Michael will write more about his travel experiences soon - and you'll be able to read about them here, but in the meantime, here's a few happy snaps from his time away.
ABC STORY BY BILL BROWN
Opera Queensland artistic director Lindy Hume is calling for a newly assertive regional arts sector to break through metro-centric perspectives of regional artists being junior partners. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE...
I don’t make political statements in my songs. It’s not that I don’t have strong feelings about what’s going on in our world these days: worries and concerns, hopes and aspirations. It’s just that mostly, when I’m writing, these considerations are in the background. When I read about or witness what’s going on in the world – the inspiring stuff as well as the horrifying stuff – mostly I see that what’s happening, the things that are either bringing us up or pulling us down, can all be boiled down to how we treat each other. How I treat you, how you respond to me, how we are in relation to our children, to our elders, to those in need. How we honour and respect others, and ourselves as beings with some sort of divine spark. As living entities whose need for food, shelter and safety has to overshadow any political or national allegiances.
So while this song might appear as some sort of broad social or political statement, it’s really not that at all. It’s more of a call to take a look at what we’re actually doing when we’re allowing some sort of cause, whatever it may be, to blot out other elements of our basic humanity.
There is nobility in so many of our actions: selflessness and genuine caring, a striving to do what is right and just and honourable. Men who have gone to war down through the ages have been motivated by such feelings: have laid down their lives willingly because of them, time and time again, from time immemorial. And this stands to reason: for a true man, at his most essential core, is a protector. In the words of Red Hawk, my poet brother and friend,
Waiting for his star to rise in the firmament,
praying for his heart to catch fire and shine,
a man carries water to bathe
the women and children;
he holds, lifts, and turns
the old and the dying;
he forgets himself completely.
He is revered in the company of women
because he is tender hearted and kind,
a man who can be trusted
and for whom they have no fear.
(from “What I Would Tell Young Boys” in The Way of Power, Hohm Press 1996)
So my song is not a call for some kind of political or social change. It is, literally, a call to turn: to turn our attention away from separative belief systems, whatever they might be, to the things that, over the long term, really matter: to our home place, our community, our young and our elderly, to our earth and its ability to sustain us over time.
When the boots come off, our feet can feel the earth again. When we start to see different colours everywhere, more colours than we ever could have imagined, our world becomes immeasurably richer. And that, too, is what this song is about.
Dear Friends, Here's the third installment in a series of new videos. I hope you enjoy, and please share! It’s an inconvenient truth that, a lot of the time, there’s something or somebody out there just waiting to pull the rug out from under me. To send me tumbling, maybe only as far as the floor if there’s no trap door, but maybe even further if there is. Until, at some point, I’m able to scramble my way back up again. But that is a whole different story, one that doesn’t really figure in this song.
Unfamiliar Place focuses on the first part, the falling. And, implicitly, about living with the uncertainty that comes when the ground disappears out from under me. Accepting the lack of “all the things that propped me up and kept me steady” – for a while at least, or maybe forever. Unfamiliar Place points to the fact that the rules of the game are changing all the time (“even the ground keeps moving”) and that it’s best not to jump to conclusions, whether I’ve got a parachute or not.
I don’t know what to tell you about that fellow who gets into the taxi, however. How or if he managed to scramble his way out of that situation.
I might have to write a sequel one day. But until then, your guess will just have to be as good as mine …
Dear Friends, Here's the second installment in a series of new videos. I hope you enjoy, and please share!
Love songs don’t come easily to my pen. I have been a university lecturer in my past life, and I can still expound upon a great number of things, offer points of view and insights and interpretations, and perhaps even sound rational some of the time. But when it comes to love: that immeasurably vast subject, that unquantifiable force by and through which the most extraordinary things become possible – most of the time, I feel as though I’m still back in primary school.
Yet one day it came to me – driving around in my old ute, looking at the blue and white patches that make up the vast Tantawangalo sky – that all my life I’ve been closing doors and windows that ought to be left open. That I’ve been trying to catalogue, categorise, stake out a claim, when it comes to love. And has this worked? Definitely not. It has always brought me down, sooner or later.
