Fire

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What a relief that the Griffith Park fire was contained. The second major Los Angeles landmark to be threatened this year by wildfire, it’s quite comforting to know that it’s safe…until the next fire. Or quake. Not that there’s much for a quake to destroy in the park itself, at least relative to an urban area such as the building that I am currently typing in: it had to be rebuilt after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. But I like to live dangerously. That’s why I stay on 5 in Blackjack…classic movie.

I did actually feel a slight tremor last year and got all excited because I’m something of an earthquake neophyte, but soon found out that it’s not cool to show excitement over such a minor occurrence (tremors are apparently not unusual in this part of the world). My new policy is to remain tight-lipped on impending natural disasters.

Did you see the photos of the Griffith Observatory set against a backdrop of smoke? I’ve only been there once, but the planetarium experience is forever etched in my memory. Though, my notion of ‘forever’ doesn’t quite stack up against the scale of the universe that the planetarium show attempts to convey to the audience. Actually, the live narrator’s energetic performance was almost as impressive as the display itself. And while we’re talking planetariums, the Harrison Ford-narrated show at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, when I was there a couple years ago, was also very cool.

Incidentally, the photo above is not from this week’s Griffith Park fire. The first I knew of the blaze was the surprising view from the window of my car as I was driving North on the 405 freeway, Tuesday, at about 5 p.m. (a most unfavorable time for traffic). I noticed the billowy cloud of dark smoke alarmingly close to the city and was immediately reminded of the last time I saw such a sight, in Sedona last year.

It began as a small, unsuspecting cloud of smoke that I noticed in the distance one day as I was hiking. Usually, I would hike early in the mornings on my own before we began in the studio (and while the air was still cool – summer in Sedona is scorching). But on this occasion, an experienced guide and Sedona resident was leading me through some of the area’s most intriguing but well-hidden hiking spots. During the course of that Sunday afternoon, Stephen often came back to speaking about energy in all its forms, demonstrating some techniques and offering some insightful perspectives on nature. At the end of our time on the far side of Bell Rock, he began talking of the role of passion in a person’s life and its potential to either animate or consume it. Stephen was talking about harnessing passion and allowing it to drive creativity and work, without being overtaken by it, when we rounded the last bend of the trail and noticed an innocent-looking smoke cloud a few miles away. “The perfect analogy,” he said. “Fire, when harnessed, is a powerful tool. Left to run wild, however, its potential for destruction is huge. At the same time, if you try too hard to contain it out of fear, the flame will eventually be extinguished – that’s not what you want, either.”

I don’t think the flames heard him. The Brins fire, as it was named, grew and grew. Whenever I stepped outside the studio I would see helicopters doing their best to douse the flames, which wandered pretty close to where we were recording. Ralf, the album’s producer, took cigarette-breaks on the deck outside the studio. We had some interesting conversations, but one ironic image still stands out in my mind: watching Ralf holding a smoking cigarette, while just behind him the persistent flames and smoke of the Brins fire continued to rage day after day. The photos in this blog are of the typical view we had from the studio. One of them also forms the current background of my MySpace page, as well as the graphic on the All or Nothing CD itself (not the album cover, but on the actual CD).

At times there was talk of the city being evacuated, and some smaller parts of the area were in fact evacuated. Luckily, we were not, so the recording continued uninterrupted in Ralf’s home studio, surrounded by smoke. The time soon came for me to leave Sedona to take care of some non-music-related work in New Zealand while Ralf toured Germany, where his music has a large following (didn’t Europe also experience some serious wildfires last year?). A month later, we were back in Sedona to mix the album and the fire had at last been extinguished…then the seasonal monsoon rains began, replete with flooding and the most amazing electrical storms I have ever seen.

In the latest installment of my experience with wildfires (Sedona being the first), Catalina Island, off the coast of L.A., is now reopening after its blaze earlier in the week, so I am no longer sandwiched between two walls of fire. (In this analogy, I would be the ‘meat in the sandwich’ – a veritable kiwi sandwich. They say it tastes like chicken. I’m referring to the native New Zealand bird, not the fruit). It seems that each new year is perceived by most of us as more charged than the last, both globally – just when we think things are settling down something bigger flares up – and on a personal level. So I wonder what the intensity of this coming summer will bring…if one thing’s for sure, it’s that the world certainly isn’t slowing down. Sometimes we just have to hit the ground running. A Smash Mouth song springs to mind: “My world’s on fire how about yours / That’s the way I like it and I never get bored.”

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