Noise

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine June 2017

From out on my back deck in the woods of Stonington, CT I hear all kinds of noise.  Tractor trailer truck tires hitting the highway’s shoulder rivets, dirt bikes whirling the grounds of a backyard, Ninja motorcycles racing for a thrill, various yelps and squeals from the woods which could be a deer giving birth or a human working an electric saw for a tree house.   An 8-year old kid learning the saxophone, coyotes fighting, the boom of a fireworks finale, my dog whimpering in the closet, weed whackers and water cannonballs from a nearby pool.  A camera drone, a piper twin, a generator during a power outage.

I can deal with all these noises.  But one I cannot fathom, or accept, is the thunder of a suicide bomb inside a concert venue.  Or, the sound of my 22-year old daughter who has already attended over 50 concerts, telling me she’s afraid to go to concerts now.

STOP THIS NOISE.

My first concert was The Beach Boys at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, CT.  Everybody remembers their first concert.  I plan to go see Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds tour at Foxwoods Resort Casino in September to make it all come full circle.  Concerts are sacred things.  When I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert for the first time, it changed my life.  (This happens to a lot of people.)  The hope – the joy – the energy – the feeling you get that life is worth living, worth celebrating, worth screaming at the top of your lungs for.  That’s what concerts are for.

BUT NOT THIS.

We simply cannot let them win.

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Rockin’ in the Natural World

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2017

Creative people put up with a lot of stuff trying to create.  From interruptions, to computer problems to writer’s block, it’s a wonder we get anything done at all.  But come springtime, when the natural world arouses from beneath whatever rock it was under, it’s nearly impossible to focus.  Birds and bees and ants and all the weeds you forgot about last fall are constant distractions.  But it’s actually much worse than that.

For me, it all starts when the pond at my home in Stonington, Connecticut defrosts and a couple of marlins show up.  One with a pretty green head and one with brown.  Having seen this sort of thing before, I know what they’re up to.  Before you know it, they’ve got three or four little versions of themselves.  They all paddle back and forth… back and forth… all hours of the day and night, like they’ve got nothing better to do.  It snowballs from there.

Then the Canadian geese arrive, like the pond is some sort of hotel or something.  Their incessant squawking and prancing around doing their business everywhere detracts from my more important art I tell ya.  Go back to Canada!  And heaven forbid I dare look out the window to see what they’re up to.  Oh look it’s a blue heron bothering them, blah blah blah.  Then I’m further distracted by Maggie the Magnolia tree with her huge pink and white flowers making a mess of the place and playing house with all the “oh look how cute I am” fowl including but not limited to:  tanagers, sparrows, purple martins, goldfinches, wood thrushes, yellowthroats, meadowlarks, Carolina wrens, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, yellow warblers, quail and the stupid family of doves that comes back every year thinking they own the place.  Aren’t there plenty of other trees to choose from?  Don’t you have things you are supposed to be doing, like in Florida or something?  I did not authorize the filming of some cutesy Alfred Hitchcock movie!  Then the hawks gather by the dozens hawkin’ up a storm and it’s a REAL Hitchcock movie. Please lower your voices, some people are trying to think around here.

Oh but it gets much worse around that bordello of a pond (which is actually a man-made hole filled with water, but whatever.)  You see in May, the bullfrogs come to town, or rise from the mucky depths as it were, for their big dance.  These bellowing and bawling creatures of green slimy crud are so freakin’ loud even with the windows shut and air conditioners blaring it’s just impossible to think. AND THEY DON’T CARE WHAT TIME IT IS.  I’m trying to work here!

And don’t even get me started on the dogs.  Because they don’t have to slip and slide their way down the icy back steps they think it’s just fine to want to go out and come in, go out and come in, get a treat, wonder off, making me constantly have to check on them because of the coyotes, wolves, foxes, mountain lions and bears.  Dogs!

