I have known the dynamic duo of Rick Denzien and Debra Lee for a few decades. They are partners in life and music and what seems like a sacred calling: Saving the Planet. No small task, that. but they have some brilliant ideas to share. We are at a tipping point that we can’t afford to ignore.
How did you become dedicated environmentalists? Was it something modeled for you in childhood?
Rick: Actually, it’s a miracle that I came to care about the planet at all. I mean, they don’t exactly train you to be an excellent human and steward of the land in high school. Mostly it’s about competition, instead of cooperation, exploitation instead of balance. My parents were both amateur race stock car drivers, and my dad was a pro auto mechanic. My mother was racing with me night before I was born; smoking cigarettes, breathing in fumes, and drinking beer. No disrespect to her, it was the social normal at the time. Who knows she could have been the Danica Patrick or Leilani Münte of her time in stock. I grew up with nothing but gas cars and go-carts in our very greasy, totally messy, deranged, and dangerous garage. The leftovers of an industry of excess.
There was a dirt oval in the huge field next to their apartment, at two I can clearly remember cars racing and sliding around that track. I helped do a brake job on the family car at age 9. Another time dad was working on an engine and needed raw gas to get it started, so he asked me to siphon some from the other car. I was eager to please, I had seen him do this task many times. But seeing a YouTube and doing are two different things. I sucked in a mouth full of gas through the siphon hose and almost choked to death. He just laughed at me, but I knew right then that gas was poison. I just didn’t know how or why.
Many things push us in the flow and direction of life. My boy scout troop master was a true leader in shaping my life. He taught me to walk correctly. He taught our troop how to survive outdoors in the sub zero freezing cold of a severe Buffalo winter blizzard or on top of a mountain cliff. When in a life-threatening situation, suddenly one’s place in nature is realized and certified. The lesson of cooperation with others for mutual survival or destruction is central to our time but, as a species, we are failing that lesson. Instead of creating our own security we get insecurity, instead of health we get disease and instead of understanding and tolerance, we promote mutually assured destruction through endless war that financially benefit the very rich. Alphas have effectively taken over the entire planet, made us co-conspirators, or better, slaves in its destruction with near-zero regard for its inhabitants. It’s quite intolerable actually; billions of people living in the most difficult of circumstances while a few thousand hoard most everything while programing the masses to believe that there is not enough to go round. Can get up from this nightmare? The wake-up program is complex, and escape from the illusion is not guaranteed. Living in a stratified system such as ours has built-in all the social, gender and racial injustice that finally put peaceful people in the streets. Now social media, like Facebook, Google and Twitter may the very thing that destroys all democracy, society, and humanity. Social media has already straight up murdered nearly a million people, fueled by the indiscriminate algorithm of advertising hate.
It is against this backdrop that we found ourselves in a frustrating endless, seamless loop of lost finances, increased health issues with no healthcare all with no way out. One day the fuse just blew! From that moment to this, have attempted to free ourselves and others from this insidious tyranny.
The first day we stopped buying gasoline back in 2013 was incredible. The clarity, the freedom the pure joy. All unexpected. But for the first time in a lifetime, we were experiencing perfect alignment in this one area. We didn’t even know how much psychological tension we were under until it was gone. It is incredible how natural and thoughtless the art of lying really is. Hiding the truth from one’s self is really an art form in our society. Our culture teaches all of us how to do it but the “A” students are leading the rush toward planetary annihilation.
Everyone has seen the move scene where the drunk and depressed white guy sadly slips into his gas guzzling muscle car, fires it up and closes the garage door, all to commit suicide by air pollution. Everyone knows this, yet by some kind of magical thinking, some people say that humans can’t possibly have an effect on the atmosphere of the planet, we are too small they say.
In fact, humans manufactured billions of gas engines on the earth, all doing the same task; poisoning the air. Every gallon of gas burned by any legacy Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) machine puts 20 pounds of climate change pollution into our common air. So the gas cars, airplanes, trains, boats, ships, trucks, generators, lawnmowers, motorcycles, leaf blowers, snow blowers, hedge trimmers, tractors and more all are using our air space as a common open sewer! As a species we spew 152 million tons of manmade global warming pollution (CO2 and more} into the very thin shell that is our atmosphere every 24 hours! Not to mention the irreversible damage done to the land and water due to daily oil spills around the planet.
