Mark Braun

Mark Lincoln Braun
(Mr. B)

boogie woogie and blues piano player; piano pedaler; swimmer; hardball pitcher

Tottered on: 26 August 2007
Temperature: 72 F
Ceiling: blue
Ground: freshly cut
Wind: N at 5 mph

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TT with HD: Mark Lincoln Braun (Mr. B)

[Ed. note: The 'ride' discussed below is a planned coast-to-coast crossing of the state of Michigan in summer 2008 by Mr. B, playing a piano in various venues and at various events along the route. Mark will be 'accompanied' by the same piano through the journey. When he's not seated at the piano, he'll be seated in front of the piano, hauling it along by pedaling a pedicab-like vehicle constructed by former Ann Arborite, and bicycle frame-builder, Mark Nobilette.]

HD: Alright. Shall we actually get some tottering motion going?

MB: Sure, in that case I may put my coffee down. But I'm enjoying it. I'll start with this, and I can probably totter and drink.

HD: Alright. If it becomes a choice between sloshing it on yourself or the teeter totter, feel free to abuse the teeter totter.

MB: Yeah, I can see this lumber will take it.

HD: I can hose it right off.

MB: Right, okay.

HD: So welcome to the teeter totter.

MB: Thank you.

HD: So this ride this morning will be easier and more pleasant than the ride you have planned next summer.

MB: That remains to be seen! [laugh]

HD: So how far along are you in the planning process for this trip?

MB: Not very far along. And because of time considerations now, it being late summer of '07--I plan to ride next summer, summer of '08--I need to very soon start ...

HD: ... finalizing some logistical issues?

MB: Yeah, making my plans more solid by a long shot than they are now. We're still really, I think, at a conceptual stage right now. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. It's starting even to make me feel a little uncomfortable! I have had a tendency in the past in my life, as I suppose many people do, but I'm sure I've been guilty of procrastination. And it's starting to concern me! I'm still feeling really great about it. I have something else planned that I'm really involved in right now for about a week, two weeks from now, and once I get through that, I'm really going to try to ...

HD: ... focus exclusively on ...

MB: ... focus most of my energy on answering some questions. A good friend gave me some advice that I really shouldn't continue to talk about this publicly too much until I had answered the question of which charity it was I really wanted to represent. And I was a little paralyzed with indecision about that. My heart wasn't really sure who I wanted to involve myself with and why. When I thought of doing this many, many, many years ago, my thought had always been the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. But I had never really put much research into whether or not they would want to work with me as well, or if there might not be somebody more appropriate that I thought that I could represent. And after being kind of frozen with indecision in this regard, and not having spent the time necessary to investigate and make contacts with a number of charities, I've backtracked and just gone where my heart is. I've only had one conversation with [Big Brothers Big Sisters] so far, and in fact it's likely that this interview might be published before I finalize that with them. But I've decided I'd like to do it with them, if they'd want to do it with me.

HD: And far as I understand it, though, there's there will be a structure in place so that people who want to raise money for some other charity will be able to sort of hitch their wagon to your train?

MB: Right. At one of our earliest meetings where I invited a number of interesting people from around town who brought different aspects to bear on this project, one of them had an immediate idea that just struck me--I just was so taken with it that I felt we had to accommodate it. And that is that we would like to develop a mechanism whereby any group can raise funds that are needed for their needs, based on our efforts. So we're coming up with a rough idea of how that will likely work ...

HD: ... I noticed that there's this 5K run coming up at the end of September--the Big House Big Heart 5K Run is what it's called--and they have the same concept in place. That they have the flagship charities that will be benefited by the Run--which I think are Mott's Children's Hospital and something else involving the U of M Health System--but there's an opportunity for people to put together their own fundraising efforts around that event for whatever charity they'd like to benefit.

MB: How did you become aware that this was kind of their M.O.? Is this something they published, or?

HD: It's mentioned on their website.

MB: Okay, I need to check that out, then! Because I need a template, I need some help.

HD: Well, I don't think this is a wheel you'll have to invent from scratch.

MB: Yeah, our canvas is still pretty blank, and the idea is really broad, but I don't want to let that paralyze me any further. I've already decided, I'm not going to put it off another year. I'm sure when we're done, I will have found a thousand ways we could have improved on what we did. But I want to proceed, you know? This is something I want to do.

HD: Well, speaking of wheels that need to be invented, it's Mark Nobilette who's fashioning this vehicle that's going to carry the piano?

MB: He is, he will be.

HD: Is he doing that from scratch, or is he going to take an existing pedicab frame and weld some additional stuff to it?

MB: I'm not sure I know the answer to that. No, I think I do know the answer. I don't think he'll be taking an existing frame, I think he'll be taking ...

HD: ... an existing design?

MB: A design or possibly even some of the components. He has a bunch of Reynolds 857 steel around, and we're going to make it out of nice materials. And make it as light and as strong as we can.

HD: But the piano itself weighs 354 pounds?

