morning I discovered a lump in my breast. There’s a history of cancer in my family. We have little money and no medical assistance. Should I call my husband and let him know about this now or wait until I get home? I don’t want to worry him.” The Dalai Lama thought for some time and with a slight quiver in his voice said, “Possibly you can get some help from a non-governmental agency for your medical care. I know this is difficult for you, but only you know what is best in terms of letting your husband know directly or not.” The Dalai Lama thought awhile longer and continued. “I will give you a little bit of money to help with medical costs.” He then moved onto another teaching.

Halfway through he stopped. “I just can’t go on with this teaching. I’m still thinking of the woman without medical care and the lump she found.” He then spoke to her again. “My doctor is with me now. I will instruct him to meet with you. Sometimes Tibetan medicine works where western medicine does not. Just come up and my assistant will help you.”
On the fourth day the Dalai Lama did a layperson’s initiation where all those who chose to read vows together from A Guide To The Bodhisattva Way Of Life:

Devoid of merit and destitute, I have nothing else to offer. Therefore, may the Protectors, whose concerns are for the welfare of others, accept this by their own power for my sake.

I completely offer my entire self. . . . O Supreme Beings, accept me! I reverently devote myself to your service.

Being free from fear of mundane existence due to your protection, I shall serve sentient beings; I shall completely transcend my earlier vices, and henceforth I shall sin no more.

In sweetly fragrant bathing chambers whose beautiful pillars are radiant with jewels, glowing canopies made of pearls, and crystal floors transparent and sparkling.

. . . Death does not differentiate between tasks done and undone . . . for it is like an unexpected, great thunderbolt.

. . . Just as a blind man might find a jewel amongst heaps of rubbish, so this Spirit of Awakening has somehow arisen in me.

. . . It is the great sun dispelling the darkness of the world’s ignorance.

For the caravan of beings traveling on the path of mundane existence and starving for the meal of happiness, it is the feast of happiness that satisfies all sentient beings who have come as guests. (selected readings)

Long Life Offering Ceremony (July 24, 2008)

On the fifth and final day of the conference, the Tibetan community gathers from across North America to hold a Long Life Offering Ceremony (Tenshung) for the Dalai Lama. It is the first ever performed in the United States.

The drums sound. Dancers in traditional Tibetan clothing appear. One hundred Lamas stand from where they are sitting on stage to face His Holiness the Dalai Lama as he enters. Cymbals crash and the sound of Tibetan horns resonate like bagpipes throughout the coliseum.

The Dalai Lama laughs in the midst of the low chant of the Lamas. “I am not here to teach today, but to enjoy the atmosphere.” His laughter is infectious. A long line of Tibetans and admirers of the Dalai Lama begin to walk down the aisle with their hands lifted up, holding small gold prayer vessels and sacred texts on white prayer shawls.

Rice with raisins is passed out to everyone in the coliseum by hundreds of organized volunteers. Everyone eats together, including the Dalai Lama, who is now singing from the sacred text.

Above the Dalai Lama hangs a colorful cloth image of a 50-foot-tall Buddha. Four directional images of the White Tara, Tibetan goddess of compassion, surround him.

Drinks are now passed out to everyone, which tastes like diluted mango juice.

The Dalai Lama puts on a pointed gold and yellow hat. He is wearing the traditional red and yellow robes of Lamas, as he sits in the lotus position. Comfortable. Smiling. Voice deep. Resonate. Chanting. The Dalai Lama explains the ceremony as it unfolds.

Twenty Lamas put on large yellow and orange hats with feathery cloth that fans upward like a mohawk haircut from the back of their heads to the front, looking like exotic birds of the Amazon.

Three monks give the Dalai Lama three strands of string that he rolls outward into the Lamas who surround him.

As I watch this all unfold, I think about the many rich cultures of the people I have known across this earth. How so many seem to be fighting for their very survival. How could anyone be afraid of these teachings, this religion of kindness, this beloved Dalai Lama? To support the sovereignty of Tibet is to simply be a supporter of justice.

The chanting stops. The Dalai Lama is lost in meditation. A soft wind blows through the coliseum and the White Tara prayer cloths start to sway.

