Category Archives: Jimwords

These posts are written by Jim Cummings, creator/editor of Bright Blue Ball. They are fragments of his simple witness to the years.

Spotify Summer Gems

I’m beginning to wonder how I even managed to delve into new music before Spotify came along.  Oh, sure, the radio can tease you with a song or few from a new album, friends made tapes or shared their latest LPs, yeah, but there’s nothing like cueing up an entire album to really sink into all the fresh goodness within!  Thanks to Spotify, when I read an enticing review or hear something on the radio or NPR that catches my ear, it’s right there ready to hear.  Sure does add a bounce to my step while I do the dishes and sweep the floor!

BowerbirdsA few recent highlights of my 2012 playlist:

Caetano Veloso and David ByrneLive at Carnegie Hall.  Veloso’s gentle Brazilian guitar and vocals make for a classy and warm match for Byrne.  Seven Veloso songs are followed by six of Byrnes, then a few back and forth to complete the show.

Jerry Douglas, Traveler.  The dobro master weaves his typical blend of mostly instrumental tunes leavened with a handful of songs sung by vocal stars, this time including Eric Clapton, Mumford and Sons, Keb’ Mo’, and Marc Cohn. (For some weirder Jerry, check out last year’s re-release of 1995’s Bourbon and Rosewater, a trio date with Edgar Meyer and east Indian slide guitar player VM Bhatt.)

Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball; Ani Difranco, Which Side Are You OnAmy Ray, The Lung of LovePatti Smith, Banga.  I especially appreciate being able to hear the latest from old faves, without having to add to already extensive sections of my CD closet.  I’m really appreciating the “ephemeralization” of my music jones: no longer do I need to buy actual physical “stuff”, not even a few megabytes of hard drive space…I’m starting to get over not holding it in my hands.  Mostly. (I still buy CDs, but mostly things not available in the cloud, so I can see that ending eventually.)  Of this batch, I’ve been especially enjoying Amy Ray’s new one – this and her previous one, MVP Live, have finally lifted her solo work right up there for me beside the Indigos; Amy’s created a body of work over the past thirty years that really does have a place in the modern rock and songwriter pantheon.  I’m also continuing to revel in Patti Smith’s most recent decade; her clear strong heart continues to cut to the bone (if you missed Trampin’ go listen right now!).

This time’s “Perfect for Spotify” selection is Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends, a two-disc compilation of their many collaborations with other artists through the years, from Paul Simon to Emmylou Harris, Lou Rawls, Betty Griffin, Andreas Vollenweider (yup!), and many others.  Just the kind of album that’s great to hear once or twice, but may not be a necessary addition to your CD collection.  While leaning toward easy listening African music, there’s a new Angelique Kidjo live album, Spirit Rising, that’s well worth checking out.

A more adventurous world excursion is found in the Trio Chemirani‘s Invite, wherein the Persian percussion masters join forces with a diverse crew of string players, including Ballake Sissoko on kora, Sylvain Luc on guitar, Ross Daly on lyra, and Titi Robin on bouzouki.  Way fun!

And to conclude, in keeping with an overall mellow vibe here, two young songwriting founts worth delving into are Bowerbirds The Clearing, a soulful blend of voice and strings that kind of reminds me of local faves Round Mountain, and Anais Mitchell’s Young Man in America, from a quirky and compellingly ambitious songwriter who I’m just tuning into, a decade into her career.


Have you been enjoying the crescent moon this week?  It’s a bit bigger each night, as it moves away from its monthly passage between earth and the sun.

A week or so ago, early risers were treated to a crescent just about this same size, as the moon approached the sun from the other side – it was to the right of the sun as we see it in the sky here in the northern hemisphere, whereas now it’s to the left of the sun.

I missed the show, but those who woke a couple hours before dawn got to see the moon join a lineup of celestial delights: the Pleiades, Venus, Jupiter, and Betelgeuse (one of Orion’s shoulders).

For those in Europe, though, the morning held a special treat: the moon passed directly in front of Jupiter (an “occulation”).  That peaceful ol’ moon moves fast through the starry sky: just about its own diameter each hour, constantly sliding past stars and planets along its way. Just a few minutes after it zoomed by Jupiter, Christian Fattinnanzi caught an absolutely beautiful dance of five moons, a gas giant, and wispy clouds:

MoonJupiter2012 Fattinnanzi600

Here we see Jupiter and all four Galilean moons (the ones Galileo spotted with his telescope, and visible similarly to his view in any pair of modern binoculars):  Calisto, Ganymede, Io, and Europa.  Lovely!

