The Inspiration behind my “A Morning Prayers” pieces

1st, a preface. I am most certainly NOT a mystical, spiritually elevated, 100% serene person who has achieved any great level of sustained peace of mind. At best, I’m a “wannabe”, in that I want to be those things. But I’m acutely aware of some embarrassing flaws of my character….and I am likely blind to others. All that is to say I realize how pretentious it may appear when titling music pieces “A Morning Prayer”. Here is some background…

Each Lenten season for the past several years, I have attempted to focus on a spiritual practice. This past Lent (2022), I focused on enhancing my daily morning prayer and meditation period with a more structured approach inspired by the Muslim prayer practice. I adopted some of the physical elements of the Muslim prayer practice (as I read in the “Islam for Dummies” book), inputting Christian elements (e.g. The Lords Prayer in place of Surat al-Fatiha). That is not a slight towards Islam. It is just that I am not a Muslim, though I do find much to admire about the Islamic faith and practices.

Meditation has always been a challenge for me. If I set aside 10 minutes for meditation, no matter the technique or focus, about 9 of those minutes will be dealing with random thoughts and mental noise. I believe the Buddhist term for this is “Monkey Mind”. About the only time I have any sustained quieting of the mind is when I’m playing guitar. I always try to have my music output aligned with my spiritual practice so it made sense, beginning in Lent, to dedicate whatever music I created to this focused prayer and meditation practice.

To keep the pieces focused, I established some limits to keep my musical “Monkey Mind” in check:

  • Limit the length to around 3 minutes.
  • Have a repetitive (i.e. loop) element as the basis to represent a “chant-like” item.
  • Keep the amounts of elements (instruments, tracks) in check to not create overly-dense pieces.

It is by coincidence that acoustic guitar is also a common factor. I had been going through a period of re-acquainting myself to my Martin acoustic guitar after going down a John Fahey/Leo Kottke rabbit hole. The acoustic guitar lent a more melodic and sparse (by my standards) element to the process.

Each piece has a sub-title that reflects where my head was at the time I was working on the piece.

….for Dad

“A Morning Prayer (for Dad)” is basically self explanatory. Since my fathers passing in 2019, my understanding of the effects of his absence continues to evolve. The particular morning I started working on this piece, I was thinking of the cumulative weight of loss we inevitably experience as we grow older. In recent years, I have experienced the loss of my sister, my father, some friends, and all my pets (never belittle the emotional loss of pets). I came to an understanding of the weight my father bore as he aged. He never complained or let any burden be known but, in hindsight, I could see how a lifetime of loss and letting go manifested in his demeaner as I begin to feel the weight and its affects on me. In a manner, I’m grateful for that weight as it highlights the importance of those no longer physically here and is an inevitable lesson in dealing with loss and letting go. This piece of music was inspired by such lessons and the gratitude I have for my Dad’s influence.

…in a time of doubt

“A Morning Prayer (in a Time of Doubt)” reflects a frequent struggle I’ve had in the past few years…a shared struggle I’m sure. With the hyper-contentious politics, the societal after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and disillusionment with certain relationships in my life, I have found my faith (especially my faith in mankind) to be wavering. There have been frequent moments where I want to isolate and/or lash out. I have struggled to keep preconceived perceptions in check. The anger and fear so prevalent in the world (it always is prevalent but, of late, its been nakedly so) makes my own anger and fear difficult to control. I’m usually a pretty optimistic and hopeful person but I’ve been struggling with cynicism and fear a lot in recent years. The day I started working on this particular piece, news of the Russia-Ukraine conflict was ubiquitous and coincided with a personal issue that caused me great pain. My prayer that particular morning was more desperate and angrier than normal.

…with Frequent Sighs

“A Morning Prayer (with Frequent Sighs)” The title was inspired by the recording process. I was recording the acoustic guitar using a condenser microphone which is quite sensitive. Upon playback, I noticed I had captured an audible sigh. It was slightly annoying but it reminded me that I had been catching myself sighing more often recently. It would usually be in the quiet moments of my morning when I was reflecting on the absence of my Dad or sister. I suppose you can say that the inspiration theme of this piece is related to the previous two but the literal inspiration was my lack of technical protocol when recording acoustic guitar with a mic that will pick up a hamster’s fart.

