I hope this finds you well and at peace in a world that seems to be teetering on the absurd by the minute. I gave my last (legal) live performance in the pre-covid era on the evening of March 17th 2020, in Owatonna, Minnesota in honor of the great Irish Saint (Patrick) who banished all the snakes from Ireland.
By that date, most of the public gatherings in Minnesota had already been suspended, and so the Board of Directors at the Steele County Historical Society gave me a call to see if we preferred to cancel the event or go ahead with the celebration?
I told them, if it were up to us, the show would go on, as we still had to pay our mortgages that month and having been at death's door a few times already over a number of years I was eager to live all the life I had left quite fully and wasn't inclined to shut down a likely joyous gathering of live music (and green beer nonetheless) for fear of what looked at the time, like a fairly routine, albeit severe flu that was sweeping the globe.
Well, what it was precisely (that looked like a fairly routine, but severe flu), after 7 months of global upheaval and reactivity, we probably all have quite different understandings and suspicions, but suffice it to say, life is quite different for most, if not all. For me, I miss the healing presence of live music, energizing social gatherings, communal public singing, and chances to smile at and make simple human connections with strangers.
But in times of cloud and trouble, silver linings may abound. And on March 17th, I was working in Minnesota, but my wife Kim and our 5 kids were on the Gulf Coast in Florida, spending spring break with Grandma and Grandpa. And as the world was shutting down, I had the enlightened idea that if we were going to be working and schooling from home for the foreseeable future, then “home” might as well be in sunny Florida, where life was at least 70° warmer than current temps in Minnesnowta.
I mean, if we’re gonna be locked down, I thought, we might as well be locked down in paradise… near a beach, with a little sunshine and fresh air and maybe some Jimmy Buffet on the radio (ok, that last part was a joke).
So I hopped on an empty plane for a $20 ticket with about 20 other “courageous” flyers and flew down to join my family on the Gulf of Mexico for the “foreseeable future.”
Well, one of the greatest joys and shiniest silver linings of this beautiful interruption in my life was the re-awakening of a ritual I hadn't nurtured since my electrifying days in Art School. My formal training was in the fine arts, specifically painting, and the Gulf Coast light shining through my quarantine gifted re-creation time coalesced a perfect alchemy to provoke a new color and canvas exploration.
I was always a landscape painter and wanted to paint the landscapes of being. Internal landscapes; where color and space become metaphor for emotional and spiritual states of being.
Please enjoy and if you see something that resonates with your heart or home, take it home or give as a gift. Many of these little color meditations resonate with the feeling or presence of a particular song for me and I've titled them so. Here is "I Need You Tonight" (Above) - See the collection in more detail here.
We ended up spending 3 beautiful months in Fort Myers, living in extended community with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We played soccer, football, tennis and pickle ball. We swam as often as we could (when the beaches and pools were open), we went tubing on the water, kayaking, biking, hiking and trail blazing (literally) with grandpa (official trail cutter for the county).
Ivan, Isla and Asher (our 3 youngest) made “friends" with a wild baby alligator they christened “Tiny Tim” until we suggested that it probably wasn’t the best idea to be catching fish and feeding them to little Timmy. We saw many wild alligators, iguanas, tropical birds and fish, manatees and dolphins. We had picnics and campfires with smores. We even celebrated Kim’s birthday in a fruit forest surrounded by mango, banana, avocado and coconut trees among other unsayable varieties of tropical fruit.
It was a glorious, serendipitous, most special and altogether unexpected gift of a time that we will likely never forget!
But the "foreseeable future" did end eventually (at the beginning of June). And so we headed back to the North Pole, just as it was warming up enough to be tolerable, and I set to work on my next "awakening" project. More on that to come.
Take care, be very well.
November 23, 2020
When we returned to the North Pole in June, I had been dreaming for 9 months already about building a new “recording studio” in the garage of our new home.
For nearly 10 years I worked out of a studio I built previously, next to our first family home, but after becoming acutely ill in 2016, we were forced to leave that home, and studio with it.