We can and must change, so Debra and I got started. Here is a list of things we did at home that helped us to escape: http://www.rickdenzien.com/acoustic/10things.html
I know that music is a passion as well. How did that evolve?
Rick: It evolved mostly out of ignorance. Turns out my grandmother, mother, and uncle were all musicians. My grandmother remains a complete unsolved mystery we had no idea she did anything musical until my mom died. Mom sang in the church choir, played piano and organ – she loved to play and was a multi-instrumentalist. My uncle was an accomplished jazz trumpet and organ player who started playing the clubs at age 15. He was also quite remarkable with photography as well. He developed and printed his photographic art himself. Somewhere along the line, my uncle acquired a recording laith record cutter and kept it in grandma’s living room and would record my mother playing piano and tuba.
She would record him playing trumpet and organ. Sadly, only his photography work survived – unfortunately all the recordings were lost.
When my dad was at work, my mother never discouraged me from playing around with the living room piano and would sing me songs and show me things. She also acquired at auction an antique billow foot pump air organ. We used to love playing around with that thing alot. Had all these manual stops. Now It’s down in Texas somewhere I think.
The full truth of my musical heritage only came out when my mother passed a couple of years ago. Back her a dining room cupboard, we found some original sheet music that my grandmother and uncle had written, along with legitimate song contracts for songs my grandmother had written in the 1940s, which remained unsigned. This also may explain where the recordings went. They probably were used as demos and sent through mail to Los Angles. The record cutter was a direct to disc tech, so there was only one recording of one performance and that was the original. Grandma never mentioned music, contracts or industry and no one knows why. But my life partner Debra Lee is an excellent piano sight reader, so she was able to play the handwritten sheet music passed down to us. Sounded exactly like a catchy 40’s tune! “We Want Peace.” Rebel Blood.
When it came my turn to be in music, it did not start well. In the 6th grade, I selected the trumpet not knowing this was one of my uncle’s main instruments. At the time I did not know my uncle had been banned by my father from ever being in the family. My dad hated music for some unknown reason, didn’t allow it in the home when he was there, he could barely sing In church at Christmas time. Who knows, maybe my uncle was a reefer smoking anti-war radical! Ha. Oddly, there is a selfie photo of my uncle and my dad both in the trunk of a 1950’s car. My uncle must have setup the “selfie” shot on a tripod and a strobe trigger.
I completely sucked at trumpet of course, and my teacher let me know it at every lesson. Miss Fraser, UUGGH. I couldn’t really practice that much at home. At school I dreaded leaving my home room for lessons. The privileged break would have been nice, but instead I would come back ready to be embarrassed and ridiculed by some of my classmates. The trumpet “teacher” dotted my nose with a black marker every time I made a mistake. Like some kind of zero point energy dynamo, I seemed to have had an in exhaustible supply of mistakes, so coming back to regular class after yet another unsuccessful lesson clean up stop in the boys room; I would sulk back to my home room, nose as black as a puppy dog. I would never treat a puppy dog that way though. To escape this trumpet witch, I switched to the baritone.
Luckily my best friend (and Seneca Nation member) Jay was first chair in the band so at least I had an ally. Then I met another best friend Don, who was an excellent trumpet player. Regardless, my days in the band were numbered. I really wanted to play the guitar but at the time, like everything else, it was beyond me.
Mom would drag me to church for the holidays and special events. This was an all-white church in the middle of dairy farms way out in the country. Once a year our church choir would sing at the inner city Buffalo, NY sister church and visa versa. I noticed there was a very distinct difference between the two choirs. The black choir was rocking the house, moving, clapping, smiling – looking like they were having a blast – they were. By contrast, our all-white choir looked like someone had stuck a broomstick up the ass of each member and nailed them to the floor. In fact, we made up a saying to match, “today’s your favorite broom day”. No movement, no smiles and they sucked at singing by comparison.
On occasion, our church featured one of the sister church’s soloist singers. He sang: “Everything is beautiful in its own way”, and “Jesus loves the little children, yellow, black, red and white.” I didn’t really think about it at the time, but those men bravely traveled to what could have been the heart of ignorance and racism. It probably was. Proud to say many of the members of our church were on correct side of history in the struggle for racial and gender equality. Our music tour to Buffalo in 2010 took me back to that same church building, now a performing arts center.
