Sunday, August 12, 2007


ON THE NIGHT of my 47th birthday, July 23rd —my 20-year-old son, Duane, almost lost his life. Injections of five vials of a very expensive antibiotics saved his life – those shots cost a total of $6000 or roughly 258,000 Philippine pesos. A quick research revealed that said antibiotics cost $289 a vial in the US—or $911 more than what it’s worth in Manila.
A deadly virus or bacteria infected Duane’s system a few days before he was rushed to suburban Manila’s Medical City’s ICU. It took the hospital—a leading (hence, most expensive) private hospital back home—two days to detect what was going on. By the time they gave him the first two or three shots, Duane’s lower limb was already paralyzed and he was already near-comatose.
Almost 7,000 miles away, the telephone was my only connection to my son’s breathing. I thought out loud, another year, another life, was gifted me by God on this very day. I was ready to give it away for my son’s life. On that very moment that I waited for word – how would he respond to the injections – I was ready to give up all that is me in favor of my son. I couldn’t wait, I’d like to give my son all the energy, all the love, all the spirit, all the years that I had…
Duane had to live. Nothing mattered, nothing matters.
Twenty-seven years ago, when I was around Duane’s age—while working as a countryside correspondent for a Manila daily and community organizer—I witnessed many similar situations.
The innocent and the weak caught in crossfire of the government’s Communist counter-insurgency operations… the impoverished and the helpless unable to survive the devastation of all imaginable natural disasters – typhoons, floods, earthquakes, landslides, shipwrecks, volcanic eruptions.
Medicines are gold. Doctors and surgeons are gods. Hospitals or ICUs are rooms in heaven. In other words, these are unreachable, unattainable saviors of life. People simply wait for death, consigning their fate to God.
I shed buckets of tears, my heart bled like a wounded river – as the howling of relatives of the dead and the heartbreaking prayers of loved ones of the wounded and sick drowned my many days and nights. I have hoped that I was superhuman, that I could heal the pain and ease the misery – or save lives.
But I wasn’t superhuman. I had to take the pain… and live with it.
How many “Duane situations” happen in many parts of the world – beautiful lives unable to hang on because there is no money to buy the medicine? No money to rush to a hospital? No money to pay doctors? My son’s hospital bill amounted to more than half a million pesos ($15,000), excluding steady supply of medicines and therapy budget as he recovers at home.
Without a phone call from my many relatives in the West Coast--to the hospital--I don’t think my son would have made it. A phone call meant assured $$$$$ to the hospital, assured profit to the local dealer, assured income to the giant pharmaceutical business... That’s what it’s all about. “Antibiotics” is more than gold--it is the one shot of life that saved my son.
Duane is an Economics senior at Jose Rizal University in Manila, a working student, and an active artist, poet and photographer. I have published many of his drawings – and used at least two of his paintings as front page art in the first few issues of The Indie. Each time my birthday comes, he emails me the lyrics of Dan Fogelberg’s song, “Leader of the Band” as a testimony of his admiration and respect to all the “madnesses” that I pursued in my 40+ years of life.
On my 47th birthday last July 23, he wasn’t able to—he was fighting for his life.
Beginning this month, I will take The Indie on the road as well as the undying flame of the Traveling Bonfires to fundraise for my son and tell people that life is dear and important. That health care is utmost, easy access to antibiotics should be the priority of all governments, medical care should be on top of all political agenda.
Let us save lives than waste them.
I will be traveling from Asheville to other North Carolina cities – including Chapel Hill, Durham and Winston-Salem – all the way to Richmond VA, Washington DC, Baltimore and other Maryland towns, then New York City, New Jersey, Delaware, and hopefully, to Philadelphia and Boston. Friends along the road will again join me in poetry readings and rock events and concerts.See you then…

POSTSCRIPT: Bele Chere 2007: Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

July 28th, the second day of Bele Chere, “the largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” A dark cloud of imminent rain hovered overhead – but it wasn’t the impending downpour that kept me off the effervescent streets of downtown Asheville that time. Rain is a beautiful gift from the sea and the sky, I savor the blessing – and the street is where the subversive quiet of my spirit resides and rests. But what am I doing somewhere south of downtown, roughly 29 minutes and 25.4 miles away?
Technically, I was kinda still within the periphery—at Ingles in Asheville Hwy, Hendersonville. As I lined up towards the cashier, intently examining a Lindsay/Britney pic on Entertainment Weekly, a stranger behind me asked, pensively... “You are Pasckie, right? Why aren’t you in Asheville?”
It didn’t take me a blink to respond, “Uhh, it’s Bele Chere, that’s why.” (Normally, I would wonder out loud—nervously, frantically—when asked or approached by a random dude. A CIA spy, an MIB emissary, an ex’es vengeful BF, an overzealous John Deere salesman, a Snoop Dogg courier? None of the above, I reckoned. But this particular unexpected query cut me like, “Hey, this is my `hood—why are you here? You’re not supposed to be here!”)
“I’m here, in your `hood, because I’m not in Bele Chere.” The dude simply nodded, unsmiling, like a stoic Sitting Bull on US Marine coiffure… “Okay.” (Relieved, I continued examining the Lindsay/Britney pic.)