So one year I had this grand idea to get away from all the commotion of this den of inequity and went on vacation “to create” up at Squam Lake in New Hampshire.  I brought an assortment of notebooks, pens, pencils, and my guitar.  I imagined myself immersed in creativity and would be like Thompson or Hemingway penning the days away, and into the night, and then I would return home with a slew of songs I couldn’t possibly whittle down to an album.

Wrong.

First of all, Squam Lake is where that Katherine Hepburn/Henry Fonda movie “On Golden Pond” was filmed.  Yes, it’s golden, yes it’s peaceful, yes it’s romantic, and yes you can get in some pretty good fishing.  Much had been made of my first introduction to the beloved, sacred, highly regarded, Kings and Queens of the Lake – the loons.  My vacationing friends were all abuzz about it.  It would be a religious experience they told me.  Well let me tell you – THEY DO NOT SHUT UP!  I’m talking about the birds, not the other wackos on the lake. Their constant whining and crying and hootin’ and hollerin’ all hours of the day and night – Geez!  “Give it a rest!” I would scream.  How was I supposed to create under these horrendous conditions!

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So, as to be expected, I drank alcohol in an attempt to block out the darn things and to fit in with the other vacationers.  Somebody said, could have been Hemingway I don’t know, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”  So that’s what I did.   There must be some sort of art to drinking and writing because my resulting prose was indecipherable!  It was the worst combination of cursive and block lettering you have ever seen.  And using a computer didn’t help.  The gobbly goop typed in those documents actually shut down my spell checker.  A message came across the screen: “Are you sure you’re writing in English?  Would you like to change languages?”  The next morning, following the rules to edit sober, I dutifully opened the notebooks or computer and began to edit.

Didn’t have a clue what I had written, why I had written it, or have any semblance of the melody lines or intended key.  What a freakin’ loony disaster.  I came back home with a bit fat nothin’.

So here I sit once again, staring out the window onto that house of ill repute, at the turtles multiplying by the day, sunning themselves on the mossy banks, observing the snapping turtles leisurely making their way to the high grass to drop a goodie, and I ponder things.  I guess there are worse things to look at rather than my scribblings or computer screen.

Oh and Ode to Joy – here come the lawn mowers.

Big City Giggin’

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2017

I haven’t lived an extraordinary life. I haven’t survived horrific abuse or imprisonment, haven’t fought for democracy in any foreign wars, and haven’t saved the life of anybody. I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve never been homeless, mentally unstable, starving or unemployed.

But the one thing that has plagued my existence, worse than all these calamities combined, is that I have always fervently believed I would make it in the music business, since I was eight years old.

It was a given, I thought. I could sing in front of a mirror with a hairbrush, on key, A Capella and everything. I wasn’t put on this earth to save the world. I was born to be a rock star. I was the real deal the world had been waiting for.

Because of my eventual awesomeness, I would have the fame, the fortune, the freedom from the day job, and all the freshest salads and pre-cut fruit I could handle. But most importantly, I would have someone to change my guitar strings. This dreadful and sometimes deadly activity should be reserved only for people like my Dad who build antique miniature wooden boats with tiny little sails and rigging with cleverly painted cursive names like Oh Suzanna. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been whacked in the face with an errant high E string, or cut my fingers, or worse still – wrapped the tiny steal devils around the machine heads on the headstock the wrong way and had to start all over again.

Because I most certainly was destined to be a star, I also never learned how to change a flat tire, clean the floors, or get diesel stains out of workpants. Someone else would clearly be doing that stuff for me.

Things haven’t worked out, obviously. I wouldn’t have to write this monthly column and tell you about my monumental failure in judgment if they had. I would be saving the world instead, just like Bono and Springsteen.

After decades of trying, it finally became abundantly clear to me that I most certainly would never be “discovered.” I would never play the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, or Bonnaroo, or one of those fancy blues cruises. The epiphany happened one night in New York City, somewhere between SoHo and Little Italy.

