Pandemonium

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2020

For my musician friends: I know you all have been bombarded with emails and newspaper articles on “what to do if you are an out of work musician during this global pandemic.”

It’s disconcerting, worrisome and can make you feel out of sorts, especially those whose only income is playing live music, teaching music and playing music with others.

Here are 13 Things Musicians Can do During a Global Pandemic:

  1. Stream yourself via Facebook Live from your living room. Set up a “stage” with some ambience and let her rip. Include your Venmo account for tips.
  2. If you’re in a cover band, find your old email list or send a Facebook event asking your fans for song requests your band can learn during this downtime.
  3. Listen to music you don’t usually listen to.
  4. Scour YouTube to find new tips and tricks.
  5. Order a new pedal or piece of gear from Amazon.
  6. Watch Broadway musicals via the BroadwayDirect streaming service.
  7. Write some songs.
  8. Remind your fans where and how to buy your previously released music.
  9. Read some famous musician biographies.
  10. Read novels with a musical theme.
  11. Call an old band mate or music teacher out of the blue, on the phone. Better yet, use Zoom for a video chat and social distancing band practice.
  12. Make an NPR Tiny Desk concert and submit it for consideration.
  13. Create a YouTube channel and record yourself playing one song at a time and release one a day. It will give you a reason to get out of bed.

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.” – Washington Irving.

Hope

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2020

I heard a hootin’ owl howling out my window last night, just like the song, “She went calling Wild Flower…,” the one with the epic piano coda at the end. In the song, the singer thinks that because he hears a hootin’ owl that his long-lost love will come back to him and they will both go riding on the horse Wildflower. He’s heard it three nights in a row so it must be true! For decades, because this guy said so, I thought hearing owls was some sort of good luck. As the sweet mystical sound echoed through my backwoods on a foggy Connecticut evening, I thought, OK, this is it. Something really good is going to happen.

Oh you silly bird.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that hearing a hootin’ owl is actually a BAD omen, as owls are believed to be harbingers of death.

Who knew?

Now that the holidays are over, and our holiday hopes and dreams and wishes upon a star are over, it’s time to get real. My hootin’ owl is definitely not going to bring me oodles of good fortune, so it’s high time I figure something else out. Or perhaps, except my fate.

When we’re young we feel invincible and we are sure beyond a doubt that everything we want is going to come to us if we just work hard enough. If you can see it, you can be it, as it were. That sort of thing. But as we get older, and we’ve worked and we’ve worked but still things haven’t worked out the way we had envisioned, and we find out the hard way that little things like luck and hootin’ owls bringing luck ain’t so easy to come by, or is just misguided thinking, our hopes diminish, our dreams scale down. We graduate from the School of Hard Knocks. We get real.

I watched the musical fantasy “Rocketman” about Elton John and I pondered, if fame had found me, would I have turned into an alcoholic cocained bloody nosed drug addict who would down a bunch of pills and jump into a pool in a suicide attempt in front of a ton of family and friends? Or would I have just taken it in stride like Springsteen? Would I have built an amusement park like Dollywood?

Anyhoo, because I’m hopelessly stubborn, and will probably never know that answer, I will continue to play gigs, write songs, drop new albums, work on my skills and try out new gear, until I’m as stiff as a stuffed owl.

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou

By the way, hootin’ and howlin’ will still be encouraged at all shows.

Thank you and good night.

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Good Girls and Boys

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2019

As year-end approaches, we humans tend to ponder things, as we are slaves to our calendars, apple watches, and cell phone alarms. Tis the season to wonder why everything went so wrong the past 365 days, or why everything went so right. Today I’m mulling over, over my mulled cider: What is a GOOD Musician? Is a good musician someone who is highly trained who attended the very best performing arts collegiate programs? Is a good musician someone who can throw down Hark! The Herald Angels Sing on a dusty old piano at a holiday gathering with precision and grace? Is a good musician someone who can solo over just about anything? Is a good musician someone who can harmonize? Sing on key? Memorize 40 songs? Write lyrics that rhyme? Wow the crowd with rock faces and acrobatic stunts?

