Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beauty Is Everywhere



One of the most comforting things i can think of is that there is beauty everywhere.

about 9 years ago, in my work as an artist i began to realize that A) there is a Voice that is singing its song undercurrent of everything and its song is amazing beyond what i had ever dreamed, and B) this Voice and other things like it are the reason why there is this idea that has spanned the centuries, that there is a Fountain of Life.

the more i have studied it and listened to it, and adored it, and been taught by it, the more i am certain of its existence, and the amazing quality of the ideas and visions it gushes forth.



Nowadays this idea is so comforting to me because it means that i never have to come up with anything. i just have to listen, watch, listen, watch and dance with it when i see it and hear it.



a couple of days ago in the evening (this time of year in boston evening means about 4:30), i was getting something out of a dark room in my apartment. my eye glanced out the window and something about the colors had a beautiful depth to it. it would have been possible to see it, enjoy it for that second, and then get back to what i was doing, but i have come to love to show my reverence for Beauty by giving it attention and exploring it closely when i see it. then, i see it a whole lot more, and my life is SO much richer. turns out it is like that with all good things. so, i ran and got my camera and spent 10 unplanned minutes at a few windows taking pictures of the night sky through the barren treetops. what a sweet poetic life. and what a gift this world gives me. thank you world.


it is so life affirming, so comforting, so completely enriching to have an interaction with Beauty, one of the many perfect offerings from this Fountain of Life. one's problems or worries seem smaller, inconsequential. there are possibilities everywhere. and this Voice (still, small) is ALWAYS singing some wonderful thing.

how have you interacted with Beauty recently? how would it feel natural to you?

Look at the difference between the night one and the day one! (taken the next morning) the difference is like night and...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Joy Is A Shining Spiritual Mountain



today morning as i explored some neighborhoods on my morning constitutional i was thinking about the city of boston. after having been away for so long, i am seeing and feeling the city differently. after 10 weeks on the road, singing praises to god, meeting people everywhere, celebrating the goodness of life with total strangers, the city feels sad. looking around it seemed like so many of the folks i saw were heavy with worry, or boredom, or confusion. something that is perhaps familiar to all of us. and i began to think of all the things that might might make us feel weighed down. lack of change, fear of not having enough, guilt, dissatisfaction... the list can go on and on, but mostly it is about feeling trapped in a life that doesnt isn't up to snuff.

it all seemed so wrong, so pitiable, after spending all fall so joyfully.

as i thought about i remembered this line from isaiah, "And he [God] will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations." certainly that "veil" is the weight of sadness or fear, missing the boat of life's goodness. and in this verse from isaiah we have the indication that it is God who takes away that fear and sadness.

as i walked i prayed, thinking of the opposite of sadness - the perfect joy of god. it is in spirit. it is not found in matter, in the flesh, or in human will. that perfect joy which is the destruction of the "covering cast" is spirit.

i have come to love the feeling of spirit burning away some bad thing in my thoughts. and this morning, as i thought about the joy of god, and its being only in spirit, i loved that all the people i saw were actually in spirit. i am learning to base my life and thoughts on spiritual joy, and i love to feel its radiant light actually burning away sadness. nothing can keep us from joy. it is the nature of all of us to feel that joy of life - not as fleeting, but as the very rock of life. in fact, i began to see in my mind's eye, an image of that rock that IS joy. it was a beautiful crystal, filled with colors, and we were all standing on it. it was one of this mornings wonderful gifts of the spirit.

i am resolved to be a window for joy, and let joy do its beautiful work. we can grow out of sadness!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Air Guitar Challenge!

2 new songs up on myspace, "sony walkman" and "star". both are rock'n'roll christmas songs. when you dig them, it will likely enhance the experience if you play some air guitar right along with it. or maybe listen to it a few times so you can get the rhythm, solo, etc. down. then, it will be a great idea to video yourself air guitaring along with the songs. and the next logical step would be to post the videos on facebook or some such place. right? it all seems very obvious i suppose.

merry christmas night, and quiet next day after christmas tomorrow.

onward into the great next adventure!

what are we celebrating on christmas?

i have had 2 thoughts on this that have brought me delight.

1. last week in the christian science bible lesson i read "jesus was the offspring of mary's self-conscious communion with god." (Science and Health 29:32) it struck me that there was an "offspring" from this communion. then it dawned on me, this communion with god took the place, in this case, of physical human sex in creating a child. now, physical sex is a materialistic symbol of real communion, one idea interacting with another in the most intimate way. and when this intimate sharing takes place, it brings forth fruit! if it is spiritual sharing it brings forth a beautiful, new, amazing spiritual idea. the more purely spiritual the interaction between ideas, the more powerful, individual, and useful the fruit it produces. i think of this all the time in making art or writing music. where do these "children" come from? these songs and paintings come from my intimate communion with the spirit of love, adventure, insight, creativity, etc.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines communion as "The act or an instance of sharing, as of thoughts or feelings." mary "communed" with god, and there was an outcome! an amazing outcome. therefore, when we commune with god (share thoughts or feelings - and in this case to share with god probably means holding them in common, not so much telling god our feelings) there must be an outcome. it MUST bear fruit! this caused me to think of all the good that can come forth from our heart's communion with infinite Love.

for all the time, energy, thought, and media spent on sex, we will certainly bring real LIFE to fruition more and more to the degree that we seek this spiritual intimacy - spiritual communion. and when we see the amazing fruits, the delight, the salvation that it brings forth, it makes it much easier to seek.

we are celebrating the gifts, the amazing fruits (an orange in your christmas stocking!) that come forth when mary, and all the rest of us commune with god.

