By Mike Fiorito / www.o-books.com
Where Buddhism and Bluegrass mix
Mescalito Riding His White Horse was inspired by several interviews conducted with Peter Rowan (Grammy nominee 2023), legendary musician and International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame inductee, over a period of a few months during 2021. The truth is I never expected a book to emerge from the interview. But after the first conversation with Peter, I was visited by dreams night after night. Peter was well lodged in my thoughts. As I worked on the interview article, Peter read stories from my book Falling from Trees, sharing his insights and reactions. We then started to share poems, artwork (Peter is also a visual artist) and reflections. Peter is not a conventional thinker. Nor is he linear. He embodies the very idea of an artist. His notes are poems. Sometimes, frankly, I wasn’t sure what he was saying. Getting texts from Peter is like receiving messages from Walt Whitman.
Peter is a living source of modern music. He’s also aware that he is a keeper of the myths. As Dr. Neil Rosenberg, bluegrass historian wrote, Peter is a “visionary…bluegrass songster Peter Rowan.” Rosenberg accurately added that Peter “captured Mike Fiorito’s attention leading him on a deep spiritual trek. Rowan tells of his mentors from Bill Monroe to Harry Smith, Buddha and beyond. Mescalito is Fiorito’s gripping narrative of his journey into a new musical consciousness.” Peter played with Bill Monroe, Jerry Garcia, Alison Kraus, and dozens of other influencers of modern music. He has noteworthy anecdotes about luminaries like Bob Dylan and Harry Smith. Peter talks about Monroe’s interests in harmonies, rhythm, and style – elements which found their way into music outside of bluegrass. You can say that Monroe’s focus on gospel harmonies would be the basis of the Beatles and the music revolution they inspired. Having also played with Jerry Garcia, Peter infused his knowledge of bluegrass into the psychedelic music of the sixties – they became part of the same fabric. Of course, Peter has gone on to explore other kinds of music. His album Dharma Blues was inspired by playing with Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo. At the center of Peter’s songwriter is his storytelling and melody making. This is what really struck deeply in my soul. When talking to Peter, I was talking to the history of music. Of course, Peter is a man, a down-to-earth person in fact, not merely a bluegrass legend, but he is also a keeper of the music. And he revels in his role as myth maker. My response to talking to Peter, sharing emails, and texts, was a connection to that depth. Like I was touching a hot wire that went directly to the center of the consciousness of a generation. As such, my interview transitioned into memoir and philosophical treatise. Peter’s words, like a magician’s incantation, put a spell on me. I could no longer approach the conversations as an interviewer. I was now an experiencer. Peter’s music sits at the bottom layers of my consciousness – it is bound up with my dreams, fantasies, and unconsciousness. As I told Peter, “on some level, just hearing the stories directly from him was enough.” Like many people of my generation, my consciousness was forged in the cauldron of the sixty’s art culture. This art culture included music, spirituality, visual art, literature – all sprinkled in with a touch of psychedelia. What I discovered in my conversations with Peter is that music touches human beings at a more fundamental level than language. As I wrote in Mescalito, our minds are made of music first. We learned music from the birds, the sounds of breezes and the echoes in canyons. Music transports us. Listening to music helps us remember our earliest memories, our adolescence, our first loves. Our losses. And triumphs. And we don’t just remember them; we re-experience them. Music makes us cry, laugh, taking us back to times in our lives when we were different. When the world was different. Music can transform a culture. It can inspire a revolution. All cultural transformations are associated with music. But however sweeping music can be in the context of a cultural shift, it is always personal. Music lives in our souls. In discovering this magic, I felt myself projected across time, place, and identity and tried to put that experience into words.
While I wrote the manuscript, Peter read and reviewed it, correcting some of the facts, but also providing his feedback. When I received the note “Wow! [Mescalito] is beautiful. I’m touched that you ‘got’ it!” I was absolutely floored. Peter went on to say that our collaboration was like his collaboration with Bill Monroe. The honor that I felt in hearing this was beyond description.
Except for the quoted interviews, which were transcribed as spoken, what follows is a combination of autobiography mixed with my visions and dreams.
Some were imagined. All were real.
Mescalito Riding His White Horse By Mike Fiorito is available from www.o-books.com and from wherever books are sold.