UMM, BELE CHERE. I used to love that lovable feast of lovable humanity, you know—not just because of the expostulating ocean of psychedelic muses with sexy, healthy hips, puzzling (and puzzled) hairdos, and cute Meg Ryan smiles. It was on my first BC July weekend when I found—and eventually, fell in love—with what I later on called as My Asheville Downtown Menage-a-Trois: Malaprop’s, Pritchard Park, Lexington Avenue.
Oh yeah—I freely wallowed on Bele Chere’s libertine exuberance and radical chic – from the very first summer that I got here. Of course, you can always dispute that—although it doesn’t really matter much these days. My Appalachian guilty pleasure has miserably evolved into nothing more than secondhand guilt…
Oh yes, it could’ve been awesome to be right there at Biltmore Stage on that gloomy-sky Saturday night, shakin’ my skinny little butt to Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, right? Nah… It didn’t take me 3 seconds to decide to instead spend my last $35.55 at Ingles—on fresh produce, catfish fillet, chicken cuttings, white rice, and 6-pack of Rolling Rock—than scrimmage my acerbic girth and brooding snout downtown. A quiet, cooking gig in Terri The Terra’s humble abode was unmistakably that particular moment in time’s last frontier – it’s sublime, it’s ethereal, it’s transcendent.

“WHY AREN’T you in Asheville?”
Was it a consolation that the random dude easily identified me as a “bonafide” Asheville spirit? For a brown-skinned, black-haired, horribly-accented shortie to be recognized and acquainted with (out of town, at that) as a resident/inhabitant of a predominantly white community in the South of the US of A… that is something. I am really “home.” Dig?
Four summers ago, as I wearily, tearfully strode along Wilmington’s coastline, a heartbroken Corona Lite on hand, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees on my Walkman—a girl (I mean, a 9 year old kid) approached me, “You look sad, you should be home—I know you, you’re from Asheville! It’s Bele Chere, y’know! Me and my Mom saw you read poems at Beanstreets!”
When a random kid reminds you – 331.9 miles away – that your home is Asheville, you should be proud, right? Right! I got a home—and I am not even somewhere near South China Sea or the Pacific Ocean! Afront the waters of Fells Point in Baltimore, amidst Adams Morgan’s militant chic in Washington DC, along Bleecker Street’s incendiary allure in downtown Manhattan – I trumpet and howl my acquired ID as a true-blue Asheville spirit.
“What is your ethnicity, where’re you from?” I am not bothered by these inquisitions anymore. I just say, cool as a pistolero (a-la Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western), “I’m from Asheville. You got a problem with that?” At least, I never got into weird exchanges again, in the mold of, “Where you from?” / “I was born in the Philippines, I am half-Filipino, half-Cherokee…” / “So you are from India! That’s cool! Do you like padthai? You drink a lot of sake, right?” / “No, I don’t, I am sorry. But I throw down bigtime on grits and taters and chase them down with ice-cold Busch.”
You see, for five or six consecutive summers, since some distant wind blew me away from New York City’s plasticine bubbles and crashlanded my undernourished anatomy in the Appalachias, I have always declared that Bele Chere is my weekend birthday party! This fantabulous feast of fun sort of happened exactly on my birthday weekend (July 23)—until the just concluded episode/s. I didn’t mope—what the hell!
The truth is, I did actually wrangle my reluctant self for few hours out there on the first day—July 27th—primarily because I had a visitor (Jeri The Fairy, from Philly) who requested that me and Marta The Nicer join her there. No prob. I always toured my visitors wherever they wanna be, whenever—just part of being a gracious host, you know what I mean? We gotta perform this kind of “hospitality gigs” sometimes, you know. When I was living in Brooklyn, I haphazardly/painstakingly/achingly accompanied obnoxious relatives and irksome sisters-of-ex’es up the Empire State Building in uptown Manhattan and Statue of Liberty near Staten Island – until I couldn’t take it anymore.
But then, I never called or “owned” New York as my “home.” Nobody says, I am a native New Yorker, come on! But Asheville is different. It’s home to me. So I just gotta tour visitors to every nook and cranny, hale and hearty, grime and grace – of my “home.” That’s the way it is. I can’t mistake it, no matter what we say – the Bele Chere Festival is an Asheville tradition for 29 years, according to Jeri The Fairy. Before she flew in to town, she googled WNC and Bele Chere, mind you... (But, heck, she didn’t succeed in coaxing me to sacrifice my $35.55 weekend dinner/cooking budget to finally visit The Biltmore Castle… An intimate dinner with Terri The Terra was it, no second thoughts whatsoever.)