The common thread of all these pieces is grief and loss, be it loved ones or a sense of security that was always an illusion. My intent to make my prayers and meditation more structured and formal this past Lenten season was an attempt to address the feelings of grief and loss, which can be so nebulous, omnipresent and disruptive. I suppose it was a way to inject structure in a season of life where I was made very aware of how little control I have. The only real control I have is the choices in my behavior which requires reflection, honesty, and willingness to make the next right decision based on a faith that something greater than I will take care of the things I can not control.

I do have faith (wavering as it may be at times) in a Higher Power. I choose to call that power God with no assumptions that I know much of anything about God other than I’m not He/She/It and love is the animating force of this life that is God’s creation. It is a lesson being learned that loss is incredibly disruptive and yet entirely inevitable. I have struggled with the disruption and realize that I have much work to do to overcome fear. I know that prayer and meditation are key and patience is indeed a necessary virtue if I am, if nothing else, to avoid bitterness and the hardening of my heart. And so I pray….and for a brief time in 2022, put that prayer to music.

I hope you enjoy the music. I did find some peace in making them. This trilogy will be it for the “Morning Prayer” theme…unless inspiration dictates otherwise.

Cheers, Alan

Coming in October: New music, the final installment of my “Morning Prayer” series of singles

Coming in October, the 3rd and final piece of my semi-planned series of music themed as “Morning Prayers”. This will is titled “Morning Prayer (with Frequent Sighs). I will be providing some background on all three of the “Morning Prayer” pieces…the inspirations, that motivation, some techie stuff, etc.

As always, I thank you for your support. 300+ new listeners in August and some wonderful feedback. I’m most grateful.

More to come…cheers, Alan

When I Was Young….

Typhoid Mary @ The Cotati Cabaret – 1991

Back in 2019, the former bass player of my old band (Typhoid Mary) sent me a video of one of our performances from 1991. He had asked me if I could try to clean up the audio (I couldn’t do it very well). But what a walk down memory lane he provided.

There is a lot I don’t remember about that night. But there are things, mainly emotions, that I remember very clearly. In summary:

  • This was a transition point in my life. I believe this is the 1st performance I ever did free of any mind/mood altering substances as I “cleaned up” earlier that year. Prior to that, I had 6 years of performance experience in various states of inebriation. So who you are seeing on the right of the screen with all the dark hair and the Flying V is a confused person who hasn’t figured out that he’s wearing the proverbial “old clothes” that are beginning to not fit the person any more. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the beginning of the end of my wanting to play in a Rock band. Up to this point, I was chasing the “Rock and Roll Fantasy” of sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll. The thing is, it was a fantasy, and a painful one at that. I was pretending to be something that I wasn’t. As much as I wanted to be a cross between Jimmy Page and Keith Richards, I wasn’t. Once I started getting some clarity, I started getting honest and realized that my creative side needed to align with my insides, which were starting to change. This is the beginning of the “spiritual awakening” referred to in my bio.
  • As for the song, I can’t remember how it came about. I know this is the 1st time we played it live.
  • From right to left, the members were me on guitar, Corey Irving on vocals, Forrest Maestretti on drums, Andy Rowser on bass, and Dave Broyals on guitar.
  • A side note: A few months after this show, on December 7th, 1991, we were preparing for a big gig in San Francisco when Corey, the handsome guy in the middle, decided to skip band practice. This INFURIATED me! Forrest and I went searching for him. We found him drunk at a local club (which pissed me off even more). BUT, I did meet a beautiful woman that night, the future Mrs. Imberg. 30+ years later, I’m still happily married to that beautiful women I met that night. So, in a strange way, I have Typhoid Mary and, specifically, Corey Irving to thank for me meeting the love of my life.

Funny how life works….

Steve Von Till

Steve Von Till @Rumba Cafe in Columbus, OH 6-July 2022

I got to see Steve Von Till, best known as the guitarist and vocalist for Neurosis, do a performance of his solo music in a very intimate setting. It was wonderful! He was accompanied by some fantastic musicians including the celloist Helen Money who also opened the show. I summarize the vibe with the words “ethereal”, “organic”, “haunting” and “beautiful”. The music demanded a reverence and emotional engagement from the audience.