For the last 4 years it felt like we were wandering through the wilderness, moving our family of seven, 4 times in those 4 years.
But finally and miraculously, the universe coalesced healing, resources, opportunity and timing to land us in our new family home, restored and rebuilt by our dear friends, and less than a stones throw from where 4 of our children walk to school. (How do we say thank you)
And since regaining cognition and my old friend imagination, I’ve been itching to find a (quiet) space to dive deep into some new song creation.
And I was thinking too, that it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a "home office” I could retreat to in the Covid-era, when the daily indoor soccer match erupts into a full-blown bantamweight title fight. I suppose I should be intervening, not retreating, in such cases, but I think you catch the drift. (It can be a loud house with 7 concurrent but diversified personal mission statements).
So with a hammer and a sickle, and a truckload of tools, borrowed from my carpenter brother Luke, I broke ground, or rather raised the ground (for moisture prevention and acoustic isolation) and got to work building this little beauty.
It takes up just one quarter of the garage floor plan so we "technically" still have room for 1 car and a little storage. The gorgeous wood (that looks like walnut) is a thermally treated red oak, left over from our Cafe and Roastery buildout at Dogwood Coffee Co. (My other mission).
The white wood with the pronounced grain texture is rough sawn western cedar painted white. It’s actually cedar fence pickets with all the dog ears sawn off because that’s the most affordable way to find it. You can imagine how it must have smelled - like a fresh Finnish sauna - and for a moment, I almost considered sacrificing the whole studio idea for a nice big family sweat lodge. It was only a moment though until I mentioned it to the kids. “So gross dad. Ugh!”
Well, it might still be in the stars for one of next summers starry-eyed projects... but I've got some convincing to do.
The furniture (sans desk) is from Minneapolis own blu dot design, of whom I’m a huge fan, and with whom I’ve become good friends (Thank you Nate).
The skylights were a project that started around 2 o’clock on an unpredictable Saturday afternoon with a few blotchy grey clouds scattered across the sky. I saw the windows at the Home Repo hardware circus that morning when I was, you guessed it, there for something else, and I thought to myself, heck, why not!?
I’d never done anything quite like installing skylights before but I figured, (famous last words) “it can’t be that hard.”
So I stopped in with my brother Luke on the way home to get a few pointers and once I figured I had a clear enough picture of the (roof puncturing) process, I headed home, only to look up at the tentative sky and ask my neighbor Bob, “Well Bob… do you think I should do it?”
Bob looked up and checked the workingman’s weather forecast in his gut. And then with a big grin and those sparkling blue eyes that seemed to say "I’ve been right here so many times before," he chuckled, “Go for it!”
Sufficiently galvanized, 30 minutes later I was up on the shingles with a skill saw in my hands and two gaping holes in my roof. Looking up at the spotted sky and thinking oh (@#$%!) crap! "I better figure this out before the sun goes down."
Well the sun had gone down and I was still up there with a storm in my back and a crushing will to achieve at 11:30pm.
It rained the next morning, and although everything was airtight and dry, the replacement shingles I had used were not a perfect match. It was just bad enough that I knew I couldn’t live with it. So I scoured the “save big money” store until I found the exact match and proceeded to rip off and re-shingle nearly half of the entire roof. (Disclaimer: I’ve never touched a roof in my life before - but I’ve seen it done!)
3 days, 30 hours, a beaten body, battered back, sun-fried derrière and a few perplexed neighbors later, I understood why people pay other people (who do this a lot) a lot of money to do these sorts of things for them.
But it was worth it.
The way the light of the sun, moves across the walls of the room, through the journey of the day, is something magical to see and feel.
The kids all got involved at one point or another. Asher (3) the foreman was giving me advice while Isla (7) removed the staples and barcodes from the lumber. Roy (14) and Ivan (10) were officially hired for the project but mysteriously disappeared from duty after their FIFA 2021 “payment” arrived in the mail. To Roy’s credit though he did install the entirety of Rockwool (basalt based) insulation much to Dad’s pleasure and relief. Ana (16) offered her moral support and aesthetic critique.
