Music, Actually

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2018

The time is nigh for Christmas movies.  Love ’em or hate ’em, some just stick.  For me, it’s that crazy, multiple story-line, mish-mash of wonder:  “Love, Actually.”  It’s about a broken-down, dried-up, down-hearted ex-rockstar trying to make a comeback with a cover of the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around,” brilliantly played by that British dude Bill Nighy.  It’s about lots of other things too, but for me, it’s all about the soundtrack.

From the pop-up musicians at the church wedding doing “All You Need is Love,” to Norah Jones’ “Turn Me On,” to “Wherever You Will Go” as the English guy hooks up with the girls in the bar in Wisconsin, to Dido’s “Here With Me” (I can’t breathe) playing when the guy walks out of his apartment yanking his sweater zipper up, to the British Prime Minister running around 10 Downing Street to “Jump For My Love,” to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” to “Kelly Clarkson’s “The Trouble with Love Is,” to Eva Cassidy’s version of “Songbird,” and then  the wrap-up “God Only Knows” at Heathrow Airport.

This is what dream soundtracks are made of people.  The movie should have been called “Music, Actually.”

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It’s about the music.  Everything is about music.  It’s a proven fact (in my book anyway!)  According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), Nick Angel was the music supervisor for the movie… apropos.  Cheers to that dude for sure.

At a gig the other night, with a festive crowd and festive lights and festive drinks, and even a Christmas tree on stage, I proudly and rather emphatically said over the mic:  “We are working on Christmas songs.  They won’t be ready until after the new year.”  Enough said!

Who needs Christmas music when there’s so much REAL music?  So, I say:  Enjoy the holidays.  And you don’t have to play that….other stuff…. just so ya know.  Good times can still be had by all.

Cheers and Happy Holidays to one and all!

I wrote a book about this stuff!  “They Made Me Play a Polka” is available here:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1725534584/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

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Hoodwinked!

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2018

Ever been swindled?  Tricked?  Played the fool?  Are you the person who gets sucked into taking in the stray cat, and then the cat costs you $400 for meds?  Do you go on dozens of job interviews, finally get the job you’ve always wanted, and then find out your boss is a jerk?  Or, spend months auditioning a new member for your band, finally decide on one, and then find out the guy’s got stage freight and can’t move a muscle when it’s show time?

Little things like this happen to us all the time.  I think the purpose of getting tricked and swindled is so the universe can teach us lessons we’ll never forget.  So, like what The Who says, “I won’t get fooled again.”  Of course some us choose not to take the little lessons to heart and keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and that’s fine, they make good stories.

Here’s one.

At a recent acoustic gig apparently I was hustled, without even knowing it, but that’s the point I guess.  A nice gentleman approached me and said he had a specialty guitar with him and would love to play it for the owners of the venue because they’d been waiting to hear it.  Poor little innocent me said sure you can play it on my break.  Break time came and he again approached me this time with an ordinary, beat up looking six-string.  He said, “I’m going to start with the six-string, and can you adjust the mic stand up a bit?  I sing better when I’m standing.”

Taken aback and slightly confused I said, “Oh you’re singing too?  Where’s the other guitar?  What is this?  Who are you?”

Then as if on cue, the bartender started yelling all sorts of things at the guy ranging from “You lied to us!  You’re not friends with her!”  To, “Get outa my bar!”

I guess the guy had been trying to hustle his way onto stage for the past week, and was just about there, until the jig was up.  With me.

Truth be told, I am a sucker when it comes to people wanting to sit in or play a song or two during my shows.   It’s called “playing nice” and “having a fellowship” and being part of a “musical community.”  It gives me a break and gives someone else a chance to show what they can do, preferably in front of the venue owner.  Usually, I know the person and can vouch for their musicianship and character.  I have never had a problem with this and happy to do it, as most of us musicians are.