MB: I think it's 352, yeah. But you know, Dave, I was not too long ago in Savannah, Georgia, for playing a concert, and there's an art school there--I forget the name of it, but it's a prominent school apparently--and a lot of the art students, it seemed to me, were a lot of the people who were manning the pedicabs that went around the city in order to take tourists around. That is a fairly flat area, I'll grant you that. But if two guys my size--and I'm 230--go up to a 112-pound young lady that's driving the pedicab and say, We'd like to go seven miles across town for dinner! they don't say, I can't do it! they say, Get in, let's go! I mean, you're a cyclist yourself, this can be geared in such a way--we believe--that I'll be able to do this.

HD: Yeah, I actually looked at--there's this website called Bikes At Work, and these folks manufacture trailers, like that are designed for hauling cargo, not for hauling little kids, but for hauling serious cargo. And they have a little calculator built into the webpage where you put in your weight, the weight of your bicycle and trailer, the grade you would like to ascend ...

MB: ... no kidding! ...

HD: ... and the speed you would like to go, and it'll tell you how much weight you can haul. And it's kind of remarkable because even at a grade--and they're classified as easy grade, or actually, flat, then 2%, and I think it tops out at 6%--but unless you want to tackle something that they classify as an extreme grade, it seems like at some speed, may be really slow, but you can haul stuff, say even like up the hill here on Mulholland. That's not an easy hill to ascend even just on a regular bicycle, you're not going to be flying up it. But yeah, I think you could actually haul 350 pounds worth of piano up this hill, just not very fast.

MB: I'm very happy to hear that someone has put a lot more thought into this than me, agrees with me!

HD: Have you gotten as far in your discussions with Mark [Nobilette] to say whether the piano is going to be in front or in back of you?

MB: Oh, no, absolutely, the piano will be behind me. And unlike a pedicab, where you have two people sitting side by side directly on top of the axel, in our case, the rider will be in front on top of a single wheel--you may know, but some of your readers--is that what you call people who are paying attention to this, they are 'readers'?

HD: Yes. [laugh]

MB: Your readers might know that behind the rider on the axel, we will have to balance the piano across the axel, much as we are balancing right now on this teeter totter! And we really don't want the piano to be doing what you and I are doing right now, going up and down!

HD: Right!

MB: And that's going to be one of our biggest challenges, is how to suspend the platform over the axel, and create a suspension basically for a vehicle which doesn't exist yet.

HD: Will it actually have a shock-absorbing suspension system?

MB: Yes.

HD: Because I was going to say, that it seems like this trip would be really hard on the piano.

MB: It'll be real hard on the piano. And I intend to play the piano as I travel, that's a really important part of what I hope to do.

HD: So it's not going to be hidden under a tarp?

MB: Yes, it will! It probably will be. We'll have probably some sort of soft, low-tech waterproof covering for the piano, probably just something that can be zipped on and off, that might be able to accommodate some tools and some of my personal items. But, yes, it will be covered, but it will be able to come off fairly easily. Many people have wondered whether, I'll be like--oh, I can't remember the guy's name right now, but the comedian who used to cycle around the stage and tell jokes while he played the piano, doggone it, I can't think of his name right now--in any case I won't be doing that! I'll be in front pedaling. When it's time to play the piano, I'll have to get off, go to the back. We'll have some means for me to be seated in a normal way vis-a-vis the piano.

HD: So without having to take the piano off?

MB: Without having to take the piano off. We hope to come up with a way to do that. Now, we should also be able to take the piano off without too much difficulty, if there's a reason that becomes important to us.

HD: Like if you have to fix a flat?

MB: Well, yeah, I hope I don't have to take it completely off. We should have some sort of a jack system or something to get underneath the axel, because if I'm by myself and I have to fix a flat--and I have to believe that'll likely happen in the course of the trip, maybe many times.

HD: So it'll be a west-to-east traversing of the state?

MB: Yes, it's going to go west to east. That's obviously one of the real major components now, is to determine real precisely where we will go, and what our schedule will be. At this juncture, there are only two or three places where I would really like to coordinate with a specific time. And one is--you know that I've played the piano at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fairs for the last--next year will be my 29th straight year.

HD: Yeah, well, I was going to say, depending on when you leave on this trip are you maybe going to have to maybe hustle a little bit across the state in order to make it back here for that?

MB: Man, I hope I'm right in telling you what I'm about to say, but I think it might be just a concept. I'm thinking I don't want to zip across the state. I'm a little reluctant to talk about these figures for public consumption right now, because I haven't really tested my theories, but I'll dive right in anyway, because it'll either work or it won't, you know! I should be able to achieve a modest pace for many, many hours a day. I cycle quite a bit now, and am reasonably fit, so if I can achieve a modest pace for several hours a day, I should very easily be able to do 15 or 20 miles a day.

HD: Yeah, I was going to say, 20 miles a day, just off the top of my head, would be doable.

MB: I think that's very comfortable.

HD: But the key's going to be--you're right--just putting the hours in on the saddle, I think, rather than trying to sort of train yourself up to a condition where you can power the thing along at 15 miles an hour, or something. You just have to say, Okay, I'm going to be in the saddle for 10 hours, so even if I'm poking along, just by sheer force of time in the saddle, those miles will melt away.