2. have you ever been grumpy and mad and all you wanted was for some special person to come and tell you its all ok and try to get you to be happy again? i have. and i have found that sometimes that person comes, and sometimes they don't. but! god did.

angry, impatient, hungry humanity is like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, waiting outside the party, grumbling. in that story the father, comes right out to the son and kindly speaks with him, entreating him to come into the party. its just what we all would hope for if we were the older brother. jesus, the "only begotten son" was, on the mega scale, god coming out from the party, entreating us all to come into the kingdom of heaven.

at christmas we are celebrating the generosity and magnanimity of our good god, who didnt stay inside the party while we grumbled and had hurt feelings outside. he sent his only begotten to us, entreating, teaching, comforting, leading us back into the party, where we belong.

merry christmas my dears!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Presents!

Now that Tree Of Life is safely and completely up and available for listening on stonebalancer, there is no need for it to be up on my myspace page. so! the fun part about that is that now there is all that myspace space for OTHER STUFF. given the billions and billions of other songs that exist in the Alex Cook Backlog ("I've Got A Million Ideas That I Ain't Even Rocked Yet!" who knows what song this is from?) i have made this plan:

every few days (2-3) from now until anon i will put up a new song on my myspace page. right now there are 3 new (to your ears) christmas songs. they are originals from my 2008 christmas album.

over the past many years i have been developing a theory about snow in boston. it is basically this: it never really snows until january. as much as you want it to snow before then (for a white christmas, etc.) mostly you are disappointed because the grass is green on christmas morn. however, the last 2 winters have proved this theory horribly fallible. as i type, (december 23) there isnt a blade of grass to be seen and we are frozen in solid with glaciers that likely won't melt until april.

the first of these christmas songs, "filled with light" has a line in it (written early december 2008) which details in poetic fashion this snow theory of mine. the amazing thing was that literally the day after i wrote it we were hammered with the first of 3 sledgehammer-like december blizzards that left all of boston dizzy and shoveling for weeks.

the second one, "wrapped up in ribbons" was penned on one of those shut-in days from last december. it features jessica hays on flute and jenna fisher and jessica hays on singing.

the final one is the awesome "psalm 100" which features some rad and straight to the heart words from the bible, and a funky riddim. also some silly falsetto background vocals by yours truly.

tune in to that same myspace page on christmas day for the next installment.

merry christmas to all of you!

let every heart prepare him room!"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quick Transformation, with Stripey Socks

hey y'all,

i made a picture that i love in my sketchbook several years ago. it goes like this...

i was thinking all about how it is spirituality that must lift us out of conflict, abuse, stress, etc.

someone recently saw it on stonebalancer.com and wanted a version of it for his daughter for christmas. for him it was an image about following your inner compass, your dreams, etc., and he was wanting to communicate this message to his daughter. it turned into this!


the first one is a painting, with a couple of pieces of paper pasted in there and then painted over to cover up mistakes. the second one is a collage in which i painted whole pieces of paper and then ripped and cut them, and then pasted them together to make the image. (dig her stripey socks!)

here are some pictures by a favorite collage artist of mine, Romare Beardon. (1991-1988)

so nice, right?

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's in my interest!

one thing this tour tought me is that music is not simply entertainment. it is a tool. at its best music is a tool of spiritual uplift and healing. that is to say, the communication that music affords can transform lives.

the other morning as i was mulling over this thought it occurred to me that it is in my best interests to sing the very song that will do the most healing. it is in my interests to do whatever i can to bring healing about. why? the answer is simple, when healing happens people are happier, they work together better, the world is more enjoyable to live in.

i had often before thought of healing as a work of selflessness- something you do because you just love other people so much. (it assuredly is selfless, in that it causes us to think of god more, and ourselves less). but it turns out that healing, giving, contributing to the world is entirely in our own interest - the more good you do, the more good you have!

so now i think, more than ever before, not, "what song do i feel like playing?" or "what song will they like the best?", but rather, "what song will communicate the thought that will heal?" This is the true riches of performance - feeling the heart and thought that is going on in the room and responding to it, meeting the hunger with spiritual sustenance.

so, what if we thought of our jobs (whether it be singing songs or working in an office) as the means by which we were going to heal people? it's in our own interest!

Monday, December 7, 2009

the end is in sight!

oh friends, there are just 3 shows left on this beautiful, beloved west coast tour.

before i left boston 10 weeks ago a friend told me "when you come home you are going to be a different person." those words have been in my thoughts on and off during the whole adventure. of course she was right. as i process and try to understand and catalogue all the things i have learned about music, expression, confidence, god, communication, working as a team, and what seems like a thousand other interesting issues, i am filled awe at just exactly how much this adventure has changed me.

what are the things in life i would most like to have in my bag of tools? expression, clarity, confidence, art, and the ability to communicate the deep spiritual reality of Soul. and these are the gifts that god has given me more of than i have ever had.

doing new things causes us to change. it is taking part in becoming a new creature. we are put in situations we have never been in before and it causes us to learn, think, expand.

i have learned on this trip, more than ever in my life, that spiritual music, art, is the expression of god's voice, and it does the work of healing lives. it moves in peoples' thoughts. it causes them to think, ponder, and see things anew. music, art, goes to places where other kinds of communication can't, and there, as in jesus' parable of the leaven, it changes thought.

a vision of purity causes the one who sees it to ponder purity. that idea of purity then begins to work in that person's thought and causes them to wrestle, or to delight. a vision of sincerity, or beauty, or insight does the same. art, at its best, is presenting these virtues to human thought, and causing us to have to assimilate those virtues. it makes us better people.

i love to be an artist. and i love to learn more and more of the power of this occupation. i feel, with great awe, the opportunity we all are given (not just artists!), in that we have the ability to communicate with one another. the ability to communicate the deep, important, life-saving things.

one more show, and then back to boston! thank you all for tuning in. i am going to continue with this blog even after this tour is over - because God never stops giving new and fascinating ideas!

onward in the adventure of new things!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Yesterday afternoon we played at the "kids club" of an affordable housing development here in santa barbara, california. we got to play frisbee and skateboard with the kids beforehand. i never knew there was affordable housing in santa barbara!

it was sweet, playing for all these children, most from mexican families, and the adults who run the program. ah, togetherness! how we love to play.

but, the truly great thing was that one of the teachers then invited us over to her house to perform that night. she invited some friends over and we went on to have one of the best shows of the tour. in her livingroom, on the spurr of the moment. never has an audience danced so hard, sung along so courageously, and played the triangle in our stead so emphatically. music truly is a gift from God, with the power to take willing hearts and open them.

