Conundrum

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2019

For those following along, we’ve been discussing here why musicians do what they do, even at the age of 80 and beyond.  Thank you all for your insights and personal reasons for continuing the rock star struggle.  I’ve concluded, after more soul searching and input from my fellow pals in musicianhood, that the reason we still do it, in essence… is a conundrum.  It’s vexing.  It’s like an April Fool’s joke that never ends.

But the best reason I heard was: “We do it because we can, and we’d miss it if we didn’t.”  That’s the ticket!

If we stopped, we wouldn’t feel alive.  We’d look with ferocious jealousy upon the band playing in the bar we used to play at.  We’d beg for a slot at karaoke nights.  We’d religiously attend open mics, get there early to get our name on the list, for three minutes of shining.

We’re not like normal people.  We can’t just go to work every day and come home and cook a nice salmon filet on the grill and do it all over again tomorrow.  We want more.  We have something to say, lyrically or musically, and this is the only way we can figure out how to say it without being berated and dejected on Facebook.  Music is its own language.

We’re not going quietly into that dark night.  To continue on, we buy lighter weight equipment.  We book earlier and shorter gigs.  We try to stay in shape so we don’t fall down on stage.  It’s human nature, you see?  We fight to survive, aim to hold on to things that matter, to achieve, to be all we can be, no matter what it takes, even if it kills us.  We do what is required to fulfill our desires and to not have that Stepford Wife look in our eyes, trolling through our days.  We do not want to live a life of quiet desperation.

In a music store the other day I witnessed a guy blissfully shredding on a sunburst Tele flawlessly executing everything from Dire Straits, to Lindsey Buckingham to Duane Allman to Lynyrd Skynyrd and beyond.  He’s not in a band.  And I wanted to just simply cry 96 tears.  I had to sit there and take it, reveling in the glory of his talent, in solitude.

It’s hard work, staying in a band and performing and putting up with all sorts of atrocities.  But we’re following our dream – even if it most likely leads to nowhere.  This is why we still do it.  So, get off your cell phones and stop talking during our shows!  Peace out.

 

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Why Do We STILL Do It

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2019

Three years ago, in this very blog, I asked the rhetorical question of we musicians – Why Do We Do It?  If we never made it as a rock star by now, what on earth was the point in continuing the charade?  Why continue to put up with the empty clubs, the lugging, loading, maintaining of equipment, the late nights, the back aches, the sore throats, the bloody fingers, the ridicule, the blame game between club owner and band, the in-fighting, the drama.  For a few dollars and a couple hand claps.

Back then, I received replies from songwriters, garage bands, bedroom players, cover bands, young ones, old ones, nobodies, wannabes and people making a darn good enough living with music.

The WHY we do it is simple.  We were put on this earth for it and we can’t deny it.

The why we STILL do it remains a bit more complicated.

Recently, a guy told me, “At 30 years old, I gave up.  Why would I continue to pretend to be a rock star on stage for two hours when I’m absolutely never going to be?”  Then I talked to a 60-year old who said, “I still do it because I’m simply not done yet.”  Then I tried to understand why the 80-year old the other night heaved a massive piano with 80 weighted keys into a venue for his weekly gig.  I didn’t get to talk to him; he started jamming with his band mates right away.  80 years old?  Really?

Is it STILL in the hopes of having a Lady Gaga Bradley Cooper moment at the Oscars?  Still thinking there might be a chance to rock arenas like Freddie Mercury?  Because having a steady gig with your buddies in your 80s will always be better than watching Jeopardy on the couch, in your 80s?  We like living in vans and never warmed to kitchens and baths?

Personally, I am still struggling to find the answer to the question:  Why STILL?

I guess it’s like at the end of that movie “Contact” when Jodie Foster is talking to kids pointing her satellite to the Heavens wondering if “it’s just us” in the Universe, and she says, “As long as you keep looking for your own answers…”

And so on we go.

What’s in a Name

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2019

Every morning when I wake up, before clapping my hands together and jumping out, I lay in bed and think about things…things I have to do that day, things I don’t want to do that day, things I’m dreading that day, and maybe a thing or two I’m looking forward to that day.  Or sometimes I have a melody in my head and I play with lyrics, think about verses and choruses and possible bridges, all of course to prolong the actual act of clapping my hands together and jumping out.