I did eventually get on the guitar. My high school music teacher Nick was another great influence on my development. Even though chorus was not really related to my music, he found a way to make it relevant. Back then I had long hair and looked pretty sketchy.
The school administration had decided that I must have been a weed dealer, since I looked like, well like a weed dealer. But I wasn’t – not even close. Although I did have “God is Love” embroidered on the right ass cheek of my jeans. One day Nick called me into his office, which was really a hoarder room for music floor to ceiling and confronted me with this rumor which was going around. I was shocked. He asked me face to face if it was true. And I told him the truth – it wasn’t me. He said that was all he wanted to hear and the subject never came up again and the rumors soon evaporated. I spent the better part of my day in the music wing for chorus and music theory. I wanted to get into the elite choral group, every school has one I think, ours was call the “Griffith Heirs”. But I couldn’t get in by the audition. Nick was honest and kind, the truth was I was a weak sight reader and better bass voices were already members. But I was consistent and persistent. There may have been a girl involved. When the Griffith Heirs were doing their fall recital, the musical selections had a jazz, rock, pop feel. So… I may have suggested that having a band would enhance the performance of the Heirs. There were auditions held for the “band” and by luck got in because I could play guitar. I borrowed bandmate Scott’s Gibson SG. For months after the gig, I just kept hanging around and pretty soon somehow there was an opening and became a full member of the group. Summer after high school a bunch of us including Nick, decided to travel for a 3 day music festival. That was the last time I saw Nick alive. On a Saturday morning he was coming up the hill being a water buffalo for camp, and fell over dead with a massive heart attack. There was a doctor there in seconds from the camp next to ours, didn’t make any difference. We were completely devastated to say the least. He touched so many students with his positiveness. The entire chorus sang the songs we were working on with him before break. The waves of his sudden death rise and fall to this day.
But still, always regretted not being able to master the trumpet. So when a spam email in boxed me – advertising a guitar tuner for cheap (like $14.95 with a free pocket trumpet) I quick collected my loose change. I thought it would be some plastic POS, but the value of the tuner would have compensated. The pair arrived and it was a full sized trumpet, just a little shorter. I started practicing immediately. When American Idol Justin Guarini came to our studio to record “What You Won’t Do for Love”, I was ready. I was able to blend my part and lick at the head of the song with legendary horn player Richard Orr. https://songwhip.com/drivetime/what-you-wont-do-for-love-radio-edit
Since then, I have played trumpet on Lyra Project and Rick Denzien songs, most recently
“Death Looks on You” featuring Michael G. Ronstadt on Cello and Debra Lee on backing vocals. https://songwhip.com/rick-denzien/deathlooksonyou
I still make mistakes, but now there’s no one to keep track, and I’m certainly not counting or dotting my nose. Best deal I ever saw on the internet too, but the tuner didn’t work at all.
You are both business and life partners. Please talk about that shared endeavor.
Rick: When we first met, I already had the www.Bah-FoStudio.com We actually met at a music industry record release party for Rally III records. It was the Play with the 76ers CD release party and I had a hand in its production. Debra Lee was singing two of her original songs within a set of one of the bands featured on the compilation CD and stage performance. So we met at a gig! It was love at first sight! I won’t go into all the sexy details, but it was hot as plasma lightning! I was Amazed. Out of this packed club crowd (of mostly males in a male dominated industry) she finished her short set, walked off stage and walked down to my table and sat down with me. That is when we met for the first time, so we thought. One second later we touched cheeks in conversation like we were apart for a long time. Soul mates some say.
Debra Lee is an excellent music educator by training so at first, we created a dedicated teaching space in the studio.
Debra: We both had and loved Ensoniq keyboards, I had worked for them at the HQ back in the day. We figured out that we saw each other for like 2 minutes at Ensoniq’s service counter when Rick brought his SQ-80 in for warranty work. He was recording the “Heal The Land” limited edition CD at the time. So weird that we both remember the day.
Later we bought our home studio Rick built me a larger piano teaching studio.
