Sunday, October 21, 2018

Letters To Patti Ann (Chapter 8) "Two Coonasses & A Jew"

"dear patti ann,

sometimes i feel like our anger is ancestral anger passed down to us to take care of and nurture.  i was happy to hear you say you're working on accepting your circumstances and moving on.  we all know how difficult it must be.  i know it's confusing to still feel anger.  even on my finest day, in the far reaches of my soul I feel a tinge of anger.  i read that it is wise to understand it may have been passed down through the generations and we are the ones who can heal old wounds for our entire lineage, forgive old enemies, shift conditioning and beliefs, release the pain that has held generations captive for centuries.  i remember the anger of the old farmer drowning the little kittens and mr. chinie cursing loudly on his tractor.  

you told me you were an old soul, I know you know.



Your whole life, you are taught through sports and school that the world is full of possibilities and that you could do anything.  When you get older and you actually believe anything is possible, people don't recognize you.  When you keep evolving and let past accomplishments go, they have a hard time envisioning who you are.  When you don't cuddle up next to your accomplishments and live happily ever after in the past, it can come off as strange.  I got real used to be in strange situations and adapting.  I was real good at making home wherever I was.  I think my imagination became my home and it traveled well.  It was my friend.  It fit into any suitcase and even got through post 911 security at the airport.  I miss those times when you can just walk on the plane before the world became insecure and suspicious.

Once a mind opens itself to new ideas it can't retain its original dimension.  Education for me was a key that unlocked the vault and put me mountains away from "Perique Culture" to view it from afar.  There was no going back, no unlearning.  Well there was some unlearning, like Columbus and that tall tale.  In the box of principles they declared Columbus day, Natives Day.  Columbus slaughtered the Natives and took what he wanted as he searched for gold.  "His story" back to its usual tricks.  It's why I can tell my tall tale from my own perspective and not bat an eye.  It's why I ride off into the unknown.  The greatest lesson I learned in elementary school was when the teacher passed a verbal message around the class and by the time it got to the end, the message was completely different.  Spoken word, even if written down can be marred and mangled and twisted and turned into new truth.  

Before Donovan Guidry moved to New York, I met another important person.  His name was Seth Gold.  I loved his temperment the moment we met.  He was from O.J.'s neighborhood in Los Angeles.  I was familiar with Brentwood after the first reality showed aired for months staring Judge Ito and O.J. Simpson.  

Seth was very well read and had boxes of books and he shared them with me one at a time.  He liked to play guitar, smoke Parliaments, read and hang in the cafes and so did I.  I sat many nights on my old barbers chair discussing books with him.  When I read "The Sun Also Rises", I was pissed at Hemingway because nothing happened.  Seth said he was just painting a picture of life and nothing had to happen.  Donovan was reading a book called "Two Coonasses and an Architect" so we joked of our trio being called "Two Coonasses and a Jew.  

We began to write songs together.  I had a knack for melodies and words and Seth could navigate the chords.  We were drawn to minor keys because it matched the mood of the novels we were reading.  Seth would help to bring a thread of literature throughout the album we were going to make.  Our conversations and book reviews brought stories and some imagination and metaphor.  

As my first year at Stella Adler came to a close, I was planning on focusing all my efforts on music in the summer of 1998.  Seth was leaving for the summer to study Italian in Pescara, Italy on the Adriatic Sea.  Before he left, he gave me a book called "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran and it would help me to shed my old skin just when I needed to.  I was desperate for some signs that I was on the right path.  

"Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.  
These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.
And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.
An thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom."

-The Prophet by Kahil Gibran

One must be brave to evolve.  I wasn't afraid of evolution.  Spiritually I was adrift at sea and had fallen out of love with Christianity and was no longer being fed in its temples.  I come from the spirituality that must be questioned and found on my own.  No one can teach you the great secret.  One can be directed to a path but one must take the steps.  Not the tried and true steps but the insecure ones.  The confidence gained through these journeys become building blocks to a new path of enlightenment.  I thought Jesus' words were lost in the church.  His simple message was paved over in gold.  My bullshit detector is truly sensitive and can't handle a man who puts himself up on the podium to lead people when it's not real.  Telling one to have Jesus in his heart is not enough.  It's not wisdom.  Spiritual wisdom is a quest, the long rows in the tobacco field.

