Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Dream Gone Awry

            I’ve been hesitant to write about this incident because it is somewhat incriminating.  It is however, another good example of how not to achieve your dream.

It was January of 1983 and I had been dreaming of a tropical paradise.  I hate winter, even in Texas, so I’ve often come up with hare-brained schemes of how to escape it.  This was one of those dreams I didn’t plan so well, during a period of my life when I was prone to do really stupid things.  I wanted to go to a Caribbean island and live on the beach, and the closest islands appeared to be the Bahamas.  I had a vague idea that I could maybe get a job on a cruise ship in Miami, then hop off wherever I wanted.  I had just discovered the virtues of hitchhiking and thought I could get to Miami that way.  I think I had about $200.

            The trip out was easy and fun because my friend James decided to be my first “ride”, all the way to Miami.  We had some caffeine pills and some joints that we measured out to the milepost to make it there.  We took turns driving and sleeping, and made the trip from Victoria, Texas (near Houston) to Miami and beyond in one shot.  We wanted to check out Key West and drove that long series of ocean bridges for hours.  Finally we gave up and turned around, staying the night in Key Largo, where we did some snorkeling the next day.  It was pretty nice and we even saw some barracuda.  Then we headed north to Fort Lauderdale, hung out at the beach awhile, then I was shocked to discover that James wasn’t going to take me back to Miami, so I was left to hitch it from there.  I got a good ride or two, but I can’t remember exactly how I ended up on the beach.  It was a warm night and the beach was deserted, so I rolled out my sleeping bag under a lifeguard stand and slept pretty well.

            The next morning I enjoyed walking the streets of Miami Beach:  colorful buildings, palm trees, and lots of old folk doddering around.  It was a little tiring walking the bridge to the mainland, and no one gave me a ride, but I could see where the cruise ships were docked and headed in that direction.  I was finally standing dockside and looking up at these huge white behemoths when it hit my addled brain— this isn’t the place you get hired to work on a cruise ship.  There wasn’t an office building in sight.  I probably should have contacted the corporate office weeks before and applied somewhere else, perhaps even Houston.  That part of the dream went up in smoke.

            I can’t remember how I found Chalk’s Airline, maybe I asked a passerby or looked them up in the Yellow Pages (I was really fuzzy brained at the time.)  They had regular flights to Nassau for around $50 I think, it was just a two-engine prop plane carrying  a dozen passengers.  It was a sea plane and fun taking off and landing with the pontoons.  Considering my poorly made plans, I was somewhat astonished to have actually made it to the Bahamas—Paradise Island.  Customs was right there where we landed and we all filed into the little government building and faced the dark-skinned officials with the wonderful Bahamian accents.  I looked like crap—skinny, long-haired, unshaven, red-eyed, carrying a duffel bag.  “How much money do you hahve?” was the first question, which threw me for a loop.  “$120? At what ahddress will you be staying?” !!!! I definitely hadn’t thought this out.  “We don’t sleep on the beaches here, it is too dangerous.”  I was confused now, I assumed I could just stay until my money ran out and then, well….I really hadn’t planned very well.  “We will lahnd you for one day, a car will take you to lodgings you can afford and pick you up theah tomorrow and bring you bahck heah.  You must leave heah tomorrow.” 

            Well, it turned out to be a pretty nice house, though all I did was spend the evening on the second-floor veranda with three black guys—two locals and a visiting Bahamian-American.  “We don’t pass joints here, everyone smokes their own.”  So I had to buy a small bag of powerful, gummy ganja and got blown away as we chatted about cross-cultural stuff (I guess.)  At one point a beautiful Bahamian-American girl stopped by and said she would see me later, and I actually half-believed her.  The next day I just had enough time to wander down to a small restaurant for a delicious conch lunch.  I took a few photos of the neighborhood and was intrigued at how the workmen would stand around listening to a jambox while watching one guy do all the digging.  Years later I learned that this is the way road construction diggers work everywhere if they have to do it by hand.  The big government car showed up as promised and I was politely kicked out of paradise.

