Mood Indigo

In Shambhala Buddhism, every situation is regarded as a potential teacher. Joel Wachbrit shares a story about his own experience of suddenly recognizing a teaching being transmitted to him before he even began practicing Buddhism, and the poem that followed. 

As a young musician I was a fan of the great blues guitar player Michael Bloomfield who died of a heroin overdose in 1981. Of course I had my “super heroes” – Hendrix, Clapton, Beck – and Michael wasn’t actually one of them. Until I went to his Los Angeles funeral. Michael’s mother Dotty was a friend of my mom’s and she invited me to come pay respects. It was there that they played just one simple recording of his, not from The Electric Flag or the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, his seminal outings of the 60’s, but a recording of Mood Indigo where he played every instrument. It was so direct and honest that I lost myself in it. Somehow I “knew” him from that performance. Shaken and touched I went home and wrote this poem. It just poured into my mind with no editing. I was 25 at the time and it would be 8 more years until I started practicing meditation, although I had already been reading a lot about Buddhism. Somehow I knew this was a transmission of sorts.

Music – melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint – has always come easy for me but words – the telling of the story, the condensing of emotion into a 3 to 4 minute song, poetry and prose – for some reason they allude me and even frighten me. I know that writing takes patience, perseverance and editing. But music comes spontaneously and seems to flow freely while words have come grudgingly. I long for the words to flow uninterrupted like they did 32 years ago in that raw unguarded moment. Here is my offering of “First Thought, Best Thought.”


hello michael
today we became better friends
though you never met me
nor I you,
we spoke at length.
we spoke the language of steel strings sliding, picked and hammered.
we spoke the language of souls yearning for a little love, compassion
and justice.
the blues.
the cantor sang the blues, and I
felt the blues.
we’re jewish michael, we understand those blues
like the blacks in the ghettos.
so blue. in fact,
mood indigo.
the concert you gave was not typical
of what I would expect.
older people with tears in their eyes,
the city’s noises so accessibly close –
my first michael bloomfield concert.
your last.
it is said in zen that true wisdom
is imparted without words.
mood indigo, michael,
thank you.
you played just that one song
and the images danced in my mind
and tears betrayed my joy.
it is love! sliding, picked and hammered.
love! compassionate and just.
what a guitar teacher!
without words the lesson is taught,
and lives forever.
we finally met
and became better friends.
hello michael.



Joel_WachbritJoel Wachbrit is a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and has been a member of the LA Shambhala community since 1989. He has held many positions at SMCLA, the most recent was as Co-Director. Before that he served as Head of Buddhist Education for 7 years. Joel composes music for TV and film and is an accomplished guitarist. He is married to Jill Freeman and they have several children – all with four legs.

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