Friday, December 30, 2011


~2012 is just days away; the year everyone seems to be talking about. Some folks like to interpret the alleged Mayan prediction as being the literal end of the world as we know it. Some folks claim that the world is not going to end, but this particular civilization will. Other folks believe it’s not going to be the end of anything, but stand firm on the belief that a shift in consciousness will occur causing structure to collapse and people to awaken to the bigger picture. Just like Y2K, I don’t think anything of great magnitude is going to happen. Thousands upon thousands of people will gather in Times Square to watch the ball drop, wish each other a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year and by the time they recover from their hangovers on January 1st, the same shit will start all over again. We will continue to make the same mistakes, swallow the same lies, follow the same traditions, believe the same illusions and allow the faceless controllers of the world to create distractions and continue to pull the strings.

~I’m not at all thrilled about how jaded I’ve become to welcoming a New Year. With all the wake-up calls this world has encountered throughout the past centuries, we continue to remain asleep. I certainly don’t want to be burdened by the thought that the human race is hopeless. I want desperately to believe things will get better; that the quality of life will improve for all the underprivileged, undernourished, suffering citizens of Planet Earth. I don’t particularly care in what manner this improvement will come about. I welcome change for the better and it doesn’t necessarily have to occur the way I envision it. I’ll take it any way we can get it. Whether it’s going to be Jesus crashing through the clouds carrying a sword and riding a White Horse, the spaceships circling down from other galaxies, or rays of positive energy beaming down from distant stars, I don’t care; just bring it on!
~Are we on our own? I certainly hope not, because if we are, judging from our past history and recent events, we’re doomed! I would love to be convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is a God of Love sitting on a heavenly throne who we can summon at a moment’s notice to intervene in our affairs and make all things right. I don’t know of a time in Biblical history, from when man first acknowledged the God of Abraham, that there was ever a day of peace on Earth. If this God of Abraham is real, why has he been so removed from the hearts of men that they can kill, cheat, lie and ravage the planet which nourishes them? Could it be the God of Abraham is just the figment of one man’s imagination who won favor with his people simply because of the gratifying promises they needed to hear? If actions speak louder than words, there certainly isn’t enough action occurring to prove this particular God’s existence. The God of the Bible seems more like wishful thinking. This doesn’t mean I don’t believe in a Creator. The One I need to believe in is just too big to put in a box.

~Have earthlings been visited by other life forces? Logic tells me that humans of past civilizations were either very much advanced, or alien beings were here to help our primitive ancestors along. Explain the mathematical precision of the Pyramids, the plumbing in the lost city of Pompeii, or the location of Stonehenge aligning with the latitudinal and longitudinal position of the winter and summer Solstice? How could early civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Mayans, have known Earth’s place in the solar system and invented advanced calendars when future civilizations reverted to believing the world was flat? Where did the knowledge disappear to?

~Do humans have eternal souls inhabiting temporal physical bodies and is life just a recurring chain of events whereby we ultimately become one with the Creator when we attain the highest level of consciousness? Not a bad thought and it certainly makes more sense than being banished to Bogey Land or meeting our deceased loved ones on golden streets beyond some pearly gates. Is all physical life just a means of a Spiritual Creator entertaining himself? Is the gift of life we live strictly for the purpose of fulfilling the Creator’s personal need of expression? Does each of us eventually return to and become One with the Source of all creation?

 ~I don’t know the answer to any of the above questions but I do know that anything’s possible. My resolution for the New Year is to be more open, more positive and more loving. I will openly admit that I can’t be sure of anything except for the fact that one day the physical body I inhabit will perish. If another journey is awaiting me, I welcome it. I only hope I learned a few lessons in this lifetime that will bring me closer to home. In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year and a step closer to the Light.        

Friday, December 23, 2011

Poetry & Ministry, Two Service Industries: An Interview with DAVID BREEDEN

KIRPAL GORDON: When I last saw you in the Texas Hill Country in the late 90s, you were teaching in the English Department at Schreiner University, your coming-of-age-in-the-70s novel, “Another Number,” had just come out with great fanfare and you were writing a column in the local press, Dr. Poetry. I now just learned that you are an ordained minister with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship which got me thinking about poetry being a service industry driven more by the power of witness than by celebrity and about the ministry being a service industry driven more by the power of metaphor than by dogma. 