Mr. Pitt Martin circa 1998

Learning that history can be shaped by a man, made me suspicious.  It reminded me of the elementary classroom message.  That summer, literature became a new kind of church.  God speaks in many ways and messages are everywhere.  Be open! I felt like I was becoming the "Sky King".  In those days, the idea of me completing a record was as far fetched as finding the Arc of the Covenant.  As far fetched as Patti walking and driving again but that didn't seem to stop either one of us.  I communicated the sound we wanted at the Trident mixing board with pictures of tobacco sheds and of kids beating tobacco agains't a log.  Inside I was raging, especially after receiving the letter from Grand Point in perfect script.  It was from him, the "Sky King" before he took his final flight into heaven.

"You can take this as a burden and decline to answer the call. This is how the wound keeps reproducing itself. Or you can see this as a gift and an honor, an opportunity to contribute to those you'll never see or know, those who may never know your name. And you can choose to do the work of healing yourself and them."

Look after the well being of mind and body.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Letters To Patti Ann (Chapter 7) "Two Bags And A Lot Of Nerve"

"hello patti ann,

nice to hear from you.  nice to hear your legs finally arrived.  i'm sure you'll be able to feel better now that you can progress everyday.  it's no fun not having the chance to move on in our daily lives.  you have some major challenges that you will come up agains't.  i think you've proven to yourself that you can do anything you set your mind to.  just go back and look at the tapes from when you were on t.v.  it's amazing still to think that we could talk, after that long coma you were in.  i
definitely want you to hear my album.   i really meant what i said in the letter.  acceptance will set you free.  i was on the beach one night playing my little drum and it just hit me.  something told me you must hear it.  easier said than done, i know.  when you get my album, i would love it if you could hear it alone, from start to finish.  just keep your mind opened.  it is a story of me trying to make sense of indigenous cultures, life and death, and of grand point.  the last song was written for you and everyone when you were under that spell in the hospital.  i couldn't believe it happened to us again.  i was crying in my plate of blue runner red beans, thinking of you, mamere and papere, thinking of joey, pour bette.  i was thinking how sad it is that we all slip back into the normal daily life after someone passes on and we forget all the beautiful messages that death teaches us.  it teaches us how precious one minute is.  it showed me all the things i have inside to discover.  music has given my spirit a voice and has given me a purpose beyond myself.  anyway,  i'll get you a copy soon.  i'll send you one in a unique package, so be on the lookout for it.  just send me your mailing address.  hope you're well and fighting.  i'm fighting too.  life will always be an uphill climb, that was God's intention, a slow steady fulfillment.  there will be no happily ever after for anyone.  rich or poor.  take care.



I'm not going to lie, I ran from Grand Point.  I ran away.  There were long days as a child and they were strung together with no meaning and hot as hell.  Most days we let our imaginations run wild and built cabins in the woods and sometimes I thought if I walked far enough through the woods, California would be on the other side.  I had an imagination and liked building things.  Of course the adults would take note and say how good I was with my hands and that I was great candidate to work in the factories, totally ignoring my imagination.

They spoke in French when they spoke about us.  Always.  I wondered what they were saying about me when I'd come in for some cold tea but then I'd go back into my imagination.  At first it was imagining that I was Joe Montana and then a few years later "Ta Ta Jones".  Women couldn't vote until the 1920's and black folks couldn't play quarterback until the 1980's.  We humans are a funny herd of beings and we live on a moving ball and take space ships to the moon and plant flags and divide ourselves into classes and races.  Well Terrence "Ta Ta" Jones definitely took me to the moon on Fridays in 1983.  I planted my flag of swagger on Saturday's when we practiced our run through with no pads on.  Brent Poirrier was our coach, the oldest son in the Poirrier family.  "Wing left, Longview right" was my favorite pass play to the tight end Nuck Brignac.  Nuck was a natural talent and had size but had no use for games.  He'd sit on a lawn chair, away from everyone on the sidelines and his mom brought him Slushes.  Years later when I got into playing piano and classical music, Nuck told me I liked that crazy music with no words.  I look back fondly on those Saturday mornings in the fall.  Short practice, white shoe polish on our shoes and we'd pick up some sausage at Norm's.  Fall was in the air with the scent of burnt sugar cane.