MB: I completely agree with you that's what it boils down to. So to get back to your question, if I did do 20 miles a day, and my route was 300 miles, let's say, I probably don't want to go that quickly. It's probably going to be just the opposite. I'm probably going to either delay, in order to ...

HD: ... to find excuses to slow down?

MB: To meet events that may occur in various cities as we go, to be able coordinate with happenings that are already on peoples' calendars--if possible.

HD: And you said you have three of those so far?

MB: Yeah, I have one real solid one for sure, which is the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. I would really like to come into Ann Arbor just before my time that I play at the Fair. At this point, that's my most important one. And we're looking at some things on the west coast to begin over in the Holland area. And then I need to consider the calendar in Port Huron, because it's likely that we'll end in Port Huron. I haven't spoken to the folks yet in Detroit, but the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival, as you know, is just about to come up here--now it's the Detroit International Jazz Festival.

HD: Maybe you've already thought of this, but I would like to suggest that you try to factor in Lansing--for a Lugnuts [baseball] game. I think it would be way cool if you could pedal the piano right into the ball park and play the Star Spangled Banner.

MB: Now you're getting really eerily close to my original idea for this thing, which I have since discounted--I don't know if you or your readers will know, but I played hardball my whole life until the age of 44.

HD: Well, yeah, I was going to say, it would combine two of your passions.

MB: See, yeah, I was pitching every fourth, every fifth day until about six years ago now.

HD: Really!

MB: I used to, when I was thinking about this trip, part of my motivation was to be able to draw attention to opportunities for kids in two areas where they're really having a hard time with right now, which is art and athletics. Which have been my two abiding passions for my whole life. And so the way I thought I might address it, if I ever did this trip, would be to pull up to a game somewhere--it would have to be an amateur game, of course, where no money was involved--and I could throw an inning for a team, and then travel on. That's what I wanted to do, but that's out the window now. That's just too kooky, that's going to be too unlikely, and I'm not doing it any more. You know, pitching requires months and months and months of preparation. So I'm not going to pitch as a part of it. But I like your idea!

HD: You could still throw out an opening pitch, for heaven's sakes.

MB: Sure! That's a great idea. See this is why I love these conversations. I need to have more of them with people, because my original dream--I thought this up when I was in my early twenties and it's been spinning in my head ever since, and it's never even come close to being a reality. My original thought, when I was young and didn't have to think about it in any realistic terms, was to go across the whole country. And as I got older, I became less afraid, and more accustomed to all the failures that we have all the time in our lives. I've become less afraid of failing at this, and therefore decided, let's try it, we'll do it or we won't, but let's get going and try to make it happen.

HD: Well, yeah, you've gotta take a hack at it!

MB: There you go. That being the case, I also simultaneously realized that we're in an ideal state for a more modest 'coast-to-coast', so it's perfect for us. The thing is, it was all just in my head, and I need to get these ideas from other people. I really need this kind of input, because everybody has an idea.

HD: I would also think that folks who do the Pedal Across Lower Michigan, are you familiar with that bicycle ride?

MB: The PALM, yeah.

HD: They might have some ideas as far as logistics of route selection.

MB: Right, I think that's right. There's a gentleman who lives in Chelsea, who could be a very good liaison to the cycling community throughout the state. He has agreed to investigate that, and maybe put a little energy into helping me figure that out. I need people that really can bring their own relationships and their own expertise to bear for me, because two or twenty heads are always going to be better than one. I really need a lot of people to help me with this.

HD: Back to the concept of playing the Star Spangled Banner at a baseball game along the way--is the Star Spangled Banner a song that could be boogie-woogie-fied?

MB: [laugh] I don't know. Almost anything can eventually, but I'm usually allergic to the result!

HD: Because I think that would be the expectation that people would have, right, if you pedaled up with your piano to a baseball game, it wouldn't be a straight-laced version of the Star Spangled Banner.

MB: Well, I've never ever given it any thought, and I'm hearing it in my head right now, and I've gotta think it could be done, you know.

HD: Woah! [Ed. note: A walnut drops precariously close to HD's end.]

MB: [laugh] Incoming!

HD: Yeah, that was pretty close!

MB: But I like the idea a lot. Our real rough idea is to probably go somewhere right across the center of the state, roughly along the I-96 corridor, and so we'll be able to hit cities like Grand Rapids and Lansing, and eventually Ann Arbor, and perhaps Detroit, and over to Port Huron. And if we need to stretch the trip to accommodate more events or in order to have more success, we might zig-zag a bit. We'll see how it goes. There's so many unknowns.

HD: Going back to your baseball days, do you still play in one of the--there's Rec and Ed baseball, isn't there?

MB: Well, yeah, I don't do it at all any more. I did it until the age of 44. And I'm 50 this year.

HD: So do you know what the sponsoring organization is, for example, there's baseball over in West Park. My wife and I have just been walking over in West Park sometimes, and we've accidentally stumbled on actual baseball games.