HOW COULD one pass this one up? A humanity of “350,000+ that flock to downtown Asheville each year for three days of Bele Chere.” Six stages provide performances by 80 local and national musical acts. Lots of food, great art and crafts, and many other activities make Bele Chere a fun event for all. Some of the best local and regional artisans showcase their best handcrafted jewelry, pottery, and clothing, along with photography and painting.
Dame LizBeth McQueen, the fantastic 86-year-old matriarch of the first-ever North Carolina clan that I shared a compound with (in Barnardsville Hwy in Weaverville) five years ago would always groan and growl each tailend of winter, “Bele Chere is just few months away, honey! It will be all fun—I can’t wait, Lordy Mother of Mercy!” She did relish and savor the fiesta, I tell you! There she was (on my first Bele Chere in 2000)—a beautiful octogenarian blondie shakin’ her booty to Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”—hip by hip, sweat to sweat, lowriders and all—with a dozen or so river of turbo-boosted teen-age bodies at Battery Park Stage. Rock `n roll!
Indeed, there was a time when Bele Chere owned up to the PR. Downtown’s number one summer dalliance is oft touted or hyped as “The largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” I have been and seen a lot (of May to October festivals) in all my seven years in North Carolina… But all I can say is Bele Chere still mystifies and intrigues the doubting uninitiated and the unsuspecting stranger. And we in the mountains are always ready to eat it up like a funnel cake chowdown over poboy and Miller Lite. That is not an opinionated guess, that is a documented fact.
Southerners spend about the same amount of money on clothes ($1,507) as they do on entertainment ($1,561). According to a recent study by the US Department of Labor, Southerners spend 5 percent of their budgets for entertainment and another 5 for clothes, jewelry, and shoes. “Entertainment” expenses are things such as fees and admissions (to concerts and festivals), televisions, radios, or sound equipment, and also money spent on pets, toys, and playground equipment.
Moreover, Southerners are spending a little bit more on health care, both in dollars ($1,902) and as a percent (6%) of total spending, than the national average ($1,841 and 5%). (“Health care” includes health insurance, medical services, drugs, and medical supplies.)
Nationally, Americans, including Southerners, allocate about 14 percent of their budget for food, not counting alcohol. These expenditures include food at home and in restaurants. How people decide to spend their food dollars, whether in fast food restaurants, traditional restaurants, supermarkets, health food stores, etc. tends to relate more to their age, family situation, and lifestyle than the part of the country they live in. A single person under age 25 anywhere in the country is likely to spend a bigger portion of his income in restaurants than a married couple with small children.

THIS SUMMER’s Bele Chere did all its best to keep pace with the well-prepared marketing kick. Check this out – “an esteemed jury of their peers selected 45 world-class artists to exhibit at Arts Park.” Music? Rock superstar Kenny Wayne Shepherd, country legend Marty Stuart, 90’s rockers Gin Blossoms, blues artist Shemekia Copeland, and 60’s favorites Lovin’ Spoonful. Hmmm...
More? Urban Challenge, Shoot For A Cure (featuring NBA’s Rashad McCants, sorry LeBron or Kobe cost millions), Drumming Tent (interactive music experience), Scavenger Hunt, Burt’s Bees Mobile Tour, The Ford Experience Tour (“access to some of the most innovative vehicles on the road”), Purina Ultimate Air Dogs (“collection of some of the country’s most impressive dock diving canines”)... Lots and lots more. But why am I “hiding” in Hendersonville’s Lyndhurst Drive, off a “hidden” cross-street to Asheville Hwy called Greater Druid Hills Blvd?
There are a lot to “enjoy” and spend on at this year’s Bele Chere, you know what I’m saying? It has evolved into a some kinda aftermidnight escape route to Wal-Mart or side-trip to an I-95 backwoods Hooters on the way to a lover’s tryst in Richmond VA, or just about a 45-minute, 2-Corona swig at any given summer street fest anywhere, just to kill time. Nothing big deal.
Why is that? Let me tell you a story…

“TURUMBA” is an after-Lent, pre-typhoon season, mid-harvest summer community festival in the south of Manila (capital city of the Philippines). Months before the May Day fiesta, a traditional “working committee” or village council start mapping out or physically preparing for the one-week festivities. Nobody gets paid and seldom legal tender (or cold cash) circulates. Residents assume specific tasks – from construction/design of giant papier maches to carpentry work of theater/concert stages to fundraising trips to bigger cities (for necessary materials that aren’t found in the barrio, and to personally invite popular national personalities).
Days before the feast, villagers come together — farmers donate baskets and carts of fresh produce and fruits, fisherfolk commit their week’s catch, “richer” ranchers give out cows and hogs and chickens, youths start rehearsing musical and dance numbers, others prepare parlor games and pick-up basketball games. A day before the fiesta, an entire ricefield is turned into an open-air kitchen—where everybody cooks on humongous woks via firewood and charcoal. A separate “committee” travels by foot, carabao-pulled carts, or “jeepneys” (PUJs) to send out invitations to neighboring towns and solicit prizes for the games.
There are no concert fees, food is free, village-deputized “tanods” (no guns, just bamboo sticks) keep the peace and order. Warring tribes and battling Communist rebels and government troops declare automatic “cessation of hostilities.” (Most “wars” are ended following a fiesta or Christmas/New Year’s Day ceasefire.) Food, peace, fun, community, laughter, family, friendship. Relatives and barriomates visit from abroad (games prizes come in the form of “imported” Nikes, $50 cash, or an autographed posters of Yao Ming or the Black Eyed Peas)... tourists and visitors savor the harvest convergence, like gifts of God. You can’t get any simpler than that.
All these happen a month or two before raging typhoons batter the barrios and towns again. Misery beats them up – almost six months a year, every year of their lives. But they gather as a community, everybody is proud of their community, everybody thank God... Despite sharing whatever that they could’ve saved for “the rainy days,” they don’t thank no one, except God. “May awa ang Diyos” (God provides). That fatalist wisdom of simplicity, camaraderie and sacrifice make them laugh and dance during summer fiestas, like there’s no more tomorrows – from the advent of 100+ degree heat to the first downpour of incessant rain. That is peace, that is humanity – calm and joy before and after the storm.
There was a time, in a not-so-distant past when I saw the beautiful spirit of “Turumba” in downtown Asheville – Friday Drum Circle, Downtown After Five, Shindig by the Green, Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park, and yes, Bele Chere…
Now the spirit seemed lost, gasping or dying. Even the rain scared us away...