The Dalai Lama shares a story, “Through the years I have received many teachings. In 1958 one Lama came to visit me. He was the reincarnation of a great teacher. He brought me the gift of the White Tara. While reciting the mantras he saw a strong white light that reached into his heart. He told me that I would live a long life. I have been with you now for six days, sharing fifty hours of teachings, and still no sign of tiredness. The Lama’s prediction may well be true.”

The chanting returns as Lamas bring more food. The Dalai Lama laughs and exclaims, “I made another mistake.”

For the young Tibetan children in the audience, this moment in time will be a powerful memory, like the one I have of listening to Billy Graham speak when I was a child with my Grandmother. For these are times when giants walk upon the earth. This 14th Dalai Lama—this child of a peasant—now challenges the emerging Chinese Empire with the kindness of Christ.

Three monks stand and sing in a low monastic voice of sacred scripture. The procession stands again. Everyone follows in song. One of the standing Lamas is holding orange seeds. Another is separating orange seeds from a large bowl and gingerly placing them into a smaller one.

One hour has passed. There is a wonderful feeling of ritual in the coliseum as the spirit of the low chanting resonates from the Lamas. Four other monks now stand, draped with green, blue and yellow sashes.

My troubadour and spiritual brother, Mitch Walking Elk, says, “Fill your life with ceremony.”

The Dalai Lama says, “Practice. Practice. Practice.”

Mitch says, “Take it slow. Be careful. Take your time.”

Mother Teresa says, “From silence comes prayer. From prayer comes faith. From faith comes love. From love comes service. From service comes peace.”

As I reflect on their words, the procession begins to move. One lone Lama chants sacred text while standing before His Holiness. Yellow and gold sashes are draped over the top of the Dalai Lama’s throne which is decorated with wooden carvings of thousands of incarnations.

The procession walks onto the stage with sacred objects to give The Dalai Lama, who then places the gold cloth crown back on his head. The chanting of sacred text is complete. The Dalai Lama returns to the text. One by one the gifts are offered to His Holiness, blessed by him and then brought over to the banquet table which is already overflowing with flowers and blessings.

The head Lama redons his large Mohawk-styled yellow hat. Cymbals crash again. The Tibetan horns blow like bagpipes. The single voice chanting the sacred text returns.

Volunteers begin passing out snacks to the crowd. The procession concludes with Canadian, Tibetan and United States flags flying. All hats are removed. The Dalai Lama places his hands in a prayerful way to his chest, chanting. Everyone receives Sweet and Salty Mix or Keebler Chips Deluxe Mini-Rainbow cookies.

Three monks return, mixing orange seeds. The Dalai Lama reads from sacred Sanskrit. Lay Buddhist now stand in line with white scarves to be blessed and draped over their shoulders by the Dalai Lama, followed by red scarves. The Lamas place hats back onto their heads. The Dalai Lama, too, places this hat back on after the last person’s scarf has been placed on their shoulders. The hats are then removed.

An elder from Tibet reads from sacred text. An elder reads a blessing for long life to the Dalai Lama: “Since 1959 you have worked on the development of the Tibetan people and to find a just solution. You have tried to bring happiness to the six million Tibetan people. We recommit ourselves to your leadership. We now see how this effort for our children has increased their interest in learning Tibetan. They now, too, make this effort to participate. We stand in solidarity with those in Tibet, until justice is brought to the Tibetan people.”

An organizer of the event addresses the Dalai Lama and everyone in the coliseum. He reads off the amout raised from the event, minus expenses, and says, “This amount will be offered to His Holiness. Thank you.”

The Lama looks solemn and then responds, “I do not take money for teaching. I suggest this money be given to the Tibetan community in India and to lowly Indian people who are suffering for medical care and education. You might wish to put it towards health facilities and education inside and outside of Tibet. So that’s that.”

Returning Home (July 26, 2008)

After my return I spoke with my instructor at the Common Ground Meditation Center in South Minneapolis. I told him that I had just completed two days of fasting and dancing at the Sundance in Porcupine, South Dakota followed by five days of teachings with the Dalai Lama in Madison.

He asked, “What are you doing now?”

I laughed. “Tomorrow I fly to Las Vegas for a reunion with my two beloved sisters without our spouses.”

He smiled. “After the Buddha reached enlightenment, he rode a donkey back into town to see if he could apply what he had learned with others.”

I laughed again. “I’m flying on Northwest!”