2 nights ago we arrived in SB and went straight to Pershing Park where we were expected. there is a longstanding "homeless church/meal" which takes place there. in a big white amphitheater we performed the sweet singalong beatitudes as the 100 or so folks happily were served soup from a huge cauldron. after about an hour the park was filled with folks eating, chatting, being together. it is no wonder the original christians are known for eating together. we all felt love that night.

again and again i think, "this is living!"

thanks to god!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Band Photos



Some of these pics may end up being the cover, inside cover, or back of our new, self-titled album. The album, recorded in Portland, Oregon at Becker Studios, has 11 songs, including one which, "You're Serious", was written on this tour. 7 of the tracks were written by me, and 4 by Ben Vaughan.



The album features the Blessing Tree sound – acoustic guitars, 3 part vocal harmonies, and arrangements that range from deeply gentle to hilariously, gloriously silly. They are songs of praise, acknowledgment, forgiveness, and joy.


The CD will be available very soon at concerts and via mail for $20. just email or facebook me if you are interested!

If you haven’t already, check out both me, Alex Cook, and the Blessing Tree on FB.

Pow!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Affluence


I am sitting in the living room of my new palace here in Berkeley California. My deck has a view out over the rest of the city, the bay, and all the way to San Francisco. In the distance is the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. All morning and afternoon as we have been here eating breakfast, practicing, planning the cover of our new cd, the clouds, fog and sun have been putting on a graceful and dynamic show. When I awoke the bay was a bowl for an immense cloud of fog, hiding everything but the closest trees. Later it burned away, revealing the pristine city, bridges, barges, and silhouettes of the land like the backs of great animals. Now the great sun is shining through clouds, causing the whole panorama to appear to be made of gray steel – cold and hard in the shadows, brilliant, burning white in the open light.

As we spend night after night in different locations, homes, communities I am struck by the fact that we have been received gently, affluently, and beautifully without fail.

I am sitting in a home that is nicer than one I could ever own (unless I sell A LOT more cds…) and yet, I get to sit here. I am given this beautiful affluence, not because I have a lot of money, but because the idea upon which I am trying to build my life, is able to support that life. A few days ago we were up in the mountains of northern California, motor biking around the golden hills. The sun was raking across them, causing the great black cows to blink their beautiful eyes, filling the sky with pink. And we sped through it all, our scarves trailing and flapping behind us, tears of speed making trails on our cheeks. I thought I might burst with the beauty of it all, and in that moment I realized with amazement that I live in a world where glory is a concept. Enough of us have had this feeling of glory to give it a name and understand it together as a concept. It is very likely that I will never own a motor bike, or a ranch in northern California, yet, I do not go without the glorious experience of that joy, the eyes to see that beauty. Though I have been given a career in which people are more often spoken of as "starving" than as rich, I do not lack the joy of glory, or even the beautiful views, motorcycle rides, or delicious meals. What does it matter if we experience these things by buying them with money, or providing folks with a vision of beauty and joy that causes them to want to give it to you? Life is experiences, and God gives experiences broadly.

The thought that comes to mind now, is that Life is affluent. God causes us to take on his work – the work of blessing, forgiving, inspiring, and opening doors for others. This work causes us to do things that are "risky" or unusual, or simply surprising. But it is Life, God, itself who is affluent, and it is Life, God who has brought this "risky" work into being. The "risky" work, in as much as it brings redemption, clears the glass of vision, and causes us to understand God better, has affluence, safety, and joy stitched naturally into its fabric.


the view from our beautiful Berkeley pad


Tough guy, motor biking in the wilds of northern california

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Melting the Ice of Fear

again and again the message that comes out of this adventure of expression is "dont be afraid of the way they look!"

sometimes at the beginnings of shows the crowd seems totally disinterested. or, even later in the show, one of the audience members seems bored, or even surly. or, most recently, the whole audience at the youth dentention center in eugene, oregon, seems uncomfortable beyond belief, surly, sarcastic, and disinterested.

BUT! see, it turns out, its all just a big fake! every time, and i mean EVERY TIME, at the end of the show, it is not so.

this experience at the youth center was the final example, the final proof, that has helped me to know that i never need to fear their faces. hanging with and performing for these kids was like watching ice melt. we did 2 45 minute sets for 2 different groups and each time when we began they were so stiff and uncomfortable. yet, as we were energetic, silly, sincere, and unflinching in our message of expressiveness, connection, and spirituality, the stiffness melted. when ben began beatboxing (he sounds really funny) the audience cracked up and the day was won. soon they were full of questions - how did you meet? where do you come from? how did you learn how to play guitar? and my personal favorite, from a girl who had been derisively laughing at us towards the beginning of the show - don't you evet get embarassed, like that people are going to laugh at you? this was just after i had sung "let love rule in me", perhaps the most personal and revealing of the songs i sing. from that moment, i watched, and her face was calm and appreciative, sincere, relaxed. and if she did laugh from that time on, it was with us, not at us. it is amazing, again and again to watch this ice melt. in crowds of "at-risk" youth, as in crowds of church congregations, as in us when we are performing. the warm love of the spirit of Life, breaks down these walls of self consciousness, fear, separation, and leaves us feeling natural affection and togetherness.

below, some photos from our most recent shoot, at the Quadros Ranch in Yreka, CA.

bless you!


