Guns a’ blazing (Introduction)

“Rise of the Maestro”; Dania Beach, FL / January 2017


If there’s anything that I try and avoid writing about, its writing. That being said, I’ll keep this beginning part short.

For starters, I really don’t even think of myself as a writer at all. I’m no Hemingway or Kerouac or Walt Whitman. I don’t know how any of those guys fell into the whole business of writing, but I do know that I did just that. I fell into it. I never had a moment where I decided that I would be a writer. I simply had experiences and felt compelled to write about them. So I guess I don’t think of myself as a writer because I never really chose to do it. Never chose it for myself. I never chose it at all.

I do it mostly out of necessity, more so even than music. I’m better known for my music, and I might end up being far better known for it than anything else. But writing anchors me in a way that even music doesn’t.

“Just go in there…guns a’ blazing…you already know who you are.”

That’s what I wrote down late last night, as I was minutes away from falling asleep. Now tonight I have to admit I don’t know exactly what the hell I was talking about in those final moments before sleep, but I remember the feeling, the desire I felt to no longer second-guess myself. Take the dive. Plunge in and begin with the story on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing and where we are all going. Where I am going. I remember sitting in a cafe not long ago, thinking thoughts similar to these. I wrote them down.

Now, a few months later and with a few more experiences under my belt, I think I am ready to get to work again.

Angels in Space, Ease his Pain

This was just few days before we took off and drove back out west. I was about to start a journey that would only begin and end like several others before it. It would begin in New Orleans, and it would end in New Orleans. Most of the places in between, however, were all new.

This entry began on September 25, 2016 and ended the following day. I remember now, it started with me talking about that damn back pain.


I awake from a long dream and I’m in my childhood bed back in my childhood house. There’s clothes on top of me and I rise up out of the big pile like a mummy from the earth.

I’ve been experiencing the most painful, debilitating lower back pain for over a year. Almost two years. I don’t know where it came from. Could just be my posture. Something simple like that, right under my nose and something I’ve taken for granted all this time. It could be something far more complicated than that. Maybe it came from some physical activity. Maybe it came from the forces on high. Some lesson I was supposed to learn. Some kind of punishment.

The punishment. The guilt. Maybe it’s just my Catholic roots. The constant self-doubt that’s come from my endless self-analysis and scrutiny. Maybe it’s the way I was brought up. Maybe it’s just me.

I tried all sorts of things for my back. Chiropractors and massage therapists. New backpacks, new chairs, new shoes. Then I tried yoga and something finally clicked, literally in my back. Up until that point, the pain had been on and off, which is why I can’t declare that I’ve fully licked it just yet.

Again, the pain had been with me for more than a year and for most of that last year I spent in LA. I’d walk around my apartment and I’d feel it. The old wood of the floorboard seemed to creak and moan as I walked upon it, in perfect unison with the same straining pull I felt in my back with every step, every shift in weight as I stood upon that floor. I miss that old apartment. 7460 Hollywood Blvd. I recorded my first album there. I miss the apartment but I don’t miss the pain. When I took off and set out on the road, the pain was gone. Maybe it was some miracle. I didn’t know. Maybe it was the city. Los Angeles. It was the city I loved so much and yet for some reason, at least for a while, I needed to get away.

And so I did just that. I set out on the road toward the east coast, a trip that took place over 17 days and in which I camped in the National Parks. The experience would change my life. The parks became my great sanctuary, my mighty American wilderness where I’d find a sense of rest and refuge, rejuvenation unlike any I’d ever experienced, and an overwhelming feeling of enlightenment that greeted me in a seemingly endless series of stages, one right after the other. They were Sequoia and King’s Canyon. Yosemite. Zion. The Arches. The Rocky Mountains. And the great Mammoth Cave of Kentucky. I walked, ran, camped, climbed and hiked through all these places. More physical activity than any I’d done in months.

At no time did I feel any pain. Not even during that first night, as I lie in my tent with no padding underneath me, essentially attempting to sleep atop a rocky, cold and rain-soaked patch of earth. It should have delivered some kind of killing blow. And yet somehow I still slept like a baby, waking up the next morning feeling wonderful as I breathed in the fresh mountain air.

With every breath of that air I felt better. Every step I took beneath those ancient forest trees seemed to make me stronger. And as I stared up at night, in the shadows of those trees cast in moonlight and up toward the stars, I felt more at peace. The stars, the moon, the trees, they were my guardians. My protectors. My friends. My brothers.

I’d experienced that connection with the trees only very recently standing in the groves of Sequoia high up in the mountains of the California central valley. With the moon, I’d felt very close for as far back as I could remember; and in some ways, looking up at it was like looking in the mirror. But the stars…

It began in New Mexico. Four years prior when I was driving out to LA and making the big move out west. On a state road going from Roswell to Santa Fe.