My band and I had finally secured a gig in New York City at a prestigious club for original bands. My drummer and I arrived around twelve in the afternoon to check the place out. As expected, the stage was wicked small, the sound system was ancient, but the twelve dollar burgers were quite good. We headed back to our hotel and waited for the other guys. The guitar player picked us up and drove us in a harrowing cab-ride-like thrill adventure back to the club and we piled in. The place was jam-packed with young professional drunk New Yorkers. We were told to wait our turn (3 hours from our arrival time.) It was the dead of winter so we elected to wait inside, where there were five seats total. They were taken. So we waited our turn in the corner, with our coats and guitars and chords and water bottles. A lot of bars and restaurants in New York are longer than they are wide, so we were squeezed in behind some not-so-artfully placed poles, amid the hipsters, right by the bathroom. At 9:30 p.m., I used the last two squares of toilet paper in the one-stall unisex closet.

Tip: When doing a gig in New York City, you should always carry your own roll of toilet paper.

So I held the door open for the next customer and yelled, “There’s no more toilet paper!”

“Oh, I’ll survive,” the confident 20-something brunette simply stated. At 1 a.m. the toilet paper had still not been restocked. New Yorkers are incredibly innovative, super resilient, or just plain dirty.

So we waited our turn…waited, waited, waited. The band on stage, consisting of three females and three males (I think I have the gender right) wearing various expertly planned outfits of mismatched plaids and stripes, played an hour and a half over their half-hour time slot while the crowd screamed along to the songs.

We waited in the corner, with no toilet paper. Unforgettable tunes such as, “I Wanna Have a Three-Some,” and “I Want Your Boyfriend,” and the crowd favorite – “F U, F U,” rose to deafening decibels. They finally finished with a punk version of the Muppets’ “Rainbow Connection,” the bar emptied out, and we were on.

So it was hurry up and set up and hurry up and play five songs, so the next band that came in from Washington, D.C. could hurry up and set up and hurry up and play. We played our five songs to the empty bar and collected our thick pay envelope of sixteen one dollar bills. We were paid a percentage of the bar sales that occurred during our set, and apparently a couple people had a couple shots. So between the train ride from Connecticut, the burgers, water bottles, parking, and the hotel, I was down, oh, about $500.

The drummer and I proceeded to hit up a few Irish pubs, drank, danced on bar tops, and put down, another $400.

So you see, it’s just not economically feasible, or hygienic, to EVER make it in the music business.

Besides, I don’t have the guts to say F U over the mic.

Get Outa Town!

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2017

When you get nice and comfortable with your musical act and have a substantial fan base filling up the bar stools at your gigs, you mistakenly believe that these fans will be your fans forever. Here’s how it works when you’re a “bar” musician. Single people go out to meet people and maybe by chance your band is playing where people go to meet people. But once single people meet another single person they’d rather hang out with doing other things, they eventually stop going to bars. Two empty bar stools. Couples you manage to get and keep as fans eventually get married, have kids, and can’t get babysitters, so they don’t come anymore either.   Two more empty bar stools. Even if Bruce Springsteen was playing in my town every weekend I still wouldn’t want to go see him every weekend. I could be out of money, or sick, or taking care of someone who’s sick, or sick of his songs. So, your fan base is always changing, in other words, is always diminishing. I believe the solution to this unavoidable calamity is to get yourself outa town in order to reach out to new people who a) have never seen you before so you’re kind of like a novelty, b) they haven’t hooked up with anybody yet so they actually still go to bars and c) to keep your sanity and belief in what you are doing. Playing in new towns is like getting a new Barbie camper – with so many new landscapes to explore. I can re-use my outfits and meet so many new Barbies and Kens.

One of my favorite regions to play is down South in Georgia and South Carolina. I take an earned vacation from my day job and use it as an excuse to play gigs down there. What’s cool about down South is, they think because I’m from the North, that I must be some cool New Yorker with a cool accent, when in actuality, I’m just a bored New Englander who really just needed to get outa town because the bar stools are empty at my gigs.