MB: I played in that league!

HD: What league is that?

MB: It's through Ann Arbor Rec and Ed, which you already said. I don't know what the name of it is, but our team was out of Ypsilanti. And a team that I played on out of Pontiac also played there as well. There are various means and mechanisms throughout the whole country where amateur teams can compete for actual national championships and so forth. There are a number of different umbrella organizations that ultimately are the arbiters of who comes from where to compete where. But amateur baseball is alive and well across the country, and the brand that's played in Ann Arbor is okay. Ann Arbor was not the premier league in the state by any means. The team I played on there, I'm happy to say, we went undefeated several years in a row ...

HD: ... wow ...

MB: ... we had a very good team. We fared well, and made our way fairly far along, when playoffs began. Pontiac League is probably the premiere league, the team from Flint is very good, the Lansing league is very good, Grand Rapids.

HD: Yeah, well, when my wife and I saw it, it was like, Wow, this is not Little League, this is not Babe Ruth League, this is like adults playing.

MB: It's just baseball, man. That's who plays! Turn on the TV, watch a major league game, you know!

HD: Yeah, with a real umpire and everything.

MB: Yeah, I saw David Wells, even last night at age 44, and Roger Clemens at 45 or whatever he is. I mean, people are staying so fit these days, particularly pitchers, which I was. If you can keep your lower body healthy and don't have real dangerous issues in your shoulder or elbow, if you can keep your lower body healthy and strong, you can pitch for a long time.

HD: So is cycling the way you generally kept your lower body strong?

MB: Ah, no, it's not. All the years I was playing baseball, cycling was really a back-burner issue for me. I do a lot more cycling now since I quit playing baseball. I wish I would have continued to do more of it, because that was one of the reasons I eventually got out of it--I was having some problems with my knees on the mound where I couldn't turn right, couldn't drive right. Now that I've been cycling a lot in the last few years, with many friends--it was my particularly good friend, John Rutherford, who got me back into it. He's really paved the way for me. Now my health is just--I've lost 40 pounds!

HD: Oh, really!

MB: Yeah, I'm much stronger than I was. But the kooky thing is now--maybe a little bit to the chagrin of my wife--now the wheels are really turning in my head, because I'm so much stronger now, than I was five years ago when I quit playing, I'm thinking, Wow, I wonder what would happen if I made a comeback at age 51!

HD: Well, there's that guy Jose something-or-other who turned 49 or maybe 50 ...

MB: You know, I'll tell you, Dave, I used to play in tournaments in Florida, in Canada, in Phoenix, Arizona--I used to travel a lot to play amateur baseball. And they have tournaments for guys that are 30 and above, 40 and above, 50 and above, 60 and above.

HD: Holy crap.

MB: You'd be amazed at the number of people who are still playing the game. And of course, the nature of the game changes as you go up in age, but it's still the same game, and a lot of guys play it well.

HD: So what was in your repertoire as far as pitches go?

MB: Usually three pitches. I never learned a change-up when I was younger. People my age often weren't taught change-ups back then, believe it or not. I was a hard thrower, so I had a two-seam fastball, slider, and a curveball.

HD: There's a lot you can do, though, with that limited repertoire.

MB: I hope so! I was pretty successful with it.

HD: It's maybe a little analogous to the basic structure of boogie woogie, right? With a very limited repertoire, as far as the kinds of notes and patterns you're allowed to play with each hand, but you can combine them in a way that it becomes quite a rich ...

MB: ... that is a great question. That's what I'm trying really hard to do, man. Because, oh boy, now we've really opened up a can of worms! But boogie woogie as it was traditionally played in the 1920's--well, oh boy, where do you start with this--like any craft, whether it's glass blowing, or cathedral making, so many things have been lost to time. And when the ideas are resurrected, the people that consume that resurrection--in other words, today's fans of the music as it exists today--are just hearing a little, little tiny pyramid on top of this vast base, which has vanished stylistically. I have a pretty nice record collection, and I used to be just an obsessive consumer myself of the music--I'd just listen to it all the time. That was really what I did with all my time ...

HD: ... do you still have that one record that your father gave you, the one by Yancey?

MB: Sure, Jimmy Yancey. But the people there used to have such a broad panorama of perspectives, of personal ways of playing. And the most successful people, even if they were just modestly successful--I mean artistically successful--were the people who were able to bring their own personalities to bear. Just like if you meet a person's dog, you can sometimes know something about the person, it's the same thing with someone's playing. And sadly for me, many of today's exponents, people my age, or in some cases people even younger who are taking up the sound--and I'm glad they are--but very many of them sound very much the same to me.

To get back to where you started this, it's really important to me to try to do this in a way that is as personal as you possibly can, that really allows you to express a broader panorama of emotions. Playing blues piano and boogie woogie piano doesn't have to be so uni-dimensional. I really think the more interesting, more flavorful stews that you can cook up are the ones that express a broader panorama of feelings that we all have, because of all the experiences we go through in life. You need to be able to feel those things and express them.