It was early in the morning and the sky was still dark. No other cars drove on the highway. For some reason I decided to pull over and get out of my car. I walked a few steps farther down the road and then I looked up and saw them, all of the stars way up in the desert sky. And I mean, all of them. I’d never seen so many in my life. In that moment, though I was in the middle of the desert, I felt like I was in the center of the universe and all of its angels were looking at me like we’d just met for the first time.

Let’s just say it’s the closest I’ve come to being in the heavens. Whoever I was, or thought I was, before that morning is a stranger to me now. From that point on, nothing would ever be the same.

My beginnings in music are not a whole lot different from the stories of those who’ve come before me. The need to play came from a deep longing to break away from where I was and to see a world that existed outside my walls, and originally I had no other way of expressing or articulating those feelings. I was constantly feeling restless. Movement suddenly became very necessary for me, even though I couldn’t necessarily articulate that at the time.

Having left LA, driving across the country again and venturing into the National Parks, I was only a little closer to realizing it. I was back on the road, this time heading east. Those same stars were with me still. Just about every night. Watching. Speaking to me. On the darkest of nights, the most quiet nights, they are still there. Whenever I might feel afraid or lonesome in any way, they are there like angels in space.

That oneness with nature that so many had talked about, embodied in the likes of John Muir and so many before and after him, was something I was fully experiencing for the first time. If I could have, I easily would have stayed out longer. But I had a plane to catch. It just wasn’t going back to LA.


Officially, the whole reason I left LA was for Spain. I’d saved up just about all my money to make it out there. I’d fly into Madrid and make my way to Barcelona, I’d fly to Paris and then to Krakow, down to Munich for Oktoberfest and then hop on the train and travel throughout the continent. In Spain, I discovered the works of the many great masters and painters. El Greco, Miró, Picasso, Valesquez and Francisco De Goya. I did the same in Paris with Monet, Gaugin, Renoir, Degas and Toulouse Lautrec. But nothing compared to what I’d encounter farther east, into Prague and Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest.

Here I would rediscover a musical form far older than the roots music I served. I was in essence, rediscovering a new set of roots while catching, but for an instant, a new spiritual ideal to which I could aspire. In the Budapest State Opera House I had a transcendent experience that changed my entire artistic outlook, as the orchestra played its haunting, thunderous rendition of the Moldau (“Mi Vlast”) or “My Fatherland”. It laid down the seeds of an obsession with classical music that has since exploded, its effects of which are still very far from over.

I could hear LA calling my name and so from Budapest I began the journey west, the long road back to where the sun sets. I missed home. I also longed for the mountains and rivers and the extraordinary solace I’d found in the natural beauty of the American landscape. Still, during these next few nights in the cities of Europe, I’d catch the full moon and the stars. The stars were out every night. I was moving. Traveling from town to town. City to city. And as I moved, the stars followed.

The Alps of Switzerland were a triumphant, though temporary, return to the state of being I’d experienced in the National Parks. It wasn’t like home, but it was another world. By this time, I’d almost totally forgotten about the back pain. I hadn’t felt it since LA. I hadn’t thought about it in Europe and it never even crossed my mind while hiking through the valleys of the Alps. Nor when I returned to Paris and Barcelona, Toledo and Madrid.

I hand’t thought about it at all flying back from Madrid and into Miami, nor even in the next few months I spent in and out of South Florida, saving money, reconnecting with family, taking it easy a bit while wrapping up the debut album, all while trying to resume work on the novel, telling the story of Jude Moonlight and Cal Corso. The good book, as I call it.

It’s funny that I would meet a girl during this time. She loves me and understands me and whatever she doesn’t understand about me she continually seeks to learn. Plus she’s classically beautiful, exotic, a stellar cook, extremely intelligent, crushingly kind and most of all, exciting and eager to experience. She is a profound woman, with a deep and genuine and loving heart. She is the best kind of person in this world.

It’s because of her that I finally made it to New York City, her birthday present to me. When I got there I felt like I’d reached the great pinnacle, the mountaintop of my recent travels, a place I’d known all my life that I recalled from dreams. Going back to New York felt like re-entering the womb, back to a time and place I could only barely remember, so far back it had become less of a memory and more a feeling. A series of images. A series of dreams. Old dreams that never leave.

I never felt the pains in New York, but when I got back into Florida it hit me once again and harder than before. I met with a physical therapist, a healer, who used a variety of old techniques she learned in India. I felt great at first, but soon I ended up paying a heavy price, one that I don’t ever want to pay again. Clearly the mind and body share a greater connection that we could ever imagine and when I experienced that little adjustment, the demons came right out. I didn’t recognize myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so angry with the whole world and with myself. There was a darker side to me than I ever understood and it frightened me. I took a few days to come out of it.