            Of course the night I had to spend in Miami had to be when one of those freak cold fronts reached Southern Florida.  I couldn’t get a ride after dark, so I ended up at a toll booth in the middle of nowhere.  Thank God they had a clean bathroom where I could nap for an hour, then stand out by the side of the road for an hour—spent the whole night like that and felt lucky not to have been hassled by anyone.  At dawn I finally got picked up, and the driver was so kind I decided he must be an angel. 

            Perhaps angels are beings from another dimension that inhabit or influence the actions of a willing human host.  That’s how I felt about Daniel.  I was extremely grateful for the ride to Cocoa Beach after such a long, cold night, but Daniel extended his charity far beyond anything I could hope for.  He said he was like me a long time ago, when a man picked him up and gave him a job.  I think he was a drug dealer actually, but he wasn’t trying to hire me or sell me anything.  What he did was take me to the bus station, then bought me a ticket to Houston for $200.  Nice guy.  Or maybe you would call him a “good fellah,” but I thought he was an angel.  I slept the entire trip back, stepping off to use the restroom and get a bite to eat.  Somewhere along the way I found the $80 that I thought had been stolen from me back at Nassau.  I probably had hidden it when I was really stoned, then forgot where I had hidden it.

            When I got home I had a lot to think about, regarding close calls, guardian angels, and my own foolishness.

to view paintings for sale visit artbylowell.com


Perfect Storm

 

 

        

              If you look at a chart of the stock market spanning the last 10 years, the lowest point for the S&P500 was around March 1, 2009.  That just happened to coincide with the moment my marriage fell apart.  I was exhausted from a hard week at work, trying to train an incredibly dense new employee.  My wife happened to be suffering from her monthly experience, and my son of five years happened to be at his most irritating stage of life.  He hadn’t yet acquired the skill of telling when an adult is getting angry.  I had to yell at him, she had to yell at me, and suddenly I had a momentary emotional breakdown.  I’m not a violent person, and I would never say abusive things to anyone, but I can yell pretty damn loud when I want to.  It was only a few seconds, but it was devastating.  Apparently, my wife had been significantly more unhappy with our marriage than she had ever communicated to me.  It was over, just like that.

 

            Here’s the interesting part: she had nowhere to go.  All of her family lives in Peru (you can see why she was unhappy.)  She had no job, and I didn’t make enough to support one household, much less two.  I certainly wasn’t going to say “O.K. , here’s $2000 for plane tickets to Peru, so you can take my son away from me.”  I didn’t even want a divorce, so I just left her alone with her conundrum.  I moved into the guest room/ art studio.

 

            We lived that way for three full years.  The amazing thing was—it was not bad at all.  We love our son, so we made it work for his sake.  Oh there was certainly a long period of resentment, and I found myself behaving like I did long ago when I was feuding with a roommate—you know, pushing their buttons, leaving them work that you could easily take care of yourself.  Then I just asked myself, “Why am I doing this?  There’s no law that you have to hate your ex-wife.”  So I stopped it all.

 

            I suppose it was easier for me than it would be for most, because I’ve been meditating for years.  I recite to myself, every morning, the prayer of St. Francis:

 

            Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace;  where there is hate, let me sow Love;  where there is injury—Pardon;  where there is despair—Hope;  where there is doubt—Faith;  where there is darkness—Light;  where there is sadness—Joy…..

 

            It’s a good reminder of how I want to live, even though our society programs us to be combative.  I actually love everyone.  I certainly abhor the things that most people do, but I don’t blame them for their behavior.  We are programmed, and years of programming is difficult to purge.  I just pray that more people can break the cycle.  My ex and I have taught our son that divorce doesn’t have to be full of hate.  Now I want to pass on to you the knowledge—it is possible.  Don’t assume that you have to behave the way people expect you to behave.  Choose the good path.  You’ll be glad you did.

check out my website: http://www.artbylowell.com

 

 

 

 

 