WHY AM I not in my home city—on Bele Chere weekend?
A week before the 3-day spectacle, we held a “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park.” This is my “Turumba.” Me and Marta The Nicer almost literally “panhandled” the $$$ that we paid City Hall so that we may be able to continue holding this 4pm to 10pm “low-key fiesta” in the heart of downtown.
I think we had around 200 or so people (old and young, kids and parents, locals and tourists, dogs and cats) – dancing, smiling, shaking hands, hugging — as we winded up the (4pm to 10pm) concert around 8 or 9pm. The main act N-2-Soul, a local act whose lead singer Jim Barnes works at a Merrimon Avenue store called Cash Converter, donated the PA/sound equipment. The lead guitarist David Tedford rendered free soundperson job. All the bands—and emcee Nancy Rollins—gave their one hour time, free. Food was donated by Mellow Mushroom, bottled water by Ingles. We sold few Bonfires shirts that were donated by Terri The Terra and her sister Renee Rutley. (All these beautiful spirits have been living in WNC for more than 20 years.)
Midway through the concert, Mark Anderson (bassist of bands Hippie Shitzu) walked to a pub across Pritchard Park to use the bathroom. His band played in this club for years with a weekly fee that is 50 percent or lesser than what most clubs pay “visiting acts” these days. His band played free for community residents and tourists via the Bonfires for Peace in the last four years…
Mark, more than anything else, is a native Asheville dude. He was born and raised in this town, he works in this town all his life, he pays his taxes in this county... But he was refused access to the bar’s bathroom because he didn’t want to buy liquor. That’s the rule.
A day after the event, I received a phone call from the City Government’s Parks & Recreation Department saying we may not be able to hold our concerts at the park anymore—because of “noise.” Local businesses and downtown residents are complaining about the noise emanating from Pritchard Park. The person I talked with said that we can probably hold our events if we don’t use amplified music. The “noise” distracts local downtown business and condominium residents.
Does this mean that there will be no more Downtown After Five, Shindig at the Green, or Bele Chere concerts from here on—because of “noise”? Our free concert distracts and bothers local business or new residents—a humble concert by “non-marquee acts” at Pritchard Park—that we painstakingly put up in the last four years?
We organized almost 50 concerts to date, with money that come from our hard-earned salaries and measly tip-box earnings. We pay City Hall for use of the park so we can entertain people for free--when we could have just saved the money to help ensure that we pay our rent on time, or that we could score a few PBRs at a local pub to relax our small-town funk and forget our working class blues…
Mark’s rejected bathroom request exemplifies what has turned into this town we call “home.” Do we belong in this house? I could have just given Mark $5 for a beer, so that he could use the aforementioned bar’s bathroom. But I’m sure he’s not gonna take it—he has refused my offer of gasoline money (from the tip box) so many times in the past, I don’t think he’s gonna take it just so he could use a club’s bathroom. All the bands that played in the park – refused that tip box money, an amount that isn’t even enough to re-earn the $$$ that we pay City Hall.
As of presstime, we are awaiting City Hall’s decision if we can still hold our next Bonfires event on Aug 18. We anxiously await for that almighty decision—to hold our little “feast”—not to sell beers or $25 worth of Chinese-made earrings or $200-antique purchased in the pampas or barrio abroad for 50 pesos and a “diplomatic” smile. We are at Pritchard Park—a beautiful community space that the powers-at-be consigned to a mere slum of vagrancy—because we want to see, experience and share peace, fun, community, laughter, family, and friendship. That’s all the heroes that we could be—for six hours on a Saturday—but we are very proud of that one... Do we have to beg to do all these?
Downtown is always the “life” of a city. Its people—the heart and soul, the heartbeat that makes the community live. A Bele Chere that is enhanced and “jazzed up” by the local powers-that-be that give more premium to market feasibility and sales quota – and whatever whim and wish that the new moneyed denizens of downtown could “suggest” – shoots down the primitive sublimity and ethereal wisdom of any community, such as Asheville.
What did I see in Bele Chere’s first day? Unadulterated, consumerist throwdown. Rain was like acid downpour, chasing humanity away. Like cold, frightened rats, we lumbered under shades, wearied and tired.
“It’s sad that you only saw that this year,” cousin Brigham The Gum emailed me, “I saw that three years ago, my man...” (Brig and wife, Kristi The Krispi, instead, spent their “Bele Chere moolah” on a “quiet” 15th honeymoon in Guadalajara. Smart choice.)

