Thursday, November 30

10 tracks, 26 years

If you’ve been loosely following the exploits of our band, Muhammad Seven & the Spring, and would like a fuller picture of the album we’re making, this is for you.

I’ve been making music since 1992, when I was 14 years old and my mother bought me my first guitar. Some of you will remember me haunting the halls of the high school, picking out melodies. Songwriting was my first love.

As an Iranian-American first generation immigrant, I really struggled in the early days to find my place as an artist. It seemed like there was no room for my experience or perspective in U.S. culture - but I wouldn’t give it up, I was driven.

(You can hear me talk about this with Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires here.

I was also not a terrific songwriter (few of us are from the start). I’ve lost count of the number of times I wanted to give up on music over the last 26 years.

“My songs are bad.”

“Well maybe you’re just not cut out for this.”

“My voice sounds like shit.”

“Who wants to hear a songwriter who can’t sing?”

The inner dialogue is a trap - you’re a dog chasing your tail. Anyhow, I fought on. I kept writing, playing, singing, trying to join bands (none would have me), playing open mics, playing small shows.

In 2010 I had a chance to tour nationally with my long time friend, underground folk hero Chris Sand. I knew I wasn’t ready. But I decided I either needed to take a chance on being a songwriter for real - or stop torturing myself and give up. I went for it.

We played 30 shows from Boston to Spokane, touring had been a dream of mine and it was a thrill to realize it. I practically wet my pants on stage for the first 15 shows…and then something happened in Marfa, Texas. I had one of those shows where everything went right, I was on fire. And from then on I was a different artist. Maybe a different man.

After so many years of feeling like there was no place for an Iranian-American in the landscape of American music, I started to understand that ONLY I could change that reality. I’d spent years trying to carve that space out - and now it existed, it was a thing.

A whole new catalogue of songs sprang forth from that tour, better than my previous work. I sat on it for years (I was busy getting married and starting a family) but then managed to record them in my very first album - “Bedouin Cowboy”, which I made entirely on my cell phone (you may remember, I made this video to tell the story.)

That album was terrifically received for the little thing that it was - write ups in my local paper, an interview on NPR’s “The World”, features on the Filmspotting podcast…you can see all that here.

Somehow it was enough encouragement to light a fire under my ass. I started writing. I wrote like a crazy person, 20 new songs in 7 months. My best work but a huge margin - unrecognizably different from all my previous stuff (though Amanda encourages me not to disrespect my early work.)

I started playing them live and, instead of the uphill slog I expected for booking shows, the shows started just coming to me. As a working parent there wasn’t lots of time to play live but I was steady with it and I started getting sharper as a performer.

My close buddy of 20 years, Patrick Mussari (also a working dad now) caught wind of what I was doing and he wanted in, trading in his axe for a bass. We had always dream of starting a band together. After a few months of rehearsal, we managed to woo my new but dear friend Kelly Jo Reed - the first time I heard her sings I said to myself, THAT’S IT! THAT’S THE SOUND MY SONGS WANT!

Then, after interviewing about a dozen producers (mostly young recent college grads) I finally found Collin Lester Fleming, a seasoned and inspired producer (and incredible drummer) - who got me and my music right off the bat. Our mutual admiration and excitement for the work has us both buzzing for the task at hand: laying down 10 tracks, in 3 different studios, with M7 & the Spring along with 10 other session musicians.

This album is, for me, the ultimate labor of love, 26 years in the making. In the past I wished I could have gotten here faster. At this moment in my life, I feel like it all went exactly the way it needed to.

I can’t wait to share the record with you. It will be free.

We have currently raised $5,561.99 out of $12,700. If you’d like to help make it happen, you can find fast, simple links here.

yours in the struggle,


Monday, November 14

Who is Steve Bannon? Here are my crib notes.

 If you’re like me and you haven’t paid much attention to the CEO of Trump’s campaign until now, here’s some background information about Steve Bannon, the man Trump has named the chief strategist and senior counselor to his new administration.

