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Exploring the Soul of Raul Midon

(Soundbite of music)


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following today here at NPR News. Tropical Storm Ernesto's leading edge has drenched southern Florida. Ernesto is expected to make landfall tonight, but forecasters say there's only an outside chance it will strengthen into a hurricane.

And Iran's president held a rare news conference today in Tehran. He challenged President Bush to a debate on world affairs. The news conference comes with the U.N. Security Council deadline looming this week for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

Details coming up on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. And tomorrow at this time, Neal Conan will be here with a look at a new generation of military widows. That's tomorrow's TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we end with a little music. Since his 2005 debut CD State of Mind, Raul Midon has received glowing reviews for his unique sound combing flamenco and jazz guitar stylings, a rich vocal range, and inspirational lyrics. What makes him truly remarkable is that although he lost his sight shortly after birth, it hasn't held him back from being one of the most sought after musicians in the music industry.

Raul Midon joins us now from the studios at NPR West. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION. Good to have you.

Mr. RAUL MIDON (Singer): Thank you. Thank you for having me.

NEARY: And if you have any questions for Raul Midon about his career, his countless collaborations, or his current tour, we'd like to hear from you. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. And the e-mail address is

And Raul, I'd love to start out with a song, if we could.

Mr. MIDON: Here's a song called Sunshine (I Can Fly) with an intro which is not on the record. Here it goes.

(Soundbite of song, Sunshine (I Can Fly))

Mr. MIDON: (Singing in foreign language) (Singing) Sunshine when you're with me I can fly. Sunshine when you're with me I can fly.

Every day I wonder why peace on earth's so hard to find. Real peace begins inside. In our hearts and in our minds. Hearts and minds begin to see that one and all means you and me. And what we know can set us free, rearrange reality.

Reality is what we know. We can change a river's flow. Plant a seed, watch it grow. Build a shelter, build a home. Home is where my heart will stay, even when I'm far away. Makes no difference what they say as long as you will be my sunshine.

When you're with me I can fly. Sunshine, when you're with me I can fly.

When I'm feeling sad and low and I'm not sure where to go and all the good times that I've known have gone and left me all alone. All alone I'll never be long as you are here with me. You're in everything I see and everything I'm doing. All I do I do for you. You're my sun, you're my moon, every lazy afternoon. You're my inspiration. Inspiration lights the way. Brings a sparkle to each day. Makes the dark clouds go away. So let us let the children play.

When you're with me I can fly.

Sunshine, when you're with me I can fly. Mm-hmm, Sunshine. Oh yeah, mm-hmmm.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MIDON: Sunshine, when you're with me I can fly. Sunshine, when you're with me I can fly.

Music is the reason why people laugh, people cry, sing and dance and clap their hands. It's how the whole world understands, understands that we are one. Makes no difference what you've done or where you live under the sun.

We are only human - only human yes, it's true. Still the mystery is you, and the sky so clear and blue makes every day feel so brand new - brand new day throughout the world for all the little boys and girls. If everybody lends a hand, we can live together.

When you're with me I can fly. Sunshine, when you're with me I can fly. Sunshine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Raul Midon singing Sunshine and playing the guitar and doing a little percussive there as well. And that's something I wanted to ask you about, because I know you've said you try - you like to integrate everything you know musically into the guitar. You want to make it sound like an orchestra. How do you go about doing that?

Mr. MIDON: You know, it came about through just always trying to play, you know, what I heard in my head and lots of training. I always find it very amusing that people say are you self-taught, you know? And actually, a friend of mine came up with a good one the other day. Although guitar is not as critical as surgery, but you would never want a self-taught surgeon to do surgery. So, no. I mean, although my style is very different, it came about through lots of wonderful teachers and training that I had: classical guitar teachers, jazz, and Flamenco as well.

NEARY: And you started playing drums as a kid, right? Before guitar?

Mr. MIDON: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, the first thing I played was - I probably just banged on chairs and stuff. But we had bongos and conga drums in the house and rattlers and shakers, and I was doing that from - ever since I can remember, really.

NEARY: So you still - when you're playing guitar, you're also doing a little drumming there on the guitar, I think.

Mr. MIDON: Yeah. I mean, I have different ways in which I sort of hit the guitar. In this song, you know, I use the sort of index finger, sort of edge of my palm to create this, and then I…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MIDON: …use my thumb to pull up to create this percussive sound. So it's sort of like playing bass, drums, and chords at the same time, so…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MIDON: And I'm using my left hand to create rhythm as well. I'm sort of what they call hammering down on the strings with my left hand. So it's sort of a complete two-hand approach to playing rhythm and chords. It's not the normal - you know, you make the chords with your left hand and you strum with your right hand kind of thing.

NEARY: And I hear all kinds of different musical strains in there. There's a little Latin in there and jazz. I mean, you've got a lot of different things going on musically.