DAVID BREEDEN: My self-definition, my label for myself, has long been “poet.” This has been true for me from my early twenties. The question has always been for me how to survive in a capitalist society that denigrates the artist. I was born into a farming family, but I could see that I wasn’t cut out for that. So, I went into college teaching. This seemed to make sense, especially after I received an MFA at Iowa’s Writers Workshop, where the talk was about teaching college. I enjoyed that life for twenty-five years. I like teaching. But the problem with college teaching is that it is a pink-cloud sort of world. Year after year, the teaching is the same. This did not feed my soul. I wasn’t giving enough back to the universe. And I wasn’t able to use my prophetic voice.
So, I left teaching to go into Unitarian Universalist parish ministry where, as I saw it, I could be both poet and prophet. Also, life as a minister is certainly more “real.” I go from deathbed to wedding to demonstration routinely. I’m up against the ultimate mysteries all the time.
  R.S. Thomas, who was a poet and Anglican priest, once said, “Christ was a poet, the New Testament is a metaphor, the Resurrection is a metaphor; and I feel perfectly within my rights in approaching my whole vocation as priest and preacher as one who is to present poetry, and when I preach poetry I am preaching Christianity, and when one discusses Christianity one is discussing poetry in its imaginative aspects. The core of both are imagination....”

KIRPAL GORDON: Sam Hamill, in a recent interview with Paul Nelson, described the office of poet much like taking a bodhisattva vow.  He said, “Poetry is the most compressed, considered and comprehensive use of language. It marries language to music. What is not said in a poem is often just as important as what IS said. And when we invest the energy and the listening, we can’t read poetry silently, you must listen to the language, you must let the rhythms enter your body. Poetry aspires to the condition of music, but also aspires to the conditions of philosophy. Poetry is a very large house and there are many kinds of poetry. There is something in there, beneath all of that, that lies at the very common core of human experience. And to follow those threads, to follow the thinking of poets over the centuries, one sees again and again, the poet speaking on behalf of suffering humanity. The poet trying to lift people out of their dolor; lift people out of their indifference. Poetry is a very valuable tool and it has been my honor and my privilege to devote my life to this cause.”  Would you comment?

DAVID BREEDEN: I certainly agree with Sam Hamil that an essence of poetry is the compression and music of language. I’m intrigued by the new media for just that reason—I love the challenge of honing a poem down until it will fit into the 140 character format of Twitter, for example. And, yes, the function of poet, priest, and prophet is exhortation to forsake the mundane for the sublime. But for me the deeper essence of poetry is metaphor. Everything we think; everything we believe; every conscious action we undertake is based in metaphor. We are handed metaphors by our cultural experience—how to act; how to think; what right and wrong action looks like. Like anything standard-issue, these metaphors will do. These will provide a cookie-cutter life. The poet and prophet however must get inside the metaphors; must learn other metaphors; and must learn how to manipulate, how to handle, the metaphors. That’s what I show Jesus doing in my latest book--–“News from the Kingdom of God: Meditations on the Gospel of Thomas.” I began translating the Gospel of Thomas as one of my spiritual practices. As I worked on the text, I realized that the Jesus portrayed there is like a Zen practitioner. I began responding to the sayings with similar sayings from other spiritual traditions. Then I began responding with my own poems. I realized for the first time that the “kingdom of God” is existence in the present moment, totally in control of the metaphors. This is heaven; this is nirvana; this is enlightenment. It is the instant of absolute creativity of both life and poetry. I don’t manage to live there all the time; but I get there whenever possible.
KIRPAL GORDON: Your “Meditations on the Gospel of Thomas” is itself a poem, a collage of meditations from many wisdom traditions. These non-canonical words of Jesus, like his riffs on the kingdom of heaven and the dance of the sacred, are startling by themselves but they’re given added dimension by your weaving in commentary from Kabbala as well as Buddhist and Christian mysticism. Would you share your Nargarjuna poem in response to Jesus’s opening remark, “Whoever hears these words will never die?”

DAVID BREEDEN: “Nargarjuna says, / Nothing comes into existence / and nothing disappears. / Nothing is eternal; / nothing ever ends. / Nothing is identical / and nothing is different. / Nothing moves here or there.”
Nargarjuna and Jesus were wily cusses. No doubt about that. 

KIRPAL GORDON: It’s a great Chapter One that says it all / or nothing!  Though I’ve studied these things for years, your “translations” brought new meanings to these non-dual ideas.

DAVID BREEDEN: I won’t deny being a slow learner. I’ve been studying the world and writing for a long time, yet I’m just now, twenty-some years later, actually hearing things that Allen Ginsberg taught me. I guess it’s a matter of “when the student is ready.” I thought I was ready. When we’re talkin’ understanding reality itself, though, I guess we’re never really ready. Or ready in only fits and starts. It’s tough. But the writing is always there. And the teachers.
KIRPAL GORDON: Regarding the social activism of your ministry, what do you make of the Arab spring and the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon?

