It Might As Well Be Spring.

California wildflowers poster series from artist Gompers Saijo**

When Spring arrives, most people feel awake, alive, excited.  For me it comes with a twinge of melancholy.  Right now we’re in the flannel-to-flowers transition in Northern California which puts me in mind of a song, one that haunts me at unexpected times through the year, but always at the start of Spring.  And always this song brings to mind a dear friend who shared my love for this ballad. Yes, I’ve written about him before, and may again.  That’s what happens when you’re unforgettable.

Ed Wetteland was a keyboard genius in a giant body. He played most of his life in the Bay Area, in clubs and concerts, putting on the tux for big band gigs, working with just about everybody in music who came through The City.  When he wasn’t working, he wandered, with some of us in tow, into clubs down hidden alleyways in The City, sliding onto the piano bench, playing a little, slipping back out and on to another club. Everyone made way. Everyone knew Ed.  Mercurial.  Tender.  Then mercurial again.

Home was his country acre in Sonoma County where the other part of his life was spent coaching singers in his studio and holding forth on the deck outside his house in Sebastopol, indulging in very good wine provided by his Bohemian Club buddies, telling stories, stopping to name the notes played by the wind chimes and whistling back at birds.

We were friends from the first hello.  We had our little traditions.  Wherever he played, when I came in, he’d weave away from the song he was performing and slide into the bridge of one of my favorite songs, It Might As Well Be Spring. This bridge slays me.  Melancholy. Plaintive.

I keep wishing I were somewhere else
Walking down a strange new street
Hearing words that I have never heard
From a man I’ve yet to meet
 – Rodgers & Hammerstein

One Sunday Ed promised friends he’d play at their church in Santa Rosa.  He was distinctly un-churchy.  He insisted I come and he’d buy brunch afterward.  I arrived a bit late. Ed was playing a hymn.  I wish I could remember which one.   I didn’t think he’d seen me slip into a pew in the back, but obviously he did because he created a seamless segue from the hymn into the bridge above, and right back into the hymn.

He never recorded It Might As Well Be Spring, but here’s another favorite he played often. Sophisticated Lady comes from a recording session in the home of a friend. A few of us gathered in a wine country estate to hear Ed record some of his favorite songs at a spectacular Boesendorfer grand piano.

About this time of year, just before the official start of Spring, Ed would be on his deck, holding forth at length about flora and fauna and especially about California’s native plants.

Ed at Bohemian Grove

**Wildflower posters are available from California Native Plant Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Search Of Genius

By Anita Garner

 

 

 

 

Left: Charles Schulz in his Santa Rosa studio
Right:  Three geniuses,
Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank & Henry Ford at Luther Burbank’s Santa Rosa garden. 

When inspiration can’t find me, I go in search of it.

I don’t need to go far. In Northern California’s wine country, there’s much to inspire – the roads that wind, for driving or walking and bicycling past heritage hydrangeas climbing up tall barns, past wineries in all shapes and sizes. I’m on a quest.  I’ve traveled these roads many times and I know where I’m headed.

I’m headed to Sonoma County, to Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.  In the same way that reading biographies of achievers opens a window into their process, so do these field trips. It’s uplifting to walk where genius walked and talked and worked. There’s always the possibility that if I stand where they stood, something might rub off.

I visit the workplaces of two undeniably brilliant individuals.  The Charles Schulz Museum is, of course, an homage to everything Peanuts, and the Luther Burbank Cottage is Mecca for garden lovers. Both are in Santa Rosa. By necessity, guides deal mostly with the overview. They speak of awards won, of the subject’s ties to other famous people, of the work we know now.

I’m looking for more. I want to see how they endured the days that were spectacularly unproductive. Moving away from tour groups, I look for the minutiae that tethered each of these famous men to earth. Was he an early riser? How many hours a day did he work? What did he eat? Did he have hobbies? Who did he love? Who loved him?

I want to know, did the realization of his goals offer even a small degree of immunity from strife? Or did he bump into his own saboteurs; the insecurities and loneliness and even the near-crippling fears many of us encounter on the path to making something.

When we look at a creative icon who’s now departed, we’re always looking backward. We see a whole lifetime of output, an entire body of work. I want to know how he handled the chunks of time when things didn’t go right. I ask about the dry spells.

Charles Schulz used ice skating and long walks to cheer himself. He built a rink near his studio and his visits there were a vital part of his routine. Every day he sat at the same table in the snack bar, ate the same food, and watched the skaters. Merchants at the nearby mall report Schulz as a frequent visitor, not so much a shopper as an ambler. They grew accustomed to the lone figure walking around, deep in thought.

His real office/studio was in an unassuming building, steps away from where the museum is today. One day I went to the empty office, found someone working around the building and asked if I could go in.

“Nothing in there.  The furniture’s in the museum now.”

I knew that, but I thought if I could just be where he worked…  It was magic, and humbling to be reminded once again we’re not all created equal in terms of talent and abilities.

Luther Burbank grew himself an escape route. He took leave of his greenhouse in Santa Rosa and traveled the bumpy road to his experimental farm in Sebastopol to work and sleep in the modest cabin at the site. He walked and thought and wrote in his notebooks and on his way to bringing to life plants we now know, he documented days when nothing bloomed the way he had planned.

Charles Schulz said he was driven to make cartoons because it was all he was good at. It was his form of self-expression. Charlie Brown, he said, was the manifestation of his own vulnerability.  Luther Burbank didn’t consider himself a visionary, but rather a hard-working scientist who kept experimenting until something good came of it. The museum in the carriage house adjacent to Burbank’s cottage is suitably informative, but I return to the tiny room at the rear of the greenhouse and to the desk where he kept his notes.