By the end of July, the space and scene were set and ready to be sung upon. But thanks to the covid inspired supply chain interruptions a few of the essential elements that would complete the recording studio's recording functionality would not arrive for an “unknown" period of time. So I decided to pivot again, for the immediate "foreseeable future.” More on that to come.
Thank you + be very well,
November 25, 2020
My new recording plans where on hold for the moment as I waited for some tools to arrive, so I needed to figure a plan in the meantime.
In quarantine heaven on the Floridian Gulf Coast, I was working with my son Roy on the beginnings of a little business designing his own brand of simple clothing items like t-shirts and sweatshirts. My soul was also re-awakening to the play and delight of visual conversation in painting. And as I painted my little color metaphors, I would sometimes playfully write on them with the words of a song that was running through my head, or something significant someone had said, or a little wisdom that I carried in my heart at that moment.
Over my journey through illness, there were many words and phrases that became significant, indispensable, healing, and even life changing for me.
I remember very early on in my time in the abyss, my father-in-law turned to me and spoke the words “You will be healed.” Without affect or hyperbole, just plainly and gently, “You will be healed.”
Those, of course, were the words I needed to hear and carry with me if I were to have any hope of overcoming the odds. And I believed them. I chose to believe them. And I carried them with me very closely for years, speaking them over and over again to myself, as if spoken directly from the very heart of God.
The power and energy of words is immeasurable and yet we find ourselves in a world and a global context where so many of the words we hear (and have been guilty of speaking) reek of negativity, judgment, blame, shame, division, aggression and fear. And if this is what we speak and hear, surely this is ultimately what we will become.
And if we consider that on top of this, our current practice of mask-wearing, seems to reduce, if not remove, our ability to communicate our care and common humanity to someone outside our immediate family through the simplicity of a smile or the basic ability to speak clearly, my sense is we could be amplifying an already very estranged energetic environment to new stratospheres.
So I got to thinking, in this unequivocal context, and experience, if I have to wear a mask, how do I replace my smile? How do I show someone that I care? If I can’t smile or speak clearly to someone, how can I bring more love energy to the world and to my little human interactions with everyday strangers?
How can we add more love and poetry to our world in this crucial and pivotal moment?
And a little lightbulb went off.
What if we could wear what we want to say to ourselves and each other?
What if we could wear the words we need to hear or see right now?
What if we could embody the intention we have for this day?
What if we could wear the prayer we have for each other?
What if we could embody the song that the force of love is always singing to the world?
And so I thought to myself.... I love to design visual things and I love to write and sing beautiful words.
What if I brought these gifts together to offer something we can wear that might resonate with our own hearts and bodies…. And might just be the words someone needs to see or hear that day.
Just as there were so many instances when I was at the end of my ontological rope and it was precisely these poetically resonant words that I needed to hear or see that pulled me through and gave me the faith, hope and love to keep going and to keep healing and to keep believing in life, in humanity and in the world.
So from the seeds of my lockdown project with my boy Roy, a new dream of a poetically resonant clothing brand was born and with that, a very material reality:
POETIC RESONANCE Words to live by. Love to wear. Resonant clothing with care.
It’s a humble little venture, but even if it makes a small ripple in shifting the dial of our global resonance, ever so slightly in a love direction, it will have been worth it. Even if it provides the serendipitously true words that one person needs to hear or see to save their life that day, it will have been so worth it.
And YES, I promise after this I'm going to start releasing new music (well maybe after I write that book).
In fact, I got word on Monday (the same day I wrapped up these projects and sent you my first email about the prints) that my recording equipment has finally shipped (after a 3 month delay)..... so I will trust the timing of everything.
Okay, I'm off to make a record.
November 27, 2020
Home at last
What joy. We have been settled in our new home for 3 months now and are truly delighted by this little treasure. We must have looked at 42 houses in the flesh and bone before this little gem popped on the market… and unbelievably, it's just 2 blocks from where our 4 eldest kids walk to school!