We are all molded by our own experiences and environments.  It was a major experience for me to see Ta Ta play on Friday nights.  He was the first African American I'd ever seen play quarterback and he redefined the position right in front of our eyes.  He taught me what it meant to improvise and trust your instincts and push your outer limits.  It's a serious piece of info to receive as a kid, but it's an entirely different thing to train yourself to be yourself.

The first song I ever wrote was a song called "Art" and it was all about fighting to be yourself.  It lived on a cassette tape in my old four track recorder for about 3 years before it was born to a brand new beat that Donovan had made.  The first song we recorded in a professional studio was a song called "Perique".  "Preacher" Leblanc was the first sound on the record.  I had recorded him in the fields on one of my visits from New York.  He recites his social security number along with things in Latin from mass.  Older generations were tied to the land and to a reverence of the higher spirit.

But what about that beat.  There was the Choctaw beat under the tobacco shed when we'd beat the dust off of the tobacco stalks agains't the log.  I'd get so infected by the beat of the tobacco under the shed that it was sort of a revival.  Teddy Boy called me the Child of the Wolf in those moments.  Then there was the African beat in the stadium on Friday nights.  I was born into a unique set of circumstances right there on the Mississippi River just after desegregation.  It took me years to understand the complexities that took place in the centuries leading up to the 1980's.

It was pure joy when I put on my suit and picked Donovan Guidry up at the airport the day he moved to New York.  Living in the East Village was like making it to the moon for two Cajuns.  We celebrated that night at "Jules" in the village with some French film makers and dreamed our asses off.  Anything was possible now.  We treated this time in the late 90's like if we were delivering something.  If we didn't do it, no one ever will.  We never met other Cajun artist in New York the whole time we were there.  We were alone on the moon.  On Fridays there were no sounds of the high school marching bands, the city marched on.   It was a rare opportunity to be living right in the middle of the world.

We could hear the sound but needed some help getting it to come out of the speakers.  We knew things were about to change the day my brother Daniel sent us an old computer and we rigged it to record on.  It was like receiving the Arc of the Covenant.  Much resilience was needed night after night, crash after computer crash.  To help offset the cost of recording, I helped to build the now famed "Headgear Studio" in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  In fact, I was the first artist to record in that old warehouse.  Over the years, many great records would be made there and people like David Bowie were showing up.

Insecurity was a constant.  Every day I was in over my head, surrounded by smart and talented, accomplished people.  I didn't know what I was doing but I knew for sure that this was what I was supposed to be putting my energies into.  Of course I'd lose perspective but when I'd sit down to write Patti, my nerves would settle and I could see clearly what needed to be done.  Small steps, don't look down the row.  It's ok if you're from Grand Point.

We often recorded into the wee hours of the night and I'd walk about 11 blocks home to the south side of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  One night I was walking triumphantly but tired and heard a light cough from the window above me.  I could see a shadow, a silhouette.  It was Joey, I swore it was. But he was a little boy.   He had hair that came down to his ear lobes.  He died in a fire due to the smoke and this shadow was coughing.  "Sky King" always said to remain open.  Things were going my way in the studio and I couldn't believe my good fortune, so maybe it could be Joey in that window.  He wouldn't answer me so I kept walking.  It gave me the chills.  I just assumed he returned to tell me he was proud of me, like the time we beat Riverside and I floated passes all over the field.  He was so happy for me that night.  He taught me well.

 No matter how late I stayed up, I always hopped out of bed around 8:00.  I could feel my dad looking at me and telling me to get up.  I could feel the pull of expectation of 10 generations before me.  There was no coach on a table inspiring me.  No teacher showing me how to take to the path.  We were blind but trusted our instincts and were dead serious about succeeding.  The computer allowed us to try many things without wasting tape.  We hated working with most studio engineers when we first started out.  We wanted to break the rules.  We actually didn't even know the rules and it allowed us to reimagine a way of working.  We had a drummer come in and play and then Donovan went to work pushing and pulling the beat until we had this heavy pocket of a rhythm.  I was in the vocal booth for the first time.  Everyone was looking at me through the glass and my heart was pounding.  We had that Cajun dub sound in the headphones and I opened my mouth.  "Take me humble man, cry me a river away....."