But silly me, no longer a young grasshopper but obviously hadn’t been taught good enough lessons yet, I wasn’t prepared for such an onslaught.  The obvious hadn’t sunk in, such as, “DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS!” or “DON’T LET PEOPLE ON STAGE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE IN YOUR LIFE,” or worst yet, “DON’T LET WEIRD GUYS IN BARS TAKE OVER YOUR SOUND SYSTEM,” that sort of thing.

As I retold the story outside the bar on my break to anyone who would listen, a girl with long brown hair and fiery eyes simply said, “You were HOODWINKED!” and she winked.  How cute.

I do like the word though.

On a side note, Happy Thanksgiving!  Remember you are what you eat.

I wrote a book about this stuff!  “They Made Me Play a Polka” is available here:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1725534584/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

To the Bitter End

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2018

Some of us, as we grow older, tend to get a little bitter.  Things haven’t gone according to plan.  Life gets in the way, as it were.  Luck isn’t on our side.  The washing machine breaks along with the brakes in the car.  Our youngest child is addicted to video games and we can’t get him off his computer.  Our millennial children won’t move out of our basements.  Mice keep hanging around and leaving their droppings around the kitchen stove even though we have strategically placed the same dependable mouse traps where they roam and have, in the past, (humanely) succeeded in catching the rodents.  But just like that ingenious Tom and Jerry cartoon, they keep on skirting the devices, toying with us, and running around the kitchen like THEY are paying the rent or something!  And we still can’t master the art of folding a fitted sheet.  That sort of thing.  We become…. cantankerous.  Grumpy Old Men.  Mean Old Hags.

And that’s just normal people.  Don’t even get me started on musicians who get bitter tastes in their mouths because of all the stuff they have to put up with mainly because they never made it in the biz.

OK, I’ll start.

For starters, why does our tried, true and trusty gear get so freakin’ heavy?  We’re pretty sure it weighed the same when we bought it five years ago, but what has happened?  Has some magical bar dust accumulated in it weighing it down?  Have our speaker tripods mysteriously gotten higher?  Did somebody spill a liter of vodka into the speaker horn?  Have the bones in our hands simply whittled away making us incapable of lifting a darn thing?  Did we wash too many dishes perhaps?  Folded too much laundry?  And what’s with the nagging back pain in the middle of a gig?  We’re doing yoga and meditating and taking probiotics and wearing Solonpas and doing awkward stretches during sound check and stuff, so why do we just want to sit the frick down?  Have we vacuumed one too many times?  And what’s with all the yawning?  They say it’s contagious so if the guitar player yawns, then the bass player yawns and God forbid then the drummer yawns, and so therefore the tempos get slower, and so every song just drags on and drags on, and we’re all screwed.  We just want to go to bed!  Not with each other but just like, by ourselves, with our jammies from TJ Maxx, by like, 9 pm!  (that’s even before Jimmy Fallon gosh darn it, and he’s just so awesome cuz he sings and plays drinking games and stuff.)  And why oh why do we have to dress up like nasty nurses and Freddie Krueger and Michael Myers for gigs in October????  What the f has happened here?

Well I’ll tell ya.  There are two sides to every story so they say.  So here’s the flip side.

First of all, dressing up for Halloween is kind of fun, whether you have to do a gig as a band in costume or not.  You can be anything you want. For example, if you’ve always wanted to be a rock star, you can simply dress like one!  Want to be Lady Gaga pre-“A Star is Born” – do it!  Cher before she pre-retired?  Do it! School-girl Britney Spears?  Do it!  Ozzy Osborne eating a rat?  Do it?

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Second, yeah the speakers and stuff keep getting heavier, but it’s kind of like lifting weights every night, which is better than spending your tip jar money on joining a gym and signing mafia-like contracts in order to lift said weights so you can gaze at single millennials who don’t know what they’re in for!  It’s a workout – for the soul!

