►Original Musical Compositions and Select Covers
This edition we spotlight songwriter DENNIS WANEBO, the former trial lawyer from Boulder, Colorado who, with musical cohort Bob Story, is the foundation of the quirky folk-rock-blues band Martian Acres, whose tunes about war, politics and romance have struck a chord with niche international audiences in Europe, Australia and Japan, as well as in their native state.
RARWRITER.com became aware of Wanebo and Story in an incidental way while researching current Colorado music acts. The name "Martian Acres" kept showing up on Colorado radio station playlists. I started learning more about these guys, and the deeper I looked the more interesting the story became. A former resident of Boulder myself, I once lived in the "Martin Acres" part of the city, a 50s-era development that over time, despite the best efforts of the "Danish Plan" (a slow growth ordinance promoted by the city councilman Paul Danish in the late 1970s and 80s), became a dated enclave, surrounded by high end real estate. The notion that it is Martian Acres no doubt derives from the diverse types living there amid "Martin Acres'" mix of modest owned properties and rentals. I knew an interesting roster of Martin Acres people during my time in Boulder, including a Pentacostal faith healer, an India Yogi Master (with a "harum"), a University of Colorado professor (with whom I wrote a book on "human potentials"), a couple Pygmy musicians from the Congo, a bunch of "old hippies," and assorted local musicians. I did not know Dennis Wanebo, though we are contemporaries. One may not easily discern his age based on his song stylings, uniquely "un-pegged" to any particular musical era, and in one of our early communications I walked gingerly around a Country Joe MacDonald reference suspecting that he may not know the '60s-era star (still around the Bay Area today). Wanebo wrote back - "On the Country Joe thing, I appreciate your floating the possibility that I might only have been able to enjoy them on their occasions of being 'rediscovered' by subsequent generations of political-rock aficionados over the years. No such luck. I well remember them. Had not Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon been in control of my life for several years, I may well have attended Woodstock instead of watching it through a purple haze in a theater before shipping out to a shitty little rock of an island in the Bering Sea in June of 1970."
Dennis Wanebo also set me straight on another aspect of his life. "I'm no longer working as a trial attorney. At long last, I have taken my wife's perennial advice to brave the financial consequences and become a full time musician. I might end up selling apples, but it will be with a smile."
The story of how a wife can be moved to take such a boldly unusual position is one of the more interesting stories I have come across in a long while, one that waxes from mortal uncertainty to redefined perception, and seems to be having a happy ending. This edition RARWRiTER.com is pleased to present Dennis Wanebo and Martian Acres. - RAR
by Dennis Wanebo (with RAR)
TWO POINT AVERAGE: "In the late sixties, I had been one of those kids who was happily playing music. I was in and out of several bands then, spending a lot of time with the incredibly gifted Mark Kincaid, who eventually joined up with the Electric Prunes -- chasing girls, and taking in whatever influences happened to float my way. Then, the college I had been attending happened to 'discover' that my grade point average was quite possibly of world-class dimensions. After two years of college, I had less than a one-point GPA. Ok, let's be honest here: it was actually less than a half-point. Frankly, when the smoke ultimately cleared, I was just as mystified as everybody else at the notion that they had kept sending me registration materials, etc., semester after lazy semester, and that I kept signing up for full course loads, thereby maintaining my II-S draft deferment (this was several years before the lottery).
"These days, of course, a simple computer program would have unearthed my academic unworthiness. Ultimately, even a system based on filing cabinets and clerks would discover the truth, and sure enough I received a note indicating that I had a command appointment that night with the 'Dean of Night Students' -- Jesus, what a title. Tell me that wouldn't be a great name for a band. Having never taken a night class, but having been aware that the Dean of Night Students was the designated hitter for the school, I knew the jig was up. I still remember his exact words -- because even then, in 1967, while I was getting the ultimate in a long history of bad-news academic lectures stretching back to the second grade, I felt somewhat disembodied: struck, on the one hand by the dawning seriousness of my situation and in wonderment, on the other hand, at this guy's wonderful, almost comedic, way with words.
"Look at this," he said, pointing a stern finger at an onionskin transcript in a big brown folder with my name on it.
"YOU COULD STAY HERE UNTIL THE TURN OF THE CENTURY AND NOT PULL THIS UP TO A TWO POINT. I THINK IT'S TIME WE HAD A PARTING OF THE WAYS.
"You've got to admit, that's such a nice blend of sardonic humor with a vague Biblical reference as a kicker. And back then, the 'turn of the century' was a legitimate long-distance time metaphor. Hell, the movie 2001 was just coming out that spring. Remember how seemingly enormous the chasm between then and the era of the HAL 9000?"
you might expect, even if my college had found me entirely unworthy, Lyndon
Johnson held no such low opinion. And that froggie came a courtin'...
