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Playing for Change's "Groove in G," Plus a Conversation With Author Paul Samuel Dolman

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Here is the new video from the international collective Playing For Change, "Groove in G," featuring a pulsating bed of Indian, African, Jamaican and Brazilian percussion colored by subtle accents from sitar, veena and sarod. "Groove in G" will be featured on the forthcoming CD/DVD PFC 2: Songs Around The World, and this unique 2 disc set will be available May 31st, 2011, by Hear Music and the Concord Music Group.

"This is an improvised desert blues based on riffs created by the guys in Tinariwen; there's also a trace of Latin rock and Afrobeat. It's a new global kind of groove," says Playing For Change founder Mark Johnson. "One of the inspirations of this album came from Tinariwen. There's a saying in their culture that a divided people will lose their way. Playing For Change sees a united people finding their way. We want to portray people coming together, one heart and one song at a time."

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A Conversation with Author Paul Samuel Dolman

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photo courtesy of Melinda Norris

Mike Ragogna: Paul, you've written the new book out, Hitchhiking With Larry David: A True Story From Martha's Vineyard. Care to explain yourself?

Paul Samuel Dolman: Well, for those out there wondering, "What? Hitchhiking with Larry David?" Really? Yes, really. That's not a metaphor. It's a true story. I was in Martha's Vineyard fleeing a heartbreak in Nashville at the hands of a beautiful girl that I call The Miracle. Because quite honestly, she was. We were going through some real growing pains, and in terms of the relationship, I was a real ignoramus. I guess it was the heartache or the confusion because going to The Vineyard was a great idea, but going to live with my parents in a tiny, isolated cabin--two people in their '80s who seem to be comfortable being around only one other carbon-based life form, their dog, Max--was questionable. It took me about an hour to figure out that I had traded one form of suffering for another.

MR: I've got to know, what is the pecking order in your family? Is it Max, you, then maybe your brother?

PD: Yes, and my brother Chris and I aren't even on the bill. It's like one of those movie parts that are unaccredited. Max is definitely way above us. By the way, my parents are very wonderful, deeply loving, and supportive people. They were also nice enough to invite me there as an unwelcome guest.

Just to stay sane, I quickly decided that it would be a good idea to get out of the cabin around sunrise and return sometime after midnight. So, on the very first day, I did a lot of bike riding. The next day, I could barely walk, but I wanted to go to this beach on the far side of the island. I stick out my thumb, and David McCullough, the famous author of 1776 pulls up, and I'm thinking, "Wherever he's going, I'm going his way." Unfortunately, he couldn't take me anywhere because he only lived about one hundred yards from where I encountered him. I was crestfallen, but--and I swear this is true--Larry David pulls over next. Now, you would think there was a star in every car in Martha's Vineyard, but that's certainly not the case. Because in the book, there were a lot of other so-called regular people who picked me up who were not famous, but were just as wonderful, and the book is full of those stories too.

Anyway, Larry pulled over, I got in the car, and I'm thinking, "That's Larry David." Yet, here's a little irony; I had never seen any of his stuff because I'm not a TV guy! At the time, I thought this fun fact would never come up and, of course, it does in an hysterical way. I get in the car, and Larry leans back--he's not driving. I say, "What's up?" He's looking at me, sizing me up, still leaning back, and he says, "You're not a serial killer or something, are you?" I thought for a second, and I say, "You know, Larry, it's The Vineyard and it's the summer, so even if I am, I'm on vacation. I'm not working."

I guess this quickly met Larry's seal of approval for comeback lines because he said, "Alright. Where do you want to go?" I said, "Aquinnah." He said, "All that way? Ah, what the hell, I'll take you." From there, we started talking about all kinds of stuff, going deeper and deeper, and within a few minutes he said something very interesting, "You know, I never, ever pick up a hitchhiker." I could understand, with him being famous. I thought for a moment then asked, "Larry, then why did you pick up me?" He takes a long pause then comes back with, "Because I felt like I was supposed to." This mantra turns out to be one of the major themes of the book--listening to your heart, trusting that deep, inner impulse, and then going with it. My time with Larry was great because we were just able to talk about things that Larry hasn't ever talked about in any other interviews--what matters most, can money buy happiness, what makes one happy, is there a God or higher power and what do you think about all this stuff we call living? You'll be surprised by the depth of his answers, as I was. And he was a very gracious chauffeur that day.

