Give The People What They Want

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2016

In the entertainment industry it is standard practice to give the people what they want. This is actually a contradiction in terms. If I gave the people what they wanted, I would be playing “Brick House” for four hours at every gig; or, for an older crowd, that horrendous instrumental “Sleepwalk” for just as long. If I comply with this, I become somewhat of a miserable beeitch and I actually want to kill myself rather than shake it down or calmly strum the A minors. This in turn makes the entertainment value of my performance not so stellar and therefore the audience is actually not entertained at all. And people of all ages are reaching for the defibrillator. “Brick House” consists of one chord. ONE CHORD! Over and over and over. This is worse than, for those in the know, blues songs, which only have three.

At shows I like to say, “We’re happy to take requests. We’ll TAKE them, it doesn’t mean we’ll actually DO them.”

I just can’t stomach sacrificing my art (yes it’s mine, all mine) for the greater good, and the better gigs and the freer bar tabs. And if you’re not careful, giving people what they want can seep into your soul creating chasms of horror and defeat. It can happen at gigs, in the recording studio, in the practice space, or over dinner with your husband, your parents, or your friends. “You should do this song, it’s perfect for your voice. You need some oohs and aahs during the verse. You should have put more upbeat songs on the album. You should only sing slow songs. You should only do blues. You should only do rock. You should write a song about me. You should try to get a gig in New Zealand. You should try out for The Voice.”

I think suggestions from music fans come from the heart and they’re just trying to help, and I believe in the sanity of most people. They can tell when you are being fake however, and that you don’t particularly care one iota for their suggestion. They can sense when you’re lying. Except if you’re a serial killer. Most people can’t tell about those people, but that’s another subject entirely. Being true to yourself is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and the clearest path to success and peace. Even if you have to Bruce Jenner it.

One year my daughter sensed I wanted to give up on all this crap so for Christmas she made me one of those Shutterfly photo calendars with all our greatest band moments caught on camera.   The photos were mostly of me, doing my thing, and not sacrificing a darn thing for nobody. It got me back on track. Sometimes your children can be motivating, exasperating, and at times downright inspirational. Have some! It’s all true!

When I was 13 our teacher assigned us the fun task of making a collage of everything that we felt was important to us. We could use photographs, magazine or newspaper clippings, whatever. I was in love with magazines at the time – Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, Seventeen – so I glued together about 25 sheets of tan construction paper and started cutting my life out. Images of healthy foods on picnic-filled blankets, gorgeous girls and gorgeous guys completely in love running through the fields, cute guys roller skating with cute girls, Cathy Rigby jogging, a big tub of Noxzema and somebody washing their face, music notes, guitars, and lobster. I guess I’ve always had a thing about gorgeous guys, and being clean and healthy. And lobster. The point is, when I was 13, I knew exactly what I wanted, who I was, and where I was going. I could picture it in a collage if you will. I still have the wrinkled patchwork stuffed at the bottom of my high school yearbooks and I pull it out once in a while to remind myself that a) WOW – I used to be able to jog? And b) it’s never going to be OK for someone else to tell me what I like and what I don’t like and what I should do or not do. I have the collage! This comes in handy on my day job as well. If you let them boss you around, they will. If you declare that “No one is the boss of me,” then no one ever will be. It hasn’t led to very many promotions but at least I’ve kept my sanity, my self-respect, and stress intact.

Even if your best friend in the whole world requests “Brown Eyed Girl” because she has brown eyes, and it’s her song, and it means everything to her, it still doesn’t mean you have to play it. Actually people, please don’t EVER play it, ever again. The Rolling Stones knew what they were talking about in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

I’ve never pretended or claimed to be particular well-read, artsy-fartsy, a smarty-pants, a name-dropper or a poet. I’m not going to tell you my lyrics were inspired by some post-modern feminist leftist anti-politico 500-page snoozer I’d been reading on Saturday nights. They’re just words that rhyme, occasionally. Sometimes just phonetically. I enjoy my intellectual musical friends and get what they’re trying to do – music as art and all that stuff – but the point is, they’re doing their thing, and I’m doing mine. It hasn’t gotten me very far (or them either), but who cares? This ridiculousness has chosen us.

I think I’m ready to go shake it down now. Maybe to the car radio.