DAVID BREEDEN: I have been watching the world-wide revolutions with some hope. And I have participated in local Occupy actions. What makes me most hopeful is that this has been a spontanious, leaderless movement, carried on the ripples of the social media. The new means of human communication have tremendious power and they will also I think prevent any one leader from emerging. Even on the Right, where march-stepping is assumed, the teaparty never became capitalized--never got branded by one focus. It’s a truism that when all speak no one listens, but leaders in politics and tastemakers in art are all scrambling back there in the dust now. That gives me hope that the cacaphony will produce a higher harmony.

KIRPAL GORDON: What else are you up to and how else can Giant Steps readers stay abreast of your doings and non-doings?
DAVID BREEDEN: I'm currently working through the Tao teh Ching. Anyone interested can follow along at
or on Twitter, @dbreeden.
By the way, I have an author’s page at Amazon, for anyone who would like to see what I’ve brought back from various “raids on the unconscious.”

Monday, December 19, 2011


Ever since Thanksgiving, I’ve been tip-toeing about the house hoping to avoid any conversation that might have anything to do with putting up Christmas lights. Most people who know me are well aware that I’m not a fan of December! Without getting into all the details, I’ll just say quickly that my twenty-five year career as a UPS man, working non-stop into the late hours of the evening from mid-October until December 24th, destroyed any fondness I may have had at one time for the holiday. Having an inquisitive mind and asking endless questions about the origins of Christmas, and Christianity for that matter, has contributed greatly to my wanting to hibernate through the season.

Well here it was December 16th and my luck had run out. While I was trying to enjoy the last few drops of my morning cup of coffee, my wife entered the kitchen and gently approached me asking if I was going to help her put up the Christmas lights. “Damn,” I thought, “One of these years I’m going to get away with not decorating!”

I didn’t really want her to think of me as a heartless, selfish bastard, so trying with the best of my ability not to show my annoyance, I answered affirmatively and as pleasantly as possible, “Sure honey, I’ll help you!”
“I’ll arrange the lights on the bushes,” she said compromisingly, “I just need you to hook them up to the electric!”
Putting up Christmas lights on my house can sometimes turn into a three day nightmare. Aside from the torturous ordeal of untwisting miles of tangled wire only to find yet another set has died completely, my wife is very particular on how the lights are displayed; symmetry is of extreme importance. There is perfect order to all she does; OCD runs in her family! My motto, “Fuck it, it’s good enough,” does not sit well with her. This year, however, she agreed to concede by not overdoing it; this year she promised not to light up the entire house and to decorate the front bushes only. Relieved by the comforting thought that the annual Christmas light ritual was going to be somewhat toned down this year, I offered my assistance, assuming the task would take up only ninety minutes of my time…tops! What do they say about the best laid plans?

There we were; me and Mrs. Claus, neatly draping lights from bush to bush. It was going along pretty smoothly, I had to say. We weren’t arguing; she wasn’t being overly fussy. We were almost done; there was just one bush remaining. She gave me an engaging smile that led me to believe she was pleased to know we weren’t bickering as she headed towards the front steps with plans to bring out the last two strings of lights. She stopped dead in her tracks just before pulling open the storm door. “Oh no!” she yelped with a horrified expression of dread and disgust. Her Santa-red cheeks turned ghostly white as she stomped her feet and grumbled, “I stepped in shit!”

My first thought was that it was probably mud she had mistaken for shit, but then the vile odor started to suddenly permeate the air alerting me to the fact that, as usual, she was right. There was no denying she had definitely stepped in shit, cat shit, in fact! One of our neighbors thought she was doing the humane thing several years ago by putting milk out for stray cats. Her backyard and garage are now havens for felines from all over Nassau County. Obviously, one of the many cats that seem to think they can drop their turds any old place they chose to, must have eaten something that wreaked havoc on its intestinal tract and relieved itself under our bush. Any ideas I may have entertained about getting our lights up in less than a couple of hours were over. I spent the remainder of the afternoon with the garden hose, a scrub brush, a bottle of ammonia, a rake, a shovel and a few plastic bags, courtesy of our local CVS. Not only did my wife get cat excrement on her sneakers, the front walkway and the steps leading to our front door, she got it on the bottom of her jeans. The day turned into an out and out shit-fiasco! Determined to finish the job, while I scrubbed and sprayed in repulsion, she returned to the scene wearing clean sweat pants and an old pair of flip-flops in an attempt to hang the last string of lights. As luck would have it, her foot found the one blob of cat shit I overlooked. Round two had begun.