Beyond that initial experience, we ended up having many magical synchronicities. The book is about that, and so much more; staying fearless and open, what happens when you look to learn from everyone and see the magic in everything--even the pain and the heartbreak. Throughout the book, I get incrementally wiser, I grow into a loving being, there are a lot of laughs, and it seems to be an easy read for people. I hear that a lot of people read it in one sitting. For those of you that are curious--yes, Larry has read the book and he loved it.

MR: In fact, you have a quote from him: "If I'd only known, I would have been wittier."

PD: I couldn't believe when he wrote me that email back and said that. He said something else that I loved, but didn't put on the book, "P.S., I hope to see you on the South Road." That warmed my heart because that's where he picked me up, and that's a hell of a nice thing for him to say.

MR: And to remember, that's so great.

PD: Oh, and the Larry Phenomenon continues. Last summer, I went back to The VIneyard, and on my first full day there, I went to lunch at this very obscure place, turned around, and Larry walked right up the steps. We looked at each other, shrugged, and we laughed. For a moment, we pondered it all again, the mystery of our connection, the mystery of it all, and he said, "I guess our thing carried over from last summer." I was with The Miracle at the time and Larry joined us for lunch. It was a wonderful experience. He's a very good man, a kind guy, and he's brilliant. Subsequently, I have watched some of his programs and come to realize he's a comedic genius.

MR: The funny thing is that, when you watch his show, he plays his part so convincingly that you think that's truly Larry David.

PD: I know. There is a lot of Larry in Larry in terms of when he's around. But he's so much more than that.

MR: You also have a line from David McCullough on the back of the book, it reads, "I should have picked him up!"

PD: Interestingly enough, just this past summer, David and I became very good friends. I went up to his house a bunch of times and played the piano--he loves to sing--and when I gave him a copy of the book, he was like, "Damn, I wish I would have picked you up and given you a ride." Of course, it would have been a completely different book, maybe talking a little bit more about historical facts and figures.

MR: Hitchhiking With David McCullough?

PD: Maybe that's the next one. Perhaps, I can milk this thing like the Chicken Soup series. (laughs) By the way, I've been doing a lot of press recently--I just went to Florida for a few weeks--and I tell people to go to the website, hitchhikingwithlarrydavid.com. There's all sorts of extra stuff there--you can order the book there, and, of course, you can get it at any bookstore. Also, on the website, blogs are posted about the adventures and I talk about stuff like this.

MR: I want to ask you about a sensitive issue in the book, but first, do you feel comfortable talking about your relationship?

PD: I feel comfortable talking about anything, that's part of my problem. Part of the magic of this whole ride is stuff like the fact that you contribute to The Huffington Post, you and I go back to '85--I don't know if everybody knows, but Mike was in a group on MTM called The Almost Brothers. Of course, they were way ahead of their time, then later on, people imitated them.

MR: Uh, well, thank you, sir.

PD: Yeah, I'll talk about anything.

MR: (laughs)

PD: (laughs) Of course, I'd love to talk about my relationship.

MR: You refer to her as "The Miracle."

PD: Right.

MR: The relationship was over and you were the one who kind of pulled the plug on it, right?

