Andrae Crouch: Song 4 Boyd

Andrae Crouch is one of the greatest songwriters of the past fifty years.  The music seems to just flow from his body.  When he walks you expect to see a trail of dancing notes leaving a wake as he passes.  Every day he sits at the piano creating new melodies, most of which are never written down, lost to a moment in time.  For anyone else this would probably produce a panicked response, “Oh what was that song I was playing yesterday, I can’t remember it and it was so good, I’ll never have anything that good again.”  And then we would spend the next several months in writer’s block trying to reproduce what we had done before, but never capturing it and also not able to move on to anything new.

With Andrae, the music flows like water from one of those faucets with the motion sensor.  He just goes to the sink, or piano, waves his hands over the keys and the melodies come pouring out.  Obviously his songs are not all instant classics, although some are, but others he works on and plays day after day making changes in the chords, melody and adding lyrics.  What’s so amazing though is even his throw-away songs start from a higher place than where many songwriters finish.

Recently I was with a group of friends who used to hang out with Andrae when we all got together for an impromptu reunion at his house.  Just like the old days Andrae sat at the piano and started played.  Bill Maxwell, his former producer and drummer, decided to challenge Andrae.  He said, “Andrae, write a new song on the spot like you used to do and make it a song about seeing Boyd again.”  Boyd is of course me, Boyd Matson and not really much of a subject of inspiration for a song.

Andrae though about it for maybe five second and then started playing a new tune.  He worked out a melody, seemingly without thinking, and then started with the lyrics, which were not the usual rhyming suspects.  The man has still got it.  His voice isn’t the powerful instrument it once was, but he is still a creative songwriting genius.

This video is that instant song, Andrae’s “Song 4 Boyd” as it was created in real time.

Swimming in The Devil’s Pool

The first time I went to Africa’s Victoria Falls I was on the opposite side of the gorge from that magnificent curtain of water when I saw a guy climbing over the rocks near the edge of the falls.  My first thought was, “He’s crazy.”  My second though was, “Get the video camera ready because he’s going to be swept over the falls and be killed.”  As soon as I start taping, he jumps.  Now I think, “He’s suicidal.”

I keep watching for a body being washed over the edge and plunging to a certain death three hundred fifty feet below, but there is nothing but the waters of the Zambezi pouring over the cliff and reforming into a river at the bottom of the gorge.  In a few minutes and I watch the man climb out of the water and back on the rocks and jump again into what looks like the edge of the falls.  Finding one of the locals I ask, “What’s he doing?  Is he trying to get killed?”  That’s when I’m told about, “The Devil’s Pool”, a spot near the edge of the falls where it is possible to jump in and live, and enjoy one of the most spectacular swimming holes in the world.

Right then and there I make a vow that someday I will return to Victoria Falls and jump in, “The Devil’s Pool” myself.  I’ve been back on several occasions but only this past September did I leave myself enough time to take a plunge in “The Devil’s Pool.”  It can only be accessed during the dry season when the water flow is low enough that you won’t be washed over the edge.  On this day we had the right water conditions but we also had a clear sky and a perfect rainbow over the gorge to complete the picture, making for a most memorable experience.  I write about my plunge into “The Devil’s Pool” this month in my column in National Geographic Traveler magazine, but here is the video that shows how beautiful the setting is and why this may be the most stunning swimming pool on the planet.

Blue Whale Encounter

The blue whale is the biggest animal on the planet.  but no matter how many times you read than fact about these giant marine mammals you don’t fully appreciate what it means until one surfaces right beside your ship.  Even if it’s a good sized ship like the National Geographic Explorer, when a blue whale swims along side, it is one impressively large animal when seen up close.

On my recent trip to the arctic around Svalbard, Norway with Lindblad Expeditions we were watching a blue whale feeding in a area a couple of hundred yards off the bow.  Nothing too dramatic was happening, in fact the whale was doing a series of shallow dives and didn’t even show its tail fluke before going down each time.  I was watching and had my cameras, but didn’t think it was picture worthy so I was spending most of the time on deck taking pictures of birds flying near the ship.

Then the whale surprised us all by suddenly appearing from beneath the ship swimming just below the surface for a few seconds before emerging to send up a big plume of spray as it exhaled through it’s blow hole.  About ten minutes later the whale came by for a second pass swimming along the port side, passing just a few feet off the bow and then emerging with another big blow on the starboard side.

I talk about the encounter on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend” this week but here are some pictures and video of the whale putting on a show for us.