Turning the corner, rounding the bend, riding the wheel

This weekend, it happened.  Here, anyway: the Moment occurs in its own time in each and every place.  Yesterday afternoon, I felt the change, and this morning’s short walk in the nearby landscape between the house and river left no doubt: winter is over, and spring is in the air.

Oh, we’ll surely get more snow, a few more deep freeze nights; the frost-free date for our gardens is still a couple months away.  Yet the unmistakable signs are all around.

River art ripples

The sun is toasting my skin, my flesh, my bones.  The morning breeze feels warm, not chilling.  Under the box elder, cottonwoods, and junipers in the bottomland, that eager spring grass shines bright green.  A bee came by to say hello while I sat on the wooden bench (though the hive in the base of the elder appears to be still dormant).  The stream is flowing clear and near its strongest steady, non-flash-flood, best – too wide to jump across!  And the water’s singing its sweetest springtime songs: tiny-bell cascades of light, bright tones chime from little riffles every ten feet or so.  From any spot where I stop to look and listen, two or three of these distinct clusters of stream-voice call gently, one a bit upstream, another a tad downstream, and sometimes also a third, directly below my dry-dirt perch on the bank.

Only three nights ago – Friday – darkness brought a sudden, deep single-digit chill.  Saturday, a cold wind kept me hustling on my way when outdoors.  Yesterday, though, after a morning in the house, I was surprised to feel a high-50s warmth when I came outside to do some greenhouse chores.  And now, Monday morning, it’s springtime in Cañoncito!  So it feels like we turned some hidden corner this weekend, and suddenly, all has changed.

Yet of course, it’s never so distinct.  Perhaps more like rounding a gradual bend, revealing a changing landscape.

Photo: Ann Hunkins

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Birthday blessings

Thank you

Great spirit, I say “thank you”

For putting life inside of me

Great spirit, I send my thanks to you

For all the blessings I can see

And all the blessings I cannot see



I sing this these resonant words whenever I visit hot springs.  And other times outdoors.  But always at hot springs.  I sang them this morning in the springs at Bodhi Manda as the pre-dawn sky turned from grey to light blue and the still-to-come sun brushed a few clouds with pink, 55 years after the morning I was born into this world.

Originally heard years ago; from a song by Oregon songstress Alice DiMicele (from searching for Alice, I see it’s also a Biblical reference…)

Image from RexWall

50 years of seeing the big picture

320px Mercury Friendship7 Bassett Celestia

Fifty years ago this week, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. While we remember this largely as a technological achievement, one of many steps toward flying humans to the moon and robot probes to the planets and beyond, it was also a profound aesthetic, experiential threshold for all of us down below. By the end of the decade, NASA celebrated our forever-changed awareness with the publication of the first book of space photos, This Island Earth (amazingly, still available for spare change from used booksellers!). Glenn and those who followed him into orbit, and on to the moon, remain a vanguard among humanity; they saw with their own eyes, felt with their bodies, breathed with their souls, something the rest of us can only feel in our imaginations.  Their words and pictures have charted a vision of our place in space that we’re still only beginning to live in to.

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic put together a short and evocative post that draws on today’s vast library of space images to illustrate some of Glenn’s radioed descriptions of things no American – and only two other humans, Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov – had ever seen:

“In the periscope, I can see the brilliant blue horizon coming up behind me; approaching sunrise. Over.” Mission Control replied, “You are very lucky.” Glenn said, “You’re right. Man, this is beautiful.”


Head on over to read Alexis’s post in full; it’s well worth the couple of minutes it’ll take!!


The living sky

The Earth lives within the larger body of the solar system; every planet a uniquely marvelous manifestation of minerals and gasses, with perhaps some liquid and frozen components or molten rock and volcanism cracking through the surface, each world alive and dynamic in its own ways.  One of Earth’s many wonders is its incredibly dynamic atmosphere; winds carrying seeds and weather and scents, clouds shifting shape from moment to moment and changing color as they slip through the edges of the day and night, stars sprinkled and spinning across the night sky.  At the highest latitudes, where the nights are long and cold, and the highest altitudes, the atmosphere thinning to nearly nothing, the earth’s physicality is expressed in subtle electromagnetic fields, which come alive in dancing waves of light, enlivened ions given color and motion when our local star exhales great gusts of itself in waves of charged particles that sweep past our tiny home of earth, water, fire, and air.