PD: Well, it was my stupidity that just led us down a bad path. I call her The Miracle because her real name is "Miracle." Her first name is not "the," but her last name is Miracle. When I met her--I like to call these things "divine appointments" in the book--I was in Del Mar for just a couple of days, getting ready to go down to Mexico for this business thing. And in the book, I talk about this too, how when I hugged her, it felt like coming home. If I ever believed in past life love or eternal love and connecting with somebody, I certainly experienced it in that moment, even though I was only there for three days, and we may just have been ships passing in the night. We had this beautiful experience, and for a while, it worked extremely well. She came back to Nashville and I stayed out in San Diego for months. We lived blissfully in the woods, and it was sort of this great monastic-type of existence, yet with this beautiful woman. We shared a tremendous connection, and then, with time, it was contaminated with fear...fear of commitment, and old ghosts within us came to the service. I couldn't commit, I couldn't get out of it, and I put us in this funky place.

Then, finally, I pushed her away and her stuff came up too, and we ended up breaking up. During this time, she was seeing other people but also seeing me, and it was Hell on Earth. Of course, we could never resist this tremendous "soul pull," all the while, struggling with practical things. But the soul connection, for anyone who has ever experienced that, is like super-gravity. The only way to get away from it was to actually get away from it, because if we're in the same vicinity, we were just going to keep connecting. So, I fled to The Vineyard to get away.

MR: Paul, you talk about this "soul pull," and I know exactly what you mean. Recently, I was in a relationship, but after a while, intuitively, I knew I had to end it. Something was very wrong and I couldn't put my finger on it. Of course, it didn't end well, but to me, the relationship felt like something we'd already played out in some other life, and it was a big mistake to repeat it in this one. Still, there was that soul pull, and there was also the fact that she had a terrific son who I felt very close to. I'm absolutely positive it was that whole "family-from-another-life" thing, you know, not meant to be repeated. On the other hand, I'm glad I had that time with them and I love them to this day. I think the happiest moment of my life was when I came back from a trip to NYC and simply sat with them on the couch for hours. No one wanted to leave that couch, we just sat there with our arms around each other--the feeling was intense, beyond words.

PD: You articulated that so beautifully. Well, ironically, The Miracle has a daughter, and here I am traveling around the world with a backpack wondering where did this family thing fits into that. On paper, you go, "This certainly can't work." But the soul thing was so powerful and compelling, I had to go with it. Speaking of miracles, I had a beautiful conversation with her the other day--I hadn't talked to her in a little bit because we're once again taking a little space. Who knows if it's going to be space throughout this life or if we're going to have other re-connections. I've just surrendered, and it's like, let me just be present, and we'll see what happens. I have also surrendered to the fact that whatever we are is so much bigger than the two of us. I wrote a little bit about it in my blog, and I equated this love to a butterfly landing on your hand. If you tried to hold the butterfly, you'd wound it and it wouldn't be able to fly, and if you chase a butterfly like that, you can't catch it because they dart around. The best you can do is stick your hands out and be the true, authentic you, full of love, light, and positive energy. That kind of soul love will bless you and land in your heart for a moment or an all too brief lifetime. You have to give thanks for the time you had with it, but grieve it when it's gone because beautiful things will grow from the sorrow of your tears.

MR: I have an orchard coming, he said knowing how corny that just sounded.

PD: And you probably will. Some people live with somebody in proximity for forty years and have no idea what I'm talking about. They have a highly functional partnership, and it kind of works, but they have no idea what you and I are talking about right here, and there's no crime in that. I can just hear it in your voice, that you know what I'm getting at. What I say in that same part about love and letting go is, "Grieve not your time apart. For what is time between soul mates, but the shadow of a cloud passing briefly before the infinite sun of being." In the scheme of things, that's what I really try to hang onto. Still, when we're in our periods of disconnection, I miss her all the time, I think about her, she's involved in everything, and it's heartbreaking. Yet, I bless the butterfly, too, and the freedom. It's the bittersweet, amazing opera that we call life. We love people, situations, and moments deeply, but like George Harrison said so wisely, "All things must pass." So, that's the quandary of us, as an eternal manifestation of a temporal being in a temporal world, we are constantly in rebirth, grieving and rejoicing. It's one beautiful ride if you accept all of it. You can be a joyful participant in the sorrows of the world.

MR: Nice. Now, back to Max.

