Song Chronicles


As I prepare for another performance, one we are calling a Concert and Sing-a-Long, I rest for a moment in gratitude for the Soul connection that making music is for me. And the words of one of my favorite hymns rise to the fore of my consciousness.

My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing!

The folksong and hymn, “How Can I Keep from Singing,” is well-traveled in religious and the SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) communities. Enya has a popular recording of it.  Now in the public domain, it was first published in 1868 under the names Pauline T (lyrics) and Robert Lowry (music). The Quakers adopted it as their own.

The 19th century phrasing has a far off echo, but the feeling expressed is immediate and present. When I sing I am transported to a space at once far and infinite and present as the air vibrating my chest and throat. Seeing what the eyes cannot be see, I find the universe in a single grain of sand, to echo William Blake in "Auguries of Innocence," a sentiment I put in “Ocean Song.” 

I've been singing Ocean Song a lot lately. It's been reborn for me as I started playing it in open D tuning. It's a kind of meditation for me. I play and I sing, and a sea of rhythm and vibration roll me into a space where all is well and nothing is wrong.

I recall George Harrison once saying, “Take the music, it's the best of me.” I paraphrase from memory, but I know the feeling, which is of course why I remember. Take the music.

“Up above my my head I hear music in the air . . . I really do believe joy is somewhere,” sings Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I hear it up above, and way down low too, here, there, and everywhere. So now, let us sing. Let us sing!


We’ve all seen the picture of a U.S. President standing in front of an Episcopalian church across the way from the White House, waving a Bible like a weapon, so I’m won’t need to show it again. But how can I express how deeply offended and saddened I am by this display of naked yoking of political agenda with religious symbolism, when what comes out of his own mouth on a daily basis is in bald-faced contradiction of the words of Jesus contained in that book? Instead I will share a song I wrote over 20 years ago. It’s called, “Hello, Jesus.” 

I am a preacher’s kid, who went on to study the Bible academically in college and seminary. Later I earned a Ph.D. in Social Ethics at USC. I have over a dozen Bibles in my house in various translations and the original languages, some of my own, some inherited from my family, marked and re-marked. I promise not to wave any of them at you as a weapon. You know why? Because the message of Jesus contained therein is tattooed on my soul. Such words that would humble the mighty should they have the ears to hear: 

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. 

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant. 

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. 

Love your neighbor as yourself (Who is your neighbor? The stranger, the other, the wounded in need of care.). 

Want to wave a Bible in the air? Want to be on the side of Jesus? Then find the sick and heal them. Find the hungry and feed them. Find the stranger and take them in. Give drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked. Find the prisoner and visit them. End the school to prison pipeline. Say the words, black lives matter, because Jesus is the shepherd who will leave the 99 sheep who are safe and find the one that is lost and in need of his helping hands. 

From the time I was an adolescent reading quietly in my bedroom to my academic studies, the message of Jesus comes roaring like the rushing water of Niagara Falls. Let mercy be your beacon. Let love be your doctrine. 

At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year the keynote speaker, Arthur Brooks, made allusion to “love your enemies.” He has even written a book with that as the title. The President got up and said, “I don’t know if I agree with you.” It is not clear whether he knew he was contradicting Jesus Christ, but it is clear that his walk through this world is in opposition to the sacrifice, human decency, and service Jesus represents. If you have another agenda, that is your right in America, but please don’t wave the Bible in front of it. 

Jesus will have no part in your culture wars, your othering of people who do not share your party affiliation, who do not look, speak, or believe like you, who come from another country, with or without papers. Find another hero to stand beside your rhetoric of hatred and division. 

“Hello Jesus” is about a reunion with my old friend, both imaginary and truly spiritual. My singing voice has changed and I might write the song a little differently today, but message of Jesus’ service and love still ring loud and clear. If you’ve got the ears to hear it.


The Antiviral House Concerts 

Merlin's Antiviral House Concert series 

May 27, 2020

When the lockdown for the novel coronavirus began here, there, and everywhere, I had a few gigs lined up that were canceled. All gatherings were canceled, you know. People working from home, learning from home, doing whatever, just staying home. How am I going to stay connected to people through music? I could see that friends still needed music and connection. So, despite my long-standing aversion to live virtual performance, and that I had never done it before and had more technical questions than answers, I went ahead and scheduled one for March 21, 2020, a Saturday at 5:00 PM (early for my east coast friends). Debbie sang with me and played percussion, like she does. Kara, our eldest, was here working from home and she helped run the show behind the scenes and as a bonus added her sweet voice for some three part harmonies. 

The response was heart-warming. People made lots of requests of songs I hadn't played in a long time. "Stuck in Ojai," "The Tall Trees," "Walking on the Water," "Hello Jesus," and others. I wanted to dust them off

Read more

Productivity During the Coronavirus Crisis 

April 23, 2020

A couple weeks ago my son sent me a meme that said "It's okay to NOT be at your most productive during a fricking global pandemic." It came at just the right time. As an introvert who opens up in occasional social settings and on stage, I had been quite comfortable staying at home, working on music, writing new tunes, tending to the plants and the weeding outside, taking a daily walk with my partner. I'm still doing those things and feeling okay mostly, but I have noticed something else creeping in. 

Read more