And one final note, last night I had a dream that the head of the statue of liberty was laying on the ground like in that 1968 movie Planet of the Apes. Translation: Get out and vote on Nov. 8. We’re our only hope.

vote

I also had a dream about Bruce Springsteen, but that’s for another time, and perhaps another magazine…

Calluses, Meniere’s, and Large Uvulas

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2016

Like a professional athlete, a professional musician must stay in shape, or else you do things like pass out on stage, pee yourself on stage, or get weird leg cramps in the middle of a gig that make you fall over your guitar amp. So every day I walk my dogs and do these awkward stretches I learned from a 1985 Jane Fonda exercise video. One fine day in 2009 I developed this bizarre ear problem which felt like a head cold, except I did not have a cold. It’s like when you get off an airplane, and you’re walking through the terminal trying to figure out where to get your luggage, and your ears haven’t popped yet. That not-popped-yet feeling is how my ears feel all the time. It comes in handy when my husband starts talking about mortgage rates and kitchen paint colors.

Lots of doctors have lots of theories on this, from Meniere’s Disease, to allergies, to stress, to Rock Star ears. They have also given me lots of drugs. Not one single drug on this entire planet has cleared my ears, and believe me, I have tried them all. They crackle, and itch, and burn and ring – all the time. This may or may not have led to some bad decisions in the recording studio. Cloudy, rainy days are the worst so I figure I must be in-tune with the natural elements, but not so much with pharmaceuticals. On these days I just want to sleep and sleep, but I don’t have time to sleep. I have the day job, and have to cook dinner, learn new songs, have band practice, and all that stuff. On these days, I’m the one who looks like Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” after they shock him.

Doctors also noticed I have an extremely large uvula. That’s the thing that wiggles in the back of your throat.

My friend Tina has known this since the seventh grade. She used to get particular joy out of watching the thing flap back and forth when I laughed. So this medical mystery was no big deal to me. But apparently, it had grown to epic proportions, and was interfering with little things like swallowing, and breathing. On bad days, I take about six Advil to keep it under control. I pretty much feel like I’m going to drop at any time though, especially at night. My monstrous flap of skin sometimes causes me to completely stop breathing so I often wake up reaching for a huge gasp of air. As my friend Rob says, “Well, it must not be life-threatening, because you’re not dead yet.”

The best part about the ear and throat problem is, and yes, there is a best part! – I haven’t had a cold in over two years! All this blockage is well, blocking, the bad stuff. The last time I had a cold I had a gig at the local Borders Book Store, with the purposes of selling my CD of course. There is nothing worse than having to sing with a cold, with all that crap running down your face and sounding like that comedian Gilbert Gottfried with the whiny voice. So it was basically, the worst gig ever. People sat in the comfy chairs, and kept reading, and tried hard to ignore me, and silently begged for me to go away. I have not been back to a Borders in any town. I blame it on their own bankruptcy.

So in addition to the constant ear and throat problems, in this poor, poor, pitiful me column, are the DAMN CALLUSES guitar players must deal with! I don’t know if there are any books on this subject, but man oh man are these things a pain in the butt! I am constantly peeling off pieces of skin and leaving them everywhere – I mean everywhere. When you play guitar, you have to constantly press the strings against solid wood. If you think this is painless you are wrong! The more you play, the harder the skin on the tips of your fingers become, and everything eventually becomes less painful. But here’s the kicker – if you peel off the calluses in between gigs or practice sessions, you have to start all over with the callous building. It’s a vicious cycle that never ever ends!

My living room floor always looks like there’s potato chip crumbs everywhere, when in fact, it’s just all my dead skin.

There are also a number of other physical ailments that crop up out of nowhere the older I get. There’s this pain that goes up and down my right leg and into my back. It makes it uncomfortable to sit, lie down, or stand still. So I pace back and forth a lot which keeps the dogs and my audiences entertained. I do a lot of moaning and groaning in the night, which keeps my husband entertained. A guy told me it’s my sciatic nerve and he showed me an exercise for it. You lie down on your back, cross your right leg over your left leg making a triangle, then lift your left leg up and hold it there. Yes it’s as awkward as it sounds. I think he just wanted to look up my shorts.

I also can’t see very well anymore. This comes in handy when I start the wrong song on a set list and I yell, “Sorry! I couldn’t see!”

