I’ve Been Converted

Some Easter slide guitar, courtesy of one of the true masters thereof, Kelly Joe Phelps.

Well I know, yeah I know…that I’ve been converted…
Now do you?

You’ve got to know sir
That I’ve made me a change
That I’m not afraid to call my Savior’s name
Well I know…that I’ve been converted now…
Do you?

Kelly Joe Phelps, I’ve Been Converted

There may still be some time

I just closed my eyes again–
Climbed aboard the Dream Weaver train
Trying to take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind

Fly me high through the starry skies
Take me to an astral plane
Across the highways of fantasy
Help me to forget today’s pain

Though the dawn may be coming soon
There may still be some time
Fly me away to the bright side of the moon
And meet me on the other side

Gary Wright, Dream Weaver


I don’t know his name for sure but I think somebody said “Hi Harlan”” to him from their car stopped at an intersection. He is well known in those parts.

I’ve seen him for months on the streets, and since I’ve been here less than a year, I’d guess he’s been there much longer. He looks to be in his 60s, and walks with a single crutch at all times, such that your can hear him coming even when you don’t see him. He accosts almost every passer-by with a much garbled “Could you spare a dollar, I’m trying to get something to eat”. He seems to be reasonably successful, based on the number of people I see stopped with him, and as far as I can tell, he actually uses the money for food, not alcohol (a big issue with street beggars). He has, for all I can tell, not a soul in this world to count on for anything. I have no idea where he stays at night.

When I first saw him last summer he acted as described above. I had not seen him throughout the winter, yesterday being the first time I’d ventured out on the streets in that area. Harlan was still begging but now also yelling intermittently–incoherent phrases aimed at nobody in particular, and with gusto.

It was still chilly out, but I found a nice spot in the afternoon sun and set down my guitar and amp and plugged in and set up. I could hear Harlan coming down the sidewalk, and he pointed at my stuff and mumbled something incoherent that appeared to involve some danger of being arrested by the cops or something, I’m not sure. I replied “OK man” and continued with what I was doing, and Harlan moved on.

There was hardly anybody on the streets but it was downright comfortable for the first time in months so I started playing, for the practice if nothing else. I soon noticed a guy off to my right 10 yards, smoking a cigarette and listening. A few minutes later he came up and said he had no money with him but if he did he’d give me some, because I sounded great, quite similar to Pat Metheney. He was a bassist; he knew music and paid me other generous compliments. I replied no problem man, being compared favorably to Pat Metheny is worth more to me than dollar or two. He left but came back soon with two friends, threw in a tip and we all talked briefly about guitar favorites: Leo Kottke, Ry Cooder, and Chris Smither in particular. I convinced them that yes, they really should see Chris when he comes to town in May. And Leo Kottke’s song “I Yell at Traffic” came to my mind.

I resumed playing and a little later, Harlan came around the corner, yelling, stopped for a minute, and then sat down on some restaurant steps a few feet away. He stopped yelling and muttering to himself. He just say there, listening. Sensing this, I broke into a slow and deliberate rendition of arguably the most beautiful song I know, Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna, a waltz which I do in the key of A. Harlan continued to sit and gaze into the distance, in the warm sun and listen, the sound reverberating through the street. And then through another piece, before getting up and continuing his march. Hopefully, a few minutes of beauty and solace in an otherwise desperate existence.

If I see him again, I’m going to do it again, except that I’m going to try to play the best thing my fingers will generate.

You would not think, just to look at him…

So yesterday I was riding the bus, which I only do when I need to tote both my guitar and amp downtown. The two-plus miles is just a little too far for the ~60 pound carry, especially given an injured shoulder and wrist, and sidewalks that are a mess from a foot of snow last week.

A couple of stops  after boarding, on steps a guy with a very tattered beige coat, like something that might have been involved in say, some street fights, or use as a dog’s bed. He was dragging a heavy-looking plastic bag full recyclables, and sat down next to me.

“Play the guitar, eh?”
“Yeah” says I.
“What kind of stuff you like?”
“Acoustic 12…a lot of Bob Dylan, but also John Gorka, Chris Smither, Greg Brown, the Dead, some Zeppelin…some of my own stuff too.”