Was there a lesson to be learned from this?  Was somebody trying to tell us something? I don’t know. Could her refraining from putting up Christmas lights to please me have prevented her from getting shit all over her shoes, clothes and front steps; or would my cooperating and going with the program to please her by putting up the lights myself have prevented me from having to clean the shit off her sneakers and scrub the front stoop with ammonia and freezing water on a cold December afternoon? Or did all of this occur simply because shit happens?  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter in Whitestone: A Holiday Shout

      A world of little kid secrets it was when by chance, waking from sleep, asphalt streets & factory-blackened ground lay carpeted knee-deep in skyfall’s coconut marshmallow avalanche. As we ambled along powder-puffed, tall-treed Powells Cove Boulevard, blizzards blotted out the decaying seafront’s gangrenous plank & broken tugboat, & when hailstorms finally ceased, a serenity of snow & ice had descended upon our unheralded outpost of New York Harbor.
      Car crash, rock salt, slush slide & blood drip met up ahead on the Bronx-Whitestone, a buckling suspension bridge spanning the East River under which the white stones that gave old Clintonville its new name sat buried & longshoremen’s tall tongues still tell the tale on sleet-hoary evenings in run-down gin mills like the Crew’s Rest, but in the era of Ike, JFK & LBJ, it seemed that every cobbled clump of corner store cluster included a watering hole packed with beefy barkeeps cursing like troopers, dressed in apron & tie among crumbling corduroy, quarter beer & pipe smoke, serving toothless stumble bums rum-soaked who shuffled key notes heaven-sent inside greatcoats, while across the street a pre-Gortex world of cotton long johns shrunk at ankle & wrist held unshaven gypsy men cowering wind-whipped under dimly lit Bohack’s selling freshly timbered evergreens silent like Buddha holding a flower.

      A pothole-frozen, vapor trail, crystalline cold hike it was along unpaved Cryders Lane a winding mile home from St. Luke’s Grammar School in ill-fitting ear muffs & woolen mittens out of mothballs, steel-buckled rubber galoshes over Thom McAnn shoes to guard against wet gusts that blew Little Bay frosty over abandoned piers. There were chores to do or our knuckled heads would be met by a world of woe from mothers’ leather strap or the backhands of hard-headed, jack-hammering dads. So we ran along the service road, dug out the snowed-in, shoveled sidewalks & rested in the heart of the old village where stood our tiny library next to Crawley’s, the hole in the wall our dads crawled home from on Friday nights, & beyond that stood the Odd Fellows Hall where the Pocahontas Society met. Not a single Matinocock who once hunted these hills was alive to join, but my immigrant grandmas were members & decided their kids should meet.
      Raised on catastrophe, wary of strangers, certain how perilous was winter & the other three seasons yet voyaging across an ocean for a freer way of life with a more level playing field, these grandmas, Cassie & Frieda, re-shaped superstition & tradition to make in America a place for a savior for whom, like them and their loved ones, there was no room at the inn. Such were their stories of salt-of-the-earth glory spoken to us in their Old Country accents, & like the man called Christ, their bones knew the catharsis that comes from overwhelming crisis. In spite of plastic Santas tied to antennae, Chanukah candles orange in windows, flood-lit mangers & magi, the grandmas understood that winter holds an unfathomable dread, a mystery that the older religions of our newer immigrants reflect---Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, East Indian---that round & round the eons spinning, we arise from & return to a Vast Unknowable Nothing, that change is our identity & death merely the removal of a tight shoe, ideas to shake the terror of our non-existence out of us that we might make fuller use of what redeems night’s darkest hour before the dawn of a new year entire.
      The ghosts of our grandmas are winking at us between falling flakes of snow to remind us the crying, hungry baby emerging between shit & piss, as Augustine called our human birth, is not just Yeshuwa Mithra but the world herself, that whole worlds are being born tonight in every Bethlehem, a word that only means “mill town” in Aramaic. At their graves of white stone our grandmas’ absence tells us to make ready a place for the guest who arrives without invitation, like a raven in the snow, at our window with a broken wing.
--Kirpal Gordon (from Eros in Sanskrit: Lyrics & Meditations; for more go to


Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Art of Seeing: An Interview with RICHARD GINS

KIRPAL GORDON: Let’s start with your opening last month at Salomon Arts. It was a knock-out to see so much of your work, both large scale and small, centered on a theme that drew together so many elements of your craft.