Just an ordinary day

            I woke up around 6AM to sounds coming from the kitchen.  I crawled out of my futon bed, which now has become our living room couch since we sold our sofa and loveseat in a big yard sale over the weekend.  I went to the bathroom and began to shave, until I heard a tap on the door—my 8-year old son.  I let him use the bathroom while I turned the light on above the fishtank and philodendron.  After shaving I spent about 10 to 12 minutes warming up with Qi Gong exercises and a few dozen sit-ups, then I put on my winter cap and my alpaca coat before kneeling down for a few minutes of meditation.  Almost everyone meditates in the lotus position (what my son calls “criss cross applesauce”) but I was taught meditating with the feet tucked under the buttocks back when I first took a karate class long ago, and its just more comfortable for me, at least until my legs fall asleep, then the lotus position wins.  There wasn’t much to choose from for breakfast, so I just had a bowl of cereal with soy milk.  I gave my son a big hug as he went off to the bus-stop, then settled down to a cup of hot tea to read a few pages from “The Cloud of Unknowing.”  I checked email, Facebook, WordPress & RedBubble, then fed the fish and got dressed for the day’s event.

            When my soon-to-be-ex-wife and I realized we were ahead of schedule, we stopped at the “Hot Rod Café,” the only eatery on a long stretch of automotive shops and other industrial businesses.  Despite the charming décor and the NASCAR channel on, we got two croissants to go, and headed to downtown Tucson.  After a brisk walk from the parking garage two blocks to the courthouse, we entered and immediately took off our coats and put all of our personal items in a container to be scanned.  Just now I have realized that we never reclaimed the little credit-card-sized swiss tool kit they confiscated.  Lord knows what havoc could have been wreaked with that inch-long pair of scissors.  We turned in our papers at the clerks office and found a bench where we could eat our croissants and wait for our name to be called.  We were called into the courtroom along with five other default cases and one name change—it was 10:40AM.  By 11AM we were facing the judge, asked about a dozen yes or no obligatory questions…stamp, stamp, sign, sign, stamp.   Voila’, we were divorced.

Downtown Tucson

            We stopped at the grocery store on the way home, made some quick burritos for lunch, and napped while watching an old Pedro Infante movie on the PC (since we sold both TVs at the yard sale.)  At 2:30PM I got up to practice my guitar for a while before showering and dressing for work.  When I reached the street corner, I waved at my ex-wife who was waiting at the bus-stop for my son to arrive from school.  I’ve been working as shift manager here at Arbys.  Don’t ask me how I ended up in fast food, but I must say there is something satisfying about serving the public.  I’ll never be tempted to volunteer at a soup kitchen—I’ve done my time.  Oh sure, these folks aren’t homeless, but they are equally needy and forlorn in their own ways.

            After the yard sale weekend and the divorce proceedings, I’ve been really tired this evening, but writing this post in my spare moments has kept me awake.  Today wasn’t difficult, next week will be moreso:  that’s when I have to put my son and ex on the plane bound for Peru, where they plan to live from now on.  That will be hard.  But tonight and tomorrow I get to rest up, then I’ll take my son up to Mt. Lemmon where he can play in the snow for the last time in who knows when.  But really, who knows?  If there is anything I’ve learned in half a century on this planet, its this:  you never know.

original oil painting by Lowell


Lost Things

Doodles and Daydreams

 

Do you like stop-motion films? Well, this is a little stop-motion video that has captured my heart. Maybe it’s because I love Alison Sudol and A Fine Frenzy, who happens to be the one composing this lovely piece of music to the video. And yes, she is that beautiful red-haired girl featured in this clip.

 

Or maybe it is just the quirky nature of the video, and its message that drew my attention. Entitled ‘Lost Things’, it speaks to me of a fantastical journey to escape the banalities of this world and recover the many “lost” things like happiness, excitement, imagination etc. And I absolutely LOVE the reference to Alice in Wonderland…how she fell down the rabbit hole into a Wonderland of surprises and fun! I can almost hear her muttering “Curiouser and curiouser” to herself. Notice especially the remarkable hairstyle and dress changes in the video –…

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Working at Austin Records

            One slow Sunday morning, Herschel Cunningham came to Chuys for breakfast.  I sat down and told him I was majoring in sound engineering and he responded just as everyone in the music industry did, “You can take classes in that?”  Well, he let me intern at the studio for free, mostly cleaning up and taking out the trash.  I did find some interesting items in the ashtrays, in fact I got the feeling that the musicians were leaving roach offerings for “the kid.”  There was some great rock’n’roll music made there, and the occasional country act came through, but most of all it was a blues scene. 