I offer, because I’ve already consumed all my green icing sugared reindeer cookies because I friggin’ love those things, the following examples of good little musician girls and boys:

– People who perform at gala benefit shows not for the exposure and to get their name in the paper, but because they actually care about the cause

– People who use their break time at a show to teach a kid a few tricks on guitar

– People who share ALL their tricks with other musicians

– People who lend all their gear to a band because all their stuff was stolen while loading out on a freezing cold December night

– People who give their extra instruments to someone who’s house burned down

– People who fill in for other musicians when somebody unexpectedly contracts the flu or feels just plain yucky

– People who play songs the crowd actually came to hear (besides Mustang Sally of course!)

– People who show up to band practice on time and prepared

– People who understand that it’s not about you, it’s about the listeners

– People who are humble and grateful

This is simple stuff here people. I want to wish you all the hap-hap-happiest of holidays – and see ya at the shows!

reindeer

 

World Series of Rock

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2019

We couldn’t believe it, but my sister and I had finally secured a gig at Madison Square Garden. Years of music business drudgery and beaten down dreams had come to this. On the day, we were carted into a secret entrance that led to plaque-covered walls listing the names of all those that had come before us. Posters from epic shows of the past came to life as we realized we were now one of them. A fully stocked dressing room complete with hair and makeup experts awaited us. We could hear the chants and roars and pounding from the sold-out crowd of 20,000 getting louder and louder. We glanced over our set list one more time. We did our weird vocal exercises, sprayed our throats and sucked on cough drops. We stretched our legs and abs and did neck circles. While the sound crews and lighting techs made their final tweaks, we were escorted backstage to stand behind a luxurious black velvet curtain. Like magic, the curtain rose while the crowd noise surged to a deafening crescendo. We took a deep breath and walked slowly and assuredly toward our speckled gold microphones. We inhaled, looked at each other and sang our first harmonized note, perfectly in tune, with strength and resilience. The crowd went wild.

Except that never happened. Not even close.

But that feeling, that we were on stage at Madison Square Garden to a sold-out crowd, was precisely the feeling we had when we learned our brother, after years of sports business drudgery and beaten down dreams, was headed to the 2019 Major League Baseball World Series. THE SHOW. THE BIG DANCE.

That actually happened.

You see, when someone you love achieves something so awesome, so well-deserved, so unexpected, you feel it inside just like they do. We had watched our brother grow, literally, from the time he was 3-foot high to a grasshopper when our Dad had first started playing catch with him in our backyard in Florissant, Missouri. Our brother had done it all, tried it all, and somehow had persevered to reach the epitome of what it means to love the game of baseball. His team was in the World Series.

Our whole family was right there with him every step of the way. When batters were down in the count, we were down in the count. When a tater blasted fair out to the upper decks, we flew along with it. When he was in a bus with a police escort, we were in the next seat over. When he had to face the press and explain himself, we telepathically sent him hope that he wouldn’t mess up. When he looked stressed in the dugout, we were stressed. When he had to stay up til 1 a.m. due to extra innings, we stayed up. When they won, we won. When they lost, we lost.

I don’t have to tell you sports fans what I’m talking about when you love your team, especially when your team makes it to the World Series, or the Superbowl, or the World Cup Finals or the Stanley Cup Finals. Phrases such as WE did this and WE did that are the norm when talking sports. WE must win this one. I can’t believe WE screwed that up. Even though us fans are literally sitting in our chairs or in the stands doing nothing, it’s OUR TEAM. We are IN THIS together.

Because inherently, when someone you love, or a team you love, achieves their ultimate dream, stretches human performance to extremes, it makes us all feel like anything is possible. We feel better about ourselves and, perhaps, maybe think about never giving up on our own dreams and staying in the fight.

How would my brother feel if his sisters did get a gig at the Garden? I would imagine like he had just won the World Series.

nats

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.

 

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.

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!