IN CASE you are wondering... No, I am not boycotting Bele Chere as a protest move. This, despite the fact that most of my friends who’ve been here long before I did have already refused to step into this festival years before I did. Meantime, sad – I wasn’t able to catch Dame LizBeth McQueen, the fantastic 86-year-old matriarch of Barnardsville Hwy, during the few hours that I clattered on Haywood St down to Lex Av on Bele Chere’s first day. Maybe she was there, I am not sure. Although a mere snow “drizzle” demobilizes her so easily, rain or storm doesn’t halt my longtime friend’s insatiable appetite for good ole Southern rock spiked with ice-cold apple cider. But who knows…
Despite my frustration, I wish that the City earned good from “the largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” A Parks & Recreation staff (to borrow a Citizen Times report) disclosed that 2,000 were sold for July 28’s jam in a venue that holds 5,600. She also estimated the total festival attendance at 300,000... That Press Release would surely fly whenever an unsuspecting, “new-life seeker” visitor like Jeri The Fairy googles WNC or Asheville before she flies in to town.
Meanwhile, a storeowner at Broadway Avenue complained that said weekend’s profit is their worst sales output—since they moved here almost a year ago. Even the tried-and-tested magic of the vaunted drum circle could only entice a few dozens of curious onlookers on that first BC day – definitely far from the sweaty, exuberant humanity that rocks Pritchard Park on a Friday night.
Was it the rain?
Sometime in distant America—that my Cherokee aunt, Marguerite Rainhawk Chenault and Filipino immigrant-grandfather Juan Carlos Valdez told me—rain means harvest, rain means life. A new promise of plenty, a celebration reborn. I don’t want to blame the rain for the saddest, most alienating Bele Chere that I ever had in all my seven years in Asheville.
But—again, I reiterate—Asheville is my home.
So after spending the rest of my Bele Chere weekend “hiding” in Terri The Terra’s humble abode in Hendersonville’s Lyndhurst Drive, off a “hidden” cross-street to Asheville Hwy called Greater Druid Hills Blvd—I went back to my `hood at Dunwell Avenue in the West side of town.
Few hours after, me and Marta The Nicer drove downtown to drop few, remaining copies of The Indie at Malaprop’s. On our way, I saw Mark Maloy, my Pritchard Park homey, bicycling down Patton Av afront Jack of the Wood, and I think I saw Charlie Thomas walking down Walnut St to Lexington Avenue... Charlie beat me twice playing chess at that same park’s shoulder fence the last time we did a Bonfires show (I shared him a slice of pizza donated by Mellow Mushroom’s Gerry Mahon). Five years ago, on my first Pritchard Park concert, I gave out four boxes of my old and new shirts to the “homeless” for free—in turn, two of them offered me food from the Mission. “We are going to protect you, my man...” one of them assured me.
As we snaked through Merrimon Avenue, I saw Clare Hanrahan chatting with a young man with grayish beard with a “Stop The War” shirt or something, near Greenlife Grocery. And I think I saw George Glass with a beat-up guitar on his shoulder striding towards Musician’s Workshop...
That night, as usual, I had two PBRs at Westville Pub, my neighborhood bar—while I listened to River Guerguerian’s and Stephanie’s Id’s new CDs on my Walkman. An hour or so after, I walked back to my house just a block away. A squirrel scooted out of my front yard tree as my neighbor’s cat greeted me, “What’s up, bro?” Then, the gentle rain fell.
I was home again at last…

The Indie's 5th year anniversary yard bash and birthday party

We, THE INDIE—and the Traveling Bonfires—observe our fifth birthday in Asheville, North Carolina this month. The celebration—just a quiet, contained but fun gathering—will be on Saturday, July 21, starting around 4:30pm. The place – 61 Dunwell Avenue in West Asheville.
Few years ago, when I first found my then 102-pounder “economy” size body clattering in downtown Asheville, there were still a Beanstreets Thursday open mic, more brave buskers and colorful spontaneous promenaders down Battery Park and Haywood Street, Vincent’s Ear was still packing PBRs like crazy, and Asheville Global Report was both the bible and red book of the disenchanted and displaced, hopeful and hopeless of the Appalachians. Over here in my West Asheville `hood, one Jonah was galloping his space-funk horsetunes while tending his Relaxed Reader bookshop, and thank God, the other Jonah hasn’t sold Fortune Bldg to Wachovia yet.
Hope springs eternal...
But then, most of those beautiful madnesses and hardheaded sublimities that I sort of frenetically aligned my wavelengths with – five, six, seven years ago — are gone now.
But The Indie is still alive.

MIKE HOPPING is still here. I remember that one Starbucks story that he wrote that had to wait six months or so before I could print it—via a resurrected Indie in the winter of 2004—as I battled my then-deadly infatuation over Asheville The Muse. Ah, Mike is still the imposing, respected Word on page one... Matt Mulder is still here. When we drove to New York City one Thanksgiving weekend to try to reconnect the spirit of the madness to where it came from, his firstborn was just few months old. Now, he and Marybeth already have two sons...
Gaither Stewart is still “here” – although he is many many miles away in Rome, Italy. Like a concerned father, he fondled and bruised my ego many times over. Many times over we just went on working together—exchanging emails from across continents from 3am to 3pm, roundabout. Now, we (Mike and me) are publishing and distributing his new novel, “Asheville.” And Gaither is still emailing me stories and articles with almost the same speed as a FedEx care package on calamity time.
The community is still here.
Emoke B’Racz, by way of Malaprop’s generous heart, still saves that little spot for that little Indie rack in there. Rosetta and her Kitchen’s soiled white push-up tent is still the “shade” of the “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park.” Rena Wright is still diligently collecting tips at the shows and networking us. Gerry Mahon of Mellow Mushroom is still signing pizza gifts checks to Marta The Nicer. Chris Malz, Mark Anderson and our Hippie Shitzu homeboys are still always ready-to-go, rock `n roll, sober or smashed, lovestruck or heartbroken—friendship hath no boundaries. Dale and Loretta Hoffman’s spirit and grace still adorn our humble abode. Mark Maloy, my Pritchard Park homey, is still dancing the Bonfires, untiring. Drum DeCirce and Peace Jones are still gigging as ever, one booking at a time.
Ah, Marta The Nicer Osborne! She is still making phone calls... up to this very minute.
Katie Kasben, Stephanie Morgan, Bruce Elmore, Ann Dunn, Cicada Brokaw, Kapila Ushana, Phuncle Sam, Vincenzo’s, Jenny Greer, downtown cops, Lady Passion and Diuvei, Kelly Lee Phipps, Virato, Wally Bowen and MAIN, Kevin Innes, Benjammin, Elizabeth Mason, Jenni Roberts, Carrie Gerstmann, Glenis Redmond, Debra Wells of Instant Karma, Clare Hanrahan, Laura Hope-Gill, Laura Blackley, Paul Clarke, Justin Gostony, Janis Rose, Missy Sumner, Chris “Kri” Johnson & Touch Samadhi, Sarah Benoit, Leyna, Alli Marshall/Mountain Xpress, Kerouac or the Radio, Jim Brown, Robert Kelley, Jim Cox, Walter Dinteman, Linda Brown, Bob Brown and Mollie, Charlie Thomas, Dennis Ray/Rapid River, Margaret Osondu/Sally Mackert, Peace Coalition, Linda Knopp, Alsace Young-Walentine, Tim Pluta/Veterans for Peace, Westville Pub, Dawn Humphrey, West End Bakery, Burgermeister, all the staff of Malaprop’s, all the staff of Kinko’s, Bill Taylor of Iwanna. The list is endless. Feels like Asheville has become my childhood barrio.
Ninety-five or ninety-nine percent of what’s in and around The Indie and the Traveling Bonfires’ abode – body, heart and spirit – are freely, generously given by the community. The Indie is still here because you are still here -- I am still here because you are here.
THANK YOU. Maraming salamat. Muchas gracias. Toksa ake.

