Monday, August 08, 2011


HEROIC DEEDS ARE USUALLY ONE-SHOT EVENTS, BUT I CALL YOUR ATTENTION TO AN HEROIC LIFESTYLE; A MAN WITH THE COURAGE TO RESPOND TO HIS FASCINATIONS OVER THE LONG HAUL. Word reached me of such a man---ensconced--in the tiny village of Tierra Amarillo, New Mexico---about a hundred miles northwest of Santa Fe. People are drawn from all over by the charm of his character and the good things to be found at his coffee shop. This crowd is assembled to hear music by an impromptu band---every Saturday 2 to 5.

That's him on the right playing a drum of his invention. Sounds great---like a deep Conga. Here is a youtube video of them playing:

Then he switches to his trash can base (fiddle?). It sounds exactly like one---with the same range.

The coffee house is named THE THREE RAVENS------and here they are on the porch roof.

His 4000 sq foot building-----Once a derelict scheduled for bulldozing---but he says he loved it when he saw it---bought it for a song---and spent the next nine years renovating it. It cost about $250,000 to bring it to this condition----and he did so without borrowing money. Mostly he paid for it by selling his wonderful drums at Craft fairs. (he charges about $350 apiece)

The heart of the coffee shop---with a range of sandwiches, goodies and coffee.

Of course I want the story---and on this day I caught him out back, unloading wood. Meet Paul Namkung---the personality that has breathed life and purpose into a dying town. He agrees to an interview.

Makes his drums here: fascinating story with almost metaphysical implications: He saw a guy drumming on an orange crate in SanFrancisco---sounded good---wondered if he could improve on the idea----did experiments with wood and sounds---found a special North forest wood with a super good sound, discovered the perfect thickness--sound holes etc---constructed to also be a seat for the drummer. They are a work of art and lots of fun to play on.

He demonstrates for me.

Then settled himself for an extensive Q&A. Here's the story in a nutshell: 72 yrs old, born in Korea---lived in many places the world round----China, Singapore, Indonesia---settled in the Bay Area---had a 30 yr career as a social worker/counselor----invented his drum and began to sell them at Craft fairs---met a lady who showed him the charms of Northern New Mexico---then-While touring one day, saw this building and immediately decided to sink his roots here. Living modestly, using his social skills to blend with the local culture, (not everyone can move into a "alien" community and win the affection of neighbors) he began the 9 yr task of renovating the building. About 2 years ago he conceived the idea for the coffee shop---lots of people were drawn into the enterprise---now it has the feel of a cheerful, bustling restaurant

Paul working in his office--pulling up something to show me. I noticed that members of his "team" flutter around him like friends rather than employees. A lady brought him that cup of coffee unasked. Charismatics are advanced personalities that draw others near and "infect" them with their magic. To hang around one is to become one yourself. (from the bible: And the crowd perceived that they (the desciples) had been with Jesus)

As we chatted, I noted that he interacts with about everyone who walked in---cheerful banter mostly. The world seemingly has beat a path to his door. One casual visitor was the chief justice of NM Supreme court---whom paul teased a bit---then ended up receiving an order for a musical instrument.

I gave the drums a shot----Hey---I'm pretty rhythmic. Maybe everyone should have music in their life.

Saw this on the wall of an old building in the area----and suddenly--BINGO---my thoughts came together for this entry: Paul has no such difficulty planning his day----ENJOYING THE WORLD IS HIS WAY OF IMPROVING THE WORLD.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: He is living proof that FINDING OUR OWN HAPPINESS IS THE BEST WAY TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE HAPPINESS OF OTHERS. Drums--led to the Lady--led to the tiny village/ big building---to the Coffee Shop---to other artists and musicians (three other craftsmen/artists have since moved in, bought houses. Here is an art-colony-in-the-making. Paul invites all to come feel the village---see if it "speaks" to you. The famous artist, Georgia O'keif settled in just down the road at Abique, NM. For more--click here:


NE'er said...

Great story!

Sondra said...

I love grass roots music--and this sounds awesome!I bet he could get a gig on Wood Song Old Time Radio Hour
When I lived in NYC it was the street entertainers that I depended on to WOW me..and the Paint Bucket Drummers always did just that!

Jim said...

Your link to the Three Ravens site didn't work for me, but this one does:
I must admire anyone who can live within their means and NOT borrow money. I've known a few successful enterprises who paid more to the bank in interest than anyone working there made. Pay as you go is the only way to go . . . though if I was terminal, I'd love to die owing the card companies a cool million or two.

Tom said...

Great story I agree. Your blog is a delight to read.

Ash said...

You meet the coolest people! Thanks for the entry, it's inspiring:)

The Tuckerbag

John X said...

I think I encountered this man at our annual Arts Festival in Oklahoma City one year...

This is the type of guy I'd like to be, if I could ever shake the concrete off my soul...

Next time I'm in Northern NM, I'm going to visit this place.

KT Roet Travels said...

GREAT story Randy! Today,Paul and I talked about you being there and he was excited that you were going to write a story about him. By the way, the link in your story does work. Paul is working on making 17 new drums as we speak as he has an art show to attend in a couple of weeks. How grateful we are to have "landed" here for a while! Glad to have run into you as well with an invitation to the Three Ravens! Again, LOVE THE STORY!! Keep it up dude!

Anonymous said...

Oh is Tierra AmarillA--with an A on the end :)

Red Meador said...

Well you have done it again. great story Randy.

Anonymous said...

While I have admiration for Paul and his accomplishments, the percussion instrument that he claims to have invented very much resembles a 'Cajon'... see Wikipedia article atón.