            Austin’s Riverside Sound, at the far end of Riverside Drive, on the edge of town, was basically created as a playground for Richard Mullen, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s engineer.  It was his gold albums that hung on the wall, from Stevie’s first two, that made the studio, and Richard was part owner.  Richard Mullen never got the credit he deserved for Stevie Ray’s success, although he really enhanced the music with the same pristine, other-worldly sound he had given Christopher Cross, of “Sailing” fame, years before.  Later, Richard was Eric Johnson’s main engineer for over a decade, which says a lot.  It was incredible watching and listening to Richard meticulously craft every nuance into those tracks.  He charged $70 per hour at the time, and he took all night, slowly slurping down a 12-pack of Miller Lite, to make every project as perfect as possible.

            Most of the acts that recorded at Riverside were blues players that would hang out at Antone’s, the greatest blues club in Texas.  One time Clifford Antone brought to the studio some old guys from Chicago that used to play with Howling Wolf—Hubert Sumlin and Co.  The drummer (E.G?) derided me for keeping “our” beer in the fridge, where “that bassplayer” could get to it.  “Can’t you drink warm beer?” he asked. 

  My first album credit was on Trash, Twang, and Thunder—Big Guitars of Texas.  That was a very impressive experience, and it made a huge impression on me.  The producer basically just gathered six of the best players he could get ahold of and put them in the studio together.  In four days they came up with what turned out to be a Grammy Nominee.

Of course the band I was most involved with was Omar and the Howlers, a jamming blues rock act that packed Austin clubs on a weekly basis, when they weren’t packing stadiums in Sweden, where they were treated like gods.  This was an Austin Records group and I was doing anything and everything needed to release their albums, and later to get them signed with CBS.  Those guys were good friends and I really enjoyed hanging around with them.  Omar has always been an inspiration to me as a model of how to focus on what you do best and putting your all into it.

Click on the links to see videos of these performers.


Entering the World of Music

          I said I would talk about my time working for Austin Records, so here you go.  First, I want to go back to when I dropped out of Biology, and therefore Pre-Med.  This was at the University of Texas at Austin, and I went to all the classes and studied, sort of.  I was flayling in the lab, but the turning point came when I looked at my mid-term, consisting of three or four essay questions, and I had no clue.  I shocked the professor by turning in a blank page after five minutes.

            So I’m sitting outside the Commons, enjoying the scenery, and wondering what will become of me, when up walks my friend Drew.  I complained that I couldn’t even major in Music because I wasn’t proficient enough at the baritone, which I didn’t want to play anyway (I wanted to learn Cello.)  “Why don’t you major in Radio-TV-Film?” suggested Drew, “Its so cool, there’s even an audio sequence for sound engineers.”  And that was the moment my life was given direction (the direction towards a cliff, a waterfall, and a wild ride, but never mind.)  I loved music, but I wasn’t a great musician, so becoming a sound engineer seemed to be just the ticket.

A Fun Funky Place to be

            I met Herschel, the owner of Austin Records, because his wife Judy was a waitress at Chuys, where I worked also (I’ll have to talk about Chuys another time, it was an awesome place to work.)  They had a big after-concert party for Stevie Ray Vaughan on the eve of a big European tour.  Everybody sat around and drank too many margaritas, then suddenly gathered around Stevie Ray for autographs.  Mine was illegible.  One girl asked him to write something personal, so he wrote “Greetings from Margaret.”  She asked what that meant and he replied “its personal.”  I heard that Stevie Ray left his car parked in front of Herschel and Judy’s house—six feet from the curb on a through street!  It was still in good shape when he returned from the tour six weeks later.                       Stevie Ray Vaughan “Lenny”  

Stevie Ray Vaughan


The Train to Mexico City

            In December of 1982, my father suggested we take the train from Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City to meet some friends and to celebrate the New Year there.  The trains in Mexico are a lot of fun if you’re not in a hurry ( I guess the same could be said of Amtrak.)  What’s neat about the Mexican trains is that they are old models the United States sold to them, maybe back in the 1950’s.  They run fine, but it makes you feel like you’re in an old cowboy movie.