SO THIS SATURDAY, July 21, we’d like to invite one and all to come over to our house – 61 Dunwell Avenue in West Asheville (828 505 0476)— and share some cool, peaceful vibes, plus cool Filipino food, bring some food and drinks, as well. Let’s observe and celebrate how stubborn these stubborn dreams could be sometimes...
We are going to place a small mic and amps/speakers somewhere in the yard or living room—read a poem or rant about whatever (as long as it’s funny), sing a song, bring your friends and partners, wives and husbands and relations and kids. (Yes, you can bring pets, as well). We also invited our neighbors – and we are having yard sale, too.
By the way, it’s also my 107th birthday. (No rsvp, just come on over).

"LIVE EARTH": A Concert of Carbon Footprints (or one surrealistic pillow?)

I HAD a sweet nightmare the other night. Amidst a numbing migraine in between vertigo and hubris, I saw myself forty years ago—zealously quizzing my Aunt Pilar, “What is a surrealistic pillow?” As she danced—swinging, swirling, swishing across the den—as Marty Balin’s spaced-out voice and Grace Slick’s blank growl soared and heaved like a pair of tired, beautiful sorrows wanting to touch ground, copulate and heal each other, she would lazily whisper at my left ear, “I don’t know, my dear…”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”
Like a spellbound moth—stubbornly, giddily circling around a lamplight of unknowingness before it finally runs out of spark—I untiringly kept on asking questions. Questions that I patiently culled out of LP sleeve covers’ lyric sheets.
“What is a whiter shade of pale?” “Why is the dead grateful?” “Where is the velvet underground?” “How do I get signed up with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?” “Can you dance the light fandango?” “What is a surrealistic pillow?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”

MY AUNT Pilar hasn’t failed to mystify me. It’s certainly not just because of her “lucy with a white rabbit in the sky with diamonds” trance dance—it’s because, despite her “I don’t know, my dear...” caresses and reassurances, she is a very strong and smart woman.
More than anything else, my dear Aunt Pilar is a VERY “involved” woman. The very first real-life human being (apart from Huck and Tom) who imbued in me the beautiful urgency of getting involved with what’s going out there. So when she whispers on my left ear, “I don’t know, my dear...” that actually meant, “I got it all covered, young man!”
Deep inside, as years wafted by, I came to profoundly live with Aunt Pilar’s ethereal spirit and radical pragmatism. “Enjoy your dance but don’t get swept away by the quiet peace... the world is calling you out there. Go out! Protect humanity, young man!”
My Aunt Pilar has long been living in Frankfurt, happily-married to Detlef Moessner, a German veterinarian who was born and raised in Piedmont, South Dakota—who’s a carbon copy of The Stones’ Charlie Watts but who neither played drums nor looked stoic at all. Uncle Detlef (I sometimes call him Detleffard) is a happy man and he shows it. He always laughs like it’s his one-and-only gig, outside a blissful matrimony. He’s such a happy man that whenever he attends to his dog-patients, you could actually hear the canines laughing with his wild Will Farrell jokes. Have you heard pooches and coons and hounds laughing out loud in a kind of “We Will Rock You!” unison? Go to Uncle Detlef’s vet hospital... It rocks!

