Writings About Music
Songs By A Malibu Musician Saint
Pandit Jasraj once told me about musician saints of ancient India. Afterwards, I realized that he is one himself. There's also a musician saint who reputedly lives here in Malibu. This assessment is based upon his body of music, of course, not having any personal experience with him as a person. Even if I did, I'm not sure how relevant that would be either way because the music is the point after all. By coincidence, three songs that visited me tonight were all composed by him.
My late friend, restaurateur Poppy Morgan (he had transmogrified into a spiritual advisor by the time we met) tragically suffered a stroke in middle age while living at a resort formerly owned by Al Capone in Desert Hot Springs, thereafter walking with a dramatic, wild staff like Moses. He explained how this nautical crozier was from his friend Bob Dylan's sailboat, a story repeated to me in Aspen years later about how they enjoyed sailing together by Poppy's former wife, Shayne Morgan, who owned the wildly popular Great American Food and Beverage Company restaurant alongside him. Patrons included John Lennon who held their infant daughter, River, in his arms. Today, Shayne and River are both yoga instructers based in Colorado. Shayne has also gifted me a personal letter she received from lyricist Sammy Cahn.
A snow wand Poppy once gave me out of the blue on a day that happened to be Hanukkah while in Los Angeles remains a cherished possession. On another memorable occasion in Lahaina, Poppy exclaimed I was the nicest person he had ever met, again out of the blue, completely taking me aback.
The Chumash Indians lived in Malibu for nearly four thousand years. I don't know if Bob has ever written a song about them, but he likely feels their spirits and ghosts in the breezes and wind with or without knowing what it is.
About the closest thing to a ballad I ever composed is Delayed Response from my first album, Trembling Flowers. At the time, I had a job playing a white Yamaha baby grand in a fancy clothing boutique close to my home in Kapalua, Maui. While doodling one day, I invented the unusual harmonic progression, later adding a through-composed melodic voice. After playing Delayed Response live on a Pacifica radio show hosted by Carl Stone in Los Angeles the following year, I learned that several car radio listeners had taken the nearest exit off the 405 in order to find out and write down what the music was. Two of them even insisted on meeting me, so in amazement, I obliged them.
Speaking of ghosts and spirits in Malibu, during the year I lived in Kapalua, I decided to go jogging on a deserted golf course late one night, but didn't get too far. A few minutes into my run, the winds picked up, and it was like the trees had come alive with invisible spirits, scaring the wits out of me. Something in the strangely shaking leaves and branches even felt like an apparition, so I retreated abruptly, speeding back home. Relating my experience to several locals, they advised me that Kapalua was a major burial ground for ancient Hawaiians, and that the area was filled with spirits. After that night, I reset my course to jog at noontime alongside the dirt road with the majestic Captain Cook pine trees, their deep greens and browns complimenting the azure sky.
Stimulated by my adventure on the golf course - I've never played golf - I composed Haunted Trees. After this piece was played with other recent compositions on Pacifica radio in NYC, along with being interviewed, I returned home to a voice mail from La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela. Marian answered when I phoned back, learning they had been greatly excited by my radio appearance. La Monte then took the phone, and we proceeded to converse for over three hours over myriad musical subjects, including how we both studied privately with Lee Konitz decades apart!
Here is Pilgrim, which draws strength from ostinati, appearing on the same album, Trembling Flowers, as Delayed Response and Haunted Trees...
... together with Summer Streams, written upon hearing about the autumn passing of Leonard Bernstein, whose rehearsals and concerts with the Boston Symphony I attended one summer at Tanglewood along with his conducting classes. We also met at a party following one of the concerts, including disco dancing alongside him (!) while he spoke to me analyzing the various songs that were playing.
And Bob, if you happen to read this, please feel free to use the chords from Delayed Response for a new song, the only condition being you don't make mine sound too bad in comparison.
- Michael Robinson, February 2016, Los Angeles
© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).