That was home for hundreds of piano and vocal students and their parents for many years. With the pandemic, we changed everything to Zoom and Skype lessons. Rick and I moved everything to the main entrance floor and made other changes that made it easier to work remotely. We are doing our first Christmas recital completely virtual.
Rick: It has not always been easy, we have had many ups and downs. But I think we trust each other for a better day. She has created the track artwork for the “Blinded Eyes” CD.Track art represents an Ico that is in addition to the CD Cover itself. Now thanks to her, we have icons for all the songs on the CD like “Go Out and Play” “Years Are Short”, “Silence of the Sages” and “Oil and Water”
How do you put your actions where your values are?
Rick: My dad always used to say, “Do as I say not as I do”; from an early age I became intimately acquainted with the blunt end of hypocrisy. I hated hypocrisy with a passion. Did everything I could to walk my straight and narrow. It’s my business to not be a hypocrite, but in reality, the truth of myself remained elusive and hidden from me for years. I eventually realized that I was the biggest hypocrite in my life. Values without correct action are hollow. So for me, values are somewhat milky without serious, honest investigation. I mean having values for the sake of values is pointless. Here we find ourselves on a planet that can sustain everyone, but doesn’t. Why is that? Are we stupid, brainwashed, or both? Puts a damper on being a light worker, right? Even Jesus asked his disciples why they were so stupid!
It’s really not complex. In the downtime, I just think of things I wish I could change and change them if I can. Some things can’t be changed, at least not by us. A wise man once said it was wisdom to know the difference. The main thing is to not repeat mistakes in the future.
Take us on the journey for your Zero Emissions mission. What was that like?
Rick: I mentioned, we stopped buying gas and oil for cars back in 2013. We started out with a Nissan Leaf, and saved over $12,000 in gas and oil up to August of 2018 when we got the Tesla Model 3. https://ts.la/rick45705 So all our tours since 2013 have been with EVs. We sang at a church in Washington, DC the way back from one of the major environmental marches in the city. We plugged into the church while we were there and ended up having many conversations about the environment. Communities of faith often overlook their role in the destruction of the planet. We teach the values of stewardship and point out that it is impossible to follow the words of the master, when there are so many things baked into the societal cake. Sometimes better to toss the cake and start fresh.
Other than the completely smooth and incredibly quiet ride, the EV is the same as other vehicles in class. But there are no fumes, no bad vibrations, and costs 85% less money to operate. Ideal for anyone, but especially for touring musicians. Musicians spend up to 98% of their music income on fuel, so, other than having a smash hit, driving electric can be the single biggest difference to their economic success. At home, we opted in for clean energy https://cleanchoiceenergy.com/r/ThriveStation.com and we share our roof top solar electricity for free with anyone who has an EV on the Plug Share network: https://www.plugshare.com/location/64828
What better way to take down the fossil fuel industry? Give the power away for free. It’s working too, have you seen how much Xxons stock has plummeted? I call them ExxOFF! In fact, we have convinced many businesses and individuals to install EV charge stations and share them for free. We have something like 20 EV change stations in our town & surrounding area and still growing.
Debra: Also Rick conducted three workshops on building EV charge stations from scratch. They actually built 10 EV charge stations, and most of the attendees didn’t even own electric vehicles at the time. They do now though.
Rick: I was such a dip shit, I actually thought electric cars were expensive. There are some luxury EV’s, but if you’re spending $350 a month in gas you can get a brand new Tesla! Most people spend around $150 a month in gas and oil on average. ½ way there I say. Mind you this is just in gas savings. The maintenance is almost Zero dollars. There are a ton of preowned Tesla’s and other EV’s on the market right now for every budget.
On our record-making tour https://www.prweb.com/releases/zero_emission_musicians_take_a_swing_at_climate_change_and_set_world_distance_record_in_all_electric_vehicle_go_out_and_play_music_tour/prweb16109924.htm
The driver’s side rider seatback folds down and fits a single Tempurpedic bed. The other side was instruments and luggage. TM3 has no engine, so there is a trunk in the front (the Frunk) where we stored up to 4 backpacks work of stuff and towels on top of that.
So the TM3 became a sleeper for at least one of us while we were rolling. We also have a tent that fits around the back end of the vehicle so we can take advantage of the Tesla camper mode. The TM3 can heat or cool all the time without creating deadly pollution. We did a total of 20,000 miles singing at house concerts, churches, music festivals, recording studio sessions and workshops. Only got stopped by the police once!