Someone told me once that craziness can be defined this way: that you continue to do the same things over and over again, while at the same time you expect that there are going to be different results. Fortunately for us, new and different choices have a way of calling out to us from time to time, of making themselves so obvious that we can’t miss them. I see this as a form of grace, or mercy. And that’s what happened on the particular day that Rise In Love came into being.
So my thanks go out to the skies above, and to that moment of breakthrough, for the message that I received. And in this sense, Rise In Love is a song of gratitude, pure and simple.
Rise in Love is a song from Michael Menager's acclaimed new album featuring guests Jim Keltner, Matt Nightingale & Aaron Embry, produced by Heath Cullen. Hear more: www.michaelmenager.com
‘With more than a whiff of Dylan and Ramblin Jack Elliott, Menager’s songs are rich with characters, wry observations and wit… The more you delve into Not the Express, the more you will be delighted.' - Rhythms Magazine
"Menager sings of roads travelled and life lived, and he's warm and funny and wise, his songs delivered with youthful vigour" - Sydney Morning Herald
You pick up the pieces
You put them together
You make of them something new.
We humans are extraordinary resilient, I feel. And this is something to acknowledge ourselves for, something we can be proud of.
In the lead-up to recording Not The Express, Heath and I were having a conversation about songwriting one day. At one point he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Why don’t you write a song with a character in it who’s not you? You know, a song with a whole story in it, that’s not your story. It could be any sort of story you like.”
And that was how Pieces was born: taking up this challenge. The song includes two characters, neither of them me, and two stories. Both of these stories have to do with crashing and burning in some way or other. And the refrain of the song points to how, whenever this happens, we somehow find the means to rise again from our own ashes.
It’s always good to notice what is good.
P.S. Thanks to Tim Winterflood.
While I was in Melbourne recently I had the honour of appearing live on the Evening Show on ABC Radio 774, Statewide Victoria.
The interviewer on the show that evening was a fellow named Casey Bennetto. A gifted musician, writer and composer in his own right, Casey is the author/composer of the prize-winning Australian musical, Keating.
And we had a fantastic talk! That included an invocation of William Shakespeare, no less.
Casey asked me that almost inevitable singer/songwriter question: who is it that you have listened to that has inspired you to write songs?
I had done some thinking about this question since the last time I had answered it on air. Peeling back the layers, trying to get to that moment when the magic of words and rhythm first caught me in its winding strum.
And in the end I realized it was my encounter with Shakespeare! Classics Illustrated Comics. I read them when I was a kid. All the great books were there, in comic form. And the writers didn’t compromise the language. Somehow I acquired the Classics Illustrated volumes of Hamlet and Macbeth, and suddenly there it was - Shakespeare in pure form, verbatim! It knocked me out. How could I not become a writer after that?
I said all of this into the microphone and while I was in the middle of speaking I looked straight at Casey, just across the studio console from me. He was lit up. I could tell something had inspired him.
Almost instantaneously, he began quoting first lines from his favourite Shakespearean sonnets. He started to talk about the condensed nature, the compactness of the language of poetry and theatre, and of how the craft of songwriting calls the writer to something different. In his words, to find air, breathing space, for the words. Space for the listener to come into the conversation.
I don’t know if our talk set any red lights flashing on the ABC Melbourne complaint line (if they even have one) but who cares? In so far as I am concerned, Casey Bennetto and I were participating in one of those moments of truth - of mutual recognition.
One of those moments when we acknowledge a bright flame burning in the distance, from long ago. A flame with enough power in it still to touch a candle somewhere within a man or a woman of our times, and to set it alight.
This just in from Rhythms Magazine, Australia's authority on Roots & Americana music:
‘With more than a whiff of Dylan and Ramblin Jack Elliott, Menager’s songs are rich with characters, wry observations and wit… The more you delve into Not the Express, the more you will be delighted.' - Martin Jones, Rhythms Magazine
The full review is available in the current print edition.
It seems that I have been consistently, persistently distracted ever since my return from Adelaide. Not the least of these distractions has been the current flood, which still has me essentially landlocked, with a bit of a question mark over the state of my causeway. Nothing can be known firmly, however, until the waters of Devil’s Creek have receded a bit more. A good time for watching one’s thoughts, and how these insubstantial entities can so capture our attention and our energy.