RICHARD GINS: My recent show at Salomon Arts was an opportunity for me to pull together a specific body of work that has been evolving since 1974. When I made the first spontaneous drawing with geometric rectangular shapes imposing their will on the figure, I knew immediately that this very simple image was profound and important. With the strong interplay between rigid shapes and the fluid organic lines of the captive, squeezed figure, it held great potential to formally express many of the esoteric ideas I was studying. Over the years this idea evolved, each time reflecting my growing understanding of the struggle and process of human transformation into higher consciousness. First the obstructed images represented a kind blame, where there was something affecting us outside of ourselves, outside of our control; then the geometric shapes became windows to suggest a hidden inner world; and finally the shapes became the figure itself, with an inner figure inside, painfully unaligned with its outer shell, but now clearly it was an inner process, one we can work on to change, to align and to evolve. I want to do a more comprehensive show of the full scope of this visual evolution and for this I will need a much larger space. I was pleased that many people appreciated and understood the originality of this work and that it expressed to them important realities about the human condition.

KIRPAL GORDON: The show was also filled with plenty of surprises and discoveries. One thing I stumbled upon that I hadn’t known anything about was your project with the New York City subway system and the MTA Museum.  

RICHARD GINS: My “Subway Rider” book was an effort to package a huge body of work based on direct drawing from life while riding the NYC subway over a 16-year period. The subway is probably the most culturally diverse place on the planet and so interesting. Drawing this captive audience, however fleeting it may be, demands that I quickly find my subjects and get my lines down on paper before my subjects leave the train. These simple line drawings capture some essence of humanity. My book was sold at the NYC Transit Museum where I had a public book signing and gave a talk about drawing. I still work from life as a discipline to keep my ability “to see” honed to a sharp edge.

KIRPAL GORDON: You were born in 1950 so it was possible for you to study and make art without the traditional reliance on drawing, but your “Subway Rider” is a celebration of a daily dedication to sketching.

RICHARD GINS: All painting in whatever genre, from realism to pop, still requires a foundation in drawing. I believe that the most fundamental skill a visual artist must develop is his ability “to see.” Without this, there is no understanding of the relationships between all the visual elements. It was clear early in my career that drawing from life is the discipline needed to learn this skill. Drawing from life helps to keep the link between hand and eye and between the outer world and our perception of it. I think that drawing in ink has also contributed to the quality of my line drawings because you cannot erase and must commit to letting your line flow with a character of the moment. Besides drawing from life, I have two other lines of work that have become part of continual practice. One is that I start with no preconception or agenda in order to find new ideas and images that spring from a blank page. This is very difficult and needs continual practice too. The other practice is to work on the themes and ideas already in development and to explore new possibilities and variations. All three of these lines of work must be worked on simultaneously. They overlap and together bring a more complex and complete vision of my work as an artist.
KIRPAL GORDON: I like what you say, especially in regard to your monotypes, the thing that first drew me to your work way back in the Eighties when you were showing at Hugh Piney Gallery.

RICHARD GINS: Yes, that show at Hugh Piney Gallery was exciting. It was written up as the “most current show in the city” because all the work were monotypes done within a week of the show. I conceived, curated and participated in the show along with many well known artists. I collaborated with Bob Blackburn’s Printmaking Studio and there was a sweet after party at the Palladium and a great write up about me and the show in ArtNews. I love to do monotypes because they are the perfect marriage of painting and printmaking. It has the sensibility of working in full color like a painter yet they have the unmistakable qualities that can only be achieved by printing the color on paper. I studied with a famous lithographer and did many editions, but I found making color prints slow and cumbersome having to use separate color plates and multiple printings for a single print. This went against my sensibility that color is an emotional experience, so I gravitated to monotypes which allowed me to work in full color directly on a plexi or metal plate. Once the plate is painted with the ink, the plate is run through an etching press to produce the one unique print. The plate can then be clean and a new image made or the residual image can be worked back into allowing for a kind of serial evolution of the image. I am willing to sacrifice the commercially viable multiple-image edition for a series of unique prints. I also like process where ink can be added as well as wiped away quickly allowing the image to go through many changes. There is also a time restraint because the image must be printed before the thin layer of ink dries. Monotypes are conducive to my long interest in gestural mark making and textures with its rich and versatile techniques. I have pushed this medium very hard yet still feel I have only scratched the surface, no pun intended.

KIRPAL GORDON: How are things in the visual arts now compared to when you were coming up?