.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Question

For those of you who have been to concerts of mine, or Blessing Tree concerts, or somehow know the music...

what songs that you have heard, that arent on Tree Of Life, would you most want to hear recorded?

Recording a New Album

God is good and generous!

At a recent show in Portland OR, one of the folks there let us know that he has a recording studio in town and invited us to come do some recording for free! we have spent the last 6 days recording new material, (songs that are not on Tree of Life, or the Beatitudes) and are now mixing it! hopefully by the end of today we will have a new cd of 10 songs to share! of course it will then need to have a cover, and be duplicated, etc, but it will be available soon!

one fun thing about this is that the material we are recording has grown out of our performances, the nature of this group, and songs that each of us have written are now different than they ever were before. the ideas of each band member contribute to the handling of the songs in new ways. several songs that i have written, which had become old to me, have found new life from the excitement of these folks. new harmonies, a bass line played just so, or just simply new enthusiasm, have given these songs a new birth. and some of them ARE brand new. we cant wait to share them with you.

For those of you who know some of these songs, or have seen shows, here are the songs we have been working on...

Ever Near
The Name Of Today
We Need Your Love
Psalm 107
People R 4 Feeling Love
Comin' Home
The Prayer of St. Francis
You're Serious
The Mourners
The Merciful
Water Hymn

Hoping to see you all at upcoming shows!

Monday, November 16, 2009

yesterday was a banner day for us, The Blessing Tree.

we are in portland oregon these days, and will be for a few more days. yesterday we played 4 shows!

the first 2 were performances for sunday school congregations at the Imago Dei church. the church was held in the Franklin Middle School here in portland. the adult service was held in the school auditorium where they projected words for songs etc., up on a big screen. the service was well attended (about 250). but we were down with the kiddos in the sunday school, where most were ready to jump and shout. we did 2 great performances of the musical beatitudes plus some others songs. the newest version of the beatitudes includes a part where all dance like robots.

our 3rd performance was at the PDX (it means portland) Home. it is a church for homeless folks which includes a meal and a short talk on spirituality and community. the room was loud, and friendly, about 150 folks eating chili, talking, petting dogs. to be heard we all got up on chairs and hollered our songs at the top of our lungs. i had to sing about 3 intervals up from where i normally do, in order to be heard above the din. it was wonderful. no matter how loud a room, when someone sings at the top of their lungs, others notice and respect it. there was joyful applause, hi fives, and warm thanks. we finished by singing The Lord Is My Song (a 3 part a capella prayer) as we walked about, between the lunch tables. the pastor of this congregation has a gray mohawk and sings the virtues of community.

finally, in the evening we were one of 4 groups who played at a christian anarchist coffehouse (yes, such a thing exists!). we were invited by a new friend we met at the homeless church. there were piercings a plenty, tight black jeans, and jackets with red stars sewed to to the backs, much talk of the virtues of community, and lots of hugging and warmth. our new friend (who played first) did lots of serious and heartfelt singalongs, including a bold and brave rendition of God Bless The Grass by Malvina Reynolds. It was wonderful to follow him and sing to this audience of punk rockers in our style, using our words. we opened with Ever Near, another of our a cappella prayer songs. the concert went on for another 3 hours after us, and ended with a powerful band called Medicine For The People. All of the groups sang in one way or another of unity, love, and action.

it is cleansing and powerful to walk between groups, ways of thinking, appearances, and share what is yours. it is requiring some work from us to make our way into other communities, but when it does happen, then we find ourselves invited to continue on there. (we were invited at the homeless church to play at another homeless church down in santa barbara CA). so, we are continuing to play for communities who are familiar to us, but are delighted to branch out and explore.

god bless you all.

Friday, November 6, 2009

just finished up a super fun house concert in olympia washington. a new part of the show involves teaching the whole audience to do a series of coordinated fist pumps to our new setting of psalm 107. the psalmist would be proud.


dig this video from a show in LA a few weeks ago. just the other morning in a fit of nostalgia a friend and i watched some clips of Little House on the Prairie on youtube, and all the shots of Pa were from this same angle. let us hail the virtues of a powerful jaw bone!



I hope you all have jumped into the river today!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

By my God have I leaped over a wall!

hey friends!

check out this, a new video taken by a friend at the Asher House LA show, from a few weeks ago. Climb the Ladder and Yes, both from the Tree Of Life cd. (www.stonebalancer.com)



in other news, dig this graceful story of the goodness of god (a recent development in the unfolding adventures of The Blessing Tree):

so, we were happily planning on driving down the coast when, a week or so ago bryan, our cellist, (and the owner of the truck we are/were driving in) found that he was called back to canada to do a weeks worth of work on a project he is involved in up there. what?! so we would be left in seattle, truckless, and no way to play the shows we had planned, all the way down to portland oregon. (he would be meeting us down in portland a week later...)

before i knew anything of this whole issue, i received a message from our good friend jo (hi jo!) in portland who says, sort of randomly, "hey alex, is there any way you could drive my car down from seattle to portland on your way down?" this, she says, knowing full well that we have a truck to drive down in. why on earth would we need another car?

so, you see, we picked up the car, bryan went back to canada, and the flow of good continues.
jo gets her car, we get a ride, (that can carry a bass amp, 3 guitars, a banjo, a cardboard drumset, and all our other gear) and the tour is not stopped.

psalm 18:28
For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.

this is not even to mention the time we spent at the canadian border on our way back into the states. we had heard all kinds of stories about canadians being turned away at the border and had been praying long and hard about all of us making it across the border. as it turned out, we were pulled over and questioned for about an hour- (one of our number has dreadlocks. can you blame them?) and sang several of the beatitudes in 3 part harmony right there in the line among all the other unsavory characters. the room went from a feeling of silence and separation to warmth and conversation among strangers. we were ultimately allowed to cross the border.