Lyndon and Bob McNamara, I was eminently 'worthy'; and within a few
months, I was in boot camp (all the while vaguely jealous of the kids no smarter
than I who, by simple dint of showing up for class occasionally and opening the
books even more rarely, were able to snag that brass ring which seemed to float
above me at a Pluto-like distance: the TWO POINT AVERAGE!).
found myself in the Navy, and because I had always tended to test pretty well,
they didn't send me to the swift boats or out to the Seventh Fleet, like most of
my boot company; rather they put me into their 'oceanography' program. No, no, we
didn't study whales and cuddly sea creatures. The Navy's
oceanography was to benign science as military music was to music. We studied,
located, tracked and harassed Soviet subs.
"When I got out of the service, and re-started school, I decided for the most part to do the left brain thing. After all, the right brain things -- rock and roll being the foremost -- had derailed my life for four years, so I was a bit gun shy of getting back into it in any serious way. I do recall, by the way -- speaking of Country Joe -- playing their "Fixin' to Die" song at various acoustic gigs in support of the Vietnam Vets Against the War. But, my real trajectory then was pure academics. My grades were the exact counterpart of my previous ones. I went about picking up various left brain kudos: President's Award, graduation magna cum laude, editor in chief of a large college newspaper, editor in chief of a prestigious law journal, judicial clerkship on an appellate court. etc. etc. etc."
Are you getting the picture? Dennis Wanebo is a gifted writer, a guy with a wicked sense of humor and a keen sense for story telling; and, he is a guy whose life's trajectory has been that of skirting along the edge of disaster on his way to reaching his desired ends. It is an approach to life not atypical of a creative artist, but the slacker-turned-achiever was headed into challenges beyond anything that could be foreseen.
THE TINGLES: "If I am honest about the ensuing years, I must say that my adult life actually was tending to replicate the fifties more than I would have ever suspected, or desired really. Work your ass off. Get a good job. Get a pretty little house. Start collecting things: cars, toys of various stripes. Crap really. The guitars tended to get pulled out only when I would take my kids up camping, etc. By the way, the songs they all learned growing up were definitely of a certain time capsule variety: From about the age of six, for example, all four of my kids knew every word to Arlo Guthrie's "Coming into Los Angeles," although they probably thought he was bringing in house keys, for all I know.
"Then, in the late 1990's, as you know, I was struck by a really serious disease.
it grew out of an incident in which I had been playing racquetball. It
was the only time in my life I had played without goggles. I should be a poster
child for goggles. I turned and caught a blazing return in my right eye. The retina
simply exploded. I found myself undergoing one of those magical but hideous
surgeries where they take your eye clean out of your head (of course
they maintain the "attachments," for god's sake). After the surgery
and the hospitalization, I had to lay pretty much perfectly still -- like the
'English Patient' or something -- for eight weeks.
"So, at the end of this period, my vision had returned to near (although a bit quirky) normal. But I was noticing some tingling in my fingers. The source of the tingling should come as no surprise. Hospitals are chock full of the nastiest of tiny creatures.
"Mine was a dangerous floating little hospital virus that looks for a way into the body where it will set up shop and replicate the piss out of itself and it will mimic myelin (the coating on all of your nerves which prevents them from short-circuiting the electrical impulses from the brain). When my eyeball was laying on a platter or some such, this little guy alighted on the 'surgical site' and found a new home."
Imagine that you have lived your life pretty much on your own terms, veered toward responsibility as demands warranted and relegated your "bliss" to some level below your dedication to your family. Then at the apex of your finely attuned discipline you are struck by an alien intruder who robs you of your most basic asset: your health and your capacity for living life under your own control. This is what happened to Dennis Wanebo.
ALTERNATIVE MEANS: "Within four weeks of the first tingles, I was headed for total paralysis: I was crawling up and down the stairs at home. I couldn't dress myself. I couldn't hold an apple at the store. I walked like Tim Conway used to walk when he would mimic a really ancient man. My immune system had discovered the stranger and it had gone into warp drive. It kept turning out more and more fighter cells which ultimately ran low on true invaders and then started going after non-invaders: my body's own myelin. Basically all the nerves in my extremities were being short circuited because my overactive immune system was gobbling up all of the protective coating.
I turned to eastern medicine. This was appalling to my family. Two of my
brothers are physicians, one of them world-renowned for radical surgery techniques on late
stage cancers (sometime, if you're interested, Google "Harold Wanebo,"
it'll just go on forever). They both thought I was stark raving mad
to turn my back on western medicine. But I felt that I had given western medicine about as much of a chance as
I could. After seeing a parade of doctors
who hadn't the foggiest idea just what in the hell was paralyzing me, I finally
got the correct diagnosis from a neurologist who had never seen it but had come
across it in a journal. Then, I had been hospitalized a large number of times
and had undergone the best that the west could offer in terms of exotic
treatments (plasmaphoresis, for example, which involves taking out all of your
blood, and replacing it with de-plasma'd blood).