One time I had a urinary tract infection, also known as a UTI, also known as worse than pushing out septuplets all day and all night for a week while you try to eat, cook for everybody else, take care of the dogs, and go about your daily life while convincing yourself you can survive a simple bladder problem. It had burned and hurt when I peed for five days and when I couldn’t pee at all and was completely bloated and near death I went to the doctor. When you go to the doctor with a UTI you have to be able to pee in a cup so the girl with no gloves on can pick it up and look at it and tell the doctor you need the good drugs. You know you really want the good drugs so you try really hard to pee in the cup. I fill the cup and I am proud. I was given some meds, and sent on my way.

I had a gig that night, and it was going to be a long one: Two and a half hours for setup, a three and a half hour show, then another hour and a half breakdown. I was thrilled. Throughout the night whenever I had to pee I just had to psych myself out by chanting “You’re peeing in the cup for the doctor, you’re peeing in the cup for the doctor, you’re peeing in the cup for the doctor.” If I didn’t chant those words I would just get more bloated and start to crouch when I walked. Nobody wants to look at a bloated and crouchy lead singer so I got it done.

The show went fine and no one knew I was dying in front of their eyes.

Then I got Lyme Disease.

When you live in the Northeast, everybody gets Lyme Disease, or you know 10 people who’ve had Lyme Disease, and everybody’s always checking themselves for Lyme Disease more than they’re checking themselves for ticks in the first place. The residual effects of this lovely disease never truly go away so your normal aches and pains are just magnified times ten and make you super tired, blah blah blah. Band practice tonight? Heck no! Write some songs today? Heck no! Gig tonight? THE SHOW MUST GO ON. Stay healthy people! (If that’s even a thing.)

How to Get Along Like Fleetwood Mac

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine September 2016

These two are married and currently not on speaking terms. These two are getting a divorce but are in really good moods. These two are having an affair. This one’s leaving, this one’s coming back, this guy’s actually a jerk but is an awesome player. This one’s afraid to fly so out of state gigs are out of the question. This one’s got kids with that one. This one’s on drugs and that one drinks too much. This guy’s wife is jealous so he can’t play anymore in the band, and that guy gets into fights at shows. This one wants to go solo, and that one wants to take over the band. The band’s breaking up but is getting back together with a new name without that guy who is now suing to get back in. Then that guy starts a social media war against the band. This guy says there are creative differences and this one says his creativity is being stifled. This guy doesn’t want to do any gigs on Thursdays ever and that one would prefer to be home by 11 p.m. The guitar player thinks the chord progression is too unconventional but the bass player thinks it’s a joy to play and the keyboard player wants to just sit that one out and the sax player can’t find the pocket. The drummer thinks this should be the groove but the singer can’t fit the lyrics into the measures so the horn section says they’ll come up with a riff instead. This one thinks the band doesn’t charge enough money while that one believes a price tag cannot be put on art. This one plays solos way too long and that one turns his head away when it’s his turn to solo so he doesn’t have to do one. This one thinks the horn section should just go away while that one would prefer a full orchestra, backup vocalists and dancers.

That’s Fleetwood Mac. Or basically, every band that ever was.

Getting along in a band requires adapting to one big fat changing dynamic. And it ain’t easy. It’s all fun and games until the bass player threatens to kill the keyboard player with his screwdriver because he’s playing the bass notes that he, the most awesome bass player, should be playing. It looks like everything’s going just fine until the drummer knocks over the guitar player’s guitar because a fan kissed her, on the mouth and everything. When the booking agent is in the audience and prefers the bands adhere to certain rules so he can keep his reputation intact and his 20 percent, and the band breaks a rule or two, all hell can break loose. Yelling and screaming, “Get back on stage now!” doesn’t usually go over well with too many guys, and some booking agents can get punched for doing so. And some guys can get thrown out of bands for saying the retched f word over the mic at a family-friendly event.

These are all true stories. I tell the guys in the band, “I don’t do drama. You’re either in or you’re out.” And that’s how we get along.

Casual listeners in the audience can become fans, who become roadies, who become groupies, who become absolutely obsessed maniacs who are out to ruin marriages, the band dynamic, or even worse – want to be in the band! I blame it all on the romance of music, which some people equate to being in love with the bass player. It can get weird.