I played this bar in Lexington, South Carolina which is the only bar for 50 miles. You would think on a Tuesday night that the crowds would be rather light. Not so! The owner asked me to start early, and play later. Ya’ll dig? The owner said, “Ya’ll let me know when you’re gonna be ‘round these parts agin, ya hear?” Easy money right there.

I played a bar in Georgia where it was all about the tip jar. Because I was from the North, people thought I drove all the way down there just to play that bar, so they were quite generous. We called it the “Love Bucket,” and man oh man, did they fill it. Two nights in a row I made enough money in that jar to pay for the whole trip. One elderly gentleman in a worn-out cowboy hat said, “I’ll done give ya one hundred dollers if you play me some Johnny Cash.” I happily obliged.

I went on vacation one year to Madeira, Portugal and met some nice musical people who even invited me up on stage to jam. It was disconcerting that they could sing in English and I couldn’t sing in Portuguese or do any of that Fado stuff, but they seemed to be OK with it. Through Facebook, we arranged an actual gig together for the following year when I would return to Madeira.

The night arrived, I was in town, and I was drinking heavily with my friends. The island of Madeira is an ancient, secluded place where kings and diplomats and sheiks hang out to let loose. Nestled in the North Atlantic near the Canary Islands, it rises up like one big mountain like something out of Jurassic Park. There’s a Pizza Hut on the island that gives out free samples of Madeira wine, which is more like a port, and potent as heck. Actually, this magical port is served everywhere, and if you don’t watch yourself, you can really get trashed, in about 20 minutes. There’s also this crazy drink called a poncha, which is more than a drink. It’s an event. People get together down back alleys and side roads and have a poncha. They eat peanuts and drink and drink and drink this concoction of fire water (really potent alcohol), honey, sugar, lemon rind and fruit juice. It’s like a scorpion bowl on crack. Yes I had one, or two.

On the island, there are also Irish bars, English pubs and Italian restaurants, all competing for the tourist dollar. We were happy to oblige. We tipped outrageously, which they thought was just hilarious. “Americanos – wasting their Euros again!” There was one local bar where all the cops hung out. They smoked weed right at their table, and passed the stuff around like it was completely legal or something. (I think it is.)

The gig time arrived, I walked up the steep cobblestoned incline to the venue (every road is uphill in this place!) and huffed and puffed right on past. I was plastered! I’m sure they did just fine without me. We’re still friends on Facebook.

But my very favorite place to play in the whole world is on my brother’s veranda in a cute little town in Georgia, which is also the hometown of Gregg Allman. Everybody in town knows Gregg Allman, and has guitars or pictures signed by Gregg Allman. When you play guitar on a veranda in Georgia, everybody comes over and it’s a p-ar-ar-tay. The pay isn’t good, but it’s good for the soul. Time to pack the camper!

 

Alternative Facts: Music Edition

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2017

Here are a few fun alternative facts about the music industry for you:

The Grammy Awards celebrate the best in music and is not a politically-charged, campaign-style feverish quest for votes wherein the spoils of war go to those with the most influence and power.

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There is no such thing as a big machine behind the music industry and anybody can make it to the top without a major record label, a manager, an agent, a public relations firm, a lawyer and about five hundred thousand dollars.

Licensing even ten seconds of one of your recorded songs for TV or film does not require membership somewhere inside the big machine.

Only really good music is played on mainstream radio.

Club owners only care about the quality of the music, not how many people you bring.

Booking agents only have your best interests at heart.

Horn players always show up two hours before the gig to help set up and carry all the big speakers to the car when the show is over.

Keyboard players never have an opinion on chord progressions and arrangements and don’t secretly want to be maestros.

Guitar players always end their solos after the agreed-upon measure allotment.

Bass players on point are not the most important element to a live show.

Lead singers are not narcissists.

Studio engineers would never dream of winning Producer of the Year.

CD and album sales are through the roof no matter who you are.

Obtaining a slot at music festivals is super easy.

If people accept your band’s Facebook Event invite that means you will see them at the show.

Anybody can write a memorable and listenable song.