RICHARD GINS: One of my most influential teachers told me some 38 years ago that I shouldn’t expect my first important exhibition before age 50. I understood he was saying it takes years to develop skills and ideas worthy of a show. But nowadays, students leave their formal training and immediately want a gallery and fame. This, coupled with an art industry that is more about marketing and making money than a real understanding of what the creative process is about, makes navigating all that much more complicated and superficial. I feel that my best work is yet to come and feel that, in the pursuit of art, experience creates depth. But now my age is a hindrance as the market place looks for the next big thing coming out of their exclusive collegial pipelines. So now like years past, finding the resources to continue to make my art feels so very familiar. But we must continue our struggle.

KIRPAL GORDON: Although you are a native New Mexican, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve lived in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Was this by design or accident?

RICHARD GINS: I guess some of both. When I lived in New Mexico, I was so energetic and wanted to create and connect with other creative people to compare notes and collaborate. New Mexico definitely has many creative people and a long tradition of regional art as well as links to the New York School that goes back to the 1920’s and 30’s, but everyone there was so spread out with no real connecting point. So I spearheaded the first artist living/studio building in downtownAlbuquerque; a not-for-profit arts organization/center; and a not-for-profit performing arts organization/forum. I was using up more energy than I was getting back so I moved to NYC. When I moved I did have a lead on a temporary studio sublet on the edge of Red Hook. I miss the clear light and big vistas of NM but the waterfront in Red Hook Brooklyn did offered me clear light and a view of the horizon.  When I found an abandoned firehouse there, I knew this small vibrant beach style community was going to be my home.  I also enjoy painting outside from the landscape with my french easel and have made paintings on the waterfront in Brooklyn as well as in Costa Rica where I have a house for many years.  I have always been innately urban and needed to be in a more challenging environment artistically and one that offered more energy and opportunities in return. New York has surely offered me this. 
KIRPAL GORDON: How have your philosophical interests changed your approach to visual art?

RICHARD GINS: My interest in philosophy, religion and the esoteric schools of spiritual transformation started me on a journey years ago to “know thyself” and to try to understand reality and what the “creative process” is really about. Most of my work is about discovery within a creative process and the content itself in many of the works speaks to this mystery with metaphors of masks, windows and other suggestions of an inner hidden world. Picasso taught me so much about creativity. His understanding that “it’s not what you are doing but how you are doing it” gave him the ability to transcend the medium and express his inner power as a creative man. He confirmed my experience that the key to enter the creative process is the “risk” we take of not knowing where the journey is going and making the connection between creation and destruction as part of the same process. These ideas prompted me to explore various media (photography, video, writing, community organizing, social problem-solving, inventions, etc) all of which are connected in this non-linear, organic creative process. Most people accept the assumption that art is inevitably part of defining the creative process but this vital life process transcends making art and becomes the process necessary for our spiritual development. If one does not make this separation, then a person’s creative possibility depends on whether they consider themselves an artist or not, or feel they understand art or not. And just because a person does call himself an artist, it does not equate with creativity, consciousness or level of spirituality. It is not until we begin from the premise that whatever work we do in life, it is either done creatively or it’s not; whether we take risks in our lives or not; whether we are willing to destroy that which is limiting and familiar to us in order to find something new that has the power to expand and transform who and what we really are. This is my work as a man and as an artist and I feel I must share this vital understanding with other if we as a collective are going to reach a “critical mass“ capable of changing the destructive path we are on. I hope to finish a book I’ve been working on for many years about the creative process.

KIRPAL GORDON: How do Giant Steps readers find out more about what your work?

RICHARD GINS: My work can be seen on Facebook.
for drawings:
for monotypes:
for photographs:
for a slideshow of my work:
for links to videos and some literary pieces:
“Subway Rider” can be purchased by contacting me by email.
For inquires on purchasing an artwork, contact me directly at

photo by Bernard McWilliams

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"The Revolution Will Be Jazz"---An Interview with vocalist GIACOMO GATES

KIRPAL GORDON: As a journalist with a Wyatt Earp 'plex, I keep my eye, not my back, on the door. Having seen you play the Blue Note as well as Flushing Town Hall with your band, I can tell you that no one was going anywhere, whether the actual exit or “the astral adios.” From ages eight to eighty, your audience was into the music.

GIACOMO GATES: Thanks for that! I’m very comfortable in a “live” situation, and feel the energy of the audience and the band. Call it interaction.
KIRPAL GORDON: Though a great performance is no guarantee of CD sales, your new recording on Savant, “The Revolution Will Be Jazz---The Songs of Gil Scott Heron,” has been the number one selling CD in jazz for over six weeks and has been in the top twenty for over thirteen weeks.  What’s the ride been like? 