PD: (laughs) I love talking about this stuff. By the way, Max wasn't the brightest guy in the world. I used to say that Max only knew two words--one was his name, and we quite haven't figured out what the second word is.

MR: Did it have anything to do with food?

PD: Yeah. My mom is losing her short term memory, so Max is hustling extra chow, coming up and nudging my mom on the hour, and she says, "Oh look, the little guy needs to be fed." I'm like, "Oh mom, you fed him an hour ago." And he looks up at me as if to say, "Hey, don't rat me out," and of course, I don't because, you know, honor amongst thieves.

MR: (laughs) Okay, I want to get to the five deadly questions that you don't want to ask your parents.

PD: Oh yeah, do you have that in front of you?

MR: Yes, yes I do. So, these would be icebreakers that you would never want to use with your parents, and they all start with, "Does anybody want to..." You first one asks, "Does anyone want to visit Edgartown?"

PD: Which is less than a mile away.

MR: "Does anybody want to watch the sunset?"

PD: If you've seen one, you've seen them all, and there are TV shows to be watched.

MR: "Does anyone want to go somewhere?"

PD: Why? What would be the point? They never leave the cabin...very rarely, anyway.

MR: "Does anyone want to change their routine in any conceivable way?"

PD: (laughs) As I say in the book, the breakfast menu was literally written out in ink on the refrigerator.

Monday: Yogurt and bananas.
Tuesday: Bagel day.
Wednesday: Oatmeal. And if it's Wednesday, and I ask for a bagel, they say, "No, it's oatmeal day."

MR: What were the vitamin boxes like?

PD: Everything is labeled. I was thinking that I might change the breakfast routine--forge their writing and switch it up a little bit--but I was afraid someone my get really ill, so I backed off.

MR: Let's stay in Martha's Vineyard. Give me another adventure or two.

PD: One thing that was interesting is that I got to hang out with some billionaires who conveyed to me that, despite everything that Madison Avenue tells us in every ad you've ever seen since you were born, there is no correlation between financial wealth and happiness. You hear that all the time and you go, " Yeah, yeah, but I still want a bigger boat." I feel like a lot of women that I've met want to have Kim Kardashian's life, but with Paris Hilton's legs.

MR: (laughs)

PD: They want to live out of an US Magazine ad. I met these Wall Street high rollers, and it's very interesting to be close to these people, and then go for a bike ride one day, and run into a woman who is homeless who remained nameless throughout the book until I went back and found out that her name is Linda. So, there's that dichotomy. Then, I had a guy who picked me up that used to work on Wall Street but he was downsized, and he was out finding peace. There was an older couple that picked me up who had been together since she was sixteen and he was seventeen, and they were driving around in an old jalopy, holding hands. They just liked to spend time together, and I started asking them about love and how it works. They said, "You have to give, you have to have a sense of humor and a short memory." These people were so beautiful.

MR: So, this was almost like a journey on a path of knowledge.

PD: It really was. A long road to wisdom. When I was writing this thing, near the end, I suddenly saw it as The Hero's High Adventure--he's searching for the elusive father figure, he's learning about love, and he's discovering mortality because I had a near death experience that I flash back to, when I was a kid and almost drowned off of South Beach. Then, one day, I'm on the beach and there is someone who did drown, and I ask, "Why him and not me?" I write about all that. I once had to retrieve my phone, which I had left in the car of this woman who had given me a ride. So, I was walking down this dirt road, at least a mile or more, and I came upon this field with a beautiful, black horse. This stallion sees me, comes trotting across the field, stops and looks at me, and I had this experience where I felt so much love for this being and so much connection. I wondered, "What could ever have created something so beautiful?" He gently came up to me and leaned into the crack of my shoulder. I put my arms around him, and I could write from now to the end of my life and not capture that experience in words. It simply was ineffable.