I sent the listing to Kim before realizing... “Wait a minute, I’ve been in this house!” It looked nothing like it does now... It was yellow then and completely gutted to the studs - just like my body felt at the time, completely gutted down to the studs - but I found myself there because our good friends Andrew and Janet Prest had been generously helping remediate our old home and I was bringing back a tool for Andrew as he was restoring this little gem. It was completely stripped, vacuous and void at the time... a heart wrenching echo of my own insides as I felt my way through that hollow space...to find my friend.
Andrew told me recently, “I kept telling Janet, I can’t stop thinking about Ben and Kim. I keep seeing them in this house. We’ve gotta reach out to them.” And of course they did, but we were in the throws of a murderous squall and in no place to consider anything of any permanence at the time.
Live forward nearly 3 years and the house that our friends restored appears back on the market (literally days before we’re going to give up our search), and funny enough (if I can speak with such lightness now), my body has also been massively restored in this time, and somehow we are able to say yes to this beautiful home in this perfect place for this family at this time. How profound is the agreement of the story? How beautiful, concrete and existential the metaphor!
My friends, many miracles moved in mystery to make this happen.
Just a week before we moved in, Ringo Starr came to Minnesota for an All-Starr Band show and invited me to sing with him on stage that night. There’s a video clip of us singing the Beatle’s "With a Little Help From My Friends" and my favorite part is when he turns around and yells “Ben!” and gives me a big hug. It feels good to be hugged by a Beatle.
That very same day I was singing "I get by with a little help from my friends" with Ringo, a very dear friend sent us a check (for $5000) to help us “get by” with the move. I couldn't help but sing to myself...“Something is happening here and we don’t know what it is…or do we, Mr Jones?"
From the overflow of our hearts, we send much love to you and yours and deep peace and joy through this holiday season.
Be very well.
December 7, 2019
Sing and get healed
The sea is wide but we can swim over. The valley is deep but we will prevail. The storms they will rage like a tempest before us. But we will arise and we shall overcome.
In one of my darkest hours, my friend Sara Groves sent me a song from her new album for me to learn and sing back-up vocals on. In my right mind I would have said no because I could barely hold my own sanity together, let-alone contribute creatively to someone else's work, but I knew the act of saying yes was what I must do, to continue contributing, to continue affirming the creation of something beautiful, and to continue saying a fighting yes to life - in the face of what seemed an over-whelming affliction.
So in those darkest of hours, when I felt the most alone, the closest to death, and the furthest from my sanity, my family and any semblance of a loving numinous presence, it became my job to listen and inhabit the words of this song. And so inhabit I did, crying myself to sleep as I listened on repeat.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, abide with me.
I had to lie there, and harmonize with Sara singing the words. And as I let the music seep through me, the delicate surprise, in saying yes, even when it felt almost impossible, was receiving the most immense comfort and presence. A holy presence, the everlasting arms that hold, sustain and continue to create the foundations of the universe sang to me through the song. "Even in your darkest, most helpless, most abandoned hour, when you can barely, barely feel it, you are not alone. Abide with me. I am with you."
As I reflect upon it, I remember there were many many times in my journey through illness when I was asked to do something, where I was invited to sing or play for some engagement. And I thought, no, it’s impossible, I’ve got so little to give, I am so depleted, I’m so messed up. I have to say no. But deeper in me I was saying, you’ve got to say yes. You’ve got to keep giving the little you have to give.
I barely went out in public. I stopped going to church. And then there was one morning when I knew I had to go, and as I was sitting there in the pew with next to nothing left, the minister began telling the story of the boy with a few loaves and fishes that fed five thousand people and the widow who had just a few coins, but whose offering was considered greater than the richest of the rich. Both of these had barely anything to offer, but they gave the little that they had, and those gifts turned out to be magnificent.
That resonated deeply in me when not much else was resonating. Keep on giving the little you have to give. And so I resolved to. And every time I would go and sing.... I would get healed.
And so I’m still singing. And still, I am being healed. And that's one of the reasons we're going to Spain and Belfast - As well as to swim in the Mediteranean Sea!
For this much is true my friends, giving is receiving.
Be well. Truly,
April 28, 2019