MEANTIME, back to my Aunt Pilar — I don’t really think that she would remember I even asked those kind of “surrealistic” queries at all when I was a kid, or that, she would even care about Jefferson Airplane anymore. It has been four long decades ago... I guess, Grace Slick has now been retired in some Baton Rouge backwoods, munching crawfish enchilada over Busch Lite belting out a Kelly Clarkson ditty all weekends of her 50/60-something life, who knows—people change with age, you know.
For some—yes, surreal—reason, I ran across my Aunt Pilar in a bizarre dream sequence the other night. She was fuming mad outside London’s Wembley Stadium, where an episode of “Live Earth” worldwide concerts was happening. Among many other reasons, my Aunt Pilar and Uncle Detlef were protesting against DaimlerChrysler, a major sponsor of the lavish environmental-awareness spectacle.
DaimlerChrysler — which was using its low-emissions Smart car brand in the sponsorship — should not sponsor concerts, complained Aunt Pilar. The average level of carbon dioxide emissions from DaimlerChrysler’s fleet was 186 grams per kilometer — well above the automobile industry’s own commitment to cut emissions to 140 grams a kilometer. (The above data wasn’t, of course, flashed in my “nightmare.” But, of course, I gotta tell you that fact.)
Aunt Pilar was a staunch anti-war activist. “”We were creating the rules and making them work,” she would lighten up when reminded of Laurel Canyon, LA in `67. “There was magic all over.” According to a neatly captioned Polaroid photo that I retrieved from a family library in San Fernando Valley, Aunt Pilar was in Los Angeles, outside a club called Pandora’s Box, on Sunset and Crescent, on Nov 12, 1966—when thousands of people showed up to protest a 10pm teen-curfew law. Local business simply got fed up with what they called as “longhaired interlopers” who loved dancing all night, so went the crackdown.
My Aunt was also present during a rock benefit show for a music industry-related organization called, “CAFF: Community Action for Facts and Freedom,” at Valley Music Theater on Feb 23, 1967. The Byrds, the Doors, and Buffalo Springfield all played for this fundraiser—which was fighting the teen curfew.
Aunt Pilar was very active with anti-war street protests and “civil disobedience” activities in Manila, as well. Along with many activist-students from the state-run University of the Philippines and the upper class Ateneo de Manila, she took the streets so many times to help prevent the Philippine government from sending more PHILCAG (Philippine Civic Action Group) troops to Vietnam.
I once queried, “What do you mean by `make love, not war,’ Aunt Pilar?” Well, as usual, she hushed me with, “I don’t know, my dear...”
Although I always saw Aunt Pilar and her “groovy sisters” partying to “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” flashing those exuberant “Peace Man!” signs—it wasn’t all fun, all the time. Whenever they communed and held vigils on picketlines, they would usually end up ushering their lean bodies, wrapped with multicolored gypsy dresses, along factory driveways to block the oncoming transport of scabs. They would scream, “Down with scabs! Welga! Welga!” Only water canons, tear gas bombs, and truncheons would force them out of the streets. That is, if they were lucky enough not to be thrown in jail—which, of course, happened more often than not.
That was my Aunt Pilar, and that was her kind of activism. “No wonder, we don’t get the war to stop,” she would rant in my dream, “it’s because we only want to party.” She would go on and on, “These days, we just love to dance and get drunk, and talk and lecture, stack up on condoms, and fire off emails on the sides. A slight rain forecast will keep us off the streets!”
In a way, or sure enough, Aunt Pilar was referring to the “Live Earth” magnificence last July 7. The concerts, which was designed to raise awareness about man-made climate change and advocate environmentally friendly living, brought together more than 150 musical acts in eleven locations around the world and was broadcast to a mass global audience through radio, television, and the Internet.

THE UMBRELLA organization for “Live Earth” was “Save Our Selves,” founded by Kevin Wall, and included major partners such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the Alliance for Climate Protection, MSN, and Control Room, the production company which produced the event. Unlike the similar “Live 8” concerts, which were free, “Live Earth” charged admission. The event set a new record for online entertainment by generating more than 9 million streams.
Although Gore has repeatedly voiced his prior stand that he is “not planning to be a candidate again for office,” this blatant display of self-promotion – that started with his narrator’s work with the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” – is simply staggering and almost unprecedented. This makes me point to (on a relatively less grander scale) Cindy Sheehan, who apparently got so tired in front of the camera, so she officially gave up the (anti-war) fight. Now she wants to run for public office and challenge Rep. (and Speaker) Nancy Pelosi.
Is this what all these “activism” amount to? A political career?
Until now, it makes me ask why is it we are not very familiar with that young madman who organized Woodstock in 1969? I know I read about him many years ago—a small-down dude with a big-city attitude but who never made it—but then, he excised enough courage, patience, and diligence to raise money from mostly his rich midtown Manhattan and Long Island-based Jewish buddies to be able to put up the rock event that became the ultimate, unswerving template of all rock festivals with a cause.
Do you know? I know that it was held in Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel NY – because Joni Mitchell and CSN sang it, but I bet you don’t even know who started it all. Does it matter? (We can all talk about a fun weekend at Bonnaroo, Ozzfest, Lollapalooza, or Lilith Fair, but Woodstock will always be up there in heaven, its transcendence remains unequal, unreachable.)
We remember Woodstock for the spirit – no names, no main bill, no chasers in between – just the spirit freely soaked in pristine rain and primitive, selfless love and community. But then, how easy it is to remember Mr Al Gore – the name, the politician, the soundbyte – when we think about “saving the earth.”