Those are the kinds of experiences I was having, like lying by a bonfire under the stars and thinking about the infinite life that is scattered across the galaxies out there and wondering, "Is there someone staring back at our star and asking the same kind of questions." Those are the kinds of expansive experiences I was embracing. I met Dr. Henry Louis Gates right after he was arrested in his own house near Harvard. Then, he invited me to his racism seminar and later met Lou Gossett Jr., who talked about his foundation he began called "Eracism." I once heard prejudice, yet often saw love in action; I met a guy who lost his marriage when his wife cheated, yet found forgiveness; I tried to capture all of this because, to me, life is this deeply rich, mozaic, multi-layered experience that I'm just glad to be immersed in. I wrote the book from my heart, and I had no idea that people from all over the world were going to love it. For instance, I'm getting these beautiful letters from Australia, and it's not even out there yet. People are having life-changing experiences with this magical little book, and you can't really put a value on something like that.

MR: Paul, ever since I've known you--in fact, the first time I met you was a magical kind of thing. I remember that we were passing a house where there was a woman in a swimming pool, and you climbed the fence and dove into the pool with her.

PD: I remember that, yes. We were laughing, and really that's a good metaphor that we should just dive into the experience. If we can figure out who we really are, and if we can get quiet--that's a big thing that I've learned--if you can get quiet and tune into who you are, you don't have to be afraid. I'm not saying you should walk backwards with your iPhone on the railroad tracks. If you can really dive into the swimming pool, and if you know who you are and can stay open, you can get into this universal flow--whatever name you have for it: God, spirit, universe--and when you are guided by that, you can meet these people, some famous, and some not so famous, but you quickly figure out that no one is better than another. They are all on the same path, searching for peace, fulfillment, and a little bit of happiness. If you're looking for your Inner Self in outer things, you're never going to find it.

MR: Since you're also a musician, I'm going to pester you with this annoying question I ask everyone. What advice do you have for new artists?

PD: In terms of musical acts?

MR: Yes.

PD: I want to tip my hat because that's a great question to beat people up with. The artist's role, throughout this primitive thing we call the human race, has been The Beleaguered Troubadour. These are the courageous ones we remember--I don't think many people remember who the kings were around the times of Mozart and Beethoven, but we remember Mozart and Beethoven or some beautiful story that Charles Dickens wrote. So, what I have learned is, don't be derivative, but listen to everything. Be authentic, be creative, be fearless, create what you really love, and let the audience find you. Do it because you love it, even if you have to go down and bag groceries, push a broom, or work a night gig. Stay true to your art, and one of the best signs that you're on the right track is they probably won't get it. I mean, they didn't get The Beatles, for God's sake, or Elvis right away. At the time, nobody got Mozart all that well, or Tchaikovsky. So, find your bliss, what you love to do, and don't let anybody take you away from it. Also, be adaptable and find people that you trust who are not dream stealers, but people who can really coach you, like in The Karate Kid. So, find good teachers and mentors, and then grow in your art. Don't ever think you know it all.

You know, John Lennon and Paul McCartney's first song wasn't "Strawberry Fields" or "Hey Jude," that was a culmination of years of incredibly hard work, love, magic, and the muse. I recently heard some demos that Kris Kristofferson did, and they were horrible, but then, all of a sudden, there was "Help Me Make It Through The Night." To be a bit cliché, your life is your masterwork, so become it--and I don't think piercing or coloring your hair is going to do it. You have to do it from the inside. Be authentic in the world, be loving, be creative. Don't say, "No" to the muse, say, "Yes, I can," listen, read great literature, listen to great music, and have a blast. Don't think that once you get the Grammy that you got anywhere. If you're an artist, you're in a sacred process.

What made The Beatles great was that they never stopped growing while they were a group. They said, "Well, we've already done that, what's next?" So, you get "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and then a few years later, you get "Penny Lane" or "I Am The Walrus." Not to condemn anyone, but the suits are always going to tell you, "No." The accountants are always going to tell you, "No, you can't. You have to do the same thing five times in a row." Look at movies like Rocky VII, or Really, Really Fast And Furious 6. That's not art, that's just commerce. Perhaps, you're in your one and only life, so do something authentic and artistic. Like I said earlier, you and Steve (Mosto) were doing very progressive stuff as The Almost Brothers back in Nashville, in '85. I remember your mentor, Tommy West, was doing some amazing stuff there, and earlier with Jim Croce that has held up over time.

