As I watched the moon
in slow ascension
pull the blanket of night
up over the sun,
I reviewed with appreciation
the memories made today,
and promised myself to be ready
if rewarded with the chance
Ken Owen Van Niddy Press
These last few years have been challenging for all of us, but when I look back on what I attempted to accomplish from the confines of my home office during a global pandemic, I’m pleased not only with the results, but also with the diversity of the projects on which I was asked to collaborate. Here they are for your review.
Departure: a book of black and white photographs by Dianne Woods with accompanying haiku poetry by Ken Owen.
I met Dianne while playing with The Craig and MacGregor Quartet at The Marsh in Berkeley on their Wednesday night residence gig. Dianne had become the resident house photographer and the band’s webmaster. One morning she posted one of her always brilliant photographs that inspired me to write a Japanese style haiku:
A project was born that day, and we worked on it most of 2021 and had a wonderful book signing party with live music by (who else?!) The Craig and MacGregor Band in November. You can still order your copy here:
Viva La Exotica: Hunka Hunka Hula Review Debut CD!
While being sequestered for 18 months as the rest of the country argued about vaccines and masks, it became clear to us that we no longer required two cars here at the offices of Van Niddy Press. The irony of using the proceeds from the sale of the car that used to take me to onsite gigs to purchase an electronic drum set for my home studio projects was not lost on me.
The kit came with hundreds of world drum and percussion samples, and I was having big fun trying them all out. So when my good pal Todd Jenkins asked me to play percussion on some of his new tracks, I jumped at the chance to use my new rig to add some groovy exotica-surf-percussion to his ukulele and steel guitar party songs. The songs came out great and should be in your collection for this summer’s back yard Mai Tai parties! You can check it out here:
Morning Walk: Dave Berry and Friends
My pal Dave Berry, local bluegrass player and genre aficionado, asked if I could add some snare drum and brushes to one of the original tunes he was recording. After listening to the track, I realized it sounded fine and rhythmically didn’t need any percussion, BUT I happened to mention a few things I thought might make it sound a bit better. ( Any musicians reading this will instantly recognize this as the moment when the drummer says, “Yeah…but…”)
However, if you are consistent in your pestering (going on 50 years now for me and my unfortunate band mates) someone is bound to listen to your ideas. Dave took the plunge and enlisted me as his second set of critical ears for his project. Yes Virginia, the drummer…as an ‘Associate Producer’…on a bluegrass album…where he played no drums. Strange days, indeed.
I enjoyed the challenge immensely. Dave and I are very proud of how the project came out; these are his original bluegrass/Celtic tunes with strong melodies you’ll be singing by the end of the track, with top notch performances by all the musicians. Available for sampling and download here:
Well friends, just when we thought it was safe to head back into the clubs to bring everyone some live entertainment, it looks like we still might be playing in roped-off parking lots for a while. Thank you for supporting our local musicians; live when we can, streaming from an empty club or at home working on our projects when we must.
In appreciation of your continued support,
CEO, Van Niddy Press
The leftover meatloaf was bland.
I ate the whole portion I was given
but did not ask for seconds,
and tried to make my adding salt
as clandestine an effort as possible.
I never complained, never said a word,
because the meatloaf,
which is usually very tasty
and one of my favorites,
would most likely have been
up to its usual excellence
had I remembered to call
and say I would be late
when she cooked it
when I finally remembered and called
to announce my tardiness that had
become obvious to her hours earlier,
I could tell by the tone of her voice
that my dinner was now
being basted with large portions
of Chef’s Contempt.
I guess it makes sense how
some meals taste better the next day
but most won’t when they are left to marinate
in a vat of Selfish Bastard
Sorry about the meatloaf.
Ken Owen May 2002
Van Niddy Press
Raining in the Dark
Outside is muddy
where I hear thunder,
I see the lightning
going flash, flash, flash!
So many commotions
in one big big sleep,
it’s so loud
I can’t hear a peep.
Feeling content yet excited
boom, boom, boom,
one strike, two,
how about I say
goodbye to you,
that way the sky
can be back to blue.
by Ruby Leitner, age 8
The Texas Storm
Outside my window
the trees took a shower
and danced in the powerful wind.
lit up the dark night
and all this commotion
woke me from my sleepy sleep.
I saw the lightning
with my eyes closed,
and I heard the thunder
boom, boom, boom
without even trying.
Then the storm
left me behind
without saying goodbye
as I fell back to sleep.
-by Popi, age 64
Poem Writing Collaboration, May 2022
Providence Village, Texas
Van Niddy Press
Once a month the maintenance crew for our apartment building turns off our water to perform a mysterious ritual on the building’s water supply. Though I have never been witness to this secret ceremony, I like to imagine many men dressed in greasy hooded work clothes moving in a slow circle around the water system somewhere in the bowels of our building quietly reciting soft incantations and waving great metal tools of salvation while the anointed High Priest of the maintenance crew performs the sacred ritual of purifying the waters.
Though I am sure all the tenants of the apartment building are grateful for these efforts, when the maintenance crew brings the water supply back to life and re-pressurize the pipes so that the sanctified waters will flow once again reinvigorated on their long journey to our seventh floor apartment, when we turn on our faucets we are greeted with a very loud billowing gush of pressurized air.
It scares the living shit out of me every time.