If you can see it, you can be it.

Anybody can record a song and get airplay on Pandora in rotation next to Springsteen, Dylan and Raitt.

Standing in line for six hours to audition for The Voice is a really good use of your time because the producers of the show have not already sought out and privately auditioned every single singer who will appear on the show.

The sound system never dies right before the first four-count.

Dancing around and singing into a microphone at the same time is not really a workout and is not potentially deadly.

Getting bloggers and magazines to review your music is always free with no strings attached.

Bands get free drinks and food and always get paid what was agreed upon.

Local music circles and cliques do not exist.

Open Mic Nights are not killing the live music scene.

Karaoke Nights are not killing the live music scene.

Bands that pay to play are not killing the live music scene.

DUI laws are not killing the live music scene.

Home decor mounted big screen TVs and endless television series options are not killing the live music scene.

Digital downloads of music do not effect artist’s sales because no one ever shares their MP3s with all their friends instead of each person paying for the song.

Bars do not smell weird.

It’s perfectly acceptable to play a show in a bar with ten TVs going especially with one over your head.

Playing solo acoustic shows does not hurt your fingers and is not a lonely, dreadful thing at all.

Band members love each other and never fight.

Playing outdoor summer gigs does not cause hyperventilation, chest pains and shortness of breath.

The musicians who scream the loudest at the booking contacts do not get all the gigs.

Female pop stars never have to worry what they look like.

And lastly, regardless of it all, music will not free your soul.

 

Winter Gigs

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2017

It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be grey. And it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life, says Bill Murray.  Now is the winter of our discontent, as it were. The holidays are over and we can’t remember the last time we had a piece of fruit or a good hearty salad. We’ve forsaken alcohol for all time and want to hoard every coin we earn. It gets dark by 4:30 p.m. in the Northeast and with the absence of sunshine, our long-lingering depression seeps into our souls like a drafty old scuttle hole. Fireplaces, fuzzy socks and fleece blankets beckon us, and we can’t get off the couch. The last thing we want to do is get all layered up, pray the car starts and venture out to drinking establishments for one more night on the town.

But I say hogwash to all that! That’s all rubbish! The dark days of winter are actually the best times to gather with friends, listen to music, and get the heck outa the house. What would you rather: suffer in silence or dance the night away? Succumb to seasonal affective disorder or rejoice in the fruits of friendship? Watch Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance on repeat or experience musicians who actually sing and play in front of your eyes? Oh it’s a glory to behold I say! And the musicians who brave the elements to load up their gear and slip and slide their way through ice-packed back entrances know that while their efforts may be fruitless, to the trained eye, one can see, there ain’t nothin’ gonna keep us down! While gig opportunities in these cold and dreary months may be sparse, the courageous and admirable club owners who continue to host live music are the modern day heroes of our time. We love you all. We toast a green smoothie drink filled to the brink with kale and wheatgrass to your moxie!

Say yes to the invites. Get the Uber app. Start a group text with your high school friends and mean it when you say, “We must get together some time.”

We’re in this together. We must endeavor to slay the winter beast. We must never allow our mobile devices and fear of bad winter drivers to triumph over our need for human interaction. Summer gigs are no fun. Winter gigs are where it’s at. Hope to see you at the shows!

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A Musician’s Carol

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2016

 Ghost of Music Past

“Suzy darling, do you remember when you were 8-years old?” said the cheery-eyed apparition who appeared out of nowhere.

“Heck no! I’m lucky I can remember what I had for dinner last night!” Suzy said.

“Try harder.”

“OK. Give me a second. Oh yes, yes, I see it now. Are you doing something to my brain? I can see it clear as day. I’m saying, ‘Mommy, Mommy pleeeease can you tell Santa or whoever buys the presents around here that I really really want a guitar for Christmas? You were right. Barbies are boring and rather sexist.”

“Well I’m glad you’ve come to your senses about the barbies dear, but absolutely not. You may NOT have a guitar dear. Girls don’t play guitars. We’ve paid in advance lots of accordion lessons for you.”