Third, the tiredness at gigs could very well be our song choices.  Draggy songs lend themselves to draggy performances!  If you purposefully keep the pace up, by the end of the night, if the crowd is with ya, you’ll feel on top of the world with enough energy to watch Jimmy Fallon AND watch James Corden do karaoke with Paul McCartney and that’s all that matters!  (It doesn’t count if you watch it the next day on YouTube.)

Fourth, to combat back pain, lift with your knees!  Everybody knows that!

So finally, in this poor poor pitiful woe is us column, we are not going away.  We are here to the bitter end.  Stick with us, and we’ll stick with you.  Happy Halloween!

 

Back to School

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine September 2018

You’re never too old to learn something new, especially when it comes to music.  Music is like this vast, unbridled, unchartered universal thing that never stops giving.  Somebody’s always finding new ones to make it.  Third world countries make musical instruments out of the remnants of garbage; year 2018 music can sound like it’s 1960 and 2018 at the same time, that sort of thing.  Sometimes I have to learn fancy new things on my guitar because my guitar player can’t make a show – the tricky little beginning to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon”; the snazzy fingering to “Can’t Find My Way Home”; or the upper neck greatness of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.”  I never stop learning.

As a new school year is beginning and as I patiently wait behind school busses on my morning and afternoon commutes, and there are school supplies everywhere even at gas stations, I am reminded of 9th grade.

For some unbeknownst reason, I received straight As in school – except for Science class, that is. I just didn’t get most of that stuff. I paid zero attention in Science class and did not listen whatsoever. It may have had something to do with the fact that in ninth grade, Science class was first thing Monday morning, and the only thing on our minds at the time was Saturday Night Live from the weekend. SNL was everything to us. This was the Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, and Bill Murray days. These were the “Jane, you ignorant sl*t” and “Roseanne Rosannadanna” days. We sat in the back of class and instead of greeting each other, someone would pick a character’s line from Saturday night’s show, then somebody else would chime in with a response, and then somebody else would chime in, until somebody else moved onto another sketch. When it was time to pay attention, we would just whisper the parts to each other, completely dying of laughter and holding our stomachs, hiding behind our notebooks and unused science books. Nothing – no dead frogs or periodic tables or theories of evolution – could get in the way of our recaps of SNL.

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We were the kids who would go to McDonald’s and order a “cheeburger cheeburger cheeburger.” The poor teenage boy behind the counter who had to work every Saturday night would say, “So that’s three cheeseburgers?” and we would just laugh and laugh. We’d walk around saying things like, “I’m Sue Menhart and you’re not” and somebody would fall over a table like Chevy Chase. We were all “wild and craaaazy guys” who wanted to visit Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood. We would roll our eyes at the insanity of everyday life and science labs and stupid studying and thought life should be just one big never-ending hilarious improv. We were laissez-faire I tell ya.

I had secretly hoped to one day be the musical guest on SNL who would also be the host, who would blow the entire world’s mind (especially my former classmates’.)  This hasn’t happened yet, but I remain forever hopeful, especially since it hasn’t been canceled yet! I recently devoured Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” and Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” and while both are well-written, it pains me to no end that they got to do all that stuff on SNL that I was supposed to do. The difference is of course, they worked for it, planned for it, and are actual comedians. I’m just a singer in a band who likes SNL.

Most musical performances on SNL are epic – whether for their greatness or failure – Ashlee Simpson’s lip syncing debacle to mind, but also Miley Cyrus’s first performance changed my mind completely about her.  Sometimes at my gigs, a guy from Science class will slither up to the stage and whisper, “Hi. I’m Fred Garvin. Male Prostitute” and I always pee my pants, and go on with my show in my little venue in my little town, with not the famous SNL band behind me, just me and the boys.

The point is, all teachers are saints for putting up with any of us and our aspirations and non-attention spans.  And don’t even get me started on music teachers – mega saints they are!

And don’t pass school busses with their stop signs out – Jeez!