But yes, Adelaide … a town that has always been good to me, right from the beginning when I landed there with Judith not long after I met her. It’s a town that’s almost quaint in its old fashioned politeness. And its long memory. My Adelaide friends and colleagues of all those years ago are my friends and colleagues still: and now loyal and enthusiastic fans as well!
In part, my Adelaide schedule followed the lines of these old friendships. A concert and talk for the migrant and refugee students of Thebarton Senior College, by request of my friend Sandor, who is a lecturer there. A house concert for friends at Seli-Hoo, a share house in Black Forest (owned by its tenants) that’s been going strong for some 30 years or more, where the art of living communally and of using resources wisely shows a definite stage of refinement. An impromptu set in the front bar of the Prince Albert Hotel in Gawler, by invitation from my old friend and wild, stompin’ and blowin’ blues howler Mr Steve Gower, who was mightily holding down the gig on that Saturday night.
And then there was a Candelo connection: via that songstress and fine slide player Miss Jodi Martin (big sister to Candelo’s premier bass lady, Robyn martin. Jodi's month-long residency at The Jade (Flinders St, Adelaide) was entitled The Songwriter’s Stage, a context in which she sat onstage “in the round” with three other singer/songwriters, chatting and swapping and collaborating, all very much on the spot and in the moment. An atmosphere so intimate that the usual boundaries between audience and performers seemed to vanish. I was lucky enough to be invited there for the very last night of Jodi’s current residency (May 25th) and felt very privileged to be included. And I definitely made some new friends! Amongst them fellow singer/songwriters Stan Bastiras and Kelly Menhennett.
On the following morning (Thursday 24th May) I was due in at Radio Adelaide in North Terrace for an 8:30 AM spot with Louise on The Breakfast Show. Not the best hour of the day for a late-staying-out musician, but Louise’s bright attitude and genuinely enthusiastic and insightful questioning quickly had me going strong. I love Community Radio anyway, but the feel around Radio Adelaide that morning was especially warm, friendly and focused. I’d go back there anytime
So, from the Radio Adelaide session it was a cab from the row off Rundle Mall out to Collinswood and that big white complex topped by those massive letters in shining brass, ABC. I got out, unloaded my guitar case, then through the big automatic glass doors and past the uniformed security man at the front desk, who told me to sit on one of the comfortable sofas in the foyer and wait. Paul Gough of The Inside Sleeve (ABC Radio National) would be down shortly.
And soon enough, there he was! All that bouncing energy, alive to the maximum, infectious. I jumped up, skipped the handshake (as I remember) and went straight for the hug.
“I like to interview standing up, walking around” Paul said to me before we began that part of things. “I just feel it’s more natural, kind of allows for a dynamic that's not there when you’re both sitting down. But you’re welcome to sit if you want to.” Taking up that offer never even entered my mind. What you hear when you follow the link below to the The Inside Sleeve broadcast of May 27th 2016 is a conversation between two men who are moving fast and catching impressions on the fly. Attempting to piece together a snapshot mosaic of one person’s life (in this case me) and of the thoughts, and lyrics, and melodies that have wound their way through it. A noble undertaking! And Paul Gough has been there doing this very same thing faithfully, week after week. Bringing all manner of musical artists - many of them independent - into touch with a wider circle of listeners. Helping these artists to touch places within themselves that will in turn touch others. Thank you again, Paul, for your time and your interest and your good company.
Friday night, May 27th at The Wheatsheaf Hotel: Michael Menager in Concert, with Chris Parkinson and John Derek Baker was, for me, one of the big surprises of the tour.. After witnessing Chris and John’s brilliant opening set on the night, I just knew I had to have both of those thunder-and-lightening guitar players up on stage with me. And together - well, we just lit it up. Everybody was having a good time: us, the audience; and (as had been the case at The Jade on Wednesday evening) everything we did - with no prior rehearsal, of course - was so spontaneous and improvised as to be infectious: the highs, the lows, the experimental places, the shimmering and sparking moments. We were all there together, players and listeners. My thanks and gratitude to everyone at The Wheatsheaf Hotel for continuing to provide a space where magic is encouraged!