I try to remind myself that this will happen so I wont be startled, and if I’m lucky I might remember when I go to use the kitchen sink or even the toilet that afternoon. But by the end of the day, the odds are very good that I will have forgotten about the day’s water purifying ritual, and when I draw a bath to help quiet the basket of thoughts that have become stuck in my head and are talking all at once, a loud boom of angry air will come shouting into the tub announcing the arrival of the newly sanctified hot water and produce the exact opposite of the calming affect I was seeking.
The last time this happened, I noticed that I curse a certain way depending on what has given me cause to be frightened. For example, if my partner suddenly appears from around the corner of our small apartment while I am day dreaming, I find that my usual response is…
(that is all one word, with strong emphasis on the JE!-Sus)
…however, when I am REALLY startled, like when the bath tub faucet screams at me, I seem to default to…
JE-Sus…Mary…and mother fuckin’ Joseph
…using a slowly retarding rhythm and a descending inflection in one long drawn out sentence of exasperation while clutching my heart with a free hand and my eyes closed.
Being on the 7th floor of our building means we have to waste many gallons of water waiting for the hot water to slowly make its way up to our apartment. California has been several years in a drought, and as good citizens of the state, we have learned how precious water is and what we can do to preserve it: we turn off the water when brushing our teeth, we capture buckets of water while waiting for the hot water to arrive for our shower and dish washing, and we use these buckets the next day to water our thirsty plants.
Dish washing in our apartment complex comes with its own unwritten time table. It seems that when most folks in the apartments below us are home from their day jobs and begin washing their dinner dishes after 7:00pm, we can successfully coax the hot water to continue its climb to our apartment. However, trying to convince the hot water to make a solitary trip to the 7th floor at 2:00pm or 11:00pm is pointless even while we patiently capture buckets of water during the wait. After filling two 3-gallon buckets with cold water, I find that, in exasperation, I give up on the task and swear with a mild cursing of “Son-of-a…” that trails off in a sentence that is not meant to finish.
This might not seem like a big deal, but if I get too comfortable on the couch after dinner and forget about the allotted time window for doing dinner dishes with hot water, the next thing I know, our nightly movie watching is over, it’s 11:00pm, there’s a sink full of dinner dishes and cocktail glasses, and no hot water. This ends my day with what could be described as an ‘OCD Trigger’; knowing that I am destined to start tomorrow by making coffee in a kitchen full of dirty dishes. As much as this thought causes me grief, I have noticed that, irked with no hot water to finish the last chore of the day, all I can usually muster for a good curse is “Ah-god-damn-it….” as I give up and shuffle off to bed.
One day I was awakened from my afternoon nap by what sounded like marbles rolling around inside the pipes of the bedroom toilet. Even though my mind was still returning from a dream state, I knew exactly what had happened (comfortable with the bold theory that no one had actually put marbles in the toilet pipes); the maintenance crew had convened an emergency session of The Sacred Waters Kabal and turned off the water while I slept, and were now re-pressurizing the water pipes at the completion of their ceremony. Sure enough, when I turned on the shower, the pipes screamed in agony with a gush of new air and then produced cold water containing samples of dirt and bits of metal flake that had escaped capture by the maintenance crew (imagining the water quality of our showers prior to the cleansing ritual does not produce curses, only squinty-eyed crinkled nose winces of disgust). Since I had mentally prepared myself for the possibility of shouting water pipes, I offered no curse when turning on the shower, only a boastful sneer and a nod of pride knowing that this time I had not been fooled.
Our role as tenants in The Cleansing of The Waters ritual comes with only two tasks of responsibility: 1) try to remember about screaming pipes when you turn the water back on, and 2) let the water run for a few minutes after you summon it to the 7th floor. A lapse in either of these duties could summon either a chill of disgust or a spectacular curse even Je-Suschrist would appreciate.
Ken Owen Van Niddy Press
Before he could return to the room
with pen and paper to capture
the newborn thought
that appeared in a spark of brilliance
boasting of its potential
and demanding it be documented
immediately for posterity
and learning to fly
took a few test flights
around the room
then it hung in the air for a brief moment
tilting its head slightly while
looking down in amusement
and flew quickly towards him
giving the impression it might land
right on the tip of his tongue
and lovingly peck at his forehead
so to loosen things up
as if shaking the branch
of the tree from where it was born
might deliver him the golden thought
but the thought never landed
and stayed enticingly just out of reach
as if to gift him the lesson
of lost potential
but before it left
it winked at him as if to say
“Faster next time”
and flew away
leaving him to wonder
if all his escaped thoughts
were landing in the same stark field
somewhere in the night
many miles away.
He quickly wrote that down.
Ken Owen Van Niddy Press
Each day begins a great battle
to establish a hierarchy of power
determining rank and privileges
for places at the banquet
as all combatants strive to capture
the highest position with fewest above them
while those at the summit decide
who may attend and for how long.
As the strong wage attacks
in great flurries of action
and shows of strength to
fiercely guard their position
the weak sit below patiently waiting
for an opening at the banquet
while scavenging discarded bits tossed aside
from those with no regard for wasting.
This conflict might easily be avoided
if those bestowed with the smallest measure
of consciousness could make time for a
quiet moment of reflection
that they may realize our bountiful harvest
could sustain everyone regardless of position
and the battle against nature’s instinct
stamped internal across all species
need not rage on.
Ken Owen Van Niddy Press