Keep on Rollin’

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine August 2018

When I was 16-years old, my band and I opened for REO Speedwagon on the back of a flatbed truck at the Groton Submarine Base here in Connecticut for the annual “Subfest.”

Yeah, I just said that.

When I was 16-years old, my band and I opened for REO Speedwagon.

I was reminded of this fact while cranking local radio station 102.3 The Wolf on my way to my “don’t quit your day job” day job when the DJ played “Roll With The Changes.”  The instantly recognizable arpeggio piano intro, the kickoff sliding guitar chord charging down the fret of the neck with sweet abandon to join the rest of the backing chords and on to Kevin Cronin’s iconic vocal: “As soon as you are able, woman I am willing…” transported me right back to that flatbed truck.

In my car, I was struck by the brilliant simplicity of the song, the pure joy of the major chords, the understated guitar solo, the elementary organ, the repetitiveness of the lyric “Keep on Rollin’, Keep on Rollin’, ooh ooh.”

Plain and simple rock and roll.  Ahhh, the good ole days.

The flatbed truck gig itself must have been a last-minute thing because I can find no official poster regarding this or a tour history entry on the Internet but the guys in my former band tell me it’s a true fact, so I guess I kind of believe them.  Guys in bands don’t tell lies.

I do know this – at the time, I could care less who else was going to be on that flatbed truck, I only cared about how the heck I was going to entertain a field full of drunken sailors, because, Oh – What To Do?  This was their day.  It was kind of like a Bob Hope kind of thing.  They could get as drunk as they wanted at Subfest. THAT’S A TRUE FACT.

Honestly, we were just happy to have a gig, with a real sound system and everything.  There’s a recording of me sounding all mousy like a little baby and stuff, with boatloads of sailors screaming and yelling.  This is classic stuff here people.

The call to arms in the form of the lyric “roll with the changes” further piqued my interest in my mundane morning drive to incessant stagnancy.  I realized that this song in a sense could stand as a metaphor for the music industry today.  I pondered how a simple song like this is still being created in the year 2018 except nowadays the simplicity is masked in “beats” and “samples” and “collabs.”   These purposeful compositions inevitably have the best chance of becoming “hits.”  They’re the ones most likely to be cranked in cars by people going to their day jobs.

Most of the simply great 80s bands like REO Speedwagon fizzled out into obscurity, until they figured out how to “roll with the changes,” that is.   For example, you can catch many of them joining forces on multi-band mega tours (think Styx/Journey/Def Leppard).  They’ve adapted.  They’ve rolled with it.

Besides the obvious change to the digital age of streaming and practically every musician having a home recording studio making available content leap from millions of song choices to billions, some of the changes I see around here, in live music specifically are:  There’s a bar that wasn’t built as a bar, but used to be a gas station, but now it’s a bar, and they open the bays for “windows.”  They have live music.  Vineyards out in the quiet countryside among acres of grapevines have live music.  Tiny art museums with barely enough room for hanging multitudes of original local creations have live music.  Etc.  Etc.

The smart, adaptable, and flexible musicians among us are finding these unique venues and booking themselves, or, and as I suspect, they are talking the owners into having live music, which is just fantastic!

Let’s keep it rolling people – imagine if we don’t???  We got this!

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Boys of Summer

I can’t tell you how much I love the Beach Boys.  Not the boys themselves, but the notion of them, the thought of them, the aura of them, the smell of Tropicana.  They were my first concert at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT a number (!) of years ago.  I learned harmonies from them, and all kinds of other things from them that I could write a book about.   It’s just like when you love a band so much you can’t put your finger on it why.  So anyhow, that’s why I wrote a song about Brian Wilson.  Well, we all did in the basement one night because we were trying to get the bass player to go low enough on a different song, just like the cello in Good Vibrations, and it just spiraled from there.

This is how songs happen people.

