It’s about taking back dreams, those that I lost because of Ronald Reagan when I was 13 years old. I lost my dream to be an oceanographer and my guitar lessons . . .as my family faced hard emotional and financial years when my father was labeled a federal criminal.
It’s a labor of love as I begin to wrap up a documentary film, my first film as director and it’s the second film I’ve ever made (I’m holding my quivering knees steady as I dive deep to share a story about positive spirit at a time I believe we need it most, with some of the most powerful musicians in the world who I admire greatly. It’s a gift and one that I humbly accept with humility and responsibility.
It’s about passion with those who have passion.
My very first film Racing with Copepods that I co-wrote and produced went international with arguably the most important woman on our planet today. It features Dr. Sylvia Earle who is advocating healthy oceans and Hope Spots with world leaders and is speaking at the Paris Climate Talks. The film was funded by The Schmidt Family Foundation and was the first project I ever conceived and grant I ever wrote and was awarded. Half way through the project, the foundation offered us additional funds, as they believed in the project. I was driven by pure passion for the want of a voice in what is the most important message in our world today for the future of our children – advocacy for healthy oceans. I’ve called it a spiritual experience, as the project moved through me, and I’m completely humbled by it.
This time I have been honored with incredible trust to make a film with one of the most important and under-recognized musicians of our times, Brazilian Guitarist, José Pires de Almeida Neto. I have equal if not more passion for this project.
Deborah Santana has given us her vote of confidence with seed money from her organization Do A Little Fund. I’m reaching out to others to join a vision and create a powerful story to share with many.
Brazilian Guitarist José Neto has lived by values of loyalty, devotion and having a positive spirit which are carried in the spirit of his music. We are making a film giving light on those who have inspired him through his own musical journey through Brazil, The United States and England. He was with Harry Belafonte for 30 years and has been with Steve Winwood for 14. He was a founding member of Fourth World with legacy Brazilian Greats Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, and he has own band, The Netoband, with Frank Martin, Gary Brown, Celso Alberti and Cafe de Silva for 30 years.
“…as soon as he touched his custom-guitar, sending a shower of harmonics into the the silence, he rendered all musings about categorisation redundant, . . . he demonstrated just how much musical territory, opened up by Hendrix in the 1960s, still remains for subsequent generations of guitarists to explore.” The London Times
“He is in service to music and not to fame.” Marin IJ Journalist, Paul Liberatore
“Jose is a great artist that shows that humanity and art are one and the same!” from one of his fans.
“Our film The Man Behind the White Guitar carries a spirit that touched me years ago when I first listened to José Neto’s music . It awakened me to life. It’s powerful.” – Barbara McVeigh
This project goes deep for me. Not only am I a huge fan of great guitar music and José Neto is a master of the instrument, I value his choice of living a life true to oneself and to his own music despite deep life challenges and falling into the traps that are so convenient and luring.
Why am I making this film and what does it mean to me? We have to take a dip into thirty three years ago. . .
You see, in 1981 when I was 13 years I had a plan to study oceanography at Santa Barbara University after seeing a blue sea star all alone in a tank. I also I loved my guitar lessons. I had big dreams. Then August of that year my father was fired by Ronald Reagan and labeled a federal criminal during what was called “one of the most important events in late twentieth century U.S. labor history” by labor historian Joseph A. McCartin, (i.e. The Air Traffic Control strike in 1981). Fear rose that my father would be imprisoned (ABC NEWS LINK HERE) as other strikers had been. The union demonstrated incredible loyalty and unity and most families lost everything and had to rebuild their lives.
My family life took a very tumultuous turn financially and emotionally. It almost ruined us and 13,000 other families across the country. Neighbors turned on us, siding with a president “who will put our country back together,” as my own grandfather said. My middle school history teacher encouraged me to learn good work ethics and be his house cleaner, until my mother became enraged leaving my teacher shaking his head at her believing he was teaching me good values and my family was not.
My teenage years were filled with anger and resentment, erroneously and blindingly directed toward my father believing he followed his ego and was not being loyal to our family. Quite honestly, I’m surprised I survived those years both physically and emotionally as I made many self destructive choices subconsciously believing I came from a bad family and my father who didn’t care.
I never got those guitar lessons back nor was I able to pursue a degree in oceanography at Santa Barbara University. With major financial difficulties, my parents struggled to recoup everything they lost and regain confidence and their own self respect.
Finally in my early twenties I became intent to put myself through college at San Francisco State with a new dream to write, travel and share the beauty of this world. They were hard years with minimal social life and big sacrifices. But I did it and emerged debt free and ready to take on the world with traveling, writing and living life fully. My first year out of college I taught at a university in China (got Teacher of the Year award!), traveled through Europe, The Balkans (even Albania), Cuba (yep, snuck in and out, afraid of US penalties, not Cuban) and Guatemala. I wrote as a journalist for public radio and joined writing groups in San Francisco.
But, then life happens, some like to say.