Acts 16:25
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Self Immolation

i never knew how much dang work it is to be a traveling musician.

it is the same as being a logger, or a long distance runner, or a... well, you all know what it's like to work hard. so, even if i/we play a show every night, thats only working for like 3 hours a day, tops, right? except that there is then making connections with folks 200 miles from here, so that there will be shows to play next week. (oh facebook, what can i say of you?) and then, rehearsing all the songs so i will know the words when i am singing them for others. how embarassing to forget the words to your own song! and then, the indispensible thing - the REMEMBERING that this music is not just music, but is about the perfect Lord, the Almighty, and we are specifically directed to never ever speak about him without being totally sincere (Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain). and from that i begin to realize the amazing opportunity it is to sing about the Holy One, with and for others, in all sincerity.

it is one thing to stand in front of folks and play the songs and get the notes and words right, but oh, it is something entirely different to entertain the angel of NOW, the holy spirit, in a performance and mean every word, every note, and know that the room has felt it.

i had a conversation with a couple who put me up a few days ago in bellingham washington, after a show. we talked about spiritual progress and a phrase which stuck with me was "self immolation". now, that has often sounded like an uncomfortable thing, but, i am learning, that it is what happens in good performing. and it is not uncomfortable at all. in fact, it is wonderful. it is what the performer is forced to do as the voice grows. there is no way to sing the songs, again and again, day after day, filled with life and love, unless it is the actual Voice doing the singing. so, the more and more i play, the more i feel this blessed immolation happening. i gladly submit to it, and find that endurance, joy, soul, inspiration are right there with me. not coming from me, but coming TO me, from the great, ever-presence. and we ALL share in the affluence of that Voice.

there is ALWAYS something to be doing, but oh, it is the most fun work in the world. we are taking the steps that need to be taken, and the path appears right there beneath our feet, the moment before we take the step.

God bless you all, and may you find this same self immolation clearing your path!

Below is a short video i took recently from a Ferry to Bainbridge Island, off Seattle. You will see the great light of the Lord shining on the gray waters of Puget Sound.

video

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Things Work Together

My life has been filled, to the brim and overflowing, with beauty. The outcome of that has been that over the years I have made, and made, and made things - paintings, songs, poems, and all the rest. Sometimes it has gotten to the point where I felt some distress about what to do with it all!

Sometimes it has weighed heavy on me - how can I, in all this richness, SHARE it successfully? it seemed impossible at times. Yet, growing and growing over the years, there have been successes in sharing the spiritual richness, the holy beauty, the ever-singin voice.

But recently, with this new tour, album, etc., I have felt a blessing like I never have before.

Lots of times I have tried to put bands together. I have dreamed, over the years, of getting out on the road, singing my heart out to whoever would listen. But I never could get to to HAPPEN.

And then, this tour, this band, just happened. thousands of miles of traveling, coordinating the lives, creative inclinations, and desires of 5 musicians, not to mention the hundreds of people we have worked with, played for, and will play for, just happened.

I have never felt such a network of folks wanting to be part of a creative endeavor. All these people, up and down the west coast - friends and perfect strangers, filled with enthusiasm for this music, this message, this aliveness.

As I look ahead to the next 5 weeks, in which we will be traveling down the west coast, I look forward to meeting all the people who have embraced us. They will be taking us into their churches and homes, and we will be sharing with them the brightest, most living images of musical Christliness that we have. There is a lot of beautiful sharing that is going to happen. And it is clear that this coming together does not happen without a lot of people doing close intimate listening prayer.

Thank you to all of you reading this, all the folks who are loving us, loving our music, and this new expression. Truly all things are working together.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2 shows in one day!

hurrah! we have crossed a threshold today. one show at noon, next one, across town at 4. bam! now who's famous?

both shows were 2 hours, one at the west vancouver christian science church (a rockin' gang!) and the next at a catholic worker community house in east van(couver). also a rockin gang!

dig one of the songs here. it is called "comin' home" and is based on the story of the prodigal son.

this week we will be heading out of band camp and back down into the states. bellingham, washington, here we come!

hey also, just as a personal aside, if you are reading this blog - i wanna know! say a little "hey" in the comment box below and let me know you're out there. k? hello?

Friday, October 23, 2009

deep in the labors of band camp

hello friends!

we are so busy with setting up new dates for the washington and oregon legs of our upcoming tour, as well as rehearsing and learning lots of new material, but i wanted to fill you in a little. not to mention share some wonderful videos.

first of all - i want to give a little example of one of the reasons i love christian science. a couple of days ago i awoke feeling really sick - sore throat, hard to swallow, weak and woozy. i quickly went to prayer, resting in my understanding that i am not a fleshly body, subject to the random whims of luck and germs, but, entirely separate from that, a creation of god, wholly spiritual. the thought that really grabbed me was that i am not a body, but an idea, straight from the mind that is god. below is a video from that afternoon, which shows the awesome transformation that occurred.


video


it has been great to feel this group beginning to come together, feel and act as a unit. i am realizing more and more that this is necessary to really play music together. here are some recent photos of The Blessing Tree, taken by our good friend, Julie Furbush.


Partridge Family?


The Monkees?

this group of musicians i am with right now, is truly amazing. ben has set psalm 107 to a truly awe-inspiring bit of music/theatre/marching band antics that honestly you have to see to truly get. every time i sing it i become so proud to be alive, proud to be in a world where such FEELING and joy and reverence exist. i hope that you all get to hear it some time. even if there were a recording of it, it would never do it justice. this is exactly how playing live music should be.

and finally, just for you, another video of the hard labors going on here at camp bow isle...


video

when do they have time to play music?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

after the summit!

hey there friends!

just finished playing at the canada youth summit. it was a fine event, attended by folks from all over canada, and several states in the US. it was truly wonderful to see so many young folks sincerely excited about spirituality - learning and growing and really setting their hearts to it. this was the first performance of "the blessing tree" - a group consisting of me, and 4 others - ben vaughan (guitar, voice, recorder, cardboard drumset), ashton glass (voice, percussion, toy drum), tim kitz (bass, mbira, banjo), and bryan reed (cello, percussion). the performance is called "the blessing tree" because it is a combination of my tree of life material and ben's beatitude sing-along. it is a really great, warm, interactive show.

this week the 5 of us are tucked away on an island off the coast of british columbia, felling trees and rehearsing our material. we all are going to be performing on one another's material, so we have lots of song to learn!

i first made music with ben, ashton, and tim last winter back in boston when they came out to record the beatitudes. we performed together several times, but we are all writing lots of music all the time, so there is a lot to catch up on.


next time, videos from our island hideaway!