In the five minutes before he got off, he told me the abridged version of how he once played a lot, both guitar and keyboards, apparently as a professional musician, including a lot of local shows at various venues, with a band was busy and popular, mostly back in the 1980s and 90s I gathered. He said he made good money at it and even shared the bill with some well-known bands/acts, such as Mitch Ryder, Steppenwolf, and (I think) Dave Alvin’s band (The Blasters?).   About how Ryder once got quite upset with him, when his band was supposed to be opening his show but he was instead drunk in a local bar, having completely forgotten about it.  His band mates had to track him down, and the resulting delay caused Ryder to open for him, instead of vice-versa. He smiled at the memory.

I asked him if he was still performing or playing. He talked for a couple of minutes–about how that’s all gone now. He lives on disability and food stamps, supplemented I guess, by whatever he gets from collecting and hauling recyclables via foot and bus, and street begging, which he said he makes some money at.

“Yeah, I could…but damn alcohol…” he said.

As he got up to get off, I invited him to bring his guitar and we could jam together on the street. He said that would be cool, and would do so. There wasn’t time to get his name or number.  Hope I see him again.

Now you would not think, just to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row


Everything is broken

Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones

Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken

Bob Dylan, 1989

I will knock–just like before

I’m the latest apparition
Cutting slices in the night
I come through without permission
Moving in and out of human sight

I’m the tapping on your shoulder
I’m the raven in the storm
I’ll take shelter in your rafters
I’ll be the shiver when you’re warm

I’m the gold in California
I’m the wealth in Mexico
Like the vultures in the valley–
I will wait for you to go

I’m the gypsy in your pocket
I’m the horseman in your dreams
I’m the reason dogs are barking
I’m the hand that stops the scream

I’m the baby’s cry that isn’t
I am the distant relative
I’m the scratching in the ceiling
I am advice you shouldn’t give

I’m the ghost of a traveling salesman
My foot will be there in your door
Though I can walk through walls and windows
I will knock–just like before

Raven in the Storm, John Gorka

Behind the face of need

A man conceived a moment’s answers to the dream
Staying the flowers, daily sensing all the themes
As a foundation left to create the spiral aim
All movement regained and regarded both the same
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

Changed only for a sight, the sound, the space, agreed
Between the picture of time, behind the face of need
Coming quickly to terms of all expression laid
Emotion revealed is the ocean maid
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you








Sad preacher nailed upon the color-door of time
Insane teacher be there, reminded of the rhyme
There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify
Political ends, as sad remains, will die
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you

I listened hard but could not see
Life tempo change out- and inside me
The preacher trained in all to lose his name
The teacher travels, asking to be shown the same
In the end we’ll agree, we’ll accept, we’ll immortalize
The truth of the man maturing in his eyes
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

And you and I climb, crossing the shapes of the morning
And you and I reach over the sun for the river
And you and I climb clearer towards the movement
And you and I crawl over valleys of endless seas

And You And I, Jon Anderson, Yes


When it happens to you

Well she was old enough, to know better
And she was strong enough, to be true
And she was hard enough, to know whether
He was smart enough, to know what to do

And you can’t resist it
When it happens to you
No you can’t resist it
When it happens to you

And you can tell your stories
And you can swear it’s true
But you can save your lies
For some other fool

And you can’t resist it
When it happens to you
No you can’t resist it
When it happens to you

You can’t resist it, Lyle Lovett (with Leo Kottke)

And if that doesn’t do it for you, this should:

Find it on your own

Say goodbye, you know it’s true
I know you’re leavin’ me–I’m leavin’ too
You won’t forget me, or the sound of my name
Please believe, I feel the same

It seems so empty now–you’ve closed the door
Ain’t it hard to believe you ever lived this way before?
All that nothin’… causes all that pain
Please believe, I feel the same

Broken soul, the heart it’s breakin’
Can’t make it whole ’til you know what’s been taken
All those pieces–find them on your own
All those pieces–find them on your own

I Feel The Same, Chris Smither

I am the ride

I awoke and someone spoke–they asked me in a whisper
If all my dreams and visions had been answered
I don’t know what to say–I never even pray
I just feel the pulse of universal dancers
They’ll waltz me till I die and never tell me why–
I’ve never stopped to ask them where we’re going
But the holy, the profane, they’re all helplessly insane
Wishful, hopeful, never really knowing

They asked if I believe, and do the angels really breathe?
Or is it all a comforting invention?
It’s just like gravity I said–it’s not a product of my head
It doesn’t speak but nonetheless commands attention
I don’t care what it means, or who decorates the scenes
The problem is more with my sense of pride
It keeps me thinking me, instead of what it means to be
But I’m not a passenger, I am the ride
I’m not a passenger, I am the ride

I Am The Ride, Chris Smither