Treehouse Journal

Volume 5, Issue 3 - June 21, 2001 

GIG ALERT: Hey Folks, I've just confirmed the following two gigs for over the summer - one US, one UK:

Dean in Concert -
Sunday, July 15th (7:00pm 'early' starttime) The Turning Point, Piermont, NY - ORDER TIX ONLINE
Saturday, August 25th (8:00pm) The Spitz, London, UK - ORDER TIX ONLINE

And don't forget, any families with silly kids 3-8 in the Westchester, NY area, I'll be doing the 2nd 'Silly Song, Sing-Along' on Saturday, July 21, 3:00pm at the Yorktown Stage, Yorktown Heights, NY ORDER TIX ONLINE

The first Silly Song, Sing-Along was great fun and the kids loved it. Along with the rest of the cast - Willbee Good, Bloke, Professor Thelonious Tootenheimer, Safety Sam and Miss Tulips - I'm looking forward to the next one in July. (I'm having a few conversations with venues in the UK too, for next year.)

I've been out of touch since the March tour, so I figured I'd offer up some sort of explanation...
Dean's Treehouse Journal - June, 2001
Yeah, I know, I should be huddled in my studio like Rumplestiltskin spinning songs from straw into gold records, instead of hanging around up in a tree. But we had three solid weeks of glorious spring weather and I'd just gotten back from a fun but grueling 20 date tour of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales and I needed to spend some time in the backyard recuperating.

Speaking of which... Thanks to everyone that made it to the gigs. It's always a little nerve-wracking preparing for a tour; I've got a million things to do for months in advance - coordinate bookings, press releases, photos, schedule interviews, get merchandise in place, prepare the website, send out newsletters, change the strings on my guitars, check my cables, try to stay healthy, tidy up the rest of my life for while I'm away so the phone's still on when I come back - stuff like that. Even when there's a promoter/agent handling some of it, I've still got to initiate, coordinate and participate in everything. Then I've got to pack - one of my least favorite activities. And I always drive Alison nuts because I leave it till the very last minute. Do I have my tickets? Did I remember my passport? When does that sucker expire anyway? And who's that suspicious looking guy in the photo? Some international drug-smuggling terrorist, probably. Then the departure day eventually arrives and I find myself walking through Kennedy Airport rolling a luggage cart with guitars and a keyboard in flightcases balanced precariously on top of the rest of my luggage. And does any of this have anything to do with actually making music? Nope.

Sting flies in his own luxury jet (although it's been known to go careening off the runway on occasion). Dean squeezes into coach with dozens of magazines, bottled water and a bag of oatmeal raisin cookies braced to survive the next 7 uncomfortable hours suspended in mid-air along with a complete suspension of belief that a metal cylinder can fly 30,000 feet high without dropping straight down into the beautiful blue foam capped ocean. Surrounded by sweaty businessmen pecking furiously at their laptops and the inevitable wailing baby, I observe the no-smoking sign, buckle my seatbelt and my journey begins...

The first step in building a treehouse is picking just the right tree (or trees). For a couple of years now, I've had my eye on this big old oak in the backyard which sits about 8 feet away from a medium size hickory. They're both healthy hardwood trees with strong root systems and they stand straight and tall. Actually, the hickory has a slight bend at the top where it's seeking to avoid the shade of the larger oak, but it's still secure and stable and as a companion to the oak, together, they make a solid base for a two-tree treehouse. Of course, these are living trees; they sway in the wind, they're knocked down in storms, they're split by lightning, they're nibbled by gypsy moths and deer and scalded by acid rain. They could stand 100 years or be felled tomorrow by a freak gust of wind (we've had the occasional tornado touch down in the area). That sense of impermanence and potential danger is one of the things that makes building a treehouse such a romantic, foolhardy and ultimately appealing enterprise. So, anyway, you want to try to pick a good sturdy tree.

I was supposed to fly into Dublin but the airport was closed due to snow. (Snow in Ireland? I spent the rest of the week looking for a 'snowbow'.) So I found myself stranded in Shannon Airport with all my gear. I actually made it through customs without having to empty out my pockets - a rare occurrence. Musicians are profiled. I'm almost always stopped when I'm carrying a guitar through customs. I thought it would be different once I had kids and assumed a semi-respectable air, but even holding an infant in my arms, I've still been hassled by customs until I show them my working papers and passport and then half the time they ask for my autograph. Once, flying into Dublin, I was carrying a letter from Alison in which she had made delicate ink drawings of a few different types of mushrooms, part of a course she was teaching at an environmental education school in Maine. Customs agents grilled me for 1/2 an hour, convinced that I was collecting hallucinogenic 'psillocybin' mushrooms. Apparently, they were in season.