But we have to stick together, just like the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. We get along so good that sometimes I have to wonder if that’s actually the problem. Generally, people love drama and chaos, especially on stage. Videos online showcasing band members losing it and knocking things over and beating each other up get way more hits than any of our boring, perfectly crafted and impeccably played performances. Bands like Fleetwood Mac get all the attention.

Millions of men have come and gone in my band (well OK, maybe 20 or so) and I won’t go trashing them all here, but suffice it to say, in or out, we’re all still good friends. We’ve always tried to just have fun, play in key, not overplay one another, and adhere to the following simple rules:

Rule No. 1 – I’m the boss. Somebody has to be the “boss”… the “leader” just like Bruce. Once everybody starts thinking it’s some kind of democracy, it just falls apart.   Suggestions, criticisms, and opportunities for improvement are all given fair consideration, but know this – one person has to have the final say. Escalating situations such as: one song going on forever because two people are dancing and somebody feels bad about ending it; taking hour long breaks because somebody’s entire high school class showed up; starting at 10:30 instead of 9:30 because somebody forgot to set their nap alarm; etc., can occur.

Rule No. 2 – No Drama. Music is about expressing emotion. However, if you’re a cry-baby, you’re not in my band. If you’re a sociopath, you’re not in my band. If you’re late to practice every time, you’re not in my band. If you’re late to a gig, you don’t play the gig. Consider me a tame version of the jazz teacher in that movie “Whiplash.”

Rule No. 3 – If you’re the boss, don’t be the “B” word or the “P” word.

Simple.

You see because there are times, once in a while, and they last maybe a minute or so, where magic actually happens in a band, no matter the in-fighting and BS. We say, “There were moments.” When we’re hanging on A-minor, and the drummer starts a gradual thunderous roll on the toms, and I hold a vocal note and lift it higher, then higher, then the bass line climbs and climbs, then we stop on a dime, well, a snare hit. The drummer throws his stick in the air about 25 feet. The audience and the band looks up to the ceiling or the heavens, it hurls back down, and he catches it, and we end with one final BLOP. The crowd erupts into ferocious applause. We look at each other and smile.

We live for the moments.

If you keep at it, you too, can one day be Fleetwood Mac.

Under The Covers

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine August 2016

Does anybody understand “BREXIT?” Heck No! Does anybody understand the Department of Justice’s latest decision regarding consent and licensing and royalties controlled by Performing Rights Organizations ASCAP and BMI? All the more – Heck No!

All I know is this – it’s nearly impossible to make any money off your original music creations via online streaming services – no matter who you are. It’s also nearly impossible to make any money off your original music creations via hard copy CDs because the only way to sell them is to do live shows.   Once you sell out of CDs in your local area, which cost thousands of dollars to manufacture, you need to “broaden your circle” as they say and book shows out of your chosen city. The problem with that is you need money to tour with in order to play every night of the week and sleep in a van. (You can’t just eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like the Allman Brothers did while recording in Muscle Shoals.) Well, I guess you could. But in order to have the money to at least afford the peanut butter and jelly, you need a day job. But since most employers probably won’t appreciate you taking a month off here and a month off there to go gallivanting around the world, you are stuck playing shows only on the weekends, and not too far away.

iTunesSalesReport

 

 

 

 

 

This is the Catch-22 of the music biz. Unless Mommy and Daddy are funding your little rock star trip around the world, the rest of us, have to find a way to pay for it. It takes money to make money.

My point is – this is why millions of hopeful musical geniuses resort to – you guessed it – starting COVER BANDS. Cover bands don’t need to book studio time, pay copyright registration fees, hire photographers and artists for album art work, or pay for CD manufacturing and online upload “bundles.” They don’t need managers, publicists, booking agents, album distributors or radio campaign promoters. They don’t have to constantly yearn for stardom. They can just be awesome musicians onstage, playing music everybody loves and wants to hear, and they pack the clubs. And they make a lot of money doing it; especially Tribute bands who are super duper good at copying someone who paid to do all that previous stuff and who got lucky with lots of hits so lots of cover bands could cover their stuff.