My melodies had their own rhythm and the songs that were coming out of me sounded foreign.  I didn't know what it was but it seemed connected to all my life experiences up until that point.  There was something about Reggae music and the delivery of the vocals that felt like home.  It had the same cadence as a gang of Cajuns in the kitchen.  But Cajuns from Grand Point were a unique mix.  We had some Native customs mixed with many African recipes and melodies from the river, along with the French.  Everybody in Brooklyn thought I was a foreigner and would ask repeatedly where I was from.  They'd eat my gumbo and would ask again.  Our music was a new mix and we were well on our way.

The arrival of the Acadians in Brooklyn can be dated back to 1997.  They arrived by plane with two bags and a lot of nerve.  I had arrived with the secret in my heart and was committed to the cause to find beauty, to live simply and resilient.  To find the wolf.  Sleep tight Patti Ann.

Take full responsibility for your actions.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Letters To Patti Ann (Chapter 6) "Me And My Arrow, Me"

"hi patti ann,

just wanted to let you know that i played my first show in new york last night in manhattan. it was at budman studio high over the city in soho in a loft.  i played wearing an old paulina baseball hat, "high hat" like joey, in honor of sport and our little region on the river.  it felt great to be respected by the downtown art scene and  the andy warhol era folks. it  sounds like an oxymoron.  high art and grand point.  maybe not.    i spent three years making a record and had never played one live show.  i imagined you trying to walk with your new legs.  you make me brave.  you made a quiet grand point boy take to the stage and grab the mic.  the spirit of the land is roaring.  i'm so happy today, everyday is a battle and it's nice on the days when it all lines up and you can find some sort of peace.  i know that more challenges lie ahead, but  i will never falter to doubt and hard times, because in each of lifes little hardships lie our own unique blessings.  today i'll celebrate in your honor. i challenged myself because of you, because of joey, because of my friend charlie, because of life.  it is going to be special in new orleans someday when I can play there.  i can't wait to see a bus load of ya'll there to celebrate life even in these uncertain times.  you still carry the torch.



Me and my arrow me.  I say it like that because the Cajuns are my tribe.  Both east and west of the river.  All of them.  Say it over and over and I garantee you'll hear the melody.  Me and my arrow me. Me and my arrow me.   And the words just keep coming.  I don't question.   I step aside and let it through.  I feel like a sparrow but I am a wolf.  A child of the wolf he told me. 

It was always rumored that Teddy Boy had smoked the great chiefs peace pipe and he knew things we didn't know.  He had an omniscient look on his face with a slight grin.  I was often confused by him when I'd see him sitting on the bus laughing to himself.  He was always quiet and alone.  When I was a kid, I rode the bus with Teddy.  He was older and always sat in the back by himself grinning looking out the window.  One day he was laughing to himself and I asked him what he was laughing at and he said, "man prays but never listens".  I was too young to understand but I never forgot those words.  Those were the only words I ever heard him speak.  Well, that and when he told me I was the child of the wolf.

"Sky King" had said that I must remain open at all times.  He said that one never knows when messages are being sent.  They can be communicated through unsuspecting people, places, objects and events.  He said he received his name from a descendent of the great chief because in the 1930's he had found the wooden box of principles in Jr. Walsh's black smith shop.  At first he didn't understand what it was all about and then he found a name "Chenet" written on a book with the zip code for Belmont on it.   He found the oldest member of the Chenet family in Belmont and searched for clues.  The family had an Indian mound on their property out close to the "New Road" just beyond the tobacco processing facility.  He learned that the Chenet family weren't Cajuns and were secretly descendent of the Choctaws passing as white.  He left that day with a new name, Mapiya Ogima (Sky King). The secret was now in his possession.

I never wanted to be the bearer of secrets and to live with such a responsibility of translating it.  All I did was visit a little old lady who had lived on the other side of the woods from us my entire life.  It wasn't until I was in college that I finally had the nerve to visit.  All I knew of her was her big grey Cadillac coming down the lane, kicking up a little dust and a big wave and a smile.  Just one visit and I received all the info I needed as I was moving to New Orleans into my first apartment in the mid 90's.

I was just beginning to play the guitar and discovering a singing voice.  I taped a cheap microphone to a garbage can and sang for the first time as the lazy street car roared by.  There was something about music and singing that just vibrated me the right way.  It was an irresistible path.  It had nothing to do with being on a stage and lights.  I felt that I could communicate the secret this way.