Sam and I had sketched out a rough design for a two-tree treehouse. I read two excellent books as references. One, 'Tree Houses You Can Actually Build' by David and Jeanie Stiles (Houghton Mifflin) has exceptionally clear, easy to understand illustrations and very useful design and construction ideas for getting started. The other, 'Tree Houses - The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb' by Peter Nelson (also published by Houghton Mifflin) covers some of the same ground but is filled with photographs of amazing treehouses around the world. Together, these books gave me the confidence and inspiration to climb the ladder and hammer in the first nail. Well, actually, it was a screw, a 1/2" x 7" lag screw, to be exact, which fastened the foundation beams - two 12-foot lengths of pressure-treated 2"x6"'s - between the two trees - Big Oak and Li'l Hick. I'd been talking with Sam about building a treehouse for a number of years, now, but there were always a million practical reasons to put it off - work, money, time, weather, lack of tools and supplies. It was only towards the end of the tour, having made another 5 hour drive to another radio interview on the way to another venue, that I finally promised myself that this summer the treehouse would go up.

I changed some dollars into punts, got some coins and called Steve Walker, my dedicated tour-manager and all-around good guy - to let him know where I was, as he was supposed to be picking me up in Dublin and take me to a radio interview on the way south to Waterford, my first gig, the next day. Of course, I was in Shannon, not Dublin. So we decided I'd hang out at the airport and wait for Steve to drive south and pick me up on the way to Waterford. That's how my tour began - driving to the airport, sitting on a plane, sitting in the airport, driving to an interview, driving to the gig. Basically, that's what touring is. I hate to shatter any romantic illusions out there, but essentially touring consists of lots of flying, driving and hanging around and more flying, driving and hanging around and then some more flying, driving and hanging around. The flying, driving and hanging around is interrupted by eating, interviews and at long last, the gigs themselves. The flying and driving sucks. The hanging around isn't so bad as long as I've got a good book or magazine to read. The eating is hit-or-miss. The interviews can be fun when the interviewer is actually interested in what you have to say and puts some effort into asking original questions. And while it may seem like your not doing much of anything all day, that's an illusion - because everything you do and think, from morning til night, for months beforehand, all the physical, mental and emotional preparation, is geared towards sustaining and focusing your energy, strength and concentration onto the moment when you go on. Those 2 1/2 hours, by myself, up on stage are what the tour is really all about. Everything else is tedium. Looking out at an appreciative audience that, amazingly enough, seems to genuinely care about the songs and actually want to hear me sing them, hearing your instantaneous feedback, reacting to my music and performance... oh, year, right... this is what I do, this is an important part of who I am... play this chord, fingers here, relax my voice, breathe, sing this phrase, mean it... I don't tour 200 days a year like some working musicians. Most days I spend doing ridiculous, if arguably necessary, life tasks that have nothing to do with music. Months go by. Years. Honestly, I completely forget sometimes. Then, shocked and amazed, thousands of miles from home, guitar in hand, or sitting at a keyboard, surprised at hearing my own voice reverberate through the hall, I remember... oh, yeah, this is my job.