The word “cover” in regards to music by the way was coined by the Chicago Tribune in the 1950s to refer to a rival version of a previously released original tune. Some original bands throw covers into their set to make everybody happy, and to show off how THEY would have recorded it. Original bands have realized that some live music appreciators are just simply not interested in hearing songs they don’t know while out on the town spending hundreds of dollars on food and drinks. They want to dance and party and eat chicken wings and sing along.

Cover bands follow only a couple rules when it comes to choosing songs: Everyone in the band has to at least like the song, and no one in the band can absolutely hate the song. Pretty simple. No K.C. & The Sunshine Band, and no Bay City Rollers. Peter Frampton – yes. Kansas, Boston, Journey – yes. “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones – no. One guy said, “I just can’t consciously play a song about a black slave girl.”

“Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss – no. “I will shoot MYSELF in the head if I hear that song one more time,” somebody said. “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton – no. Just for a laugh – “Billy Jean” – yes. Pat Benatar – yes, except “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” – karaoke crooners have worn this to pieces over the past 20 years. Prince – yes, especially “Purple Rain.” Captain & Tennille – no. Allman Brothers – yes. Delbert McClinton – yes. Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt – yes.

There are also certain songs that only certain guitar players can handle, so those song choices depend on the shredding ability of the lead guitarist. “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter – only one guy. “Funk 49” – only one guy. Anything by Jimi Hendrix – pretty much only one guy.

Bruce Springsteen – yes, except “Dancing in the Dark.” Janis Joplin – most definitely yes. Anything reggae – only if the audience is wearing bathing suits. Lynyrd Skynyrd – yes, except you know what.

AND NEVER EVER BROWN EYED GIRL.

Sometimes in my own band, we’ll be playing a cover song for the millionth time, and I’ll turn to the band and exhaustively say, “I just can’t do it anymore.”  I’ll end it (swiping my finger across my neck) somewhere before the bridge, and the retched song never makes it onto a set list again. No questions asked.

But basically, you just feel the crowd and feel the venue. If you can’t “feel” the crowd” or “feel” the venue, then you have no business being in a band. When you’re famous, like Bruce Springsteen or Adele, the people are there for YOU. When you’re in a cover band, the people are there for THEMSELVES. I don’t care what the famous people write on their social media pages. When I’m doing a show, and tons of people start screaming “ADELE,” it’s because they want me to COVER Adele, for THEM.

So back to the original music creators – and this point is argued a lot – how much of their great music are we missing out on? Why is the SAME OLD STUFF that SOUNDS EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE PREVIOUS SONG on mainstream radio all the time? It’s because once an artist gets lucky and gets a ‘big machine” behind them, i.e., MONEY, then the production and touring costs are covered. Once that machine proves it can make a profit off that artist, other machines look at artists who SOUND JUST LIKE THAT ONE, and put their money behind the next one, and so on and so on and so on. The result: ALL THE SAME STUFF OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

You can listen to independent radio or Pandora and catch some non-mainstream music created by hard working souls who have managed to get some airplay, who have paved their own way either through their bank accounts or GoFundMe campaigns but ninety-nine percent of the time, they give up and either get real jobs, or become, COVER BANDS. Musicians are happy, diners and dancers are happy, club owners are happy.

FREEBIRD!

Musicians’ Unspoken Nod of Understanding

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine July 2016

While washing and scrubbing out the dog food bowl this morning I spied my bulldog Penelope out of the corner of my eye so I turned a little and nodded and bobbed my head a few times at her silently saying, “Yes Yes Yes you are going to get a big bowl of food today, just like every day, I’m working on it, you won’t starve.” I mean, how much of the English language does she really understand anyway?

Humans do a lot of nodding and head bobbing, but musicians are actually the worst. I like to call it the musicians’ unspoken nod of understanding (The UNU.) When stuff gets really loud on stage there’s really no other way to talk to each other, hence the unspoken nod signaling something REALLY IMPORTANT is about to happen.

It’s a disaster of course when everyone in the band decides to nod and bob all at the same time resulting in massive confusion and nobody knowing what the heck the other person is thinking. And the bigger the band the more the head nodding ensues. The nod means “Do something!” or “Stop doing that!” or “Get ready for me to do something!” or “That was sweet!”

Sometimes I like to be funny and yell out over the mic: “Do you want me to do something now? What exactly is it?” And we laugh and laugh and continue to screw up the song.

