Conversations with the River - Instrumental
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1989 Unknown, Edmonds, WA
Producer: Robert Force, Albert d'Ossché
Original Release: Double Dulcimer Magic (GM107)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158
Aboard the Humorous Truth, a floating kasbah festooned with Persian rugs and the ubiquitous Indian bedspreads of the time, John Griffin dreamed the digital world into Being while playing the Divine Fool. A mighty spirit now gone from this planet, he was a modern Merlin and Sufi storyteller.
“Once there was a king who wanted to know the meaning of life. Wise folks came from far and wide to expound but none convinced the king. He turned to his jester-- 'Entertain us!' The jester said nothing but instead took out his three-stringed instrument and began to play. Moved to tears by the elegant, simple music the king cried out, 'The dolt sees more!' And thus the dulcimer got its name.”
I was living on a steel lifeboat called the Pilgrim on the Multnomah Channel of the Columbia River just outside of Portland, OR. On the boat “next door” Capt'n Barefoot John formerly of Coon Mountain, Alabama resided in his double decker wooden lifeboat, the Humorous Truth. He taught me about boats. I taught him about dulcimer. We had long conversations about the nature of reality and told each other endless Mullah Nasrudin stories. And played dulcimer.
My boat was a bare hull. I took my gray 1955 Atomic Energy Commission Chevy carryall down to the local pallet factory. There I could get random length, under a foot, 2x4 cut offs pieces for five dollars a load. A true double Virgo I packed that truck solid right up to the driver's seat. Back on the dock I used an old single strap, newsbag to transport the pieces down to the boat where I wedged them up against the hull like parquet flooring. There were thousands of them.
When I had the boat fully “parqueted” I took two half sheets of plywood and made a tent over one end. Over that I threw an old trucker-style green canvas tarp, leaving room for a door and a window. I built a bunk and put in a wood stove. That's where I spent the winter of 1975, watching the river flow by. In Search had been out for a year and I was getting royalty checks. Albert had gone off to Hawaii. Janette, now the on and off love of my life, was living in a cabin up on the ridge above Scappoose.
Some days it'd get so hot in there I'd be down to skivvies even though there was snow on the banks and frost on the deck. I'd throw open the canvas flap and just gaze at the river going by. Conversations was born. John Griffin was a refuge from the early tech wars, a double PhD in mathematics and information theory who had worked with Noam Chomsky and Marvin Minsky at MIT. He had been at KG1. He was the one who set Pythagorean math running in my head.
I was a refuge from my own notion of success, debating whether or not I should go to Denver and make an album (Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project) or go back to Europe, travel the world-- all that. Albert was living in a treetop in Hawaii; Janette and I were on and off with our relationship. What next?
John infected me with the notion of running off to sea to be a captain like he had been for years in the Caribbean aboard his 45' black-hulled schooner, the Southwind. By February I was ready to take that leap, to leave the “music business” behind, to get back to pure music, to be a sea captain; to be free. I had been slowly burning the floors and walls of my boat. When I got to my cabin wall I figured it was time to leave and booked a flight to the US Virgin Islands. I left a note on the boat giving it and Donald Truck to Janette. (She's never forgiven me for that... well, not completely.)
What came of that is the story of how the song, Paradise Boy was written in Charlotte Amali, how I later hooked up in NYC with Neal Hellman and heard his stories of meeting the Voodoo Queen while being a cabdriver, him teaching me stickball in Brooklyn, and how to listen to Barbara Streisand properly while appreciating Jewish cooking (his mom's), a Professor of Cooking at Brooklyn College.