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Standing On Ideas

today i am at the canada youth summit in victoria BC. it is a wonder to me that i am here.

as i have been traveling for the last couple of weeks, not to mention the spiritual and creative journey of the last 2 years, writing, recording, and performing this music, i am have been impressed by a new thought: what i am standing on is an idea.

as i took off on the plane for san diego at the end of september and considered what i was going to do, i realized that i was taking this trip because of an idea - this music. i was taking a flight, people were meeting me, people would be coming to see the performances, money was changing hands, all because of an idea. it was this idea that was guiding my life, and, actually involving more and more other lives. it is especially impressive to me that there was a time, only a couple years ago when, this idea wasnt part of my life at all. then, it began to arrive, but it was an idea that i was entertaining privately. then, little by little it was becoming more and more real to me, i gained confidence in the idea.

as i was flying to san diego it dawned on me that, where at one point i had been tentatively, privately cultivating this idea, now i was walking on it. it was supporting me. it was causing me to travel, causing me to learn, causing me to interact with others. AND it has become the very path i am walking.

someone who has an idea they love, if they are going to share it, if they are going to live it in the world, must at some point become so confident in that idea that they are no longer supporting it, but it is supporting them. and the more i walk on this good idea, the more i stand on it put my weight on it, the more i see that it is worthy of that confidence. it WILL support me. and it will support others too. god is rich to bless us with good ideas. fascinating and beautiful ideas!

how incredible to behold an idea, growing and growing, from a private and unsure thought, to a robust and influential system of ideas with great character and power! what a fascinating development!

hoping to have some bootleg audio recordings for you soon....

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Blessing Tree, Assembled!

ok friends,

no more attention to capitalization. there is no time for such trivialities.

i have made it to victoria, BC, where i, and 4 friends - ben, ashton, brian, and tim, will be performing tomorrow night at the Christian Science Canada Youth Summit. this will be the first of many shows that we will be playing together as - "The Blessing Tree" - a combination of my Tree of Life music and ben's Beatitude singalong. instruments involved: guitars, bass, banjo, voices, strap on drum, cello, xylophone, mbira, and cardboard drumset. these are musicians who i LOVE, and who i have not seen for 6 months. so when i arrived at their place last night, on bowen island, BC, we had a many hour sharing of our treasures. and treasures they are! so many wonderful and inspired ideas coming out of the children of god! you will just have to wait until the blessing tree comes to your town. sing-a-longs abound. and lots of really fast rhyming.

to recap the last few days - wednesday was the last of 9 concerts in 11 days! it was a marathon, and i learned so much about performing during that time. it is hard to imagine taking in so much in so little a time.

for the record, and to hail the goodness of this thing that is happening, i would like to mention that a person who came to one of the early shows in this tour emailed me afterward and let me know that he had been healed of a long standing grief during the performances of one of my songs. there have been more things like that. simple conversations, little comments that prove that this music is moving thought, causing hearts to be moved, and revealing the natural happiness that is god's expression. i am so glad to be part of this.

the wonderful feeling here (well, one of them) is seeing that this whole tour, all of it, is a great big collaboration - the work of the Spirit, bringing people together, to support one another, share their gifts, and be involved. as i look around and see all these folks coming together around ideas, i am touched. we all love the spirit, we love one another, we love music, expression, god. and this love that we feel, draws us together do to things that are ALIVE. being involved is humbling and grace-filled.

oh! and please check out my ALL NEW website, http://www.stonebalancer.com/, where you can even purchase Tree Of Life as a digital download if you choose! and you can help me get the word out!

love to you all!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Count Soul, Not souls

It has been quite an adventure to be traveling around performing over the last 10 days or so. But this has been a different adventure than I have ever had before. These travels have taken me, not only from place to place, but into different communities, churches, homes - all intimate spaces, made up of real people.

Some of these shows have been raucous and packed to the walls with people. Others of them have been smaller, almost like conversations.

Last night's concert at the CSO at the University of Washington was the latter. I had been expecting lots of people - maybe 30. But when the time came, there were 6 folks sitting in the 30 seats we had set out.

In years past this would have been too much for me. I would have felt embarassed, maybe devalued by the seeming lack of interest in what I had to offer. (I immediately think of the concert I played up in Springfield, MA with my college band, "Jarvis", in which the mainenance man at the club set up a ladder right in front of me on the stage and began to change a light bulb in the middle of one of our songs!) But, I am happy to say that that way of seeing a performance is forever gone from my eyes. These days, certainly because of the nature of this music - because it has all come directly out of prayer, and praise of God - I feel confident that what I have to give is worthy, beautiful, and in fact, healing. I know that if someone comes to hear me they are coming to be touched. Even if it is only one person, that feels like a deeply important event.

I have begun to think of it this way- rather than comparing it to the large numbers that I was expecting, I am really delighted at the opportunity of being able to sing something truly meaningful to even one heart. This is more than just a trick because we are sharing the room with Soul, not souls. Who is present at this concert? Soul! how many are there? There is only one, and it is All. When Soul, the real deal, Love itself, is seen and felt in the room, all present feel more life. We all feel more connected, see more opportunities, and feel more excited about life. And that's what it's all about!