Drilling the first pilot hole into the tree for the 7" lag screw was a little scary, but I took a deep breath, pat the tree's rough bark ('sorry 'bout this ol' fella. Hope it won't hurt too much.) and Sam and I got to work. By the end of day one we stood back to admire our handiwork - two 2x6 beams connecting the two trees. We hung from them by our hands to test them. They seemed solid and sturdy. 'Hmmm... This might actually work.' Over the next few weeks, between entering tour addresses into the database, filling orders, managing the website, sending out mailings for my museum stuff, driving kids to piano lessons and recitals, preparing for the kids concert, we managed to add floor joists, braces and part of the framing, all while balancing precariously, 10 feet in the air, on the top few steps of an aluminum ladder (for the really high stuff we tied into a tree branch or foundation beam). There are three key aspects of a treehouse which are not common to most other structures: 1. Asymmetry. Treehouses are hardly ever symmetrical; you're usually dealing with irregular shapes and angles and few parallel lines. Many of your cuts are skewed or curved to accommodate the irregular lines of the trees. In other words, everything is non-standard and you're constantly improvising and modifying the design on the spot. 2. Height. Treehouses are constructed high off the ground. So, your sense of balance is constantly being challenged and a sensible fear of heights repeatedly put to the test. Finally, 3. Motion. Trees sway in the wind. Unless you happen to reside along the San Andreas Fault, most construction is done on solid ground. When you build a treehouse, you need to take into account the fact that the main supports for your treehouse - the trees - are in constant motion and, depending on the size and hardness of the trees, can sway as much as a 6 inches, in some instances, or even more in a high wind. It means striking some kind of balance between stability and flexibility. Too rigid a structure will break apart in the first high winds. It wasn't until I found myself hanging precariously by a branch with one hand, trying to drive a nail into a hard to reach joist bracket, that it slowly dawned on me how closely building a treehouse resembles most of my career choices. For some reason, I've always found myself taking up non-standard work, in high-risk fields that require great flexibility and a good deal of improvisation, in other words, this wasn't the first time I'd found myself up in a tree without a ladder, so to speak. Finally, you have to factor in this crucial and sobering point: by definition, a treehouse is meant for kids to play in, above ground level. If you make a design/construction mistake, 10 feet in the air, or let a critical decision slip by out of inattention or sheer laziness... you can easily kill someone. By comparison, writing songs is a piece of cake. I may have made the occasional heavy metal critic nauseous, but I don't think I've ever mortally wounded anyone with one of my songs. (please email if you have any anecdotal evidence to the contrary).

Doing a 20 city tour is a little like cleaning out your attic or basement after 10 years; it's a daunting project, but you just have to dive right in and tackle it one task/gig at a time (forgive the mixed swimming and football metaphors). Because I don't tour constantly, it takes the first few gigs for me to remember the lyrics (well... most of them.) and to figure out the set and what I'm going to talk about during the show. After the 5th or 6th gig, I start to get into some kind of groove and am feeling pretty confident as I inch my way to the half-way point. By the halfway point, I breathe a slight sigh of relief, knowing that I've gotten that far and realizing that I may actually make it 'til the last gig without breaking a finger, losing my voice, or getting arrested for some minor misdemeanor, such as writing songs in the key of F#. Of course, on this tour, I did lose my voice, or just about, after coming down with a cold somewhere between Ireland and Scotland. It's situations like this where my mom's advice, given to me as a wee lad with a squeaky adolescent voice (it's changed... really!), actually comes in pretty handy. She told me, you can sing through a cold, if you warm up gently and gradually and don't put too much strain on your vocal chords. I followed this sage advice, drank plenty of tea (with lemon), and actually managed to make it through the worst part of the cold. I do still owe the good folks of Wolverhampton a few missing high notes from the last chorus of Ariel. (I'll bring 'em along to my next Birmingham gig.)

With the floor joists and the four corner posts in place, we were ready to lay the flooring. We used pressure-treated lumber for the foundation beams and floor-joists, but as the chemicals used in the process are pretty toxic we went with 5/4" x 6" cedar planks for the flooring where people will actually be sitting. Cedar is a relatively soft wood, with a reddish tone to it and a lovely heavy aroma, which, filled with natural preservative oils, is particularly weather, rot and insect resistant. Until the flooring went down, Sam and I continue to clamber up ladders and across beams like a couple of monkeys - well, maybe like one monkey and a hairy orangutan, but as each section of flooring was fastened into place, the platform gradually took shape and we were able, at last, to sit comfortably and securely 10 feet off the ground, looking out onto our backyard, without fear of slipping of a ladder rung or falling between two joists. Sam decided the treehouse definitely needed a secret hidden trap-door. (every treehouse does.) A trap door would come in handy in any number of instances - like escaping from mom or avoiding the pesky nextdoor neighbor kids. We built a box frame to support the door, chose a pair of low-profile, but heavy duty, hinges, built the door and fastened it to the floor. It works so well, I'm thinking of building a secret hidden trap door into our own house - I know it would come in handy in case of surprise visits from pesky IRS agents and doorbell ringing evangelists.