But there’s more to the head nodding than that. You know that movie “Jerry Maguire” when Cuba Gooding, Jr. wants the “quan?” He wants love, respect and community like all the other well-liked football players. Well in your local music communities, everybody wants the UNU. When other musicians are doing a gig with you, or they come to see you play, they understand you’re not going to screw up, you’re going to do your part when it’s time, and you’re not going to act like an idiot.

They give you the unspoken nod of understanding.

They don’t hug and kiss you, or give you a high five, or slap your butt. They’re not there to be entertained. They’re there to play, and listen. We’re all in this together. It’s called respect. Not the kind Aretha Franklin sings about, or your boss talks about, or your parents hound you about. It’s just a nod.

We musicians, you see, are really just super-sized introverts. We only reveal our inner selves on stage. That is why the silent nod is all we can muster, and it makes complete sense. Think of us as an assortment of brightly colored candy coated M&Ms. When we perform on stage, we’re actually stripping off our candy coating, so you can see right inside our soul. In the mornings when we first wake up, we feel more like peanut M&Ms – our candy coated souls are filled with self-doubt and fear of allergies, and the candy coating is a little harder to get off. We practice, study and write in a silent drudgery that nobody gets to see. Except the dogs, who would rather just be taken for a walk.

I won’t state the obvious.

OK I will.

You have to actually be able to play something, anything. Even if it’s the tambourine, you still have to know when to tap that thing.

Some people will never be a part of the collective UNU. They’re just crazy nut jobs who are so pissed off they never made it big they can’t get out of their own way. They’re so serious all the time they can’t even recognize what all this stuff is about. They are the people we leave mid-sentence to go tune our guitars.

To an outsider or general fan, the unspoken nods may be confusing and a bit weird, but we get it. Hey, if you really want to complement a musician, just give ‘em a nod. It means the world.

How To Write Songs

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine June 2016

Constructing a song that people want to actually listen to and enjoy is a science. Writing songs is akin to keeping a journal and then taking those most inner thoughts and encapsulating them into succinct lines of poetry, set to music. You study the greats and try to extract how they did it. You listen to your muses, observe the world and people around you, and articulate the things that emotionally resonate with you. If a song connects with you and makes you wish you could write a song like that, google the chords and lyrics to the song and see how it’s structured, but be careful not to copy note for note, because you could get into Stairway to Heaven trouble. If your subject matter is melancholy, use a minor key. If it’s meant to be uplifting, go with a major key. If you want people to get funky and dance to it, use lots of seventh chords. Take a Songwriting 101 class. Take music theory classes to understand the “circle of fifths.” Learn how to play an instrument. Take English courses around creative writing, poetry, and narrative storytelling. Don’t leave the house without an Ernest Hemingway-style notepad in your pocket to catch fleeting thoughts.

NotebookErnestHemingway

Or, you can do it like I do it.

Here’s how it goes down.

I’m taking a nice long hot shower all lathered up washing my hair and everything when I am flooded with song ideas because of course, the only place on earth I can’t write anything down, is in the damn shower. I quickly rinse, run a towel over me, throw on my white terry cloth robe from Target and slip and slide myself to the nearest pen and yellow sticky. I write my ideas down with utter abandon, sticky after sticky, using up the whole pad. I try and slap the stickies into their correct order, but they all stick to each other in the incorrect order. So I leave the pile on the counter to be dealt with later. I throw on some yoga pants and a WCNI Radio t-shirt.

Later comes when a fifty-mile an hour gust of wind blows the kitchen screen window out of its sill and onto the floor and blows the stickies all over the place. I scoop up the yellow devils and stick them onto an actual 8 x 10 pad over by my computer in the dining room to be dealt with later.

Later comes when I need a piece of 8 x 10 paper and I try to rip a piece off from behind the yellow beasts and I rip the piece of paper holding them. So I get a piece of scotch tape from the drawer in the living room that has the scotch tape and tape up the piece of paper that loosely holds the yellow monsters. Then I take the piece of paper and move it to my bedroom nightstand.

On my bedroom nightstand I notice I’ve got about ten other pieces of paper with yellow Satans on them so I place my generic brand body lotion on top of them to hold everything in place. I have breakfast, usually an Everything bagel with too much real Land-O-Lakes sweet cream salted butter, and think about grabbing my acoustic guitar from the basement to put these stickies to music. Then I check emails, Facebook and Twitter.

