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March 22, 2010

A Message From Merlin

Hi Mr. Pirate
Well, what can I say...

I'm alive and well (first of all)

second : I grew a bit tired of this thing, and the lack of response. You see I noticed this blog had about 50 followers (I call that vultures waiting for the blogger to lay an egg and then come and get it ....GET IT and maybe EAT IT) but I see only a few true followers saying they liked it, they enjoyed it;

Now since I went "underground" I got seven (ELEVEN) persons asking what's up ?

I feel that this really isn't worth the work I put into it (and you of all persons understand the WORK this means)

Someone said I had the most "scolarly" blog of us all. That was a huge compliment and that is why I did it all.

I did a radio program about blues and early folk on the Radio over here, and there I could "teach" as my son always says, or as I say "tell those wonderful stories of people a long time ago".

The blog brought me some true surprises also : You'll remember one day I posted a record by Dion DiMucci (the son of Skip James) One evening Dion himself (Mr. D.)replied and said he loved the item and what I said about it, for once not in a superlative way and glory hallelujah, but I placed the thing in a larger context, this being exactly he felt. I was honored. Thanks Mr. D..

Also Lucy Kaplansky - whom I asked if I could publish the record : she was delighted and even send me an unreleased demo : Thanks Lucy

So that's about it. Maybe I'll be back one day with a new Merlin, still in his old rags (because that's the only thing that really matters... these old rags and songs from people who lived when I wasn't even born.)

I lately saw on muddy's site a club concert by Leadbelly from november 1948.... I was born a month later. I cried.

So what was it like ? I loved it well.
I see you mirrored the blog.. I feel honored again but some things are over and done, they won’t come back
As I said …. I’ll see you at the other side of the mirror, someday soon.
If you feel this should be on your blog, feel free
Merlin (no rags... only riches)

Yes, I do know how much work it takes to do these blogs, and how few responses there can be. And I also know how thrilling it is to have artists appreciate the postings about them as well. The way I keep it in balance is by taking extended periods of time off (the week coming up I'll be away, in fact, so still no new postings everyone; sorry but real life is taking my time. At some point, they will resume...).

Anyway, know that you have done a great thing, Merlin, and lived up to your wizard's name, and inspired others to come after you. If the time for the blog is done, so be it, and may its riches come back to you tenfold in the years to come.

March 18, 2010

Disappearing blogs

Well my inbox has received a number of inquiries as to the situation of Merlin-in-Rags and Friends of Old-Time Music blogs, which both went private within a few days of each other back in December. I don't know what happened, I don't have an invite, and as far as I can assume, for some reason they decided to shut down the blog without actually completely deleting it.

And all would be lost.

But there's a fellow 'round these parts, goes by the name of 'Grapeseeder'. He's been hard at work over at the Trout Mask Replicator and is achieving remarkable Frankensteinian results. You might like to take a look.

Oh, and don't forget, if this here ship does sink, chances are it'll be found floating over in those waters. You might want to bookmark it ;-)

By the way, if either Joski56 or Rounder is reading this, I invite them to share what happened, either in the comments or privately. And know that you are missed, fellow bloggers of the old weird America.

Letters from Yurtville

Hello dear readers (those who haven't given up entirely on my continuing this blog),

I'm not dead, as you can see. Far from it! I'm alive and well, and excited by the coming of spring.

It's quite a bit longer than I'd expected to be away from the blog, though the time has done me well. But you know, it's remarkable: when I posted the last post, I thought I'd be leaving the next day. But what do the gods do for fun? Watch us try to plan! Low and behold, the weather changed suddenly. The roads froze over and travel was basically impossible. There were accidents all over the country, the counties had run out of salt/sand to put on the roads, and run out of money to get more. Crops died left and right. Water pipes froze, and cracked open. It was the coldest winter in recorded Irish history. And it lasted like that for a month. When the pipes thawed, water leaked out of the cracks and there were water shortages all over the country. And huge floods to accompany them. Irony!

What had happened? The gulf stream left Ireland and headed for Greenland. I believe it's called a 'negative arctic draw' or something like that. Is it a result of human-caused Climate Change? Maybe, maybe not. But it showed one thing for certain: we live in transition times. And we are hugely unequipped to deal with unforeseen challenges. Supermarkets almost completely ran out of food. Most houses nowadays have very little food and water stored. And many (including the one I was living in) are very poorly designed and difficult to heat without excessive quantities of fuel. After a month I did finally move out to the yurt, and I was kept very busy gathering wood and insulating the yurt with whatever old blankets and curtains and rugs I could gather. There were some frosty mornings, let me tell you. But I kept moving, and that kept me warm. And the nights were long and allowed me to get reacquainted with the old guitar.

Well spring has finally arrived (actually, if one follows the Celtic lunar calendar it came right on time, on the first quarter of the month of Willow; it only seems late because last year was a Blackthorn year. But then, only lunatics would believe in anything other than the Gregorian system...). Well we've got our gulf stream back now and most people are probably beginning to forget all about the winter as they enjoy the warming weather. But it taught us something very important. Whether that particular incident of the gulf stream shifting was indicative of patterns to come or not, Climate Change is real, and even seemingly small shifts in the geo-system can cause huge upheavals for us humans. We are a very fragile species, no matter what we tell ourselves. Islands are being swallowed, rivers and lakes are drying up, glaciers are melting; other areas are being flooded and hurricaned and typhooned.

