My friendship with Joel Bernstein may be the longest, most consistent friendship I've ever had. (Of course I mean apart from that of my brother.) No matter where my extensive travels took me, I could always pick up the phone to hear Joel's charming, quiet voice at the other end. Behind that sweet demeanor, lived a consummate artist whose eyes captured, and manifested, the creative muse at work in the most famous musicians of the late twentieth century. It was his bright and quiet charm, in addition to his artistic ability in photography, that allowed him to be taken in as family, by his subjects. This unobstructed intimacy let him capture, in a photograph, the invisible magic of the musician.
He did with photographs what his subjects did with words and music.
It is my personal observation that, whenever he walked into the room with his camera, it would, automatically, awaken the creative muse in all the other artists present. It was not in an obvious way, and Joel surely got most of his best shots from casual, candid moments, but I don't think he realizes his part in it. Joni, or Graham, or Crosby might be sitting around, chatting about anything, Joel would walk into the room, camera in hand, and, suddenly, the energy in the room would subtly change for the better. It was the kind of energy I recognize very well; the energy presence when a sculptor is sculpting, when a painter is painting, and when a musician is writing a song. When Joel's eye's came into the room, they cast a light that subtly shifted everyone into their creative process. He's like a secret, magic dragon, who sneaks in to change the light and air with an invisible fire breath. He subconsciously reminded every one of their own very best self. The keeper of the muse.
I first met Joel Bernstein in Joni's New York hotel room, in June, 1970. It was the day after he graduated from high school. Now, just think about what an accomplishment that was; for an 18 year old to graduate from a Philadelphia high school on one day, and the very next day, to be sitting on the bed of a beautiful, rising star, in NYC, being introduced, as a genius, to another pretty good looking chick, a "Lady of the Canyon", who is a character strait out of the title song of Joni Mitchell's newest album. Not a bad day's work! Needless to say, he looked like his smile was gonna split his head in two. It is rare to meet one at such an intense moment of clear happiness. It remains as vivid now as it was then. There was something in the way Joni introduced us to each other, and something about him, that let me instantly connect a bond. He was a kindred spirit. I think I sensed I would be his friend for the rest of my life.
It's interesting to note that Joni discovered Joel, as a photographic talent, when she played a coffee house in Philadelphia. She started his career by using his photographs as publicity shots. Although Joel and I are not the same age, Joni began friendships with both of us, in different parts of the country, at different times, when we were each 15 years old. Shortly after he graduated from high school, his work was used by Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and so many others, you'll just have to look them all up on line yourself. There are few things more important in music performance than to have photographic images that reflect the artist's poetic intent, and Joel Bernstein could do that with stealth alacrity.
We were the youngest ones in that crowd, that is, the youngest ones who were not someone's girlfriend. Our age was not the only reason we were friends; we had an easy affinity with one another, we were both Aries, and were comfortable in the friendly shadow of these ridiculously famous, and brilliant, musicians. Joel practically, if not literally, lived with them, and I was more of a wandering asteroid. For a short time, Graham and David were trying to match-make us together, and it took, to a degree, but I kept getting pulled out of orbit by one planet gravity or another, and Joel was fully employed, and focused on the art he loved most. We remained the youngest ones, until Cameron Crowe came along, but, that's another story.
The years went by, and between the illness I got from the bad vaccine, and my inability to become compatible with the species called "record industry employees", I managed to become, arguably, a candidate for a Guinness record as the most likely to succeed, yet unsigned singer/songwriter. So, thirty-seven some odd years later, when I picked up the phone, and heard Joel's voice say "Hi, Estrella", I was delighted to hear him, but not surprised. However, the content of what he said in the following minutes was, indeed, surprising.
After happy greetings, in his quiet voice, Joel started asking me about my tapes. What size tapes do I have, what condition are they in. He told me of a friend of his who was interested in musicians, from the 1960s and 70s, known to the San Francisco area music scene. He was restoring their old analog tapes. Then Joel started talking about how to preserve analog, magnetic tapes, and restore them, and, "You really shouldn't just store them without doing something to protect them from the ravages of time", and, "Let me tell you exactly what mold can do to them," and "No! Don't ever play them without restoration, cause this is what will happen if you do...." He was picking up speed, and getting on a roll. Then, breaking through his own restraint, unbelievably dense technical terminology came pouring out of the telephone, in that same sweet voice, saying what might as well have been the definitive, oral encyclopedia of what could go wrong with, and how exactly to, inch by inch, restore the entire Last Supper and the Sistine Chapel. I could feel my brain cells' bursting sounds of making popcorn. I knew he wasn't going to settle for less than me comprehending every bit of it. I shut down my poetic cells and grew technological Creb Molecule Structures, fast. Finally, he said, "If you send me your old tapes I could get them restored and transferred to a CD. Just so you'll have it."
What Joel was offering to me was a great honor. He was working with John Nowland, who is Neil Young's long time engineer, and a whiz bang magician at tape restoration. John's the man responsible for getting those fabulous sounds out of Neil Young's acoustic guitar! And I was hesitating, for even a millisecond? But, that was just the first of several calls where Joel would try to "pry my tapes out of my cold, dead hands."
