Azure Miles Records ~ The Music of Michael Robinson
Writings About Music by Michael Robinson
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. By coincidence, three songs that visited me tonight were all composed by him.
My late friend, restaurateur Poppy Morgan -- he had transmogriphied into a "spiritual advisor" by the time we met -- tragically suffered a stroke in middle age while visiting Desert Hot Springs, and thereafter walked about with a dramatic, wild staff like Moses. He explained how the "nautical crozier" was from Bob Dylan's sailboat, but I never had opportunity to verify this, not that I doubted his story. A toylike wand Poppy once gave me out of the blue for Hanukkah while in Los Angeles remains a cherished possession. On another memorable occasion in Lahaina, Poppy told me I was the "nicest" person he had ever met.
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, referring to not hearing back from someone dear. At the time, I had a job playing a white Yamaha baby grand in a fancy clothing boutique while living in Kapalua, Maui, and came up with the harmonic progression seated there while in a state of numb rejection. 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 I, in amazement, 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. I 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 felt like an apparition.) I turned around abruptly and sped back home. Relating my experience to several locals, they advised me that Kapalua was a major burial ground for ancient Hawaiians, and that the place was filled with spirits. After that night, it became my custom to jog at noontime alongside the dirt road with the Captain Cook pine trees.
Excited 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. His wife, Marian Zazeela, answered when I called back, and I learned they had caught my radio appearance and found it exciting. Then, La Monte and I spoke on the phone for over three hours. We talked quite a bit about Lee Konitz, having both studied improvisation privately with him, if years 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 and conducting classes I attended at Tanglewood one summer, including meeting him at a party and disco dancing (!) alongside him while he continued with his thoughts about music in conversation.
And Bob, if you happen to read this, please feel free to use the chords from Delayed Response for a new song. My only condition is that 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).