            The scenery is rustic of course–the never-ending Chihuahuan desert, interspersed with small hamlets or individual shacks, with the ubiquitous burro and perhaps an old rusty pickup truck.  You might see a mule team pulling a wagon, or a young man riding a horse bareback, with his wide-brimmed sombrero.  The train just clippity-clops along, wobbling like a ship on a choppy sea, and its nice to hear the wheels kerplunking across the rails.  The train stops for a few minutes every now and then, and in the morning vendors appear to offer breakfast.  Little Indian ladies carrying baskets pull back the hand-woven cloths to reveal—“gorditas” (little fatties) my favorite—a thick corn tortilla stuffed with meat, cheese, and onions.  Then the ladies get off at the next stop, presumably to wait for the homeward-bound train.  Soon we are becoming eager at each stop to see what vendors will appear—they might sell packaged snacks or drinks, or maybe a cup of sliced Jicama with lime and chili powder.  I’ve never been a smoker, but I bought a pack of Mexican cigarettes for a quarter, just to puff on while standing on the landing between cars, jostling around in the open air. 

            Mexico City was marvelous, and not nearly as smoggy in 1982 as it is now.  Our hotel was in the famous Zona Rosa district, and we enjoyed riding the modern subway to all the sites.  We ate in fine restaurants and brought in the New Year toasting with Negra Modelos.  I was truly amazed at how far a dollar could go in such a world-class metropolis.  Besides the train, I think that was what made the biggest impression on me.


My first trip to Mexico

            I love Mexico.  I’ve been there so many times I’ve lost count.  I was born in Brownsville, Texas, just blocks from the border, so I feel as authentic a Mexican-American as anyone.  So many trips, so many places, and each one completely different from the others.  A man once told me you could spend seven lifetimes traveling throughout Mexico, and still not see it all, and I believe it.

            The first trip that I can remember was when I was around seven years old.  My family and my Uncle’s family traveled together along the Gulf (Eastern) coast, all the way down to Tuxpan, Jalisco.  Tuxpan is a balmy, laid-back port town with beautiful palm trees, and the smell of fish.  The only thing remarkable I remember was the lunch I had—“Pulpo en su Tinto,”  a huge plate of octopus swimming in a dark purple sauce, with a portion of rice.  I liked it, but it was a bit much for a kid my size.  I seem to recall Tampico as being a bit more upscale, and that’s where we did some shopping.  Our parents taught us Spanish phrases for asking the cost of things and for haggling the price, but not the word for bathroom (bano.)  Hence the amusing memory of my six-year-old cousin miming his defecatory needs, complete with sound effects.  I guess we were detached from the adults at the time, but hey, it was 1969, nobody even wore seatbelts in those days.  We were perfectly safe.

            We visited some pyramids—Teotihuacan and El Tajin, I believe, just tall structures for kids to climb.  My Uncle Leon bought a variety of fruits and a bottle of rum to make a huge fruit salad.  We eagerly watched him prepare it, then finally asked what the rum was for.  “That’s for the cook,” he replied.  My favorite memory is of a rest stop high in the mountains, deep in the jungle, cloudy and cool.  There was no village, just a couple of solitary wooden shacks.  We sat on benches beside crude wooden tables and sipped hot chocolate.  It wasn’t very sweet, but it was delicious.  The only thing to watch was a mangy dog limping around, but it was nice, peaceful.  What more could you want?