In the past couple of years, several filmmakers have been producing stunning time-lapse films of the natural world, utilizing high-definition cameras, sensitive digital CCDs, and sometimes even slow cinematography-style tracking shots.  Today, I came across (thanks, Dish) the most compelling northern lights film I’ve yet to see; the sheer beauty of the motion and color, as well as a welcome variety of tones and intensities, kept me riveted through the entire five minutes (which, sadly, is quite an accomplishment for online video!).

The one time I was lucky enough to experience a full ribbons-of-light-overhead aurora display, in my backyard in Old Town, Maine in the winter of 1980-81, I likened it to a visual version of the rippling sounds of the Mahavishnu Orchestra….this film captures that blend of fluidity and surprise, intense dynamics, and sheer wonder like no other I’ve seen:

Spotify’s February Gems


As anyone who’s visited me over the past few months can attest, I’m a total Spotify fanboy. Spotifty is the highest profile of today’s streaming music services, a massively well-stocked digital jukebox in the sky!  Unlike radio services such as Pandora, Spotify (and some other similar services, including Rhapsody and Mog) lets you pick the album and the track(s) that you want to hear. Users build an iTunes-like library of music, with playlists for different genres or or however else you want to organize, which is then ready for a simple click and play whenever you feel like hearing something again.

I’ve been loving Spotify for new music discovery, keeping current with recent releases, and simply being being able to hear an album or artist that I see or hear mentioned with a simple search and play (this week, First Aid Kit). In what will become a recurring feature on Bright Blue Ball, today I’m going to highlight a few of the things that have made me bow down before the wonder of Spotify in the past few days and weeks. (Note: Spotify is deeply entwined in Facebook’s “share everything you do with all your friends” approach to life, but you can join and listen without using or linking to Facebook….you just have to make an effort to do so!)

Chimes of freedomWEB

This month’s “Perfect for Spotify” new title is Amnesty International’s Chimes of Freedom, 73(!) Dylan covers from a crazily diverse array of artists. It’s something I’m really glad to be able to hear and even re-hear perhaps once or twice, but there was no way I would’ve felt the need to buy the 4 disc set. In the last couple months of 2011, I had the same delighted response when I found a couple of insanely comprehensive archival releases: the Beach Boys long-lost Smile and The Who’s Quadrophenia, both of which featured a disc or two worth of raw material, outtakes, studio snippets, and the like which shed interesting light on these classic albums, but surely don’t need to fill space in my CD closet.   Rave on Buddy Holly, with covers from Nick Lowe, Patti Smith, My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse, Lou Reed, John Doe, and many others was also a real blast!  (BTW, all these links go to a page that will let you add the titles or playlists to your Spotify account if you’re already a member….)

My “New Releases” playlist becomes the focus for much of my listening, and is currently stocked with January titles, including the Dylan one, a double disc retrospective from Ladysmith Black Mambazo featuring collaborations with other artists, the new Leonard Cohen disk, a recent Afropop Worldwide recommendation, by Novalima, and Guitar Passions, an album of duets from classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, featuring a wide array of collaborators including Stanley Jordan, Steve Morris, Steve Vai, and others.

Over the past few months, Spotify has helped me begin to explore 20th century classical music, fill in some embarrassing gaps in my rock diet over the past three decades (including my first real immersions into REM,  Pearl Jam,  Derek Trucks, and Wilco),  and discover new and old jazz, singersongwriters, and world artists (check out Balake Sisoko and Vincent Segal’s Chamber Music: kora and cello!).   Of course, this being music and all, everyone’s faves will be different—share some of your highlights below!

Letting Go, Sinking In

“I just couldn’t take it anymore in Santa Barbara—or Hell, I call it,” he was saying.  “When you’re thinking about getting out of Hell, you tend to think about. . . let’s see. . . Heaven!  And I was lucky enough to have Heaven well-marked in my brain.”