Soon I am off on the ferry to Bainbridge Island for one more house show tonight! I have made a specific request that no light bulbs be changed during the show.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Beautiful, Expressive, Alive

Since we last spoke I have performed 2 shows. Both wonderful. The first was at the Soulfood Bookstore in Redmond, WA. When I first walked in, Clint, the owner (with long hair and red beard) says with kind voice and big smile, "First things first - what kind of hot drink can I get you?"

It was a very warm space. When he introduced me, Clint said, "Welcome to Soulfoods, a safe place for artists..." which I think is a particularly wonderful way to characterize one's bookstore. It did feel safe, and warm, and appreciative.

You can see the archived videos of the show here:



Then, yesterday, after church, after pancakes at Mae's diner, and after a windy walk at Alki Beach in West Seattle, it was off to a house concert. One of the really fun things about this tour, in which I have no car of my own, and dont really know where I am going at all, is that I am almost entirely dependent upon my hosts. These wonderful folks with whom I am staying have, in many cases, organized the concerts I am playing, and are delivering me to them as well. That was so in this case, and I never really know where we are going or what it is going to be like until we get there.

We arrived at a beautiful home, rich with dark wood, asian art, and sweet family photos on the fridge. I met Mell, my hostess who showed us to the gracious concert space. One wall of the space was really a huge window looking out onto a lake that shone in the evening light. To make things even better, it was a dessert and concert event! So, soon people were arriving with a hunger for music and an abundance of cakes and pies, tarts and cookies.

It was another warm event, intimate and informal. This is my favorite. I love to be able to answer people's questions, joke around, and sing together. A friend said after the show, "each concert feels like you are giving us all a big hug," which, sounds to me just right. And I feel the same. We are all there together, praising God in a new way, a way that is revealing itself as we go. I continue to learn this about music - it is not about cd's and radio. It is a basic thing of life, able to bring people together, connect us intimately, and reveal to us more and more who we are. It has the ability to unwind us, and help us let our beautiful, expressive, alive selves out. And then it turns out we are all being beautiful, expressive, and alive together.

Tonight I am playing at the big CSO at the University of Washington. Here we go!

Below are some photos from my walk this morning...

Lovely water tower

Lovely cement fish!

The tiny sun next to some immense Northwestern evergreen

Downtown Seattle, as viewed from West Seattle, my temporary home

Friday, October 9, 2009

Off To Seattle!

Arrived in Seattle yesterday afternoon after a most beautiful flight from LA. Of the 194 pics I took from my window seat, I will show you 5...

Taking off in LA

The vastness of the blanket of LA

Pattern meets wilderness, northeast of LA

Awesome Mt. St. Helens, with Mt. Adams bringing up the rear

Seattle's waterfront in the foreground and amazing Mt. Rainer reigning over it


The show on Wednesday night was one of the best yet. Seemed like about 45 folks all piled into the Asher House in LA. And soon we were all singing together. My fave songs to do as singalongs are Lead, Jump In The River, and You Can't Take My Life Away, as the victorious closer. During lots of the show people were snapping photos and taking video, which I love, but I really wish I could be doing the same! It is so sweet to me to see heads bobbing, folks swaying, singing along while I perform. I am coming to see that it is a kind of conversation. I am singing and people are responding with all their different ways of communicating.

One of my favorite moments was during You Can't Take My Life Away. I had just handed out the few song sheets that I had. And You Can't... is one text heavy song. So we all sing together, just on the chorus. About halfway through the song I noticed a young woman in the front row, almost jumping up and down as she read along with me. She was mouthing the words, following along intently on the song sheet as I was singing, and the words that she was mouthing, were, of course, coming out of my mouth. Then we all burst in together with the great defiant chorus. At the end of the song the guitar drops out and we all, continuing in our one emphatic voice, holler one more time, "You can't take my life away! oooh, You can't take it away!" And then pow, it's over.



I have never been to Seattle before and I love drinking in the newness of it all. As we were landing all the city was laid out before us in wonderful views. Islands, mountains, the brightly colored waterfront and bold industrial quarters, bridges, and swaths of beautiful dark green trees. It seemed to me the city that a little boy might build as he was making the most fun city he could think to build.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Be Not Afraid Of Their Faces

I love being on the road. I love to have my thoughts, my most precious resource, with me in these new places. My home for tonight is in the Asher House (a home for Christian Science students) at UCLA, and for now, all is quiet. I have a sweet little garden out my window, and the dry, airy light of autumn in Southern California is resting on the tops of the trees.

Last night was another performance coupled with a spiritual talk given by CS lecturer Tim Myers. It was an event for teens and there were about 12 of them there. It was intimate, in a private home, our bellies filled up with pizza and salad. Actually, mostly just pizza.

The scene: the kids splayed out across a few couches, not knowing what they were about to hear. Me, opening the evening with songs, staring into 12 blank faces. As adults, often when we talk with teenagers we ply them with questions about themselves - What are you into? What kind of music to you like? And often the teens respond uncomfortably, hesitatingly, inaudibly. And all day I have been praying, thinking of these folks who I don't know yet, longing to sing in such a way that their hearts will be touched, and that I may be able to give a bit of a gift of spiritual vision. How can we meet one another?

As I began it did seem no one was listening. The kids were sinking deep into the couches, casting glances to one another -so very different from an audience of adults who are there entirely by choice, who are really seeking to get something from a performance. But here is the interesting part: about 3 songs in, mid-song, with words flying out of my mouth, I was thinking to myself, "What is the right way to proceed with this? How can I connect with them?" And the answer I felt, right in the moment was an interesting one. It said in my heart, "Don't try to be popular with them. Don't think of them as kids who you have to reach. Just rest in the fact that they are alive, just like you, and have soul and guts and can hear the reality of the music you are singing. Basically, it was saying, "Give them a powerful performance and don't pander to them".

So thats what happened. I closed my eyes and sang with sensitivity and conviction. I opened them and reached out to my audience with love, strengthened by the fact that they are not "young people", but just people.