Debra: Yeah, and Rick can stretch out his full 6’6” ness and sleep back there. Between the Tesla on-screen navigation and the plug share we can easily find thousands upon thousands of charge stations, most of which are free and the rest are very low cost. Most stations are solar or wind-powered.
Rick: Debra found a motel on the edge of the Grand Canyon that had a few EV chargers we stayed the night and the TM3 was fully charged when we were ready to do the canyon tour. We spent most of the day there, it had just snowed a few days before so it was especially beautiful. One of the songs on the next CD was inspired by events in the canyon.
At one point we were traveling East on route 66 in the Mojave Desert just rolling along and enjoying the surroundings. Only regret, we didn’t have the extra time to visit Roswell NM! We did come close though, and we thought that we were being tracked at one point.
Debra: Fantastic, but true.
You have a new release called Blinded Eyes. What is the message?
Rick: We need to change, but will we change? Those words came from former Vice President Al Gore, we were trained by him to start our journey as a Climate Reality Leaders. We were already on the path, but it was excellent training and has helped us to focus on how to can help others.
“Blinded Eyes”, laments my wish is that we could all see clearly. But common sense seems to be at a premium these days. The very things that tear us apart are fueling the rift are also the things that can heal and bring us together.
For example, no one wants to see grandma die. But the air pollution from cars makes it up to 70% more likely that she will get Covid-19. No one wants children to die but every school day we pack kids on to big yellow things that pour out the worst kind of cancer-causing pollution right into their faces; oh we call that a school bus. This makes them way more likely to get the Covid.
The lungs of these groups are already compromised by the pollution they breathe. And it’s not limited to these groups. Everyone is at risk.
People want to worship their god. They believe in the golden rule, but will drive to the house of worship spraying pollution into the faces of “these the least of my brothers”, then cut people off in the parking lot after service. The house of worship is most likely heated with oil, which pours sulfur dioxide and other pollution into the neighborhoods air. Methane heat isn’t any better. How is that following the golden rule?
I went to 4 years of college training in Religion and Philosophy, and I can tell you first hand, most pastors, ministers have no friggen idea of what they are doing and betray the trust of the people they serve by their sheer lack of understanding. Most of these are ministers are stuck in a pre-school magical thinking mode and are disconnected completely from the pursuit of truth.
Most business entities are also founded and run on a false premise, the need to profit at any cost. The Earth is not a hole to dig out resources for free, it is our mother who sustains us all. We must replace what is used in business, otherwise, we are stealing from the planet and our common future.
As this relates to the burning of fossil fuel and the resulting climate change, we must pay for the carbon that is put into the air, so that the message is clear. If you pollute, you’re going to pay a big tax, If you’re clean no tax, the polluters pay you. Tesla now gets over $300 million per year from gas car makers, because their cars pollute while Tesla vehicles do not.
Do not pollute the air or you will pay. Right now just about anyone can put just about anything into the air, water and land regardless of the health consequences to others and society. This is mostly done under the banner of the free market or self-regulating market, but that too is a lie, there is no such thing as a free market. Someone always will pay, and the morally reprehensible (large scale capitalists) will have consumer people pay with their lives.
So you see we have a big problem. We must change.
What would you like our readers to know about what practical steps they can take to be good stewards for the planet?
Rick: Please use our checklist. http://rickdenzien.com/acoustic/10things.html Start with the easy things and move to the more complex. Change your electric source to wind and solar now – easy. If you have a roof use this code to get a discount on rooftop solar: https://ts.la/rick45705.
Get rid of your gas car – less easy. Go as vegan as you can – very easy. Consider carefully your purchases – easy and difficult. Get rid of any fossil fuel, war, banks, insurance companies, big pharma, big agriculture, chemicals, etc. stock in your retirement program, switch to certified renewable alternatives – less easy. Be the change for good you want to see – easy to believe – difficult to do.
Band Camp: http://RickDenzien.BandCamp.com
Radio Stations & DJs: http://www.AirPlayDirect.com/RickDenzien
This post is republished on Medium.
Photo Credit: Leslie Higgins