“And a direct path between Hell and Heaven,” I noted, “that’s quite a trick!”  So he’s back; twice before he’s lived within five miles of this place for a year or more, and it’s time again.

Spence top of waterfall WEB

Images: Karie Reinertson, Shelter Protects You

As for me, it’s a touchstone in the pulse of seasons.  Two or three times a year I return to these earth-warmed waters for some of the deepest recharges I’ve found in this life; it’s gotten amazingly consistent, to the point that now I pretty much count on the nourishment that I’ll find here.  Hmm, that sounds like the first inkling of trouble—I guess it all depends on how I meet what comes: this time, next time, every time.

Here in the wintry depths of the year, the sun is low all day through the forest as I head down from the car.  It’s been fairly warm, so the stream is virtually ice-free (just a few dangling fingers along the bottoms of some boulders, suspended above the water line).  Today I move right across the canyon bottom, and head on up the far slope.  Pause at the first crossing of the little stream flowing down from the springs, where the fireflies danced one late spring night (the seasons are always out of synch in this little three-by-six-foot zone, never fully winter, summery expressions by April).  Fingers slip into the flowing warmth; green grass (!), snow-laden pine bough, browned-but-supple tendrils of last year’s growth. A moist grey boulder presides over little pool, edged by a patch of bright watercress.  Up the slope a ways, ice under last night’s light snowfall makes me focus intently on each step, the forest around receding as my attention turns to the ground below and just in front of me.  Gotta remember to remember this on the way down!

Quite a crowd at the pools, for a weekday afternoon: a chatty Asian party (I feel a bit ignorant not knowing if that’s Japanese, Chinese, or Korean being spoken….), a couple urban anglos, a young hippie (short hair, but his open face shines softly, a subtler freak flag flying), and a quiet Hispano-Indian guy sitting up by the cave.  The hippie, who turns out later to be the one who’s returned to his Heaven, calls up, “welcome to the springs. . .”

“Thanks, it’s great to be back,” is the reply, true and simple.

But as usual, before sinking in, I head up the slope above the waters. This magical forest is at least as much a draw as the hot springs.

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Neil Young’s ode to veterans

Csny dejavuposter WEBmed

Ah, another real surprise from my Netflix streaming queue!  Tonight, I clicked on CSNY Deja Vu, Neil Young’s movie of the 2006 tour that came together in the wake of Neil’s album, Living With War, expecting to find a concert film with a few topical touches around the edges.  Woah, Nellie, was I off base!  Instead, the four old hippies play supporting actor roles for a slew of Iraq and Vietnam war veterans and family members in a pean to the hearts and souls of those who’ve followed their leaders into battles that, in the end, just didn’t make sense. Neil even got Mike Cerra, a CNN reporter who spent three tours with a unit in Iraq, to “embed” with the tour and provide a documentary-within-the-movie about how people reacted to the tour, in the midst of that heated “you’re either with us or with the terrorists” period in America.

I suppose this shouldn’t have been such a shock.  While Neil’s album got the most attention for two rousing anthems, Let’s Impeach the President, and Looking For a Leader (presaging the 2008 primaries: “…maybe it’s a woman, or a black man after all…”), at its heart were five moving songs honoring the sacrifices and eternal burdens of our men and women in uniform.  One was a sung from the point of view of a soldier who didn’t return, wishing he could be with his family (clip on YouTube); the title track sang for the internal and external wounds, “I’m living with war….every day…in my heart… my mind; I take a holy vow, to never kill again, to never kill again…” (clip on YouTube; also not available for embed)

With the movie, Neil took this theme and moved it front and center, creating a moving portrait of the costs, and the folly, of war, and celebrating anti-war veterans from the 60’s and the 90’s.  The songs become interludes, a thematic backdrop to the human story; we generally hear just a verse or two of most of the tunes, both new and old.  At the movie’s climax, “Find the Cost of Freedom” is transformed from a hymn of resistance into a requiem for every soldier killed in Iraq up til then, vets singing along, moms in tears….and as on the album, the encore during the fade-out is David, Stephen, Graham, and Neil bringing their celestial harmonies to bear on “America the Beautiful.”  These old songsters remind us, and the younger generation, that the hippie vision was always about the deep, true heart of the dream of what American can, and should, be.

Wowser. Nicely done, Bernard Shakey.

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