I was losing the battle. The literature suggested that once this disease would
reach the lungs, then that's the endgame. Checkmate. Check out. And right before
casting my lot with an eastern doctor, I had awoken several times with the
sensation of horses running around the inside of my ribcage -- in medical terms
these were 'fasciculations' caused by the disease, and they were sure
as hell knocking on the doors of the lungs.
a neighbor, who had been living well despite being in stage four lymphoma for
years, I found a fabulous Chinese doc (hey this is Boulder, Colorado) named Ming
Zhou. She put me on various concoctions in addition to acupuncture. The most heinous
involved some type of black snakes . . . yes, each bag of 'tea' ingredients included an entire and sizeable black snake, cut up into two
inch sections. You cook them down and drink them -- gag and wretch them,
actually -- according to a certain protocol. My entire family had to get out of
the house when this stuff was cooking. I mean John Wayne Gacy's basement
couldn't have come close to smelling this awful.
never know for sure whether it was the black snakes or maybe a delayed action
from the plasmaphoresis, or a combination of both, which turned the trick. But
turn the trick did. Over the next twelve months I steadily got more and more of
my function back. Ultimately, my recovery was virtually total (with the exception
of some really small muscles in the feet which had gotten nuked).
"That's when the light really went on... That's when I found my way back to music with a vengeance. By pure good fortune I began working with Bob Story (right), and by more of the same good fortune, some of our music began to get some decent notice.
the past several years, my wife has been encouraging me to leave the law and
pursue the music full time. Each time, the left brain would take the lead in my
response: "We've still got two kids in college. the numbers don't
work." And each time, she kept responding with "to hell with the
numbers. If we had waited to have kids until we could have afforded them, we'd
year, when she again raised the same entreaty, I said yes.
"Glad I did."
"The process of songwriting to me feels much
more like midwifery than engineering. It's like it's always been there, and I just coax
it out. I never know where a song is taking me until it's finished;
but I know well that if I try to "think it" (engineer it) or hurry it
to its conclusion, we simply never get there. Falls apart. Sounds crazy, but it's almost
like channeling the lyrics and the melody from the cosmos. In the
end I really feel like a bit player, which is why I sometimes find myself saying: "Did we really do that?"
I don't even have a good excuse like drugs or something to explain the other-worldliness of this process, which is why it's so fucking addictive. It is so eminently mysterious." - Dennis Wanebo
One can hardly consider the image of the extraterrestrial ship hovering over the Flatirons above Boulder, on the cover of Martian Acres' debut LP (Middle of the Night), without considering Dennis Wanebo's own "alien abduction" story. The ultimate irony, in this story filled with irony and "witchy" potions and deep questions about a range of "western values," is that this kidnapping of the life of an innately independent soul led to a full-circle resolution satisfying in its outcome (like all "outcomes," still in play). Dennis Wanebo, with the support of his extraordinary family and friends, has emerged from his weird encounter with mortality to triumph at being the thing he was all along: himself - quirky, astute, instinctual, deep, and extraordinarily musical. Songs he has written with Bob Story for two Martian Acres LPs (Middle of the Night, From Waltz to War) have won songwriting contests (John Lennon) and found their way onto a range of international playlists. Click here to see a video of their performance of "Road to Hell," performed at Nissi's in Lafayette, Colorado, and click the links below to hear more Martian Acres. Bob Story channels George Harrison with some of the tastiest slide licks you will hear anywhere, and Beatles fans will enjoy the apparent influences. Fans of Bob Dylan and Neil Young will find pleasing homage, and fans of They Might Be Giants won't be disappointed, either. Classic country fans even find joy in Martian Acres. - RAR
"Missing You" is a Bob Story-Dennis Wanebo composition and a new
song not yet included on a Martian Acres disc. That hasn't kept it off the the
pop radar screen. As of the date of this writing, "Missing You"
was #7 on the Acoustic Channel of the OurStage website.
"Loving On Borrowed Time" is another new Bob Story-Dennis Wanebo composition.
From the LP From Waltz to War, "Into the Rain/Stevie" was selected by listeners of the Paris, France-based Midnight Blues Radio Station as one of the top ten songs of 2007. "The drumming on this song and on the war song ("Road to Hell") was done by Larry Thompson, and the bass by Tony Johnson. To share a studio, much less a stage, with world class musicians like these guys (to say nothing of sharing a songwriting and production present and future with Bob Story) is the kind of stuff that makes me say: just what in the hell am I doing here? To whom did I do some kind of kinky sexual favor on some distant planet so that I would be repaid so wonderfully on this one?"