Then it’s time for lunch. I throw some pre-bagged lettuce into a pretty big bowl, cut up some cucumber, shred some carrots and toss in a good amount of Craisins and ten to fifteen garlic and onion croutons. Then I pour in a half a bottle of Lite Raspberry Vinaigrette and swish it all around. I sit down in the leather chair in the living room with my huge salad and flip through the HBO and Cinemax channels. I find something like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and watch it until the end. I seriously start thinking about grabbing my acoustic guitar from the basement.

Then I check emails, Facebook and Twitter. Then I remember I haven’t read today’s local newspaper online yet, so I do that. Then the dogs need to go out so I let them hang out on the grass without leashes and check on them occasionally. I look out the window and they’ve decided to head to the swamp even though I have repeatedly told them in clear English: “Don’t go near the swamp.” So I herd them back into the house, fill their water bowls and tell them to take a nap.

Then it’s time for me to take a nap.

I wake up and realize I should start thinking about what to make for dinner. I really want to just get my acoustic guitar out of the basement so I throw a chicken pasta casserole together and stick it in the oven. Then somebody texts me a really long text. I read, respond, wait for a reply, check on the casserole, read the reply, reply, read, reply, read, reply and the casserole is done. I take it out of the oven and the husband comes home but he doesn’t like chicken pasta casseroles so I throw a strip steak into a pan with fake butter and whip up some mash potatoes out of a box. The daughter comes home, grabs a plate of the chicken pasta casserole and informs me this is surely the best chicken pasta casserole yet.

We eat dinner and talk about what movies might be on HBO and Cinemax tonight. The husband wants to watch “The Purge: Anarchy” but I want to watch “The Five-Year Engagement.” We clean up and he heads to the bedroom TV. The dogs give me that look they always give me at this exact time every day of every week so I get the leashes.

We walk. For about an hour.

We get back into the house and I check emails, Facebook and Twitter. “The Five-Year Engagement” is coming on so I grab some kettle corn from the kitchen cabinet and sit in the leather chair. I finish the bag of kettle corn and the movie.

I decide I’ve had enough of this day and head to the bedroom. The TV is off and the room is dark. So I grab a flashlight, get undressed, let the dogs into the room and get them settled onto the bed. Then I grab my generic body lotion, and there they are: The yellow evil spirits on 8 x 10 pieces of paper in random order, which will haunt me all night.

Six hours later, it’s time for my shower.

Songwriters are a messy bunch. Every song ever heard in the history of all the land has been written by someone, but in a world where anybody can just simply go to YouTube for free when they want to hear a song, we wonder if it’s even worth it. This seemingly fruitless endeavor of musical construct rages on for us hopelessly creative souls. It’s all-consuming. It’s like a nagging bathroom-shower leak that drips and drips, and gets louder and louder in the night. Then it stains the porcelain, and you’re just stuck with it. Happy Songwriting!

Nightmare Gigs

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2016

Throughout my illustrious and surely un-famous musical career I have been plagued with nightmares between the restless hours of three and five a.m. But they’re not your standard falling, drowning, getting chopped up kind. They are about my gigs. They usually come when I have a big show coming up, or when I am completely prepared for the show, or if I have serious doubts. I had a gig coming up at a prestigious folk venue in Pomfret, Connecticut. In my dream, when I started to play my guitar that night I noticed too late that it had no frets, no little dots, and the strings were arranged upside down. I was guessing where to play the chords, and they were all wrong. I was doing a slow, haunting melody, and one of the band members started helping me out by playing along (with a proper guitar) and turned it into some zydeco foot-tapping thing. The whole place started dancing crazy, while I tried to sing my heart out. There was this plastic cover on the microphone, like a prophylactic, and my mouth kept swallowing it up. This in turn would choke me, and I kept screwing up the words, so to speak. As the place is hopping, and I’m mortified, this horrific thunder and lightning storm comes out of nowhere, and the power goes out. People start screaming and scrambling, and I figure, I’m a professional here, so no matter what, I am going to finish this song. I get to the epic final note, without the help of my Creoles, and the place erupts into hysterical laughter. “What a stupid way to end a zydeco song!” somebody yells, and the laughter continues.