Suzy’s little brother Paul, who had been idly playing with some Legos, chimed in.

“If I don’t get a Superman from Santa this year I’m putting my hand on a hot pile of spaghetti and leaving it there forever!” he yelled. Suzy rolled her eyes.

“Mother please, honestly, for someone of such intelligence, where do you think I’m going to get in life playing an accordion?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

“Very good Suzy,” said the phantom. “Now, do you remember when you were 16-years old?”

Suzy thought a moment. “Oh yes yes I see,” she recalled. I was on stage and the lights were in my eyes and I was kind of like a star and I thought it was the grandest place on earth and that this is what I will do the rest of my life. I will work hard at it just like my schoolwork and attack it like a beast.”

“Excellent Suzy. You always knew that if you had a gift, it was your job to give it away.”

And the ghost was gone.

 Ghost of Music Present

“Ug! Lugging this equipment around is absolutely destroying my back! Man I hope they cancel because of the snowflakes,” Suzy thought to herself. “Nobody’s going to show up anyway. Everybody just wants to drink at home and watch Netflix or plug in their Amazon Fire Sticks or stream YouTube videos of cats. Or they all have to get up early and run a marathon for charity. Or they’re snap-chatting. What’s the point! This time of year is the worst. Between work parties and pie baking and chestnuts roasting and waiting for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to come on TV, it’s just downright useless. My music has officially become irrelevant. I simply cannot bear the thought of performing one more time in one more empty bar.”

“Jeez, what a whiner,” the ghost said. “Things are worse than I thought. Let’s see what I can do.”

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 Ghost of Music Future

“We could belabor this point for hours,” the grumpy old men said. “Whether it was the musicians who refused to play out anymore or the club owners who canceled all live music, is not the point. The point is, there simply is no more music to be heard anywhere. It’s all gone. Digital samplings squashed together from the music of the past is all we got. Ain’t what it used to be I tell ya.”

A wrinkly old woman with a sparkle in her eye and a smirk on her face stood up in front of the men and said, “My dear boys. Everybody knows the whole world went haywire when that girl started writing those articles in some magazine complaining about the music business all the time and everybody started to believe it was a waste of time and money. Then one day, she stopped playing gigs altogether and stashed her guitar in the attic. Everybody else just sorta followed suit. Before you knew it, all school music programs were canceled and every music store shut down. You couldn’t even find a church choir on Christmas Eve. Oh if not for that wretched girl! What a Scrooge!”

“HA HA HA. No! It was all because of Kanye West!” and they all laughed and laughed and smoked their pot.

“Let me see if there is something I can do about this sad state of affairs,” said the ghost.

 The End – Thanks to the Ghosts

At band practice, present day. Some musicians are determined to write a song together.

“Oh Don! You remind me of Brian Wilson in that movie ‘Love and Mercy’ when he’s telling the cello players to play that super low note over and and over again in ‘Good Vibrations,” Suzy said lightheartedly.

“Yeah right. My bass doesn’t go any lower,” said Dave.

“I can tune down,” said Don the guitar player.

“Who cares about the notes! Let’s move on people! Let’s finish this thing,” said Kevin the drummer, while rolling on the toms.

Suzy was irresistibly intrigued. “This is awesome. You know what? I think we should write a song about Brian Wilson and make it so everybody can sing along to it. Then we can record it and give it away for free, just because! We can sing it all summer long!”

The band hoots and hollers in unison.

“Let’s do it! Merry Christmas to all! God bless us, every one!”

The ghosts hover high above the chilly but cheerful basement stuffed with an assortment of musical instruments, scribbly noted loose leaf papers, guitar picks and drum sticks.

The band mates hear a whisper somewhere in the back of their minds.

“Very good boys and girls. You’ve come to know that while some 8-year olds dream of being Superman, playing music together is actually the thing that feels like flying, and it’s all worth it,” said the ghosts. “We’re depending on you.”