The really good stuff always will hold up over time. So, if you want to call yourself an artist, then be one, be one fully. An artist loves what they do--they paint or they sing because they have to--and sometimes, that turns into U2. But sometimes, it doesn't. Van Gogh, in my opinion, is one of the best painters to ever pick up a brush, but he never sold a single piece in his entire life. But who cares. Look how great the art is.

MR: As also pointed out by Joni Mitchell.

PD: And, by the way, you did great work with her, and I always read your stuff--the Paul Simon thing, recently, was just so phenomenal. You joke about asking "good" questions, but it's refreshing.

MR: Thank you, Paul.

PD: So, yeah, that's what I would tell a new artist to do. I wrote this book because I loved it. I wasn't thinking, "How do I win, or sell anything?" In fact, I wasn't sure if it would ever even see the light of day, if it was any good, or if anyone would even buy one. I realized sometime in the middle of the process that I had never been happier or more in my flow. So, I thought if I could just have a roof over my head, some running water and a coffee machine, and be lucky enough to have a girl that loves me and a couple of friends like you--that's all I need to have an incredible life.

MR: Yeah.

PD: It wasn't until later, when I started putting the book out there that people said, "This book changed my life, it melted the ice around my heart." I had a guy who saw me on TV, read the book, and then bought one hundred of them to donate to the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation. So, you don't know that you're going to do that--I didn't sit down a couple of years ago and say, "I'm going to write a book, and try to get a guy to donate some of them to charity." No, I just did it because I wanted it to be the best it could be, even if nobody read it but me, and now, here we are.

MR: Well, I'm so grateful for your friendship and for us knowing each other for this long.

PD: I feel the same way.

MR: Paulie, you've always been a kind of a lighthouse, as James Taylor might say. Love that song and it's my shameless way of working JT into the piece.

PD: (laughs) By the way, James Taylor is a Martha's Vineyard guy. I went Jewish Boating that summer--I still don't know what "Jewish Boating" is, by the way. We went out on the water and it seemed the same as Gentile or Hindu boating. But we actually motored past James Taylor's house. You just never know where these beautiful events might lead.

MR: That would be great, here's to beautiful events.

PD: You just don't know. There's a great mantra in my book from The Ancient Gods Of Love, and it's, basically, just stay open because you never know where the magic might happen.

MR: Thanks for the way you described your relationship with that soul pull concept. You almost had me weepy.

PD: You know, I was on a podcast yesterday, and the lady just broke into tears and started apologizing.

MR: Yeah, I'm about to do that, so we've got to stop.

PD: Why are people so afraid? I want to ask you a question here, if I could just entertain you briefly.

MR: Uh-oh. Okay, keep going.

PD: Why are people so afraid of emotions?

MR: I guess it's because men are supposed to be strong and aggressive, not vulnerable, and it's the safety found in that stereotype that we're taught since childhood. I guess people have to fit their personalities into a properly labeled safebox. Whatever.

PD: That's a great thing. You nailed it, and I call that, "Society's rules that don't work."

MR: Nice.

PD: How can you be a great artist and sensitive and not have emotions? I keep running into people who talk to me about my book, and then start breaking into tears and apologizing. I just don't want people to apologize. Be authentic.

MR: Thank you so much, I'm really happy that you had some time to talk with me today, Paul. The book is great, and we'll have to get you back here if you ever write Hitchhiking With David McCullough.

PD: Yeah, and any other books--Hitchhiking With Mike Ragogna. Maybe we'll hitchhike out to L.A. together?

MR: Sounds great right about now.

PD: As long as the underline isn't, The Charles Manson Story.

MR: Right, none of that. Thanks again, Paul.

PD: Thank you, Mike. It's been incredible.

Bravely Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney

...oh, and check out the new video by The Box Story: