Thursday, March 19, 2015

Couch By Couchwest 2015

It's Couch By Couchwest time again.

Here's my submission for the online alternative to South By Southwest. Now in its fifth year, Couch By Couchwest attracts everyone from folks who've never played outside the home to touring musicians to, yes, the occasional star.

I was got a heck of a surprise last week when I learned from Erin Friedman, a Shasta County resident and awesome songwriter, that my video from last year had been named as one of the ten most popular for CXCW 2014.

I was planning to do an original tune this year, but I rediscovered a tune from a friend, Redding singer-songwriter Jonathan Foster. Jonathan is also an  an awesome songwriter, and this song grabbed me by the throat and didn't let go a few days ago.

I hope you enjoy it. It was recorded in the Johnson family bathtub, where the acoustics tend to be better than other places around the house.

Here's the link to my video on Couch By Couchwest.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sharing a Chairlift With Shirley

Her name was Shirley.
It was the winter of 1982. I'd paid the $19 standby fare on Texas Air to travel from Austin to El Paso, and another $17 to ride a bus from El Paso to Ruidoso, New Mexico on a solo snow skiing trip.
The weekend passed, and the Monday crowd was light. After my third run, she stood in the line for the chairlift, like she was waiting for me. "I'm Shirley. Would you like to join me?" I did.
It was the longest lift on the mountain, and we rode it together three times. I learned that she was a 62 year-old retired teacher, had learned to ski at the age of 59, and was full of advice about traveling on a budget. On the second, I learned that she had married the love of her life right after college. His name was Joe. They were married three years when Joseph Jr. was born.
Joe died in a car accident when Joe Jr. was but two years old. Shirley raised little Joe as a single mom, with help from her parents. She never remarried. Little Joe was her life.
Joe had grown up and become a teacher himself. Shirley was so proud of him that her eyes lit up every time she said his name.
On the third ride up the chairlift, she said something that I've carried with me since.
"People nowadays are more concerned with being happy than being good. I wish they would remember that the path to being good sometimes means choosing being good over being happy."
Over the years, I've kept Shirley's parting thought in mind, and I've tried to live by it. Sometimes I've succeeded; too often I've failed.
Shirley and I parted ways after that third run down the mountain. She told me that I reminded her too much of her husband. We didn't exchange addresses or phone numbers.
And, for thirty-three years, I've treasured a friendship made during three rides upon a chairlift.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Couch by Couchwest 2014

You've probably heard of South by Southwest, a music and film festival based out of Austin, Texas. Thanks to our local music duo Still Married, I learned that there is an online alternative to South by Southwest called Couch by Couchwest. As the folks running CXCW explained on their website, "Let’s face it, we’re all too broke to go to Austin, and even if we had the money, we couldn’t get out of work anyway. There’s this pesky thing called “life” that keeps getting in the way. Allow us to introduce you to Couch by Couchwest.CXCW is an annual online music festival that is for everyone. No badges, lanyards, bracelets, parking fees, ticket lines, exclusive parties, VIP tents, porta-potties, babysitters, dogsitters, expensive beer prices, or crappy hotel rooms…just the sweet comfort of your own couch. Here’s how it works, artists and bands from all over the globe record a video performance for us from their living rooms, kitchens, porches, bathrooms, you name it…pretty much anywhere but a stage…and we post them during the week of the festival (March 9 – 15, 2014)."

I've lived in Shasta County for twenty years, but as much as I love live music, I've hardly explored the local music scene until recently. But, after seldom playing the guitar for thirty years, last year I picked it up again, prompted by my son Dylan's interest in branching out from classical music on his upright bass. I started singing some folk and alt-country songs while strumming the guitar and singing, accompanied by Dylan on the bass. We had loads of fun. One thing led to another, and with the encouragement of Rhonda and Dylan, I sang a few songs at an open mic in town. Nobody booed or threw anything at me, so a did it a few more times.

And then I read Erin's post about Couch by Couchwest. I thought about videoing myself singing a song to submit, but I was kind of chicken. Then my new friend Jonathan Foster, a singer-songwriter I met as a result of sticking my toes in the local music scene, mentioned that the deadline for submissions loomed.

So, I drove out to the "monolith" here in Redding, equipped with my guitar and an iPad, and I did it, covering "Too Late" by Andrew Duhon, a singer-songwriter out of Metairie, Louisiana.