Around this time is when I first met Donovan Guidry in an acting class at the University of New Orleans.  We barely talked throughout the semester and maybe did a scene or two together but on the last day of class we talked for an hour and knew we had to hang out again.  The first time we hung out was at my place on Maple St. and we told stories of our upbringing and they sounded a lot alike.  "My grandmother used to speak French, the food was amazing and we gathered on Sundays." We both new that those days were long gone and things were changing for the Cajuns long after Edwin Edwards.

Most of the time I'd sing and play alone.  It was for my own enjoyment.  My dad had played a little and sang "Butterbean".  Every wedding we went to as a kid, my dad ended up on the mic because the crowd insisted he sing it.  But we weren't musicians, we were mostly mechanically minded people and entrepreneurs.  Aunt Marie made wedding cakes and Aunt Pa Pim catered weddings using ancient family recipes.  They were booked every weekend.  But no one heard me sing.  I didn't even know I could. I thought that it might sound good, but I just knew it felt good.  One day, Donovan Guidry decided to visit without me knowing and he stood in the doorway while I was singing alone in the back of the house.  He told me that if I found my own sound, I could have a career.

He had a very important key for me that would unlock a new door for a new path.  He was reading a book called "The Souls Code" by James Hillman and it was full of little nuggets of wisdom.  During this time I was being seduced by an easy life in New Orleans.  Our family business was growing and I had a want for nothing.  I drove an old Mercedes, ate out at nice restaurants and traveled with money in my pocket for the first time living in the big city.  My time in New Orleans after college was like the smell of a new car and it was amazing for about a year or two and then the smell was gone.

I was drunk with discontentment.  It was very confusing.  I was living as I had dreamed as a young boy.  I was living in a city of diverse people and engaging myself with the culture and the world.  It was all I ever dreamed of but I felt empty.  Something wasn't right.  In these times before my move to New York, Patti was a fit aerobics instructor and inspired me in different ways.  I stayed healthy and continued to take care of myself long after playing sports but my soul was aching and screaming and I was feeling the pressure from the day Joey died.  Though it was silenced at times, it never totally disappeared.

Donovan started telling me about the book he was reading and began talking about our "daimon".  I had never heard that word before.  He said that our daimon accompanies us in life as a "carrier of our destiny" and has a long, rich history.  This caught my attention and I instantly thought of "Sky King" and the things he had left behind for me.  It was all becoming a folk tale for me too and the pull of luxury was too sweet to turn from but then I read a paragraph in the book and knew I needed to make a change.

"One of the reasons people silence the daimon or voice of vocation” is due to the perceived risks of following it – one must sacrifice short-term comfort, status, and wealth, and engage in work where the outcome is uncertain. Yet to repress this inner calling is destructive, and often leads to the formation of what may be called a silent rage: the absence, the anger, and the paralysis on the couch are all symptoms of the soul in search of a lost call to something other and beyond. The individual who loses touch with their daimon becomes an empty shell of the person that could have been."-Hillman

On Sundays I liked to take long drives and listen to records and stop to read the liner notes to learn the details of the recordings.  I drove to my parents house and headed straight for the closet.  There was a closet in the house that no one really went into.  The $2 bill Gibson guitar was in that closet.  Papere had saved $2 bills to buy that for my dad in the late 50's.  I'd peek at it when I was a kid but would never touch it.  It was like a little shrine and something I did on my own.  When "Sky King" gave me the wooden box, I could think of no better place to store it.  

It was easy to think of Grand Point as this little country town with not much to offer me anymore.  I had my college degree and I was living in "The City" discovering Jazz and art and my world view was exploding.  What good could a little wooden box in the country do me?  I opened the box quietly and saw the principles...."man will lose perspective", "he will be blinded by his riches". It was jolting.  I felt silly at first but then I thought of Aunt Marie's screams in the night and the young boy flying in the air to his end.  I imagined meeting my younger self and if I could look him in the eye.  Was I living up to the vow?  There was a locket in the box.  I cracked it open...."You are the bows from which future generations are sent forth.  Poison the arrow with the secret and point the arrow."

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
The Creator To Native People At The Time Of Creation