And … well … there’s always more that could be told, but perhaps it’s good to stop here and to make this the wrap for Adelaide. My home-away-from-home down South. A place that’s as easy and familiar to slip into as one of those I-IV-V grooves in an easy key …
Press Release, 31st March, 2016.
Michael Menager’s sophomore release, Not The Express arrives this May 9th, and it’s been a long time coming - how many artists can you think of that began their recording career in their late 60s? Menager’s 2014 debut, Clean Exit, arrived just after the California born, Candelo, New South Wales based singer-writer’s 67th birthday, and was quietly self released to a handful of friends and family. That very same week, he lost his life partner Judith to a long and valiant battle with cancer.
Menager decided, in the months that followed, to throw all of his cards to the wind and return for the first time in 30 years to Los Angeles, the town where he was born and raised, to write and record the songs that would become his second album Not The Express.
Recorded in just two days with acclaimed Australian songwriter / producer Heath Cullen at the wheel, and an unbeatable team on board: the great Jim Keltner (Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Lucinda Williams, Traveling Wilburys et al) on drums & percussion, Aaron Embry (Elliot Smith, Willie Nelson, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros) on keys, Cullen on guitars and banjo, and Matt Nightingale on upright bass, the album was engineered by Ben Tolliday and mastered by multi-Grammy award winner Gavin Lurssen.
Not The Express has a warm, timeless, sepia quality to its analogue-steeped sounds. The production is spare and spacious, the song craft watertight. The songs are love songs, life songs: they are mischievous and playful, but also heartbreaking, honest, poignant. Menager has lived many lives (scholar, labourer, truck driver, teacher), he has lived them in many places (California, Oregon, Georgia, Algeria, Mexico, France, Australia), and he sings with the wisdom and authority of one who is so well traveled, bringing to mind the work of John Prine, Guy Clarke and latter-day Leonard Cohen. “This machine just lopes along, it’s always doing its best / It’s a good old train, but it’s not the express", he sings earnestly. But wait - this is no apology - it's a celebration.
On Not The Express, Michael Menager is inviting us to meet him at the station, lay a nickel on the track, and press an ear to the rail... to poke a little fun at our own mortality, and all the while shine a brilliant light on all of the silent beauty that lies around us. He's asking us to lean into the billowing smoke and acknowledge that the dark tunnel up ahead is an important part of our journey. He's asking us to squint into the sun, and smile. See you down there at the station.
“Menager sings of roads travelled and life lived, and he's warm and funny and wise, his songs delivered with youthful vigour that belies a man of his vintage.” ★★★☆ - The Sydney Morning Herald
THANK YOU, Friends! Happy to announce that my Pozible Crowdfunding Campaign was a success! :)
It is now late spring, and cool, misty weather is still with us here on the Far South Coast of New South Wales. It has been one of the wettest run-ups to summer on record. Just as well, for the meteorologists tell us that a hot, dry El Nino is just around the corner for this part of the world.
For all of my family and friends in California, my wish is that the El Nino that is due to descend upon you this winter will come in its wettest form, replenishing your reservoirs and greening up your mountains and fields!
As I write, our campaign to fund the final production stages of my second studio album is entering its second week. I want to extend sincere thanks once again to all those who have jumped in early and pushed our funding goal up past the 10% mark, and climbing! I can’t wait to get this new work into your hands. It’s shaping up to be a gem, right down to the artwork!
In other news, I’ve recently been awarded a First Timer’s Scholarship to attend the Folk Alliance International Conference and Showcase in Kansas City this coming February. Yes, like the old tune goes,
I might take a train
I might take a plane
But if I have to walk
I’m gonna get there just the same
I’m going to Kansas City,
Kansas City here I come
( “Kansas City”, Leiber & Stoller, 1952)
Once I'm there, it'll be five days of hanging out with variegated group of singers, songwriters and musicians as we all showcase our work to the organisers, promoters and venue managers who will also be in Kansas City en masse just to listen and take notes. And - hopefully - I’ll return to Australia having networked my way into some of those touring routes that run across North America and Canada.
This entire collage: my production team and I working on our own (and on a very small budget) to get my new recording out into the world; the group of artists and industry people who will convene in Kansas City early next year; my putting out the word to all of you, in whatever form I can, and the welcome help and support I receive in return: all this is the form and the face of independent music in these times. Our times.