Erin Friedman and her husband Craig also submitted a song to CXCW, "The Best Damn Man." Erin wrote the song - she's been writing songs since in her teens - and Craig sings it.

My new friend, casual mentor, and fellow singing sasquatch Jonathan Foster submitted one of his own creations, "Two Wheels."

As much as I love covering songs by songwriters who deserve more notice - such as Erin and Jonathan - come next year I'd like to submit one of my own songs.

I'd better get started.

Hal Johnson – Too Late (Andrew Duhon)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

HUET Training, and One Woman's Crossroad

Every four years, I go through water survival training at the Marine Survival Training Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, which is run by the University of Louisiana. MSTC actually offers a few different courses for folks who make their livings in offshore waters, and ours is known by the acronym "HUET": Helicopter Underwater Egress Training. It involves, along with classroom instruction, strapping oneself into a helicopter mock-up cabin elevated above a pool, then riding along as the cabin is dunked into the pool, then turned upside-down. It's then up to the students to stabilize themselves with handholds, locate the emergency exit, operate the emergency exit, release the seat belt and shoulder harness, and escape from the "aircraft."

I think it's safe to say that most of our pilots and mechanics do not look upon HUET training fondly.

HUET isn't designed just for pilots; oil companies and service companies send their employees, those who ride as our passengers, to the training as well. This year, for the first time, I was the only pilot in the class, although a PHI mechanic was in the class with me. The morning hours were devoted to classroom instruction, and with a number of first-timers to water survival training in the group, the air of trepidation was heavy.

Oh yeah, there was another first for me: I was the oldest in the class, and the one who'd been through the training the greatest number of times. Getting older is weird.

We had a break for lunch, and then reported to the pool building for the training. Several of the students looked nervous, but one woman in particular looked scared as hell. I overheard her talking to a classmate and learned that she was a single mom, and that her upcoming offshore position was her chance to break away from a life of dead-end, minimum wage jobs.

The kicker, of course, was that she had to successfully complete HUET training before getting her chance to gain a better life for herself and her children.

Her group went into the "dunker" before mine. I saw the look on her face, and I felt terrible for her.

"Please let her make it," I thought.

In the training, everyone gets six rides in the simulator. The first involves only partial submersion, staying upright, when the students are responsible for deploying the emergency exits. The second brings actual immersion of the cabin, and escape from the simulator.

The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth rides are when things get really interesting: the cabin is submerged and turned upside down. Maintaining orientation by using handholds instead of vision, and pulling oneself out instead of trying to swim are crucial memory items.

I watched the young woman go through her first two rides. She looked petrified, and she hadn't been turned upside down under water yet. I wondered how she'd respond. I feared it wouldn't go well, and it made me sad. Four more rides in the simulator, and two hours on the clock, and she'd be on the way to a better job and a better life.

But looking at her face, and watching her body language, I had the feeling her journey was coming to a sad ending.

Her group came out of the water, and the group before mine went in for their first two rides. I  maneuvered along the side of the pool to where she stood. She was on the verge of tears.

"It's kind of intimidating, isn't it?" I said.
She looked at me. "You're a pilot. (We're required to go through the training in uniform.) It probably isn't intimidating to you."
"That's because I've done it for years. But geez, the first time, I cried."
She laughed. "You're lying!"
I laughed too. "Well, okay, but I felt like crying."
She sniffed. "So it gets better?"

That was all I could offer for moral support, though. Our groups got separated again.

And then it was her group's turn again, and she was the last out of the simulator, assisted by two safety divers wearing scuba gear. Her first upside-down egress obviously didn't go well. She stood at the platform at the end of the pool and cried. I couldn't hear her, but I'm pretty sure she was saying, "I can't do this."

The youngest of the instructors leaned toward her face and talked to her, quietly. I have no idea what he said to her, but I could see the kindness and the patience in his face, and the end result was that she agreed to give it another try.

Out of the eight people onboard the simulator on the next ride, she was not the last out. She was next to last. An improvement. And, the safety diver wasn't holding her arm. She looked scared, but I thought I saw a glimmer of hope on her face. On her fifth out of six rides, she was still next to last getting to the surface.

On her last dive, though, she popped up in the middle of the pack. She smiled as she swam to the edge of the pool. The instructor fist bumped her and said "Good job!"

About that time, I imagined her going home to tell her kids that Mama was getting her new job for sure, and maybe taking them to their favorite place to eat in celebration. My sinuses started giving me fits.

Damn pool water.