I’m very grateful to have been there, especially as I have missed two opportunities to see Neurosis, the last miss was due to my fathers failing health in 2019. I was determined not to miss this opportunity to see Mr. Von Till display his more contemplative side and he did not disappoint.

If you are unfamiliar with Steve Von Till or Neurosis, please check out https://www.neurotrecordings.com/, the record company he co-operates. There, you can learn all about Neurosis, Steve Von Till, Scott Kelly (the other guitarist/vocalist from Neurosis), and a variety of cool artist.

My Tribute to Vangelis

Vangelis in his Nemo Studio circa early 1980’s

Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, better known as Vangelis, passed away in Paris on May 17th, 2022 at the age of 79. To much of the world, his name is unknown. His music has been heard by millions, likely without the listener knowing the name of the artist, via movie soundtracks, TV commercial, or some parody of his most successful composition, the Oscar-winning soundtrack to “Chariots of Fire”. Even amongst his legions of fans, not a whole lot is known about him outside of his musical output (even, in some quarters, the proper pronunciation of his name). He was a private man who, likely unintentionally, created a mystique. He was also a brilliant musician who, along with the likes of Klaus Schulze (also passed away this year), Tangerine Dream, and Jean Michel Jarre, innovated the use of synthesizers that paved the way for a myriad of genres, styles, and techniques, affected both popular music and film soundtracks. It is fair to say that popular music would have evolved much differently without Vangelis. It is a certainty that my own life would have evolved much differently without Vangelis. This is my tribute to him.

When I was 10 years old, I was introduced to two albums that sent my interest in music into overdrive. The 1st was “Alive” by Kiss which spawned a life-long love with Rock and Roll. The other album was Vangelis’ “Heaven and Hell”. On the face of it, these albums seem completely contradictory to each other in style (and they are through the prism of genre, image, and marketing). And how I came about the albums were complete different as well. I discovered Kiss on my own via the packaging of the album and thinking “what are these guys all about?”. With Vangelis, that was my Dad playing that album on his car cassette deck repeatedly. I remember thinking how majestic and cinematic the music was. I loved it from the moment I first heard it.

Through my teen years, my taste in music expanded. My love for Rock took me to heavier genres. But my equal love for ethereal elements that I 1st found in Vangelis led me to the likes of Eno, Tangerine Dream, and Kitaro. But Vangelis was always at the forefront of my taste in what I perceived to be “that” branch of my musical taste (I now make no differentiation between genre and such. Music is like flavors for the ears and heart). I bought every Vangelis album from his debut through his mid-80’s output. I also went so far as to see movies that I probably would never have seen just because Vangelis did the soundtrack work. “Chariots of Fire”, “The Bounty”, “Missing” and such. His soundtrack work was remarkable and such an influence on me. The ultimate soundtrack he did, in my opinion, is “Blade Runner” in 1982. The movie is my all-time favorite movie because it is a phenomenal story but it is also the perfect match of cinematic visual grandeur and equally grand music. I will go as far as to say this is the greatest marriage of music, visuals, and story in all of movie history.

As a musician, an aspect of Vangelis’s work that inspired me was his staunch independence. He invested in his own studio in the mid-70’s when it was truly an investment. He wrote, produced, and performed his own music with little help from others. The collaborations he did have were usually with vocalist like Jon Anderson from Yes. His independence showed that one could create without compromise. I took his example as permission to try to do the same in my own creative efforts.

There are so many memories I have where Vangelis’ music was the soundtrack of…long road trips in the desert with “The City” playing on the stereo….romantic nights with my wife with “Opera Sauvage” on the turntable….countless viewing of every cut of “Blade Runner”, studying the music cues in detail….those formative days in the back of my Dad’s car listening to “Heaven and Hell” while we drove along the California coast. There are countless more memories with Vangelis’ music as the soundtrack.

While Vangelis and Kiss were my initial introduction to music, I have long lost interest in Kiss. Vangelis, however, has been a constant throughout my life. As such, I can say that his music has been a factor in my life longer than any other artist. It has truly been a lifelong love affair between me and his music. I will miss him.

Thank you Vangelis for a lifetime of joy.