Both Schulz and Burbank fit the definition of genius. I feel it when I’m in the places they once were. It’s comforting to know that in the midst of lives filled with so many accomplishments, each of them put great store by the one trait they prized above all others – discipline. They kept showing up. I can at least do that.

San Francisco Artists & Friends.

In the 1980’s, when I moved to San Francisco, creative souls were everywhere, up and down the city’s hills.  Some of them became a permanent part of my life. I’m grateful for time spent with people who love what they do, whatever they do, generous souls who share their talent. I’d like to introduce you to some of of them from time to time.

My friend, Barbara Wetteland, a glorious singer, passed away a few months ago.  I miss her awfully. I met her through her husband, Ed, a Bay Area keyboard legend.  In the 1980’s I lived on Green Street in San Francisco, a few blocks up from North Beach and I tripped over to Washington Square Bar & Grill (“Washbag” to media folks) so many times a week I ought to be embarrassed about it.  Ed played piano there, holding forth from a space that barely contained him.  He was a giant of a man with a big booming laugh, a piano-playing genius who could expound on any subject while taking requests, except when he wasn’t in the mood, and then he played what he pleased and didn’t chat.

“Washbag”

Ed and Barbara fell in love and began performing together all over the Bay Area.  After every gig they drove away from the city lights, returning to their log cabin in Sebastopol.

Barbara was feisty and restless and loved making things, from soup to needlepoint, embroidery to gardening, quilting to songwriting. She created this for me as a table runner, but then she borrowed it back to enter in the Sonoma County Fair.  She took home a ribbon and was as proud of that as any song she ever sang.

Sweet B has now joined Eddie, taking their music to another stage. Please do click the links below the pictures and hear The Wettelands.

Ed at Bohemian Grove playing beautiful music under beautiful redwoods.

Barbara (right) and me at Candlestick Park in the 1980’s waiting for Ed to warm up his keyboard out on the pitcher’s mound where the two of them performed the national anthem.

– – – – –

Barbara and Ed:  “But Beautiful”

Ed  alone:  “Our Love Is Here To Stay”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genius In The Details

I’ve just spent a week in Los Angeles working with Greg North, (Zerkle) the director of my play, The Glory Road. I’m back home with a notebook filled with changes.  Gramma K, an expert tailor, used to say “It’s easier to make a new one than to alter the original.”  But for many reasons, altering is often the chosen route to completion of a creative project.

The computer isn’t the best thinking place for me anymore.  I think elsewhere and come back to the keyboard to type.   The real work happens while I’m walking around the village or on the ferry going into the city, or cooking or folding laundry.  But when inspiration continues to avoid me, I have another plan.  

I go in search of genius, hoping that the trip will start ideas flowing again.  In the same way that reading biographies of overcomers opens a new window, so do these field trips.  It’s uplifting to walk where genius walked and talked and worked.  There’s always the possibility that if I stand where they stood, something might rub off.

I visit the workplaces of two undeniably brilliant individuals, at the Charles Schulz Museum, an homage to everything Peanuts, and the Luther Burbank Cottage, Mecca for garden lovers.  Both are in Santa Rosa, California, about an hour north of where I live.  Tours are a good way to begin, but guides by necessity deal mostly with the overview.  They speak of awards won, of the subject’s ties to other famous people, of the place where he was born.

I’m looking for more.  I want to see how they endured the days that were spectacularly nonproductive.  After the tour groups disperse, I look for the minutiae that tethered each of these famous men to earth.  Was he an early riser?  How many hours a day did he work?  What did he eat?  Did he have hobbies?  Who did he love?  Who loved him?

I want to know, did the realization of his goals offer even a small degree of immunity from strife?  Or did he bump into his own saboteurs; the insecurities and loneliness and even the near-crippling fears many of us encounter on the path to making something.

When we look at a creative icon who’s now departed, we’re always looking backward.  We see a whole lifetime of output, an entire body of work.  I want to know how he handled the chunks of time when things didn’t go right.  So I ask about the dry spells.

Charles Schulz used ice skating and long walks to cheer himself.  He built a rink near his studio and his visits there were a vital part of his routine.  Every day he sat at the same table in the snack bar, ate the same food, and watched the skaters.  Merchants at the nearby mall report that Schulz was a frequent visitor, not so much a shopper as an ambler.  They grew accustomed to the lone figure walking around, deep in thought.

Luther Burbank grew himself an escape route.  He took leave of his greenhouse in Santa Rosa and traveled the bumpy road to his experimental farm in Sebastopol to work and sleep in the modest cabin at the site.  He walked and thought and wrote in his notebooks and on his way to developing the Shasta daisy and the Burbank potato, he also documented some of the days when nothing bloomed the way he had planned.

Charles Schulz said he was driven to make cartoons because it was all he was good at.  It was his primary form of self-expression.  Charlie Brown, he said, was the manifestation of his own vulnerability.  At the museum, my favorite spot is the replica of his office.  The renowned storyteller’s drawing board shows the physical effects of his labor and I am more heartened by its worn wood than by the rooms filled with acclaim.

Luther Burbank didn’t consider himself a visionary, but rather a hard-working scientist who kept experimenting until something good came of it.  The museum in the carriage house adjacent to Burbank’s cottage is suitably informative, but I return to the tiny room at the rear of the greenhouse and to the desk where he kept his notes.

Both Schulz and Burbank fit my definition of genius.  I can feel it when I’m in the places they once were.  It’s comforting, on my own tedious workdays, to know that in the midst of lives filled with so many accomplishments, each of these men put great store by the one trait they prized above all others – discipline.  They kept showing up.  I can do that.

Ó By Anita Garner