It's something I'm sometimes reluctant to talk about with people, because there's a critical dimension to the discussion that there has to be in terms of critically analyzing what my colleagues are doing. And I'm not anxious to be on the sideline criticizing anybody. At the same time, I love the music so much and I want to continue to hear the people who continue to do it. And my feelings run deep in this regard. When I came up, I was a 20-year-old and all my many of my idols were still alive, and I forged relationships with them.

HD: Could you talk a little bit about how that works exactly? I mean, you're basically some kid who thinks he knows how to play the piano, and goes up to this boogie woogie master, how does that conversation even start? I mean, how do you even open that conversation?

MB: Well, I just went and did it, man! And I'm just so glad that I was that kind of kid. Regardless of what's in front of me for the rest of my life, I don't know if I'll ever have a chapter of my life that will have so many awakenings for me. It was incredibly exciting, and the reason it was, is that I really had to go out on a limb to do that. What I would do is just found out first from my listenings, who these lists of people were who I was a fan of, who was still alive, where did they live, exactly where did they live, where did they play, and I would just call them, or in many cases just arrive unannounced ...

HD: ... like at their house??

MB: At their house, and just humble myself and say, Hey, I'm someone who loves what you do, and I'm trying hard to learn how to do it, would you be willing to spend some time with me? And then ...

HD: ... but surely not all of them said, Sure, that sounds great!

MB: Yeah, no, that wasn't always the case. And sometimes it involved developing a little bit of a relationship by hanging out at gigs and getting to know them a little bit more first. And then more slowly working my way into a relationship with them. In the case of four or five of the players, I actually spent quite a bit of time alone with them at the piano, really learning.

HD: So how did that typically work? Did they say, Okay, play something! and then they'd critique it? Or they'd play something and then say, Now, you do it!

MB: These guys were the greats, they weren't teachers by trade, that wasn't their bag. But I guess they saw an earnest young person, you know. I hope and I know that I was very respectful, I adored these guys, just had the highest possible regard for them. And I'm sure that was evident to these guys. It made our relationship a little more comfortable, even though there was no template for them to be teachers, per se.

HD: So it wasn't like they had a chalkboard and were writing out a staff with notes ...

MB: ... no, there was no template for that. This music is just passed down from one player to the other by being around each other, by watching each other play, hearing each other play, learning from records, all this stuff. And in this case, I would usually stand behind them, or sit next to them and watch them play, and oftentimes, if the relationship was really comfortable, they would be playing specific things that I would ask them to show me.

And then in some cases, like with Little Brother Montgomery, I could ask him to stop and say, No, I didn't understand that, I didn't get it, can you show me again? For instance, when I teach people now, which I do really infrequently, but my only rule to students is to tell them that I'm happy to show you something 700 times if I know you really want to know. If I'm convinced you really want to know, I really want to teach you. I really want to teach people like I was. But if you don't get it, man, don't be embarrassed. We'll go over it 700 times, but don't tell me you get something if you don't get it. Because then that's going to be a foundation for things later, and then it's a waste of everybody's time. I think I kind of instinctively understood that at the time.

And I'm not a fast learner, I'm really not. There are plenty of guys around here I take piano lessons from--now and then, one-shots, you know, where you go around and you learn things from one another--and I'm just not always the quickest at it. I need to see it sometimes several times. So it was really great when I got comfortable enough to say, Hey, can we slow down? Can you show me again? Yeah, it was just so exciting, it was just a real exciting time in my life. And those people, most of them by that time, were of course old men and had a life full of varied experiences, which came to bear on the way that they were playing the piano, and the way they approached their public, and the way they presented themselves, and represented themselves. And that's something that I really find wanting in many of the young players. It was just a warmth, and a humility, and a broader texture of what it is they were offering. Just a more profound sense that the music is really real and heartfelt, and represents a lifetime of experiences--that's a lot to ask of any young player, but I want to hear it. I want to hear that kind of openness and that kind of honesty from people.

HD: So do you feel like you've become a better player of this music, just because you've lived more years now, that you have more experiences in life that you can put into the music?

MB: Definitely. And I feel like I had a huge leg up because of these relationships that I had. To be able to see what I just described to you--these older people, their carriage, their bearing, their manner--that was invaluable. It's something that I don't feel I can really provide to a 20-year-old kid in the way that these guys did to me. Maybe in some sense I can. I guess I can in some sense, but these original guys who were there at the beginning, and were little boys in the 1920's, and they were learning the style as it was being created, and it's in the places where it came from, the earth--I can't be that, you know. I can only be a latter-day exponent of the music. And so I almost feel a little badly for the younger people that will never really have that opportunity to have associated themselves with people of that generation.

HD: Would the word 'steward' be appropriate to apply to what you are of the music?

MB: Well, that implies a real sense of responsibility. Which actually I do feel, yeah. I do feel that. Yeah.

HD: Let me just go back to Mark Nobilette for a second. He used to live here in Ann Arbor, right?

MB: Yeah, Mark was raised here and went to school here, went to high school here.

HD: So did you know him back when he lived in Ann Arbor, is that your connection?