GIACOMO GATES: I don’t know about, nor have I made any claim to, the number one selling CD in Jazz, but regarding airplay, “The Revolution Will Be Jazz---The Songs of Gil Scott Heron” did sit at the #1 slot as the most played jazz recording on National Jazz Radio for six weeks. No other Jazz record did that in 2011, although it’s still overlooked.
I can say that the musicians who played on the recording, Savant Records, and producer Mark Ruffin and myself were very happy to see that radio dug it as much as they did. To me, that also means the listeners dug it too. I was told by many radio stations that they would receive many positive phone calls when they spun it. We got amazing feedback from listeners, fans, other musicians, and folks in the music bizness. The concept was the idea of Mark Ruffin, and I picked tunes that I could connect with and John diMartino wrote great arrangements. I’m very grateful for all that happened. 

KIRPAL GORDON: In this CD you’ve somehow fused the soulful spoken word-song thing of Gil Scott with the vocalese of Eddie Jefferson, the depth of Kurt Elling, the rich baritone of Billy Eckstine and the scat wonder of Ella Fitzgerald with your own unique approach to erase the separation between then and now while bringing into the musical mainstream elements long considered too experimental to sell records. Did anyone tell you it couldn’t be done?   

GIACOMO GATES: The recording took place in November of 2010, and Savant picked it up in March of 2011.  This was not designed to be a tribute to Gil…this was supposed to be a gift.
Gil left the planet in May of 2011.
I didn’t know I did any of that. It wasn’t my intention to sound like any of those folks, although I am obviously influenced by Eddie. In the tunes that I chose, Gil’s words were up to date, right on time. Some of it is stone serious, some is humorous, some is romantic.  “Show Bizness” is funny and true, so is “Madison Avenue.”  “Winter in America” is so about right now…so is “Gun.” “This is A Prayer For Everybody In The World” is a beautiful prayer, or wish, to lay on someone. “Legend In His Own Mind” is great fun and the truth!  New York City” is valid today, and so is “Lady Day & John Coltrane”…..“Is That Jazz” is a question that lots of folks are asking today, including me. All the tunes are pertinent to the world we live in today, and Gil’s music is not a stretch to put in the jazz vernacular. Gil said that he comes out of rhythm and blues, and jazz.
No one told me it couldn’t be done, most thought it was a very good idea. The music is big fun to sing, and it’s easily performed for large outdoor venues….high energy.

KIRPAL GORDON: Although you have great pipes, a great band, five killer CDs and have played and sang with many jazz legends, you’ve spent quite a few years in the trenches of blue collar labor gigs like working the Alaskan pipe line. What were those early years like up in towns like Fairbanks?

GIACOMO GATES: I went to Alaska in August of 1975, when the Pipeline was about half finished. It was a wild “boom town”…a wild west show… hard to explain in only a few paragraphs. I spent a year doing many kind of odd jobs before I got “real work”…. out of a Union Hall, doing what I already spent several years doing in Connecticut, running heavy equipment. Some jobs odder than others….worked a night shift in a liquor store, (from 9:30pm to 5am) roofing, drove a tour bus, hung sheetrock, worked in a couple of gambling joints, as a relief dealer and bouncer, moved furniture, carpenter’s helper, etc. Along with Pipeline work, I worked on road jobs, landing strips, and dams.
Great experiences, in places where most people never get to go…Aleutians, Brooks Range, North Slope, islands off the coast of northern Alaska on the DEW Line.
And also did some seasonal stints in Washington State, Arizona and on drill rigs of the coast of Louisiana.
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KIRPAL GORDON: You are also quite involved in jazz education.  How’s that going?

GIACOMO GATES: I’ve been teaching at Wesleyan University for twelve years, and taught at The Hartford Conservatory and The Neighborhood Music School, all in Connecticut.  While traveling, clinics and master classes are available, colleges and several groups of singers have put together the opportunity for me to work with a group, along with an accompanist or rhythm section. It’s not always about people wanting to sing professionally, many times students are interested in the history, the musicians and singers who were innovators and left a mark. 

KIRPAL GORDON: When can folks next hear you play and what plans do you have for touring?  How can fans at Giant Steps stay tuned to what you’re up to?

GIACOMO GATES:  The website, is usually up to date, and an itinerary is available.