Over the course of the last fifteen years I gradually discovered I was not living a life true to myself nor having my dreams or opinions valued by the family I married into. Before I knew it, I was in a marriage to a wealthy European family, living in a big house where I had no voice or decision making powers. My mother in law reminded me how lucky I was to have a big kitchen, a house they had given him and arguably wasn’t mine, even though I had been paying mortgages and cashed out my own retirement check that I had saved when working as a full time student to make property taxes on the house. Yet, any work I tried to do whether teaching, writing or running a nonprofit youth sailing organization was criticized and my ideas were never right. I became the proverbial house cleaner and even those skills were criticized! Yes, I do know how to put a spoon in the dishwasher, thank you very much.
Completely unhappy and sapped of spirit, I continued to try to make it work for the sake of my two children and holding on the ideas of a family unit, doing work even though I was told why it was wrong until I realized I had no voice in their education and I was not living by the very values that go deep for me – simple living, living creatively and supporting educational models for my children that instill values of respect, humility and integrity.
It wasn’t much later when my 12 year old daughter began to taking lessons with Jose Neto whom I had met first at a Zen Meditation Center then I’d bump into him at a local bakery. I would sit with him and my daughter during the lessons, and the sound of them talking and the plucks of the notes began to stir something in me. I was taken back to my own childhood memories I had long forgotten – playing with pollywogs in the runoff ditch, climbing trees with my dog overlooking a green valley and playing on the beach with my brother and sister. I remembered my dreams, too.
As my daughter’s guitar lessons continued my curiosity about Jose’s history deepened. He is humble and self effacing. He didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry despite the fact he’s in league with highly recognized world musicians. I could find very little of him online. But then I listened to one solo that he played , a small community performance online, and a spirit shot through me like an electric blast bringing a sense of aliveness into my own half dead spirit. I must have listened to it a thousand times.
A passion began to grow in me, like a bursting seed, cracking open a shell that I had been living in for years. Not soon thereafter I wrote for the grant for a film project, first film I ever made and first grant I ever wrote. I received the funds, and the grant manager told me it was the most creative proposal she had ever received. I left the large house with merely my clothing and two tupperware containers and dived straight into the making of Racing with Copepods, a film project to reclaim my adolescent dreams, create my voice and write my first film about the ocean, with the hope that my pure good intentions would help others, and my partner of 22 years and in laws would understand my conviction, beliefs and drive.
Hard truths emerged during the making of the film about my partnership, friendships, and sisterhood that were painful to discover. I had found people in my life to convince me I did not have a voice and my opinions didn’t matter. I discovered how much patriarchy and value of money runs deep in our culture.
AND gold was revealed when true friends with integrity, supporters and my parents showed me the deep value of loyalty and stood with me through some of my darkest hours as I began to learn about myself and choices I had made based on an idea that I had crafted as a 13 year old child that I wasn’t supported and I had no voice.
Jose Neto’s music is powerful. And we’ll be able to see and hear that positive light with an electric blast of a guitar and follow the story of a living legend as he emerges front and center stage with the story of his life and those who have inspired him from Brazil, New York and England.
At a time when our world is becoming most vulnerable, it’s opportunity to share the incredible values of loyalty, devotion and positive spirit through the power of music, a universal language. I believe this film will help us get there. And even through the saga over the last 33 years and hard pain this last year, I have incredible hope and I’m incredibly positive that we all can rise to our better selves and recreate a new story for our future, reclaim our voices as people and support one another through major changes.
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And, just for the record, last year while sleeping aboard Summer Solstice in San Francisco, I woke up in the middle of the night recognizing my father is my hero. He stood his ground against a powerful president who advocated energy policies and an economy that have lead us into the environmental challenges we are all now facing today and showed me the courage it takes to stay true to yourself and your own convictions in the face of losing it all. I am now understanding the injustices of patriarchy and I am also standing up to what Reagan’s policies have done to our planet and rewrite history so we can look to the future with a positive vision.
Be reminded, Ronald Reagan pulled the solar panels off The White House that prior President Jimmy Carter had installed, took away vast amounts of funding, crushing environmental organizations across the country and pushed for more demand of oil. It’s time to revisit history and learn from our judgments, as we need to look within ourselves since we followed Reagan’s policies. And maybe humanity can learn from the Air Traffic Controllers of 1981 and unite on a level never before as we fly into a new era of hope and heal this planet . . . and ourselves.
I am going deep now. My father celebrated his 80th birthday in Monterey with me, my children, The Taylor Family and Dr. Sylvia Earle, the Oceanographer who is 80 years old herself , when my daughter and I became PADI certified last year and I saw blue sea star right where it belongs.
It was the best day of my life.
Thank you for believing in us.
There are other ways to support – consider hosting a house party, share the story, campaign and contacts with foundations and others who can share this vision.
Photos above by Taylor Griffith, Renaldo Aguiar, Unknown and Maia Miglio, respectively.