Even after that whole experience, the pain still came back, though it wasn’t nearly as bad as before. The healer warned me that it was all a process. One that would require work. Patience. Discipline. Focus. Respect for mind and body. Meditation and yoga were just a few habits I could develop to begin the process.

She was right. Long story short, I’ve felt much better over the past few months. Though today I am still wary. Meditation and yoga and deep breathing and hiking and traveling are all fine and wonderful, but for me say that any one of them were the answer to finding some kind of peace would be wrong. There’s more to it than that. It’s bigger, and maybe more simple. In my own understanding of it, I think I’ve only just begun.

Till the Death

It just so happened that at the height of the back pains, I was working very little. Very little music and very little writing. I was also stationary, first in LA and then later in Florida.

Now maybe I’ve been hinting that stagnancy, both literal and creative, is the culprit behind the pain, but to pin that as the main cause just for the sake of having a clean finish to this story would be untrue. Besides that’s not necessarily the point of this story, and I don’t pretend today that the back pain is truly gone for good.

For one thing, the worst part of the pain itself was the fact that it even existed at all. I’d done all this traveling and hiking and soul-searching, and still I’d found myself hunched over or crashing upon a sofa or bed, exhaling in great relief after standing for as little as 15 minutes. I’d then immediately fall into a bad mood and prove that no degree of enlightenment I’d found in the past could save me from this kind of agony, that I was just as prone to the same bad days and downward spirals as everybody else.

I might have changed a lot through the course of all that traveling, but I was still ordinary and I would always be ordinary. It was up to me to understand why, and how that very understanding was the key. In short, ego had to be controlled. Kept it balance. It would always be a volatile, powerful force that could forever serve as an asset, so long as it was kept from becoming a demon.

Whatever enlightenment I’d found might have been real, but it would mean nothing without work. I could listen and learn and get inspired all I wanted, but I wouldn’t realize anything without practice. I could climb all the mountains in the world, and still never reach the mountaintop…because there is no mountaintop. There was no point where I could just arrive and stop trekking and stop moving. Not just on my feet but in my head. I could reach LA or Europe or New York City or Budapest but the engines would never start or stop because of it. My ability to be what I am, to do what I am capable of doing must never hinge upon where I am in the world, on conditional or any external forces around me. I must always be working to create my own action, because life itself is creation, constant creation of who I am and who I want to be. This is true whether I’m on the move or lying low, whether I’m in the city or in the Alps.

It’s all peripheral. Regardless of whether you’re on your own or you’ve found someone you love, the idea is to never stop working on yourself. The action never stops. It’s not a matter of discovery. It’s a matter of creation and will. And waiting, waiting for the conditions around you to change before you keep going, or even begin is unacceptable. The weather shall never hinder you. It must never hold you back.

I Hit a Snag

Yesterday, I hit a snag and found out I’m going to have to stay here another few days before I head back west, before I set out on the road and drive into ol’ New Orleans again, and before I reunite with those beautiful gates of paradise once more. Those mountains, those flowing rivers and old vigilant trees. I’ll be back in the National Parks. Back in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Back in Zion and in the Grand Canyon too.

I will return to LA and I will return to New York. It will be the first of many times I expect.

But like I said, I hit a snag. I thought I was leaving tomorrow but I’m still needed here. Just a few more days. It might have struck a blow in days past, but it’s all very different now, this time around. This time, though the plans have been delayed, inside I am already moving. I’ve been moving for quite some time. And my back is feeling good.

I hear my train a’ coming. My pen is in hand and you know the amp is always near. I’ve got Beethoven and the blues on my mind.

Ren Michael


Hear My Train A-Comin’

It’s funny that I would write “I think I am ready to get to work again” in the prologue, being that it seems to contradict the entire thesis of what I have written here. I don’t mean to say that I haven’t been working in the time since. Rest assured. I have.

Now I simply mean that it is time to resume work on this Web site. It began as a blog, long ago. Then it turned into my own personal Web site, one to profile who I am and showcase some of my work. But now I think it is evolving yet again, this time into a mixture of both. It is, and forever will be an ongoing project. An ongoing journal and catalogue of the chronicles. A project of mine that will serve me and maybe even serve others as well. That is always the aim.

I’ve just come back from a long journey across the country, the one I was writing about taking in that old journal entry. I made it back to LA and now, for the moment, I’m back in Florida. I’ll tell you all about it, all in good time. I’ve also got much more to say about the other places I’ve been and the many travels across America and in Europe over the past few years. It turns out, I’ve got another trip ahead of me too.

The sun’s rising from the east. My first album is now complete. I’ve got a guitar strapped ‘cross my back and a rose in my ear. I’ve got Beethoven and the blues still on my mind, and you know the amp is always near.

Ren Michael
January 18, 2017

Return to New Mexico, Highway 285 / October, 2016
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