tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: singing


i was up early this mornin’. the wind was up and my rig was rocking between the creosotes.  i could hear the cactus wrens and their scratchy call; open the door and they’ll come in without a worry in the world.  i rolled outa the rig and saw myself in the glass outside the privy, creases and gray and shaggy, long hair caused me cut the look short.

coffee made, i bare-footed it back to the rig. i was prep’in up for a tattoo, that usually puts me in a good mood. there was a song in my head, something i was making up. it had to do with saying that “i don’t mind, if you wanna sing the blues. and i don’t mind, if you got scuffed up shoes…” i sang and liked it.

the wind was cracking by mid-morning. it’s spring in the desert so there really ain’t a pattern. could be wind. could be cold. could be blazing hot. i sat and chatted with ethan about the migrating birds and the wind. i told him about a time in patagonia when i watched song birds drop to the ground and resign to hopping, single file, up the dirt streets, against the wind.

i left ethan and his grand presence and went to do some work. i thought of my good buddy, hunter, as i drove the washboard roads and cranked metallica through my shitty little speakers. the song was good and i imagined hunter swinging a hammer in front of his forge to some good, old, heavy metal song. the road led to my friends’ house.  travis and shea laughed and joked through the time we spent together. i finished a big piece on shea’s leg. i finished somewhere around 2 o’clock.

on the way back to ethan and chris’s place, i saw a little grossbeak dead on the side of the road. it looked like a something too bright to be real, lying in the sand at the side of the road. i slowed, but i didn’t stop. i kinda wanted to move it away from the pavement but i didn’t. i got back to the house and chris was looking out the back window. she was up on a chair, a higher vantage point for looking out and down at all the little songbirds on the ground, eating mulberries. the wind. just like in patagonia, it had grounded the little migrators. in the yard there were wrens and vireos and tanagers and grosbeaks and sparrows and orioles, all spread out on the ground like a spilled bag of skittles. we laughed and talked about the way they were waiting for the air to slow down.

they all have their own song. so do i, i guess. i was singing it this morning, and maybe tonight i’ll sing something else. maybe i’ll sing something by ol’ willie nelson, or maybe neil diamond, or maybe i’ll sing something by iron maiden, something like run to the hills, and dedicate it to hunter. the point is, there are songs to sing. so warm up your chords and sing. the world is in dire need of some honest singing, i’m quite sure it won’t hurt if we warble just a little.


list of things to do

i read about this little hummingbird that was found in africa. that might not sound like a big deal to you but it is. hummingbirds belong to the americas and the americas alone. they don’t live in the old world. so the only way a hummingbird could end up over in africa naturally is if she was blown into the jet stream and swept away; way away into that old continent where things are older. someone found the little bird all dehydrated and close to death so they fed her and boxed her up and sent her back to america. i assume she is flying free and telling her lover about the one time when the wind took her away. about when she was trapped in a box and then the sun found her and the sky called her back. and blue flowers and pink. and lavender and yellows and oranges.

the thing is, hummingbirds have a short life compared to us. some live 4 years, some 2. they burn like a white hot bolt of lightning. all them colors shining from the inside out. and that little prodigal avian, lost in the sky across a foreign sea, spent a huge portion of her life alone. i thought about that a lot. i thought about the flicker we call life. blink and it’s gone.

i was in choir in high school. my dad actually has a voice. he can sing. he would stand in the pulpit when i was 4 and 5 and he would sing this one song, “thanks to calvary”. i remember the song because i was involved. on the chorus, my old man would turn his eyes toward me and hold his hand out. i would walk to the platform and he’d pick me up and sing the remainder of the song to me. the congregation would cry, my mom would cry, and i would cry without knowing why. so, for whatever reason, when i was of age, i was in a choir. everyone expected me to belt it out like the old man. and i kinda doubted it, with good reason.

christmas came and there was some kind of production for the church. i found myself singing a duet in the middle of a cantata. it was to be me and julie macht (not sure about how to spell her last name…it was a while back). now let’s set the stage just right here. i, for one, thought that julie was hot. like really hot. i also was not hot…not even a little. so the thought of standing next to her and singing made my already mid-pubescent voice swerve towards flat. the song was the little drummer boy. we practiced aplenty and then the big night showed up like they always do. i stood under the lights and piped up through the beginning portions. then it was me… and julie. her voice seemed like something that filtered down through the clouds and it carried a little bit of heaven with it. i sounded like me; unsure, daunted, swimming for a shore that may or may not be out there in the dark. when the spotlight turned away and my voice calmed down like a shaky, baby bird, i was just happy to be alive. i made it through.

moments. heartbeats. you know, they are limited, right? yeah, they are. they’re limited. i don’t know how many times i’ve said, “man, i just want this to be over.” i think about that a lot. all the wishes for the moment to go away. i wonder if someday i’ll lie there sucking wind and wishing i had one more moment. just a few more breaths.

lately i’ve been doing this thing, it’s personal. don’t worry it ain’t weird…err, maybe a little. i treat each day like a life. every morning a little birth. every day a life. every night a quiet death. as i lay down, like i will in a few minutes, i look at the stars and the moon and i  pay them homage. i’m a little in love with the moon anyway, she’s always there, know what i mean?  i say a word or two to myself. i remind myself that this day is done, this one, single day will never be back. my movement through the cosmos will never be recreated again in this particular, perfect fashion. i lie there and give way to the rolling world. a little death.

