Category Archives: Susan Werner

Singing beyond yourself

Susan Werner

What a feast of music and connection this week has been. Julia and I went to see Susan Werner in an intimate setting on Sunday. Julia opened for Susan in Iowa years ago.  You may not have heard of Susan but everyone should. She is a prolific master of all her instruments.  Her voice is stadium powerful while remaining melodic, soothing and welcoming. Her piano and guitar playing allow you to marvel without envy, and her lyrics are a gallery of portraits that paint the full gambit of the human experience.  She came right out and put everyone at their ease and had us singing along.  She brought us along with her on a musical journey to Cuba and then sang one of our favorites songs, “May I Suggest” (that this best part of your life.) For the encore, she came out into the audience and sang the Edith Piaf’s classic La Vie en Rose and the tears rolled down my cheeks.  She is one of the most amazing performers I have ever seen live and even her wonderful recordings can not fully capture the experience, because what she is providing is the essence of life itself.  It is full, it is sweet and it is temporal.  She does not hold back but is fully present and gives confidently without arrogance, the immense capacity that music can bring.

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Last night, we saw Krishna Das and two members of his group in an intimate setting with Robert Thurman, who is not just Uma Thurman’s dad, but a prolific author and leading authority on Eastern religions, spirituality, a close friend of the Dalai Lama and an influential advocate for peace and compassion. He is also a serious prankster.  He was wearing these crazy colorful polka dot socks and kept laughing as he talked about being able to exchange positions with those who are in front of you;  To be able to be the speaker in front of the crowd and then be the crowd watching the speaker. Not just to imagine these two perspectives but to embody them and hold them simultaneously. He said that there is a common openness where true reality lies… a place that can’t be reached intellectually or by declaring that you are enlightened… but reached only through bliss.  He credited the beauty of the music to bring us into that bliss. The music was indeed blissful. The real treat was seeing Krishna Das and Robert go back and forth like two school boys talking about countless old times.

Krishna Das talked about going to see a holy man in India who gave him a seed from the esteemed Bodhi tree (the tree the Buddha sat under when he attained enlightenment.)  Krishna Das was going to put the seed in his pocket and the man told him “No, eat the seed.” He almost broke a tooth on it, but he ate it.

Some five years later, his guru Maharaji Neem Karoli Baba, asked him to show him the seed. This was surprising because Krishna Das hadn’t told him about that event.  He told Baba that he had eaten the seed as directed in the moment.  “Well, that’s good.  Now you’ll become enlightened,” Baba told him.  Krishna Das is quite down to earth, always “robed” in t-shirts and flannel and he wouldn’t suggest that he walks around in bliss all the time.  But It seems to me that every time he plays, he offers the fruit of that seed…and the Bodhi tree blossoms.

Last night there were people chanting along, receiving something vital to their path from the music, the stories and the teachings.   I felt the same thing happening at Susan Werner’s concert. Both audiences were there to connect, to sing along, and conscious of it or not, to create a higher vibration that extends beyond the moment, beyond self.

When Krishna Das asked his guru how to access things like Kundalini energy, he was told, “Feed everyone.”   Robert Thurman pointed out that when the Dalai Lama was talking with you, he wasn’t above you, he was you.

May you be fed and feed everyone from a bliss that knocks off your polka dot socks.

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May I Suggest

May I suggest /May I suggest to you/ May I suggest this is the best part of your life /May I suggest/ This time is blessed for you/ This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright /Just turn your head /And you’ll begin to see The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight /The reasons why /Why I suggest to you/ Why I suggest this is the best part of your life /There is a world /That’s been addressed to you /Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes/ A secret world /Like a treasure chest to you/ Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize/ A lover’s trusting smile/ A tiny baby’s hands /The million stars that fill the turning sky at night /Oh I suggest/ Oh I suggest to you/ Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life /There is a hope /That’s been expressed in you/ The hope of seven generations, maybe more /And this is the faith /That they invest in you/ It’s that you’ll do one better than was done before/ Inside you know/ Inside you understand/ Inside you know what’s yours to finally set right/ And I suggest/ And I suggest to you /And I suggest this is the best part of your life /This is a song /Comes from the west to you/ Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun/ With a request /With a request of you/ To see how very short the endless days will run /And when they’re gone /And when the dark descends /Oh we’d give anything for one more hour of light/ And I suggest this is the best part of your life.

–       Susan Werner

Opinions and hot sauce

Julia and I sang at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this weekend. It is a three day affair with lots of stages, showcases, and a chance to see fellow musicians, friends and friends who are musicians. On Sunday morning Julia and I were singing in front of the Meier’s hot sauce tent.  Julia had caught a bug and a horse which was galloping in her throat.  Still, we pulled off a rousing heartening set and the people gathered round were cheered.  After we played we could hear Susan Werner and two other acts on the main stage.
For a moment or three, I felt the pang of not being on the main stage but instead playing in front of a hot sauce tent.
My opinion that things should have been different in that moment or wanting them to be different caused me some suffering and doubt.   Yet here was Susan Werner, one of the most prolific songwriters and accomplished instrumentalists, equally as talented as any pop star in the world today on the main stage at Falcon Ridge, when she could be at Madison Square Garden or doing a co-bill with Bonnie Raitt.  Many of you will not know who she is.  Of course, there were many deserving musicians at the festival who would have loved to have been asked to play the hot sauce tent. It’s always all relative (and Meier’s hot sauce is great on eggs.)  While I pictured Julia and I up on the main stage again, deciding to be grateful and bring what we bring, we brought lots of folks up at the next showcase. We also spotlighted and praised many musicians as well as hard working musical promoters who often don’t get the recognition they deserve.  That’s my opinion.
Last night, I read what Pema Chodron had to say about opinions:
“Opinions are opinions, nothing more or less. All ego is, is our opinions, which we take to be solid, real, and the absolute truth about how things are.  …how easy it is to get into a war in which we want our opinions to win and someone else’s to lose. …no matter how well noble our cause is, it won’t be helped by our feeling aggression … Nothing will ever change through aggression.
We have to do our best and at the same time give up all hope of fruition.  One piece of advice that Don Juan gave to Carlos Casteneda was to do every as if it were the only thing in the world that mattered, while all the time knowing that it doesn’t matter at all.
There is nobody on the planet, who doesn’t have what it takes to wake up.  We all need support and encouragement to be aware of what we think, what we say, and what we do.  Notice your opinions. … Cultivating a mind that does not grasp at right and wrong will find a fresh state of being.  The ultimate cessation of suffering comes from that.  Finally, never give up on yourself.  Then you will never give up on others. Wholeheartedly do what it takes to awaken your clear-seeing intelligence, but one day at a time, one moment at a time. If we live that way, we will benefit this earth.”
– Pema Chodron/When Things Fall Apart
So, here is to giving what we have to give, regardless of opinions. May we be motivated by a clarity that allows us to see our circumference and the rippling effect of our efforts.
“May I suggest this is the best time of your life.”- Susan Werner