This is the stuff dreams are made of people.

TheScream

I often dream of my Junior High. I am walking the halls like I own the place, and disapprove of the changes and new paint. But in reality, Junior High held such promise for me, except for one fateful night when somebody thought it was a good idea for me and three others to perform as a barbershop quartet a Capella at the BIG high school in town. When you’re 12-years old and can sing harmonies with others, teachers and parents think it’s just so wonderful and cute. Unappreciative, rebellious teenagers in high school… not so much. So we break into a rousing rendition of “Jeepers Creepers” in perfect four-part harmony, just to show them how great we were.

It took the audience about 10 seconds to start giggling – softly and respectfully at first. But then, before we knew it, the place was ablaze with uncontrollable laughter. My barbershop mates and I looked at each other as if they must be laughing at something going on behind us. We finished the song and were rewarded with more laughter, and not a single hand clap. I guess you could call this my first experience with celebrity mortification. This humiliating event appears and re-appears in my dreams, and is right there on the surface every time I start a show. Will they buy and appreciate my music, or will they think it’s a “Saturday Night Live” skit?

Gigs that can easily turn into nightmares include: playing to empty bar stools, competing with sporting events on a TV set right over your head, equipment malfunctions, band members not showing up, and bartenders forgetting how to turn off the jukebox. But there’s more!

Charity gigs can be emotionally rewarding while you give your talent away in exchange for a good cause, but can occasionally be nightmares.

One time we went to Woodstock, New York to do a benefit and our pay was “gas money.” We pull into town, and it didn’t take long for the reefer to permeate. It was everywhere man! The scene: Kids riding bikes with joints hanging out of their mouths, seriously good musicians on every corner with bongs next to their tip jars, nostalgia boutiques with Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix tapestries covering the door. Far out stuff here.

It is still 1969 in this town.

WoodstockMeKevGuy

There’s this 100-year old dude who rides around on quite a fancy 10-speed with all kinds of voodoo stuff hanging off it. He calls himself Grandpa Woodstock, and flashes the peace sign more than New Yorkers flip the bird.

Protestors show up every day on the green with freshly made signs advertising the cause of the day. Our day was “Free Gaza” day. People in this town are either pacing back and forth for a cause, sitting on a bench eating ice cream, strumming a guitar, or just flat-out wasted on the sidewalk.

So we get to the venue (a church) and expect hundreds of these modern moguls to pack the place and rock out for the cause. There are only a couple places for live music in the entire valley so our hopes are high.

Not to be.

Turns out, people just didn’t want to hand over the $20 cover charge to help out the church – no matter who was playing in there for free. We played a Woodstock-inspired set to five people. One was the pastor. We never got the gas money. We drove back to Connecticut in a blinding rain storm at 3 a.m.

Sign of the times I guess.

Another nightmare gig to EVER agree to is the abominable “Play for the Door” gig. This means there’s a cover charge and the band is presumably paid what is collected at the door.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Unless you’ve got one of your own groupies watching every move the door-collector guy does, the band ain’t getting nowhere NEAR what’s collected at the door. It’s their word against yours. If you count 50 people in the room, at $5 a head, then you would think if you graduated Junior High, it equates to $250 for the band. When they hand you $100 at the end of the night with a nice smile and a thank you so much, you can cry foul all you want, but stupid you, you agreed to this stuff.

One time at a bar in New London this exact thing happened, and the drummer got so mad he literally punched the bartender (or slightly missed him, can’t remember.) “You’re full of crap! We can count! Give us what we’re owed!” But unless you’re going to break the poor bartender’s knee caps, you really have no choice but to take what you’re given. Better than nothin’!

This other time at a bar in South Windsor, we were again, playing for the door (STUPID!!!) Having learned from our mistakes, we actually left our own scout at the door, to count every dollar. The door-collector guy kept letting people in for free, and this was immediately reported to us. We approach the guy.

“Why aren’t you charging these people? We’re the entertainment and we get the money collected at the door.”

He says, “I can’t charge my regulars or they’d never come back here again.”

Turns out, every single person who walked in the door that night was a regular, except for my brother and the sax player who showed up late.

We made $10.

Sweet dreams people!