So anyhow, we wrote this song about Brian Wilson (from the Beach Boys!) and it’s quite silly, and it’s on our latest album.  I’ve had this outlandish idea about doing a music video on a beach for this song.  It’s called Party on the Beach.

Getting people together to do a music video, when it’s for your band and everything, is pretty much close to impossible but some of us, we still try.  So anyways, there’s been this elaborate plan to shoot a music video, somewhere on a beach in Southeastern Connecticut, maybe at Eastern Point or something, but the logistics involved, the red tape, the permissions, the licenses, and coordination of schedules is so overwhelming, that just like most things in life, I’ve said, “Ah screw it.  What does it matter?”

But alas!  I am an optimist!  Forever hopeful!  There is this slim shiver of hope that a music video will indeed be shot, for no apparent financial or artistic gain, in the coming weeks (and I mean that, summer is short ’round here people) at a beach nereby.  Get in touch if you want in on the fun.  Salut!

Summertime Blues

Sometimes I want desperately to cancel gigs, but my darn work ethic and guilt get in the way. I like BOOKING gigs, because they make me feel wanted, and make my band calendar look full, but I don’t always like actually DOING them all. For example, outdoor concerts sound like so much fun, sort of like Woodstock, but when it’s 100 degrees and humid in the Northeast, people just get cranky, and no one can be more cranky in the heat, than me. Loading and setting up equipment ain’t no picnic in the heat. Sweat rolling off your face onto your electric guitar is just not cool, and rather dangerous.  Constantly smacking mosquitoes off your skin can really ruin a groove.

We did this outdoor festival once in New London, Connecticut and it was hot, sticky, and breezy.  Three things my hair don’t like.  I was holding my guitar, singing into the microphone, and my hair thought it would be great fun to stick to my face and clump up right into my mouth.  If I tried to whack my hair away I’d have to let go of the guitar, miss the next chord, and screw up the band, because I was the leader and everything.

I started complaining over the mic, because I’m not a leader, I’m actually a big fat baby.

“I would kill for a hair tie right now!” I sort of yelled into the mic.

A woman flicked me a hair tie (well, shot it at me.)  I tied up my hair.  The wind blew.  There went my hair into my mouth again.

“This just isn’t working,” I said even louder into the mic.

By now I was making everybody feel sorry for me, and it was as pitiful as it sounds.  The audience was there to be entertained and have fun, not deal with my hair issues!  So then this nice guy motioned that he wanted to throw me a hat, because obviously everybody in the front row had had enough of my whining.

He threw me the hat, I missed it, and it fell ten feet below me into the mosh pit, which was gated so it really wasn’t a mosh pit it was more like a barrier in front of the stage.  You know, because we were so famous and everything.  So the hat laid there on the ground until a security guard, taking extreme pity on me, picked it up and put it in my hand.  I placed it on my head.  Hair thing finally solved.

But by now everybody secretly hated me and thought I was ridiculous.  That was the vibe.  We feel these things, really we do.  Our set mercifully came to an end.

Stupidly, I motioned to the hat guy and asked him if he wanted his hat back.  I whipped the hat at him like a frisbee.  He missed it so he leaned over the barrier gate to grab it.  His sunglasses fell off his head and broke into a million pieces.

The crowed let out a huge BOOM – “Oh…..No…..” like it was the worst thing that could ever happen on the planet.  Knowing I’m about to have a really stupid riot on my hands, I took off my own sunglasses and motioned for him to catch them.  And easy as pie, he caught them, in the hat, and the crowd cheered louder than they did for any song we did in the previous hour.

I was out the sunglasses, the hat, and the hair tie had already blown away into Long Island Sound.  HOT SUMMER GIGS AIN’T WHAT THEY’RE HYPED UP TO BE.

As I sit here now, I want desperately to cancel an outdoor gig because I’m sweating just typing this.  But I won’t, because summer gigs are what we live for.  YEAH RIGHT!