MB: I did know him. And interestingly enough, I didn't meet him through his craft. I met him because he was a huge jazz fan.

HD: Really!

MB: Oh yeah, Mark was a real serious jazz fan, and still is to this day.

HD: Does he play himself?

MB: No, he doesn't play at all, but he's a real good fan, man, because he likes a lot of real challenging, kind of out-there, edgy jazz players of a certain time and era, that are not everybody's cup of tea. He understands it and feels it really deeply and loves it. And he has his whole life, and he still does. So it was fun to get to know him that way. Back then I was into cycling, but not very much really--I always had bikes and I liked to ride, but. Then I got to know him, he made me a couple of bikes, and made one for my wife as well. And they're beautiful bikes. So now our relationship continues to be more around cycling, because he lives in Colorado now. And he has family here, so he comes back usually every year, and we'll go for a ride or go hang out, you know.

HD: Well, you have anything else on your mind you want to get off your chest and onto the teeter totter before we dismount?

MB: Well, I had so many questions I wanted to ask you. This felt a little more like an interview to me than I thought it might be. I don't know why that is--maybe I'm used to being interviewed. I don't know how many people you do this with. I still have a lot of questions for you that I didn't explore, but we can do that anytime. It doesn't even have to be on the teeter totter.

HD: Hit me.

MB: Well, as I expressed to you earlier, before we began this formally, my wife was asking me, Why do you want to do this?! We had no idea who you were, or what you were going to do. I mean, you'll recall that as I came to your house, I didn't even realize that this was going to be on the web! I didn't know if you were writing a book, or making a movie, I had no idea what you were doing ...

HD: ... well, I think it's to your credit that you still went ahead and did it anyway, not knowing any of that!

MB: Well, I did this because I like this idea that this guy had this thing that he was following up on! And I was doing this for you, and an hour of my time to help somebody explore their dream is--I hope that's part of what I'm about! I'm not very computeristic, and I haven't gone to your website and I haven't looked at any of the other transcripts yet. I'm assuming most of them you typically take more of a role of interviewer--or I hope so! I hope I'm not the only one who just sat here and went on and on and answered questions!

HD: No, no.

MB: I just wanted to know what your motivation was, the ways you've been rewarded about it, who you've spoken to. We could do this for hours, and I could ask you these questions, I have a lot of them! But I don't know if that's something you'd want to do while we're here on the totter, or?

HD: Well, we can give it a shot. The sun is starting to beat down on us, and stamina might start to be an issue--for me anyway.

MB: Oh, man, compared to what I do all day every day, this is really a walk I the park!

HD: Oh, is it really?

MB: Oh yeah. I'm going to go for a long swim today.

HD: Where do you swim?

MB: I like to swim in these little lakes around here--let's get back to you for a second! And then we can return to the swimming, because I do have one other thing I'll talk with you about that I'm pretty excited about. But I wanted to ask you about the genesis of this idea. If you can recall what your motivation was, or what your ambition was, or even if you can recall why you wanted to do this, if you could have projected into the future, after you had the idea, why you still wanted to do it, and what you thought would be the reward for you? The appeal, of it. I'm asking twelve questions at once, but.

HD: Well, I mean, the original concept I can trace back to a movie I wanted to shoot. I wanted to make a movie. And I wanted to make a movie about a homeless guy who was trying to get his clothes clean. We talked before a little bit [before mounting the totter] about the Amish hand-cranked washer that I have, that I've been washing most of our clothes in for the last, I dunno, 13 or 14 years. So it was a movie with the title, Homeless Dave gets His Clothes Clean, was going to be a quest of this homeless guy who had a bunch of dirty clothes and how he got them clean in this hand-cranked washer.

So I realized at some point that a movie was going to be too ambitious, so I ratcheted back that idea to something like a video TV series that would run on local cable-access television. So I completed the CTN workshop--they have these workshops where you learn to use their equipment, they teach you how to use the cameras, and learn to edit video, and at the conclusion of that workshop I realized that even that was going to be a lot of work that I wasn't willing to invest. I mean, I was willing to invest a lot of time and effort, but the ratio of the time and effort, especially other people's, to the end product wasn't going to be adequate. Because for a dramatic series, you've gotta write dialogue, there's all this stuff that goes into making sure that it's interesting, you've got to write a compelling story.

And then along about that time, I constructed this teeter totter as an anniversary present for my wife and me, and I thought maybe instead of a dramatic series with a story, maybe I'd just do a video talk show on the teeter totter for local cable access. And I explored a little bit what the logistics of that would be. You'd need a wide-angle shot going the whole time, an isolation on each end of the teeter totter, and you'd need probably an additional person just to do sound, and one person for each of those three cameras. And coordinating that many schedules, I thought if I layer all that on top of it, the likelihood of it happening in a sustainable way, where I could keep doing it over and over again, would be pretty small.