Thanksgiving is here and gone, and once again, Christmas is fast approaching. I’ve noticed many homeowners are taking advantage of the unusually mild weather by decorating their houses with lights and the larger-than-life blow-up displays that seem to get more over-the-top every year. The main streets of the village have already been lined with holiday trimmings and as I drive through the neighborhood, I snicker with ill-feelings towards the lunacy and hypocrisy of the season.    

As a kid, I loved Christmas. The months from June to December seemed to crawl as the joyful anticipation of the holiday grew more intense with each passing day. I think it was a combination of things that made Christmas so special for me. It goes without saying, receiving presents topped the list, but aside from that, it was the magical, dreamy feeling in the air. Somehow I was always taken over by an overwhelming, indescribable sense of security, peace and happiness. The people around me appeared to be curiously happy and friendly. Family gathered at each other’s homes to share meals, make conversation and exchange gifts, and maybe it was just my na├»ve, childlike way of looking at things, but love seemed to shine in everyone’s eyes. In my world, at Christmastime, everything ran smooth and each minute unfolded as if it had all been divinely planned.

Sitting tightly together in overcrowded pews, our family attended midnight Mass probably so we wouldn’t have to interrupt the Christmas Day festivities by having to attend church. To put it mildly, we got it out of the way! Year after year I listened to the choir sing the old familiar hymns about the little town of Bethlehem and the Savior being born to a virgin. It was hard to tell whether or not the congregation was sleeping or listening attentively to the repetitive sermons of the presiding priest as he recounted the heart wrenching tale of Mary and Joseph’s cold winter’s night. When the Mass was over, everyone greeted each other with hugs, handshakes and joyful exchanges of “Merry Christmas.” Looking back, it’s hard to tell if I really believed the far-fetched chronicles of the first Christmas. Everyone else seemed to, so how could I not have? Was it really such a far cry from the fable of Santa and the Flying Reindeer?

Today the world’s a much different place than it was fifty years ago. I don’t believe it’s at all necessary to rehash just how appallingly commercial Christmas has become. The complaints coming from Christians about how the real meaning of Christmas has been lost are unrelenting. My question is does Christmas even have a REAL meaning? It’s sad, but the older I become, the more I begin to realize NOTHING is real! As people evolve, technology advances, and information becomes readily available, if we choose to do so, we can easily discover where many, if not all, of our rituals and traditions originated. All of our practices, our belief systems and our holy days can be dated back and attributed to the miraculous synchronicity of the Universe, such as the placement of the moon, sun and stars, the timing of the tides and the harvest. Somehow, man wasn’t satisfied with his equal role among the wondrous workings of nature and in an egocentric effort to answer the unanswerable, decided to create religion, deeming him significantly more important than all living things and ultimately waging war upon all that has been designed to sustain him. Pretty sick and unfortunate if you ask me!         

I’m not going to expound upon why I don’t believe in celebrating Christmas or any other religious holiday. If anybody’s interested in broadening their minds or perhaps gaining some enlightenment, they can research the information for themselves. It’s right at their fingertips. What I am going to touch upon, however, is how tradition has enslaved us. The economy, after a few botched attempts at getting jump-started, is failing miserably. A vast amount of the population is unemployed and good-paying jobs are extremely hard to come by. Christmas, which has become the mother of all economy boosters, is once again right around the corner and the retailers are counting on the crumbling middle class to max out their high-interest credit cards in hopes of remaining in business. Parents will sink deeper into credit card debt not to disappoint their wide-eyed Santa believing children. Even though most people these days cannot afford to squander what little money they have, the guilt, obligation and pressure of having to make Christmas happen puts them in the poor house a little longer. When do we come to terms with the fact that all the stress and anxiety we put upon ourselves is nothing but illusion. We created it, we can eliminate it. If upcoming generations would bring up their children without feeding them the fairy tales that eventually lead to disappointment we can end this holiday stress! If upcoming generations raise their children without indoctrinating them with the guilt-ridden untruths of the religions of their ancestors, maybe we can put a stop to holiday lunacy.

Just for shits and giggles, why don’t we just admit to each other that none of us are sure about anything except death? Why don’t we just tell our kids the truth; humans have been on the earth for millions of years and we still haven’t figured out the meaning of life. Why not put an end to all the bullshit self-righteousness and encourage each other to simply love one another and enjoy the very limited amount of time we’ve got here. No one’s any better than anyone else. We all come and go through those revolving doors into eternity. If the answer is out there, one day each of us will find it. If it’s not, what does it matter?  Don’t stress, don’t worry and be happy! Happy Chrisolstichuwanzuka to all, and to all a good night!