It also taught me something else very important. Community, community, community. I mean, I already was kind of onto the notion, but really. We can't get through these times on our own, and even if we could, it would not be so worthwhile without community. And I know in the age of the internet there's lots of talk about global community and the like, and that's important too, but we really need to refocus on our local communities. If there was suddenly an oil shortage, what would you do? If you couldn't drive your car out of the suburbs, or if all the food that's flown half-way round the world suddenly wasn't available, or if all the fertilizers and plastics and other petroleum products we now take for granted could no longer be made, what would you do? Where would you find yourself, and how would you provide for your needs and those of your family? And the question is not really IF the oil runs out, but WHEN and how quickly it does. There's a limited quantity of the stuff, and we're doing our best to burn through it like there's no tomorrow. And no one knows just how much is left, because countries are allowed to lie about how much they have. And the less there is, the harder it's going to be to get out of the ground. Do yourself a favor and educate yourself about Peak Oil. And then watch the film "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" to see that yes, the world as you know it can change overnight, and yes, you can live a happier, healthier, freer life without a dependency on oil, but it takes time to make the shift and it can only happen with a strong community.

So those two things: Climate Change and Peak Oil, plus the fact that the economy is falling down around us - all of them show us that we are living in transition times, and the system we have come to know and rely upon is in fact a very fragile one. But really, it's for the better that we change. The old fragile system is deprecated, unsustainable, smelly, and based on exploitation (of people, animals, plants, ecosystems). We can respond to the challenges by creating a new, more healthy and vital and fun way of living, more people-friendly, planet-friendly, and balanced. For one idea on how our response could look more like a party than a protest march, take a look at TransitionCulture.

But I also mentioned the notion that our culture is ailing spiritually. Let me explain. All spiritual traditions are based upon the notion of harmony. Now, just what they want you to be in harmony with varies from tradition to tradition. Most of the old traditions, the 'native' ones all over the world were rooted in harmony with nature. They had to be in order to survive. Other traditions are based upon harmony with the self or soul, or with community, or with some chap called God somewhere up in the sky. These traditions all served a very specific purpose in the cultures that birthed them. They kept the order, they prevented misconduct, and gave people a sense of meaning and rhythm in their lives. But in our modern culture we've mostly thrown all that out of the window. And in a sense it was right to throw it out of the window, because so much of it no longer is relevant to the times we're living in. But we kinda threw the baby out with the bathwater, and in our effort to establish the Scientific Model of reality as the only valid one, we've ignored and repressed a huge amount of valuable knowledge and perspectives that could help us. And so now, where do people turn to for a sense of meaning and rhythm in their lives? Well television, magazines, really media of all sorts are all more than happy to fill the void. We no longer worship a god in the sky or the gods of nature, we now worship wealth and fame and sex and the cult of personality. The fashion and advertising industries are built upon selling a hollow image to people who are searching for something that they will never find outside themselves. Trade has become the single most important facet of society, the central point around which everything else revolves. Don't believe me? Just look at our temples. What are the tallest, most expensive and spectacular buildings in our society devoted to? Trade. Everything else comes second.

But some people are still filling the void by turning to music and art, which have traditionally stood as bastions for the soul, holding a repository of truth that can't be philosophized or idealized or rationalized. In fact people need art and music and poetry as much or more now than they ever did. And the reason for this is simple. We have mostly convinced ourselves that the conscious, rational mind is the only mind that exists, and repressed all the rest (including the unconscious mind, emotions, soul, and the wisdom of the body). And because good art, like the old myths, bypasses the rational mind and speaks directly to the other aspects of one's being, it feeds a very malnourished creature. And because of this, there is great importance in the arts, and great potential. Because if a people are to change, they have to change on the unconscious level too; otherwise they'll just be fighting themselves and nothing will be accomplished.

And a change IS needed, because the story we've been telling ourselves for the last 5000 years isn't working anymore. Or rather, it worked too well and if we continue the way we've been going, we will exterminate ourselves. I'm not kidding. We're now presiding over the 3rd great extinction of species in the planet's history. And a few of those species, like the honeybees that are disappearing, are absolutely vital to our survival. And the oxygen in the atmosphere is being depleted quicker than it is replenished. Water is becoming scarce in many places, toxic in others. Even if all the humans disappeared from the planet tomorrow, Climate Change would still be happening, because we've cut down too many trees for the balance to be kept.