Over the couple of hours that we all spent together there was a fascinating and palpable warming that went on. Conversations bloomed, stories were related, jokes and laughter. And now, the next day, I think with a full heart of the thoughts, our most precious resource, that have been shared, and are moving, new, in all of us.

It is wonderful to have the opportunity to explore lots of ways to share visions of the Spirit with others. To experiment, succeed, fail, change things around for next time.

And next time is in a few hours when I will be performing for a broader audience, here at UCLA.

Tomorrow, on to Seattle! You can see the first show I will be playing there. It will be streaming live at 8pm-10pm PST, 11pm-1am EST on Saturday, October 9th. Check it out here:

http://www.soulfoodbooks.com/OldRoot/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=44&Itemid=49

Until later!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taking Off The Mask

Last night I performed at an event whose theme was "Taking Off The Mask - Unveiling Your God-Given Identity".


The more I see the power that art has to heal and inspire the more the more I begin to understand the huge work there is to do as an artist. I have long understood that art is not just about something pretty on your wall, or a song to sing along with on the radio. It is a force in the lives of people, communicating pure ideas in ways that nothing else can. But recently, as I have been performing this spiritual music in front of audiences, I feel the gravity of the opportunity to really help - to do something that will touch the heart.


I have noticed people in my life, who, because of their confidence or their ability, their lack of fear, have shown me a new direction I could go, a new way I could live. I think of these people as "door-openers". I have a friend who is absolutely fearless about making jokes. He will make a joke in a situation in which most others feel constrained by self-consciousness. In these times, his willingness to be loose, his refusal to submit to self-consciousness, loosens up the feeling in the whole room. His freedom makes me more willing to make a joke, to step out on a limb. Taking off our masks of fear and self-consciousness reveal the amazing creatures we are.


This is what art and artists can do. The work of artists is not to create objects or songs. It is to unveil the God-creation within themselves. And the outcome of that work is beauty expressed. A powerful song, sung with conviction and poetry can open doors for the world to loosen up. It can give people a deeper sense of freedom and expression. It is a wonderful thing to sing openly about love, honesty, freedom - all kinds of things. And this happens when the mask is taken off. Then we see that we are not living in a mundane world, but rather, we are living in a deep and poetic spiritual creation.


Below are some lyrics from my song "Nothing To Hide". This was one of the theme songs of the performance last night. Listen to it here: http://www.myspace.com/alexcookmusic


Brightly to you all!


The sky is wide, that’s what I feel inside

I let it go, that weight of horrible pride

And now I’m flyin’ up above it, cuz I gave up the sham

Thank God, thank God, I’m who I am


Dontcha know, dontcha know?

You’re already perfectly clad

Like a precious stone, theres nothing to add

And you go walking past the hawkers tryin’ to sell you a line

But you don’t need nothing’ you already shine


And the sky it churns with promise when your life is honest

Everybody say amen

It’s the end of all the hurtin’ when you drop your heavy burden

I don’t care how bad you’ve been


The world is full of lies, but I’m gonna be slick as a fish

I’ll slip through their fingers, free as you wish

Because I know just who I am, and I’m not playin’ a part

My every day, is from the heart


There ain’t no cloud, hangin over my head

I got nothing to hide and I got nothing to dread

And now I’m flyin’ up above it, cuz I gave up the sham

Thank God, thank God, I’m who I am

Monday, October 5, 2009

Welcome!



Dear friends,

Welcome to The Voice and The Song. This is a blog that will chronicle my west coast tour supporting my new album of spiritual funk/rock/reggae music, "Tree of Life". It is also my intention in this blog to use correct capitalization. (for those of you who know me, you understand the depth of this commitment.)

I'm glad to have you with me now. There are too many beautiful things happening every day not to share them with you.

Like, for a large example, this whole idea of a tour. I have dreamed of being on the road, playing music, for years and years, but only now has it become a reality. I am realizing that in order for something like this to work, the voice, the reason to perform for others, must believe in itself. The musician must understand that he has something wonderful to give to people. And, he must actually HAVE something wonderful to give! This is the reason for getting up in front of others. It is about letting the voice out - but actually it's more like THE VOICE. As I sing my songs, THE VOICE has my words and my images on it, but really it is a very basic, simple thing of life. The voice of life, singing and being shared.

The more I understand this, the more I am able to feel it in the room with us, and simply know that it is THE VOICE that is singing, and not really me.

I have played 2 shows so far - Encinitas and San Juan Capistrano. Both were well attended and lovely. I have been loving ending the shows with "You Can't Take My Life Away", the whole crowd singing along with the chorus. And at the end of the song, the guitar drops out and we all sing into the heavens, "You can't take my life away, yeah... you can't take it away!" and are left with that defiant, powerful feeling celebrating in our hearts.

You can always hear this music at http://www.myspace.com/alexcookmusic

Some great news - a new friend in San Diego turns out to be an aspiring film guy and did a high quality video and audio of the whole show in Encinitas. "Soon" there will be video clips on YouTube, and there is talk of a bootleg live album. (Which, I have to admit, even before this came along, I was musing on what I would call a live album from these performances... ahem. And I think a wonderful idea would be "Tree of Live". Right?!

Today I am heading up to LA where I will be playing a couple of joint events. I will perform for a little bit and then CS lecturer Tim Myers will give a talk, and then I will perform again. It makes me feel happy to see music, especially my music, being embraced by my community, and used as a tool to help us all grow spiritually.

And that is wonderful because that is one of the greatest things that art is - a tool, to help us grow spiritually. http://www.stonebalancer.com/artfeedsthehungry.htm

for all you non-californians out there, here is a photo of the view over the back fence of my home for the last 2 days, and another from the porch of my home for the next 2 hours.


Over Summer and Laura's back fence, Encinitas












From Amy's porch, looking out on San Clemente

More to come!