  •       Early in his career he was a naval officer in the Pacific Fleet and stateside as a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.[1]
  •     After naval service he worked at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker in the Mergers & Acquisitions Department[2] and later launched his own investment bank. (Ironically, in one particular deal he acquired a stake in the show “Sienfeld”…though his ex-wife later quoted him in a sworn court declaration as saying “he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats,’[3]”)
  • After a stint as a Hollywood producer, he became executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC – an alt-right website that publishes articles with titles like (this is not a joke):

“Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”

“The Solution To Online ‘Harassment’ is simple. Women Should Log Off”

“There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women, They Just Suck At Interviews”

“Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew”

“Big Trans Hate Machine Targets Pitching Great Kurt Schilling”

“Planned Parenthood’s Body Count Under Cecile Richards Is Up To Half A Holocaust”

“Lesbian Bridezillas Bully Bridal Shop Owner Over Religious Beliefs”

From what I can tell, women are the biggest targets of Breitbart News, though it is Breitbart’s racism and anti-Semitism that is getting the most criticism in the press (even more sexism). If you read these articles, they are (if you can believe it) more insane than the titles suggest they will be.

Breitbart is misogynist, racist, white nationalist, anti-gay and anti-Semitic and this man was their executive chairman until very recently.

The New York Times reports that Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness in early January 1996, after his then-wife accused him of domestic abuse[4].

We have entered a political moment where nearly any statement or action by a political figure, no matter how hateful or violent or divisive, is being excused. Trump voters had one thing right – the mainstream media and the political establishment will not hold them accountable. Not voluntarily. Most of them are already pushing for a return to “business as usual” and “giving this a chance”.

We, the people, must find ways to make our voices as loud (louder?) as those of our new reality-TV government and our existing corporate media. And we must force them to reckon with the oppressiveness of the Trump administration without apologizing for it or smoothing it over.

This is a new phase where we need to study and develop how to do that. We can’t leave it to anyone else. History is full of good information. But I think we will also need to innovate and improvise.



[1] From his Wikipedia page
[2] ibid.
[3] The Guardian, “Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon denies anti-Semitic remarks”
[4] New York Times, “Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief, Stephen Bannon, Faced Domestic Violence Charges in 1996”

Thursday, November 10

An Open Letter To Donald Trump

Dear Mr. President-elect,

You seem to have missed some key lessons that even the average high school student is relatively clear on (I guess a private school education isn't what it used to be). Allow me to provide you with some information that will be useful to you as "leader of the free world".

1. You cannot make sexual contact with another person without their permission. The fact that you are famous gives you the right to be known by lots of people BUT NOT IN THE BIBLICAL WAY and not without their explicit consent. This is a crime that people not named "Trump" go to jail for.

2. You have clearly learned your history of Mexico & United States from the movie "The Three Amigos". There are several actual books on the subject (made of real paper) that I can recommend.

3. All the wealth in the world will not bring you joy. Profiting at the expense of people much less fortunate than you will kill you inside. Compassion and generosity are at the heart of happiness.

4. Manipulating our laws to generate profit for yourself, both legally and illegally, is not the same thing as being a good businessman.

5. If you hire people to do a job you need to pay them for the work that they did for you. That's the way the exchange of goods and services works in our legal system. An intro to economics course might be helpful, I suspect your future White House chief of staff would be able to arrange that.

6. Someone's ethnicity is not an indicator of whether they will be good or bad at their profession. 

7. Bullying and domination are not the same as leadership. Also, hurling insults can turn into hurling missiles all too easily.

8. Winning is not the most important thing in life. Life is not a game of Monopoly, and also monopoly is a really dumb game and I have always enjoyed playing it.

9. You are confused about the basic medical science in the abortion procedure. PLEASE take the time to understand what that actually involves.

10. But you did get one thing right! The system is rigged. And it is rigged in your favor, as a rich, gentile, straight, able bodied, white man.

These are just a few thoughts off the top of my head, I'd be happy to share a much longer list with you.

See you in the streets!

PS I love nasty women.

Sunday, April 24

Bedouin Cowboy

The album is done! I recorded 9 original songs on my iPhone.

Here's a 3 minute "making of" video.

Here's the album.

And here's my interview on KYRS!

Wednesday, January 13

I'm Recording A New Album! On My iPhone.

Hi friends, it's been a while.

Since my last post I've gotten married, and Amanda and I now have a wonderful two year old son, Rostam.

I've been busy with work, parenting and a graduate degree at night - too busy to perform or record music...

Until a few months ago.