Mr. MIDON: We always had a lot of wonderful music in our house, and my father has - I mean, we live out in a very small town in New Mexico. I mean, I don't live there anymore, but that's where I grew up, and it was sort of an oasis of music. We had Latin music, Cuban music, jazz. Probably the thing that we have least of there is pop music, which, you know, is easy to come to. It's everywhere. But my father has, you know, John Cage records and, you know, contemporary, classical, jazz - all kinds of music. And we listened to it from when we were very young, so…

NEARY: We're talking with singer/songwriter/guitarist Raul Midon. And if you'd like to join the conversation, the number is 800-989-8255. We're going to take a call now from Marion(ph) in St. Louis. Hello.

MARION (Caller): Hi. I was enjoying listening to your music, and I have a relative that is a young child that is blind, and I was curious - I have always been told that he can't study guitar because his fingertips are so important to his learning Braille, and I was wondering what you might suggest someone would look for in a teacher to teach a blind child music.

Mr. MIDON: First of all, that is completely inaccurate.

MARION: Okay, well that's good to hear. That didn't make sense to me, I don't…

Mr. MIDON: Completely inaccurate. Yeah. I mean, you know, I learned Braille as a little kid and I play guitar, and I never thought that it desensitized my fingers in any way. That's somebody that came up with a theory that they thought it sounded pretty cool, but it's not really true.

As far as a blind - teaching a blind child, you know, really I think the thing that needs to happen at first is probably just somebody that's willing to, you know, put your fingers on the chords and teach you - so when you're beginning, you know, somebody that's willing to say, okay. You know, put your, you know, your first finger on the second fret, fourth string. You know, put your second finger on the third fret, third string, or whatever - and willing to sort of do that kind of thing as opposed to, you know, if you can see you can just look at what your teacher is doing.

So - but one of the other things that's important as you progress is really making sure that you train your ears. As a blind person, it's even more important to have great ears so that your inability to sight-read music doesn't really block you from advancing.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Marion.

MARION: Mm-hmm.

NEARY: And I know I read that you said when you were a kid that you heard music in everything.

Mr. MIDON: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, these sort of artificial barriers that we set up our minds you don't have as a kid, you know, so I would hear the windshield wipers…

(Soundbite of Mr. Midon making windshield wiper sounds)

Mr. MIDON: You know, and I would create a little…

(Soundbite of Mr. Midon making percussive sounds)

Mr. MIDON: In my head to the thing, you know, so…

NEARY: That's great.

Mr. MIDON: So that was certainly - and there is music in everything. I mean, there's music in the way people speak. There's, you know, some people are very sing-songy in the way they speak.

NEARY: I want to hear some more music. First I just want to remind our listeners that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And then Raul, I'm wondering if we can hear another song.

Mr. MIDON: Yes. This is a song that actually was kind of written about being blind, in a way. When I first moved to New York City about four years ago, I was struck by how noisy the city is. And I live pretty far up in the sky, and it's quiet when you close the windows, but it's pretty noisy. And when I went back to the little town that I was born in, I realized that it was such a wonderful thing to have come from there before going to New York City in a way. Because although there is many things in New York City, it doesn't have everything.

You know, you don't hear crickets at night - at least not where I am in the middle of Manhattan. And so I just wrote this song about the picture in my mind of where I live. And I realize that really, the picture that I have is my own picture, and I also realize that almost everything - a big element of what I know is in my imagination because I've never seen it. And so this song is called It's All In Your Mind.

(Soundbite of song, It's All In Your Mind)

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Stand with me on the riverbank where the cool wind brushes our face. You are welcome to do nothing at all in the lonesome of this sheltered space. Through my eyes you can see the world. Well, you might be surprised what you'll find. A cool wind and a warm touch and a moment that is all in your mind. And if you find a reason to change your point of view, might be the time and season for doing what you've always wanted to do.

Put my thoughts on a single page, but the paper didn't have any lines for painting pictures of magic and light and a moment that is all in your mind. Oh, it's all in your mind. And it's all in your mind. Oh, it's all in your mind.

And if you find a reason to change your point of view, might be the time and season for doing what you've always wanted to do, what you always wanted.

I thought to call you the other day, but I figured that you don't have the time for painting pictures of magic and light and a moment that is all in our minds. It's a moment that is all in your mind. Oh, it's a moment that is all in your mind. And it might be that it's all in your mind.

NEARY: Raul Midon, that was wonderful. Thanks so much.

Mr. MIDON: Thank you for having me.

NEARY: Raul Midon's CD is called State of Mind, and you can hear more of his music at our Web site. Just go to the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Make a little difference in this world. I know that, I know that, I know, know, know that we're going to make it (unintelligible). You can, I can, she can, he can, we can make. Talk about - I'm talking about how we can all make a little difference in this world, everybody going to make a little bit of difference in this world, everybody going to make it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.