By the time he got Joni to finally send him all the tapes she'd been lugging around for decades, he had gotten a lot of practice with all the different forms of persuasion, and used them all on me. Clearly, Joel was right. Joni and Neil had entrusted all their archival analog tapes into his care, and I surely trusted Joel with mine. However, absurd as it seems, I felt nauseatingly terrified of handing over my tapes, the only documentation of my life's work, into the unknown clutch of a random carrier, to fly off into the Fed-Exterior of my personal protection. On the other hand, those tapes were just deteriorating in my house, anyway. It took an awful lot, but Joel finally got totally annoyed with me, and gave up. That's when I sent him the tapes.
Months later, while on my way to the dentist, in a snowstorm, in Vermont, I stopped to check my post office box. There was the small package from Joel. I pulled out the enclosed CD, and, in a blink, shoved it into the car's CD player. I couldn't believe my ears! All I could shout was, "Is that me??!!! I never sounded that good!!!" Indeed, I never had. The cassette copies of those large reels where only as good as the cassettes themselves, and the cassette player I possessed when I first made those tapes, back in the 1970s. So, years ago, when I first heard copies of those songs, I was over-critically horrified, stuck them in a drawer, and never listened to them again.
It didn't take very long for me to join the 21st century, and start a website for five of the songs on that CD. As far as I can figure out, four of the songs were recorded in LA, at Graham Nash's studio, produced by his engineer, the late and wonderful, Don Gooch, along with an engineer Don was training. We did the tape in a few hours, and, to my great delight, they were songs with my brother, Vaclav, Jr, nicknamed Bill, playing bass and adding our genetic blend harmonies. The first song, Tattoo, was, I believe, recorded in San Francisco, at Robert Altman's recording studio. My brother is on bass and harmony, but I can't, for the life of me, be certain who is playing conga drum and dobro slide guitar. I think it might be Joey Covington on conga, and a man named Karen, from Australia, on slide. All I know for sure is that, for the first time, I really like it.
I wrote three of the songs in a "country" style. In the circus, we spent large parts of my childhood traveling through The South and the Midwest. Along with the circus acts, they would usually have some of the best country and bluegrass musicians available. My brother and I were able to stand by the stage, close enough to get hit by their flying sweat, and absorb their DNA, subcutaneously, into our growing knowledge of music. Often, my father performed as the only circus act within major Rodeos. These bonanzas also included the very finest in country music. For weeks, we'd live among the cowboys and their magnificent bucking horses and irate Brahma bulls. As a teen, I was even crowned Queen of the Rodeo, and I sure had a weakness for cowboys, which is another country song I later wrote. So, for me to write a country song was as natural as the slight southern accent I have when it just can't be said any other way. It's the attitude southern people used to solve their problems, and I lived in that attitude long enough for it to form large parts of who I am.
This diversity is also true of the snaky, Cajun, bayou feel of Tattoo, from the many times my father performed his highwire act at the Lake Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, in New Orleans.
The last song has a melody line most influenced by the beautiful Czech folk songs I heard my father sing, even before I was born. The guitar part has an interesting story. It came by way of Paul McCartney who taught it to Steven Stills, who taught it to Joel Bernstein, who then taught it to me. It was the tuning, and chord structure for Paul's song, Blackbird. I love that song, and performed it often. I had learned it in standard tuning, but Joel showed me the way Paul intended. I usually stayed away from tunings to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Joni, but, Paul's structures took it in an entirely different direction. I wrote several songs in that tuning, and, The Lady You Lost, is one of them.
I decided the five songs would be called, Estrella, the first in a series called, The Secret Songs Of A Lifetime. The near magical abilities of the computer technology we now command, has allowed me to create the kind of "music industry" I am happy to live within; more suited to the artist's habitat; a record company which enhances the intimacy I prefer having with an audience, while not interfering with the creative process itself.
This new technology never ceases to amaze. It invites, no, demands some kind of reconciliatory union between the poetic and technological in us all. Merging the two in poetic technology, I see it is like some mystical incantation, where the fingers touch a combination of symbols; causing one to almost hear the sound of sliding stone doors opening; these abstract symbols, representing one's self, like genetic tartan bars, signifying all that humanity has ever been, with a portion breaking off to be: EstrellaBerosini.com These runes then, mathematically, design humble zeros and ones into infinite electrical intricacies, tatting lightening lace, that, intern, designates a specific fiber direction, to travel non-quantifiable leaps, and, dispensively, become whole spectrums of light, where that light forms the pixel images, and impulse sounds, of my long hidden, wakeful dreams. To share in a quiet intimacy of one on one, minus zero.
In other words, EstrellaBerosini.com gets you there.
(Read the following in a baritone, commercial announcer's voice, in less than 15 seconds.)
Download ALL five songs, NOW, or download each song individually! Be advised that the samples of the songs are not as CRYSTAL CLEAR as the REAL DOWNLOAD. No assembly required, with the possible exception of mental, Van Dyke Parks orchestral arrangements. Side effects may include Obsessive Compulsive Playback Buttonitis, and Chronic Vocal Syndrome: the inability to stop singing these songs, especially in the shower. Batteries not included.
(Commercial announcer voice ends)
The Secret Songs Of A Lifetime contains new vintage songs I wrote, performed and recorded decades ago. They were never released to the public; the songs of a semi famous, perhaps almost famous, young Lady of the Canyon. In essence, my website is a time machine.
Because of Joel Bernstein's efforts, and John Nowland's expertise, that young girl still audibly exists, as years of my songs sit nested, under the protective, light-fire eye, of the magic dragon in his lair.
Visit EstrellaBerosini.com for more!
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