I wrote a new song. Then on a whim, I tried recording it into "Garageband", a recording app on my iPhone. And to my surprise, I thought it sounded good. Much better than I had expected - great, even. And I've been sitting on twenty or so songs since my tour with Chris Sand 5 years ago, just waiting for an opportunity to record them.

Unlike recording on higher quality equipment, I don't need a lot of extra time to record on my phone. I can produce the track and record the vocals in the little stolen moments between appointments, on my coffee break, in my car. I've got 5 tracks down so far and I'm excited about the results. The final album should be 10-15 songs.

The sound quality is good - I mean, when Alan Lomax set out to record folk songs for the Library of Congress in 1946, his equipment certainly wasn't as good as the iPhone - but the production quality sounds a little canned, a bit cheesy.  Somehow it doesn't seem to interfere with the quality of the songs, to me there's a punk rock, DIY aesthetic to the thing, like when you used to record on an 8-track cassette station. As long as the song was good, the cheesy low-fi quality could even add to the appeal.

Well that's what I'm hoping for with this. I'm not sure if it'll be a digital download only or if I'll press CD's as well...several of you certainly have free copies coming your way, I've been getting a lot of musical love and support from so many of you for such a long time.

Oh, and I won't be releasing it under my own name...I'm putting it out under the name Chris has been calling me for years:

Muhammad Seven. 

The song you've been listening to is almost finished, titled "Working". (A little secret - if you right click on the player you can download the audio file if you'd like.)

Just to be clear - I am not actually playing any of those instruments, the vocals (lead and harmony) are the only live instruments on the track. Everything else I did on my phone, it looks like this:

That's it for now.  Stay tuned for further developments...

Tuesday, March 12

My Bargaining Unit Speaks Out

My tiny 16 person SEIU local 615 bargaining unit sent a petition to the president of Harvard and the head of labor relations on behalf of our sister union, HUCTW.  The Harvard Crimson wrote this article.

Friday, April 22

Gazette Article

I just got a write up in the Harvard Gazette, have a look.  Spring is in full flux on the grounds, the cherries and magnolias are in bloom.  Lilacs soon to come.

Tuesday, March 22

Nary A Rich Gadget, Yet A Love

Just as I was trying to decide what direction to take in the next chapter of this blog...

The trash spoke in that unmistakable voice of intrigue, mystery and stinky grit.  I seem to have stumbled upon a clue to a scavenger hunt of some kind (pictured below).  

I was picking trash around one particular wrought-iron gate when I noticed this slip of paper in a zip lock bag, rubber banded inconspicuously around a lower bar.  I assume this message was intended for a particular person so after making a digital scan I tied it back to the gate whence it came.

So dear readers - here begins the first ever Poet of the Wastes trash puzzle!  Whoever figures out the four names that lead to the next clue will receive a POTW t-shirt (also known as my tour shirt, in brown or light grey with the same logo as my blog.)  If we never actually figure out how to find the next clue (since it seems to claim to lead to a person - who's name might ring a bell with the intended recipient but not to you or me), I'll send a shirt to the first person to have responded with a 4 name guess.


Thursday, February 17

Guess Who's Back?

I'll give you a hint: it's me.  My year of traveling is over.  Yesterday I rolled back in to Boston and today was my first day at work.  I walked into my crew office and received a hero's welcome.  It's good to be back.  

My brain is filled with memories of wonderful people and beautiful new places.  I loved being a citizen of the world for a year.  Now if anybody has any leads on a great apartment...

Friday, February 11

A Victory In Egypt

Today the Egyptian people demonstrated what is possible if we stand together against injustice.  Tunisians and Yemenis have won equally impressive battles.  May we all gain strength and and be emboldened by their efforts. There is much more to do, but every victory is worth celebrating for as long as we can remember to celebrate.

My good buddy Sandman once toured with an Arab-American songwriter and activist named Stephen Said. His first album is released under the name "Stephen Smith" because the label said he "could never have a career in the U.S. with an Arabic name" - until he showed them how wrong they were.  He has recently recorded classic Egyptian civil rights anthem "Aheb Aisht Al Huriyah," (I Love the Life of Freedom) with words from Egyptian poet-laureate Ahmed Shawki, first put to music in the 1930's by great Egyptian composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab.  Here it is, enjoy.

To download the mp3, right click here and select "download linked file".