when i finally die, i wonder if i’ll have my stove-top coffee maker ready to go (of course i will, duh). i wonder what will happen to my home-made shoes. there will be things left undone, for sure. but one thing i know, all the mysteries will be solved as the gears of eternity grind me into a nice, fine powder, not at all unlike the way i like my coffee grounds, and feed me to the trees. i’ll sing to that. hell yes, i’ll sing to that.

the sweet spot

inevitably, in every sport and every trade, you will come across the sweet spot. it is a place on the diving board. it is a spot on a baseball bat. it is where you find the perfect bounce on the trampoline. it is the exact point where the surf board is deflecting off the wave as it rises out of the ocean. it is the perfect hammer blow. it is the only place your foot will stick in the middle of that one boulder problem, when your feet are ten feet off the ground and your knees are too old to take that kind of a fall. it is the perfect pitch of your tattoo machine as the needle bears down on the skin. it is the angle of your ski when you carve perfectly across new powder. it is the sound that comes from two sisters singing an old gospel song in perfect harmony in front of a group of people who love perfect harmony. it is that rhythm you fall into in the middle of a foot race when the world falls away and you only listen to your heart and your heart becomes your keel and the air becomes your ocean. it is when you love so much that you would forfeit your life to save the life of your beloved.

talent is not needed to know what i’m talking about. effort is needed. if you seek to feel, you will come across a sweet spot eventually, and when you do, you will know.

i can’t help but smile at my opportunity. this life, man, it’s going on. i honor life when i lay down in my sleeping bag every night. i lay there, wherever i am parked or camped or bedded down, and i say the words, “well, there was another day.” it is just a practice. i say it in the yellow lamp-light of mortality. i will someday wake up for the last time…that is such a humbling, wonderful thought! i am only for a while. damn that’s good…and sad.

when i look at myself honestly, which is maybe 65 percent of the time (and that might be an exaggeration, it’s probably more like 50 percent), i see a fella that is pretty good at a good number of things, terrible at a few, and great at even fewer. i’m usually pretty good at the things i try really hard at. of course, like most everybody, i’m terrible at the things i dislike or am afraid to try (like bowling). i can say that i am great at one thing for sure:   i can wonder. i’m pretty much an expert wonderer. i can prove it, but it might be boring to watch; and besides, i don’t need to prove it because it’s pretty damn selfish.

here’s the thing; i wonder because of the fact that i am here. that’s enough, no kidding, to keep me going for a while. that i can make sense of symbols and put them in order so they can transfer my thought and allow someone else to understand my thought! do you realize how amazing just that is? it is a transfer of thought! we must realize the importance of existence! of being! i mean, we ARE. my goodness, i’m shuffling through the scraps of thoughts at the feet of Aristotle and Einstein and Emerson, but as simple as my thoughts are, they are true.

find the sweet spot. it’s there if you look a little deeper. if you crack your heart-door open a little wider. if you find yourself looking for it, you’re bound to run into me. it’ll be real good to meet you.

and then, i was dancing

when bobby brown came out with My Prerogative, i watched him dance on MTV and decided i wanted to learn to dance. i didn’t quite know how to do it but, by god, i was gonna figure it out. that’s right, i was going to buy a video or watch MTV until i got it down. there was a dance studio near my mom’s house that i drove by all the time and i stopped in…i stammered and hummed and hawed and signed up for a street dance class. the teacher was hot, so i was pretty faithful. and i started finding some rhythm, kinda…i think. 

years passed and so did my cavaricci’s. the dance clubs where i haunted and flaunted whatever i thought i knew changed ownership, and then changed again. some were torn down. some just got boarded up and stand as a stale reminder of “hammer time”. 

when grunge came to town i felt it down deeper than i felt the music from before. Nine inch Nails and his Head like a Hole made me stomp and rage. the Chili Peppers screamed. the flannels filled the dance floor, and i was there, grunging away with rest of them. i had a buddy named craig white and we never missed a thursday night at our favorite club. the lines were long and we all looked the same because we wanted to be different. to me, dancing was being on the dance floor and looking bad ass and looking around at everyone else who believed they were looking bad ass as well. all smooth and cool and rhythmic. but let me just say right here, i was not really dancing. i was doing whatever that was…whatever you want to call it, but i wasn’t dancing, not yet. 

time went by, like it tends to do, and i went into the marine corps where i didn’t do much dancing (none). grunge left and took it’s flannels with it. craig white shot himself in the head and i cried. i gotta say, i didn’t feel much like dancing when i came back from kuwait. i was tired. i left the country and went to Chile. it was coming up on new years and i was there with a buddy who got out of the marines when i did. i hadn’t been to a country like Chile. i began to learn Castellano when i got there…so i sounded like tarzan, at best. we made our way to Valparaiso where Pablo Neruda had a house. the streets were old. it was new years eve. we walked with the high that comes from nights like those. we had a piscola and a beer and a buzz. we were old pals, arm in arm, in a foreign world. a dog ran by with a butchered goat’s head in his mouth; happy new year for him, for sure. in an alley, down some stairs, there was some singing. christian led the way and we walked into a song. the bar was hot and the music was live…so alive…so damn alive. the bar had no room but the entire room raised their glass and yelled us to come in. an older, very round, chilena stepped up and grabbed me and pulled me into the movement through sweating, cheering, drinking throngs.

and for the first time in my life, i danced. and i didn’t care how it looked. and i didn’t care who watched. and i loved those people in the room with their grand smiles and their wonderful clapping. and i thought maybe i would never do anything else. 

when the sun came up, we sat on a stoop. christian was smoking a cigarette and he looked at me through those blue, bronx-born, irish eyes and said simply, “yeah, man.” and i smiled from ear to ear.   yeah, man.