Or I lay there thinking about why I just had a dream about a coyote at my window who’s got a face like one of those monkeys from the Wizard of Oz and he’s just looking at me, daring me to get up and go outside, when I realize that the reason I woke up in the first place was because I heard a pack of coyotes howling in the distance.

And sometimes I lay there thinking I better hurry up and get up before everybody else so I can have some peace and get things done.  Not like that time my daughter was four or five and she got up early and I was kind of upset about it.  Out of the mouths of babes, she cried, “Mommy… you’re acting like you don’t want me to be awake!”  Ugh! Horrible Mothering 101 right there.

Anyways, on this particular morning, as I lay here, I am thinking about the actual act of laying here and pondering what on earth could have ever possessed a band to name themselves the worst band name that ever was and ever shall be.  Picking a name for your band, though hard work and an agonizing back and forth on the prospects of marketability, name recognition, logo building, memorability and so forth, I think any of us could have done better naming their band than the one I’m going to tell you about.

I understand teenage angst, anger at the atrocities of the world and the unique opportunity musicians have to make political and socially conscious points.  But my god, some band names really do have to go.

The band name I speak of is the catchy, depressing, unforgettable I suppose:  “AS I LAY DYING.”  Yes, the heavy metal band named themselves after the 1930 novel by William Faulkner of the same name.  Though a critically acclaimed book and the dude eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the band itself has a Grammy nomination under their belt, this band name has always particularly bothered me.  I mean, to each his own and whatnot, but please, why so depressing?  Music is life.  Music is joy.  Come on man!  In my humble opinion, some of the best band names out there are clever, have special meaning to the band members, or refer to an abstract concept the band members believe in, or give homage to a special location in their lives, or is an artful combination of their own names, and so on.  But please, I know the heavy metal genre is all about kicking butt and such, and this band’s name has obviously worked out for them, but really, I just don’t like it!

Every morning we have a choice I guess – lay there thinking about good things and actually getting up, or lay there dying, or lay there thinking about band names so you can write a column for a music magazine.  Or lay there thinking about coyotes with monkey faces.  The choice is ours.  Now, time to clap my hands.

 

Out of the Closet

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2019

It has come to my attention, because due to certain circumstances I have been forced to actually pay attention to people – listening to what they are saying – casually observing them – caring about them – instead of worrying about my dogs all the time, that there are a boatload of closet musicians out there.  You know, dudes who only play in basements or their bedrooms – some even with other closet musicians.  It’s like a secret society of maestros and geniuses who don’t play in bands, don’t play in bars, and basically just shy away from spotlights all together.  They timidly ask to try out a guitar in a music store and proceed to shred like some reincarnation of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Hendrix, in their own world, with pure joy on their faces, while the rest of us struggle to not keep our mouths agape at what we are seeing and hearing.  Screams from onlookers ranging from “Oh My God!” to “Who are you?” to “What the heck are you doing in a dump like this?” ensue.  I have just been informed that some of these people actually change their guitar strings, repair their amps and polish and preen their instruments just to get together with other like-minded folk – FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER than to play in the same key with others.  It’s like those guys at the end of “Titanic” who continue playing while the waters rise around them and the leader calmly states, “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight.”

Yes, these people exist.  And there are a lot of them.  Any attempt by me or anybody else to urge them to share their awesomeness in a public venue is answered with various apprehensive responses such as, “Oh no, I couldn’t play like this in public,” or, “I don’t like the bar scene,” or, “That’s not why I play.”  What the heck is wrong with these people?!  It’s sort of like how Heaven’s got one hell of a band, but it’s right here on earth, in somebody’s old broken-down barn.

And then there’s me – complaining complaining complaining about band practice, the drudgery of the load-in and the load-out, the blank stares from the audience, the pains and pitfalls of booking gigs, the haggling over money, song choices, writers’ block, band drama, and so on and so on and so on.  Where’s the joy?  Where did it go?  Am I doing it all wrong?  Why can’t I bottle up that joy oozing from those guys’ faces and have it emanate in a performance setting?  What the heck is wrong with me?!

Maybe the closet people really do have it all figured out, and I just don’t yet.  Maybe it’s because I don’t say enough – “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight.”

Okay, I’ve said it.  Whew! I feel better already!  So, rock on people (wherever you’re hiding.)

Picture of Fantastic Old Wardrobe Closet Fashioned Cedar Wooden | Unicareplus Old Wardrobe Closet

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

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.”

loveactually

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

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!