Amid the rush of technology that surrounds us, it represents something old-fashioned: a kind of counter-movement to the dominant trends. Because today, for independent music to have a chance and to maintain a place on the airwaves of our world, a more personal relationship between performer and listener, between artist and audience, is vital. We need to know about each other; we need to have a clear sense of what each other stands for; we need to understand the directions in which our hopes, dreams and aspirations are propelling us. Independent music cannot survive in separation and isolation. It will only live on through connection.
So, in closing: for those of you who have connected in the form of helping my campaign toward its goal, thank you again! I look forward to seeing many of you and to thanking you in person over the coming months. And (of course) to making you acquainted with my new songs.
And for those of you for whom this is a first-time message, or for those of you for whom other messages have whizzed past, either under or above that personal radar: please pause when you are able to, tap on the link below, and see if what you discover there inspires you. Inspires you to connect, and through connecting to become a part of this co-creation that we call independent music.
Thanks and all best wishes to you,
Many thanks to Paul Gough, presenter of "The Inside Sleeve" on ABC Radio National daily at 3PM. Clink on the link to yesterday's show (24.08.15) during which Paul spins "There's A Detour Coming" from my debut CD, 'Clean Exit". Paul promised more in weeks to come, so please stay tuned. I know that I will! Best wishes to all, Michael http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/insidesleeve/
TO MY FRIEND BOB
Thanks and thanks again to you, Bob Gardner!
You and I have always been brother spirits - now more than ever.
My gratitude goes out to you for all those wonderful late nights/early mornings around the San Francisco Bay at places like the Hotel Utah Saloon and Bobby G's; for your chauffeuring and logistics and unfailing enthusiasm; for the restful berth aboard your flagship the "Plumb Crazy" at Embarcadero Cove; for all your jokes and laughter and yes, even occasional grumpiness.
50 years, my friend! And we're still doing what we always did.
How could we be any luckier?
Love to you from
One of the delights of my sojourn in California-land has been re-connecting with family and friends in the context of music. Here I'm pictured with my niece, Carlee Rasmussen, on stage just after my recent gig at the B Street Bistro in Hayward, California. Carlee has chosen to work within the California State Education System as an advocate for kids with behavioural issues. She is a vital, passionate committed human being and I am a very proud uncle!
My producer and multi-instrumentalist Mr Heath Cullen is back in Australia doing final mixes for the 10 tracks we recorded last month at Heritage Recording Company in Burbank. I’m pleased to announce that my new album, Not The Express, will be pressed and ready to go by early October 2015. Not The Express will carry forward the ethos of my debut album, Clean Exit, but with an expanded palette of musical colours and powered by the stellar rhythm section of Matt Nightingale (Hoddle, Black Mountain String Band, Heath Cullen) on double bass and Jim Keltner (The Travelling Wilburys, Lucinda Williams, Crosby Stills & Nash) on percussion.
So - in short - I’m looking homeward toward Australia, anticipating new musical adventures following my return in late July, but with a heart filled with gratitude to my family and to friends both old and new who have so enriched my time here in this place I once called home.
All best wishes to you,
Stay tuned and Michael will add a blog update here soon. For now, here's a sneak peak at what's been happening during Michael's visit to L.A.
Groundlessness! What an unattractive proposition. I resist the notion, heart and soul, even as I see the truth in it. Give me some kind of insurance policy, please! Some guarantee that where I’m standing today (or where I stood yesterday) will be where I’m standing tomorrow. But I have never heard of anyone selling a policy like that.
Some lyrics from one of my latest songs:
The stuff I had to offer
Was goin’ out the door in buckets
They were clapping, they were cheering,
Seemed like finally I had struck it
They were lined up in the streets
And every card that I was playin’
Was an ace
But then a trap door opened
And I was tumblin’
Toward an unfamiliar place.
Chogyam Trungpa offers this perspective:
The bad news is, you’re hurtling through space and your parachute won’t open.
The good news is that there is no ground.
Could it be that we might come to enjoy this kind of ride? Since the possibility exists that this is the sort of ride we’re taking, without being aware of it?
Like I said, an unattractive proposition.