And I thought, you know: the world wide web and text. That's where it's at, and that would allow me to produce the thing entirely myself. All I need to do is get a good enough audio recording to transcribe from. I don't have to worry about it being clean enough to broadcast as an MP3 file or anything like that. If I can hear the words, then that's good enough to work. So that's the genesis of why it's in this particular format, and why this particular venue.

MB: There's a leap there, though, from making a movie about getting your clothes clean to having discussions with a lot of other people. That's a big leap. In your answer, I don't see how you got to that point. What was the appeal at all to you of having these brief encounters with people?

HD: Well, I think that had to do with transitioning from just having an outlet for my own creativity to sort of looping other people into the project in a participatory kind of way, not just to help with the production of it. I felt like the project would garner a lot more support, just from a practical point of view, if people are participating in and contributing to the project in a substantive way. That's a more interesting and more community-minded, and ultimately more sustainable, enterprise.

I guess if you think of yourself as purely an artist, where you're just trying to create something--and it might be for a public that exists to consume the art, if so okay-- but if not, then if that's your mindset--that you're an artist--then your own force of will allow you to maintain that, maybe through a lifetime. But I'm not an artist in that sense. I think I need to have the constant affirmation that there is support out there in the community for the enterprise to continue. I think of every person who appears on the other end of the teeter totter as an affirmation that, yes, it's an enterprise that's worth supporting. Worth supporting enough that they're willing to park their butts on a hard piece of lumber and ride the teeter totter.

MB: [laugh] As much as I don't like to spend too much time inside looking at computers, now that I've done this, I'm going to go to your site and see some of the other transcriptions. It seems like a great adventure for you.

HD: Yes. That's actually something that I want to make sure that you get about it, that it does have this larger, high-minded purpose involving community conversations, which I certainly feel comfortable talking about, but really, riding a teeter totter out here is a whole lot of fun, it really is. At the end of it all, riding a teeter totter with somebody is a pleasure that I think is vastly underrated. It's fun, you know.

MB: You know, after doing this for a while, I can see that. And I can see the potential for this idea being co-opted by other people, not necessarily what it is you do with these conversations, but just for someone else to have a teeter totter and just spend a little time with a friend. It kind of puts you in a place like this where you're really looking at one another. It doesn't make sense to turn the other way.

HD: Yeah, you kind have to pay attention.

MB: Yeah, kinda have to pay attention to each other.

HD: There's a little bit of danger involved in that it's kind of an austere version of a teeter totter. There's no handles. The seat is not terribly comfortable.

MB: That's by choice, I guess? I mean, it would have been easy to ...

HD: ... some of it was the aesthetic of the simple board--I really liked the idea of not adorning the board with anything like cushioning or handles or anything like that. But also, you know, you get into building one of these things and at a certain point you just want to finish it and say, Okay, I'm finished, it's done.

MB: Good for you!

HD: So at some point, I'm thinking I might build a second version, build a new one.

MB: Well, as you've said something to me about your motivations allowing me to understand this, as long as we talked about the bike trip, I would just want to express to you, too, and anybody who might read this as to my motivation. I mean, we haven't really talked about that, but what it is that makes someone want to do what I'm about set out to try to do? It's going to be a helluva lot of work, it's going to require a lot of effort, a slice out of my life that I can never have back to have done something else. So I have to have really been convinced that it will have value to me personally. Musicians, it's the nature of our careers to be the focus of people's attention--that goes without saying, I think that's what you have to do.

HD: Well, yeah!

MB: But that can be a little irksome as a fan of other people that do whatever they do, whether they're painters or musicians or whoever, saying, Look at me, me, me! You know, we have to do that all the time. And this project certainly will have a large element of that. It wouldn't be able to work without it ...

HD: ... but that's not onerous, is it? I mean, one thing I should have maybe added about my own motivation for this is that, you know, I wanna be the star of a show.

MB: Yeah, yeah. No, that doesn't have to be onerous, and I don't think it has to be something that people should shirk from or be ashamed of--I don't think so at all. I think that people who have something of value to share--if they're reasonably happy and well-adjusted--should feel okay about making those offerings. And I do!

It was more important to me that I find a way to augment that focus to affect other people's lives in a way that just playing music for them could not--there's an aspect of raising funds and awareness for issues for people. But then there's the other aspect, which I've barely begun to talk about, and I don't even want to talk about it, but it's very selfish and it's really almost spiritual. What will happen to you while you undertake this project? What will happen to me, how will I be changed at this juncture in my life, by forging whatever relationships or partnerships I have to form with people in order to get it done? Who will I meet, what will they express back to me in terms of their own creativity or effort or appreciation?

It seems like a really huge adventure with endless possibilities, even from the spiritual palette, you know? That's the part of it that I'm really more excited about than anything else. It's just the sheer surprise of it, not knowing what's going to happen to you on a Tuesday or a Friday. If you have a job like most of us do, where you know pretty well what's going to be happening to you on a Tuesday or a Friday. And I just like to provide myself with opportunities where you don't know. This is going to be full of surprises, and I don't think that all of them are going to be happy surprises.

HD: Surely not.

MB: Surely not. And we'll stub our toe, and we might do more than that. There are going to be elements of it that will fail or that won't come back. But I'm starting to get really excited about it.