Art or Music, Choose NOW

one of the first paintings I ever made

            It was at the end of my fifth year of elementary school that I was forced to choose between Art and Music.  I remember standing at the bus-stop with Sam Saldivar and discussing it.  We could only have one elective, and we wanted both.  We ended up choosing Band, mostly because our friend Scott, a year older, was in Band.  My public school education never allowed me the opportunity to pursue both Art and Music seriously.  As a result, it wasn’t until I was 26 years old that I discovered a passion for painting.

            I was sharing a condo with a fellow who took his TV with him when he moved out.  For the first time in memory, I had no access to television, and I didn’t want to buy one.  As an alternative form of visual entertainment, I started oil painting.  My Mom had a set of brushes and paints from a class she’d taken years before.  I actually started out painting on watercolor paper instead of canvas!  With painting I’ve discovered how to achieve short-term dreams—I’ll get an idea, then I paint it, or try to.  I am completely self-taught.  My first idea was of an ocean seascape with a huge Sun in the sky.  I was just having fun, but I liked how it turned out.  Even though it was on watercolor paper, it has still survived to this day (mounted on foam-board.)  My second painting was a truly visionary idea.  I was admiring a black & white photo in the newspaper (remember those?) of a singer named Anneke.  Then I noticed how the image was composed of a dot matrix—black dots on white, white dots on black, and several fascinating connections resulting from the variable size of the dots.  I decided to translate the image (on paper again!) using blue for the black areas, and yellow for the white (except the lips had to be red.)  At the time, I was painting for fun, so I didn’t worry about how long it would take.  It took a long, long time.  But I enjoyed it immensely, long after a new roommate arrived with a TV.  I used a magnifying glass to count the dots and copy the shape of them.  Thus I developed what I later coined “Matrix Pointelism.”  It is terribly time-consuming, but it is a very meditative activity, which I find quite relaxing.  Years later, when I showed a professional artist my work, he advised me not to market this material with my other work.  Because it is so time-consuming, he was convinced I would go insane if the public demanded quantities of it.  That is why I invented my alias—Luis Sabor, to represent me as the eccentric creator of all matrix pointelist works.  Now Luis is the stage name I use for performing music.  Interesting how everything connects to everything else, hmm?

original available at artbylowell.com


My Dream Studio

Let me tell you about a big dream I had, and how I made it come true. When I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in ’86, I started working full-time for Austin Records, managing the recording studio—Austin’s Riverside Sound. That didn’t work out. I’ll save the details for another day, but the result was that by ’88 I was bartending at Baby Acapulco and making money. For a few years I kept bartending, saving money, then taking long travel vacations (following dreams) to Europe, Mexico, Central and South America. By ’92 I was depressed—I didn’t like bartending, and I had discovered that travel was a short-term fix with no constructive advancement for my life. Then I got this dream, a crazy dream, really impossible for a man of my limited means. I wanted my own recording studio.
I thought about it a lot. I drew up numerous sketches of my dream studio. I even looked at some cheap real estate and tried to imagine how I could transform the dump into something. It was fun to think about. Then one day, Brian Hargiss offered me his 8-track recorder (not the cassette, the ¼ inch reels) and I started fooling around with it. I needed a patch-bay for all the connections, and decided to call Jim Gilbert, a professional carpenter I knew. I went to his shop, located in an industrial complex in South Austin, and my eyes went wide at the space. Suddenly I realized I could rent one of these spaces for the same amount I was paying to rent my apartment, and live there. There were already a couple of artists doing the same.
I did it. I fine-tuned my sketches, then went to Home Depot and bought all the supplies I needed to build my dream studio. All my friends got involved. It became a community project, and most of my clients came by word of mouth via these same friends. Thus was born Breakfast Surreal Studio. It was a blast. I made a lot of friends, helped a lot of musicians record for cheap, and eventually went bankrupt. I got so high from the experience that, when it all came down just three years later, I hit a rock-bottom depression. I was forced to re-invent myself, again. This dream made me who I am today, put me on the path to now. Dreams are serious stuff.

I now perform by the stage name Luis Sabor.


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