Touring requires lots of sustained physical and emotional energy. I know I might seem pretty laid back up there on stage, but I'm getting a real workout (compared to working the TV remote). To survive the rigors of the road, a good six weeks before a tour, I start trying to get into some kind of shape - eating a little better, running up and down the street, indulging slightly less in a variety of my favorite bad habits - Entemann's Pound Cake, the occasional Twinkie etc... I usually manage to keep up this spartan lifestyle up until about the halfway point of the tour, whereupon I confess to getting a little lax. The trick is to carefully plan my decent into sloth and bad eating habits so as to coincide with the day after the very last gig of the tour - but not before. Unlike Ariel, I'm no vegetarian, but I do tend to eat much less meat on the road. This inclination was strongly reinforced by recent newspaper headlines. During what would normally be an uneventful drive over the border from Belfast heading south to Dublin, I was stopped at no less than 5 separate security checkpoints by officers in full protective gear. Instead of the typical security grilling - 'have you been in possession of your luggage at all times', 'did anyone else pack for you?' - these questions ran along the lines of, 'Are you carrying any cheese sandwiches?' 'Do you have any sausages?'.

The treehouse floor is complete, but there's lots more to do. There's still the rest of the framing, wall siding, rafters, a roof, a railing and finally building a permanent wood ladder for regular access and a rope ladder for the escape hatch / trap-door. We might even string up a hammock, once we've finished the safety railings on the side. I confess, I'm having a great time up in that tree. I know Sam is too. I like to think he's learning something too, about work, planning, following through, creative problem solving, decision making, dealing with fear and anxiety, accepting challenge, embracing adventure, measuring risk and ultimately being responsible for your actions and its impact on others. Of course, overriding all those life lessons is the pure pleasure of sitting 10 feet up in a tree looking out into the woods and spying a family of deer browsing a few feet away from you, oblivious to your presence, or watching a pair of squirrels perform aerial acrobatics over your head. It's fun. In fact, it's so much fun, I've got to strictly limit my treehouse building time between when I've finished a sufficient amount of regular work during the day and when the mosquitoes finally come out in full force around dusk, looking for a tasty evening meal - such as me. You see, as much fun as I'm having, I can't escape the fact that, conventionally speaking, building a treehouse is a totally frivolous pursuit, with no practical value, a complete waste of time, some might say - sort of like writing songs.

So, anyway, that's some of what I've been up to for the last three months since I finished up the March tour. I expect Sam and I will be working on the treehouse through the end of the summer and probably into the fall, but it's already a cool place to hang out. I'll send you picture updates of our progress. I've also been busy starting to book an England/Ireland/Scotland/Wales tour for next year, 2002, sometime around May/June. I'll keep you posted. Oh, yeah, and then there's also the small detail of getting around to recording my next album... (And figuring out how to pay for it - I've decided not to wait another decade and a half, this time.) I'm still trying to come up with a sensible formula for how to accomplish this. Thanks to those of you who have already offered up creative suggestions, such as buying up lottery tickets in bulk, becoming a regular game show contestant or selling homegrown over the internet. So, assuming the treehouse construction goes according to schedule, I should have some kind of plan in a few more weeks. Stay tuned.

Oh, and lest I forget, a big thanks to my buddy Rand for letting his son Ben dump a bowl of spaghetti on his head at Sunday's Silly Song, Sing-Along kids concert (and also for giving me an excuse to use the word 'lest'.) And hey, Mihael, I hope your thumb feels better soon! (he busted it in a bicycle race.)

Well, that's all for now. Don't forget about the upcoming gigs. Tell your friends and neighbors! I recommend booking early as both venues are small (intimate) and have sold out in the past. Here they are again:

Dean in Concert -
Sunday, July 15th (7:00pm 'early' starttime) The Turning Point, Piermont, NY - ORDER TIX ONLINE
Saturday, August 25th (8:00pm) The Spitz, London, UK - ORDER TIX ONLINE

And for any families with silly kids 3-8 in the Westchester, NY area, I'll be doing the 2nd 'Silly Song, Sing-Along' on Saturday, July 21, 3:00pm at the Yorktown Stage, Yorktown Heights, NY. It's lots of fun for silly kids ORDER TIX ONLINE

Be Well, Everybody!
See ya,


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