So I'm not talking about the sort of change where you buy new lightbulbs or resolve to recycle more. I mean change on a massive scale and at a fundamental level. 10 billion trees should be planted (this is the number that have been cut down since the dawn of the Colonial era in 1495). Pant them on every spare corner of land - in cities, lawns, roadsides, farms, mountains, swamps, wasteland - there's a tree suited to every environmental condition. In addition to providing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, trees stabilize the land and local climate, preventing many natural disasters. They filter pollution and noise, making cities healthier and more pleasant. They are a sustainable, renewable, low-maintenance source of food and medicine. Woodlands are among the most awesome, vital, inspirational places one could go, making them valuable community resources as well. In fact, when one considers all the gifts of trees, then tree-planting begins to seem less like charity and more like a sound economic investment - much more so than investing in one of these banks which collapse overnight. In fact, when considering effects on climate, every $1 invested in tree-planting is the equivalent of $7 invested in renewable energies. Forests precede civilizations. They are the ecosystem which gave birth to humanity, and they continue to sustain us. It's time we wake up and realize that we need to sustain them too. And they're so friendly! Spend some time with a tree. Get to know it. You'll see!

We as a people have enormous potential. The world we have created is a testament to our ingenuity, vision, power, and beauty. If we can refocus ourselves, if we can shed the skin of the story that is laying waste to our world and dream a new dream, we can achieve untold success. If we can bring the world of science and the world of the subtle, experiential, subjective world together; if we can unite the local community and global community; if we can take all the needs of humanity and all the needs of the planet and hold them together; if we can honorthe paradox of a union of opposites, then we can create a world like never before.

A strong, resilient community is a diverse community. Diverse in needs, in skills, in thoughts and perspectives. Homogeneity is fragile. Especially in transition times. Not everyone needs to run off to live in a yurt in the woods in the middle of winter. Not everyone needs to be a farmer, or a hunter/gatherer or whatever. But everyone does need to stop for a moment, and take a look at what's actually going on in the world around them, and begin to examine the story that's been told for the last 5,000 years, and take stock of the resources of their community, and figure out what their role will be in adapting to and prospering in the changing times to come. And whatever we do, we all need to plant trees. Really. If you are a lawyer or a banker or an accountant, plant trees. If you are a construction worker or craftsman or artist, plant trees. If you are a musician, plant trees. If you work a crap 9-5 job behind some desk, plant trees. Research what type is best suited to your area and your own needs. Look after it for it's first couple years until it gets established. It is just about the best gift you can give to the future - an investment for yourself, your children, and all life on the planet. In all the economic turmoil that's going on, it can be hard to find the energy and resources to actually invest in a gift like a tree, but know this: trees are a source of real, tangible wealth and abundance, rather than the abstract paper kind which could be worthless tomorrow.

When we have abundance we can have specialization and thus diversity. And this abundance and diversity is what allows progress on every level. We don't all need to be doing the same thing, working on the same project or have the same values and ideas. In fact, it's often the odd fellow, who lives on the margins on society and doesn't fit in, who's the one who brings something new to it and prompts it to evolve (see, for example, Harry Partch for a musical example). The diversity we have produced as a race is truly incredible; the ideas and cultures we have birthed - the anthrosphere if you will - is perhaps our greatest accomplishment. But recently we have begun to live in such a way that it destroys diversity - we are destroying ecosystems left and right, spreading them over with an endless sea of pavement, and we are also destroying cultures through the homogenizing effects of the mass media and advertising. Regionalism is disappearing at the same time that pockets of interest groups of every imaginable description are coming together via the internet (this very blog is an example of a collection of obscurities and marginalized forms of expression and curious people). And by destroying diversity we rob ourselves of our strength, resilience, and abundance.

Now, traditionally, we humans have understood abundance on a material level, and we have sought energy in a material form. And thus we dig and cut and burn in order to get all the energy we need for our lives. But we are beginning to realize that what seemed like a limitless bounty is actually running out, and we don't know where to turn. But realize that abundance and energy is all around us, all the time. The sun shines down upon us every day, and the winds blow and the water climbs to the sky and returns to us in its graceful dance. And every night 6 billion people dream, and rediscover themselves and have a chance at glimpsing something new. And every time I hear some fantastic beautiful piece of music or see some original work of idiosyncratic art, I remember just what we can do. And the deeper I go into that artwork, the more I see the true nature of the universe reflected back at me. You may not be able to live on art & music alone (I for one have tried), but you can't really live without it either. Or rather, you can't live without beauty, and without the sort of communion that beauty offers. Mostly we get it from the arts, but you can get it from nature too (as my month away from technology/culture has taught me). In fact, nature is the origin of all the arts, all the culture, not to mention all the economy. Nature is abundance, nature is inspiration, nature is mystery. And we are a part of nature, so the more we probe the depths of our own being, the more we discover reflected in the world around us, and vice versa. And the greatest instrument of perception, the greatest weaver of community, and the greatest instigator for growth and change is love. So whatever you do, do it with love: love for yourself, love for others, love for the planet. If you can do that, your every action will bring about good.

So, with all that having said, I guess it's back to the business of unearthing and enjoying musical treasures. I am still living in the yurt, but there is a computer nearby and I will hopefully be able to resume posting again, as time allows. But don't forget: we are living in transition times, and we are at the ships helm, deciding where the future of humanity will go. Go forth and love!

As you dream, so you create.