"'Middle of the Night' is off the first CD of the same name. The lead vocal is my younger daughter, Grace. When you listen to it, you might be surprised to know that she was still fifteen years old when she recorded it. Someone told me once that 'Grace has a voice like chocolate,' and I think that is the best description I have ever heard."- Dennis Wanebo
"Here's a country rock piece that's been given a lot of denver airplay on 99.5 (the mountain). This is the first song that bob and I ever collaborated on. When I came back to him with the lyrics and melody very shortly after he had given me the musical template, he was worried a bit (albeit tongue in cheek) that I might have used up all my ideas on one song. One of our yin and yang issues is that if there is a line of music that is not spoken for, then I'm liable to fill the damned thing up lyrics. As he says, 'Watch out, if something's moving, he's going to write something over it.' Having gigged in some really shitty places, where most of the 'activity' is either in the parking lot or in the fevered imaginations of guys standing around the floor thinking that they're going to 'get some' tonight, this song literally wrote itself within 24 hours of Bob giving me the template." - Dennis Wanebo
i've always thought of this as sort of an uneasy marriage between ghost riders in the sky and a middle eastern wedding celebration.
Dennis Wanebo on his Vocalist-Daughter, Grace...(pictured right with Dad)
"She has performed with us on "selected" occasions. It comes down to this: Grace will always walk the path she chooses; and if she is not in a performing-with-my-dad's-band kind of mindframe, then there is nothing which will affect that decision. She performed on a handful of songs on each of the cds.
"Right now, her heart is in a lot of places, and music is only one of them. She just turned 21 and is a junior in college. last year, however, in typical grace fashion, she blandly announced that she was dropping out of school for a while in order to go to Africa. She delivered this news with the same matter of factness as she use to tell you that her car needs an oil change. She just returned a few weeks ago from working in Africa with a non-denominational group. She spent her time mostly teaching little kids how to read and write English (this is in Ghana, a former British colony, so English is still the coin of the realm for anyone who has hopes of "making it" in that culture).
"But some of the things that she was exposed to are absolutely heartbreaking. Can you imagine working in an orphanage where the girls always dread the lengthening of the shadows at the end of the day? You see, there is dorm for boys and a dorm for girls. But there's no money--none at all--for staff. So there is nothing on God's green earth that will protect these poor creatures each and every night when the boys start coming round.
"Grace would see them in the morning and spend the day . . . and love every minute of it. But the bouncy jeep ride back to her safe compound was excruciating to her because of what she knew was awaiting all these beautiful children.
"The poverty is so profound that a broken bottle is seen as a type of gift because the shards become so many separate "toys." Of course, if you try to send real toys, or other goodies, they will rarely make it past the receiving docks at the local airports.
"To me almost every thing she told me about her time in Africa seemed utterly without hope of redemption.
"Yet--also typical Grace--she returned as optimistic as ever. She will definitely return to Africa. Perhaps for a very long time. She really left a sizable part of her heart there.
"This might sound trite, but I think her voice is the window into her soul . . . that's the "chocolate" that people hear.
"She's one of the most unvarnished people I have ever known. She has never once in her life told someone what she thinks they want to hear. as a parent, this was always abit of a mixed blessing, as far as dealing with teachers, etc., over the years, is concerned.
"She sings with the same kind of honesty."
----------------------- ELECTRIC PRUNES -----------------------
As I mentioned in my tome, I was so incredibly fortunate as to be able to
play with Mark Kincaid (ultimately of the late-stage Electric Prunes) back in
the sixties. Mark's musical gifts were staggering. his sense of melody and his
vocal sensibilities would be enough for any ambitious singer. his guitar skills
though . . . Jesus . . . they were so far out on the bell curve that the line is
Tragically mark died alone and on the streets of LA several years back. I heard that a
radio station out there dedicated some air time to him and played
some of his music after his death. I don't know f this is apocryphal or not,
though. maybe you heard about him . . . ?
I had been trying to find him for quite a while, but sadly I missed him.
was so strange that he had left virtually no internet footprints, with the
exception of some really dated material. when I found out that my search for my
old friend had ended, I just broke down. The intensity of my reaction was really
surprising to me (although not at all surprising to my wife, Lael, who really
knows me far better than I do). Part of it I think was that I am so proud of my
music with bob, that I really wanted mark to hear it . . . and to approve. he
left such an indelible mark on me. He had me listening to jimmy reed, paul
butterfield, etc., when most of my peers were stuck to the a.m. dial, listening
mostly to pure crap.
In reality, it seems that I have been blessed with a wonderful series of gifted mentors, such as mark and bob, who always happen to walk
into my life
when my life is ready for them. no other way to explain it.
Sort of an odd magic, huh? - Dennis Wanebo
Learn more about Dennis Wanebo and Martian Acres by visiting www.martianacres.com
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