HD: So you said there was some other project involving swimming?

MB: Oh yeah, before I can turn my attention to [the piano trip]--I like to swim a lot, and just in the last few years, I've gotten more involved with my own physical fitness. I'm glad that I have, because I was really going in the wrong direction. I was weighing 267 pounds, I was still occasionally smoking cigarettes, ...

HD: ... yeah, I would have needed some counterweights.

MB: Yeah, you'd need ballast, for sure, you'd be flying right now! You'd be hanging from that limb above us! And you know I was going the wrong direction. My wife Heidi, really in retrospect, really in a perfect way--she wasn't nagging in any sense ever--I know she had all my best feelings at heart, but she was trying to encourage me to take a little better care of myself. I was just at a tipping point, really. And between her and this old acquaintance that reemerged in my life as now a dear friend, who just really motivated me and constantly took me out to cycle, and pushed me past the breaking point, really to the edge. I really challenged myself in way--that I've observed since--most people aren't willing to challenge themselves. I mean I really pushed myself. And now I'm feeling the rewards. One of those things is the swimming thing. I've gotten into the swimming. So now, on the 8th and 9th of September [2007], I have only a two-day window--I wish I had more, but it's really hard to organize, believe me. I have a two-day window, and I have a boat lined up and probably a kayak, and I'm going to try to swim the Straits of Mackinaw.

HD: Holy Crap!

MB: Yeah, I'm really excited about it. For instance, later on today, even though it's a work day, day of the week, I have to force myself, I have to ...

HD: ... put in some swimming miles?

MB: Yeah, probably 3-plus miles today in a lake. I'll swim probably an hour and a half, an hour and forty-five minutes.

HD: How long a swim is the Straits?

MB: Well, it can vary in time quite a bit. I've spoken with a few people who have done it--one guy who has done it many, many times--and it can vary pretty widely. For a person of my skill set, if conditions are superb, I could make it in two hours and fifteen minutes--no less than that and probably much more. If conditions are really bad, but still good enough for me to not get me out of the water, it could take a lot longer.

HD: What's the distance?

MB: It's four miles.

HD: Four miles, wow.

MB: The bridge is longer than that, but if you really look shore-to-shore on either side of the bridge--as long as you stay fairly close to the bridge--that's about a four-mile swim.

HD: So water temperature this time of year, is it such that you won't need a wet suit?

MB: No, I will need a wet suit. There are people who do it without, but to be in the water that long, it's probably 62-63 degrees probably, I'll wear a full wetsuit. And a cap. I've got an insulated cap, but I probably won't wear that. Nothing on my hands and feet, and they'll get cold, and my face will get cold. But you get used to it. And you just plow. So I don't know, man. I've got a friend, he has a surgery coming up soon, but he's a very, very avid swimmer, he does most of his swimming in pools, but he challenges himself to the extreme, he's a superb swimmer for someone his age. He's going to join me.

HD: In the water?

MB: In the water. He'll swim with me. And there may be more if you have time for me to tell you about it.

HD: I got all kinds of time.

MB: This coming weekend, Labor Day, you may know that this is the 50th anniversary of the building of the Mackinaw Bridge?

HD: Did not realize that.

MB: Well, it is. And every Labor Day, the Governor leads a walk of people across the bridge. It's a cool thing for people to do. I've never done it, but I think it's really great that they turn it into a pedestrian bridge.

HD: So if you swim across and you get to the other side, then maybe you could walk back across the bridge!

MB: Well, no, I won't be able to, because I'm not doing it that weekend. I'm doing it the weekend afterwards. But on Labor Day Weekend, there's a guy who's name is Jim Dreyer--who I've gotten to know just a little bit over the phone--and he's a world-record holding swimmer. He's the only person, I believe, who's swum across all five Great Lakes.

HD: Mmmm, yeah, I was going to say, that name rings a vague bell.

MB: He's quite well-known in the world of distance swimming, he's very well known.

HD: He's like a rock-star distance swimmer.

MB: He's a way rock-star distance swimmer. In fresh-water swimming, I think he's just about it. He's going to lead 49 other swimmers, so 50 including himself, for the 50th anniversary ...

HD: ... oh, 50 years, yeah, yeah, yeah!

MB: Across the Straits on Labor Day Weekend. Their challenge is tough, because with that many people involved, they have to pick a specific day if the currents and the weather is in their favor good for them, if it's not, then they either can't do it, or it could be awful tough. But anyway, they're going to do that. I learned about it too late to be a part of that group. I would have loved that. I was an alternate, but I'm not going to be able to be a part of that group. But he's encouraged me to do it anyway, and I was able to line up a boat for the following weekend, for the 8th and 9th.

[Ed. note: The primary sound recording system failed at 54:26. It's not clear why. The backup sound ran out of tape at 1:01:36. So the last six minutes of the Talk are lost. MB described a bit more in detail what kind of nutrition he'll be taking on board during the swim itself, and HD spoke a bit about his bicycle trip up to Lansing.]