ACCORDING to The Observer, the event’s total carbon footprint in the London segment alone, including the artists’ and spectators’ travel and energy consumption, was probably at least 31,500 tonnes, which is more than 3,000 times the average Briton’s annual footprint.
Carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide or CO2 emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels; in the case of an organization, business or enterprise, as part of their everyday operations; in the case of an individual or household, as part of their daily lives; or a product or commodity in reaching market.
The artists on stage had to fly at least 222,623.63 miles (about 358,278 km) — the equivalent of nearly nine times round the planet — to take part in the event. Wembley bill-topper Madonna — who, fashion magazine Marie-Claire, reported owned a Mercedes Maybach, two Range Rovers, an Audi A8s and a Mini Cooper S — had produced an estimated 440 tonnes of carbon dioxide on her four-month Confessions on a Dancefloor publicity tour.
Meanwhile, The Red Hot Chili Peppers flew in by private jet from Paris and flew out, again by private jet, after the London concert to perform in Denmark, event organizers had admitted, and The Beastie Boys had to be in Montreux the next day. After the appearance of the UK band, Razorlight, at the London Live Earth event, they were ferried to an airport in a large tour bus with police escort where they caught a private jet to an airport in Scotland, from there, they used a helicopter to travel to Balado where they performed at another event.
Meantime, concert-goers at the event’s London leg had left thousands of plastic cups on the floor of Wembley Stadium, although organizers had urged audience members to use the recycling bins provided, the BBC reported.
Oh well, it would probably take a blitzkrieg of tanks standing guard around the venue to ensure that people loyally, obediently dump their cups on designated cups/papers/plastics-only bins. How many people religiously recycle in their houses and then trash out beer-filled styrofoam and plastic cups at a rock festival – just because they were so smashed or having so much fun they didn’t remember?
So much for the “environment-awareness” bit. I don’t believe that people nowadays need to be reminded by an intercontinental rock concert to start recycling either. Why don’t we just start consuming less of these magnificently-toxic rock concerts that profess “saving ourselves” while we also stoke ourselves deep down in a (non-biodegradable) pit of excess and hedonism?
Wanna save the world? Eat ramen noodles and drink tap water sweetened with sweat, then go launch a lifetime-worth of rock concerts in the heart of the Amazon rainforest and/or around the vicinity of every factory in China. Something like that…
(That’s not my Aunt Pilar ranting in my nightmare, that’s me talking in my sleep—migraine and all.)

ROGER DALTREY, who weren’t part of the “Earth” party, said “The last thing the planet needs is a rock concert... the questions and the answers are so huge I don’t know what a rock concert’s ever going to do to help.”
Few years ago, an entire village was swept away – thousands perished – in a very impoverished island town in the south of the Philippines. The obvious culprit – illegal logging. Mountains are raped of trees so that we, mostly in affluent countries and societies, could consume them at a pace that can only be called bizarre and fiendish. I see “environmental activists” hug trees from Bolinas, California to Florence, South Carolina – so they could protect them? – from whom? What does that amount to? Advocacy to save the globe? A crusade to save your summertime shade or community beautification campaign?
Our `hood is not the World. Wembley Stadium or some intentional community in the Shenandoahs aren’t the Earth. Ormoc Island in the Philippines, a Kenyan village in Nairobi, an “untouchables” slum in New Delhi – these are the communities and humanity that need help. With all the money that rock concert titans are throwing away, why don’t they just funnel the resources and energy to where they are most needed?
Gore continued, “This one day, 24 hours long, will not only be a wake-up call for the world but the beginning of a multi-year campaign...” A global campaign like recycling? Again, I repeat, we pay the government recycling fees—while we volunteer to segregate this and that on this and that bin—so that a total of $236 billion is generated from this “awareness.” Then we hand over a measly $60 billion to an AIDS-stricken and starving Africa, then we praise ourselves because we care for the Earth—all cameras clicking. Hallelujah!

NOT TOO LONG ago, a number of “cause-oriented” rock concerts and festivals took Woodstock’s lead. George Harrison spearheaded the two 1971 “Concerts for Bangladesh.” John Cleese and Martin Lewis conceived the Amnesty International-sponsored “Secret Policeman’s Balls” benefit concerts from 1976 to 1981. Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall organized the four “No Nukes” concerts in 1979. Four other benefit concerts for Kampuchea was conceived by Paul McCartney and Kurt Waldheim in 1979. Then, there was the 1988 “Free Nelson Mandela Concert” at Wembley Stadium.
The most popular of the post-Woodstock “rock concert series” initiatives was, of course, Bob Geldof’s two “Live Aid” concerts on July 13, 1985 and the eight “Live 8” concerts staged on July 2, 2005. Before that, Amnesty International staged 20 concerts in 1988 called “Human Rights Now! World Tour” - a tour conceived by Jack Healey and Martin Lewis.
What makes these efforts different from “Live Earth” is that – these concerts had a clear-cut humanitarian agenda or program of implementation – other than the fun side of the revelry or the multi-media PR bombast.

AH, I SHOULD quit complaining now... This nightmare the other night is just disturbing.
“What is a surrealistic pillow?” I can still visualize my Aunt Pilar swinging, swirling, swishing across the den—as Jefferson Airplane rockets and weaves along the purple haze of my psychedelic memory.
“I don’t know, my dear…”
“What is a horse with no name?” “Where can we buy an American Pie?” “Can you please take me to Strawberry Fields?” “How do I light a fire?” “Have you seen Proud Mary?” “Where is the dock of the bay?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”
The music plays, the dancing continues... but the Earth is bleeding, bleeding so bad. I need Aunt Pilar’s spirit to show me the way to help start or continue the healing. Meantime, let me rest on my “surrealistic pillow” and muse over my sweet nightmare. Tomorrow is another day. I gotta keep on rockin’.