Music: I'll be playing with Ken Slauf and Glen West on Saturday, March 15, at Adelle's in Wheaton. Come on out and join us for new takes on old tunes. I'll be playing with the terrific classic rock group at Second Time Around starting again in April and continuing throughout the summer. Don't forget to like us on Facebook. You can also catch me most Sundays at 10:30AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, 367 Spring Road in Elmhurst, IL.
Fiction: I've submitted a few short stories to various publications and contests, but so far no word. You can still check out the young-adult publication, Sucker Literary Magazine, volume 2, where my short story, "The Missing Ingredient," can be found. Nine great stories featuring the most interesting people on the planet - teenagers. Sucker is available in paperback and for Kindle.
Song of the Week
Each week I feature one of my original compositions. Keep coming back, take a listen and enjoy. This week's is "Missed Opportunity" from my album Pause.
Whether you’re Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, agnostic or atheist (or something else altogether), it never hurts to find a bit of wisdom to enhance your life. Whether it’s little nuggets of Eastern philosophy from a book like The Toa of Pooh, the guidance of Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff books (25 million copies sold), or words of sacred texts – so often espoused but so rarely read (or applied) – I find that taking wisdom wherever it’s offered is best.
For the past three years, I’ve been playing piano for a Presbyterian church and have been pleased to learn a great deal despite my not being a Presbyterian or, for that matter, a Christian. No matter. A good message is a good message, and when left in the capable hands of a supremely gifted preacher, all the better.
Two recent lessons in particular jolted me out of my every-day slumber, one from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament, if you will) and one from the New Testament.
In 1 Kings 17: 7-16, Elijah asks a widow for bread and, after being told that she only has enough flour and oil for her and her son, instructs her to make a small loaf for him first, and then for her and her son. For the remainder of his stay, the flour and oil don’t run out – there’s enough to provide for all three of them.
This could be interpreted a few ways, no doubt, but the story was summarized nicely by Pastor Lyda with the following message: “Entrust what you have to God, and trust that God will provide for you.” If you’d rather leave God out of this, you could say instead, “Entrust what you have to helping others, and trust that what you need will be provided.” Either way, the message is the same: don’t wait until you have “enough” – whatever that means – before you give to others.
This, to me, is huge. It’s very easy to get caught up in the trap of “waiting until…” I’ll wait to give to charity until after I graduate from college. Until after I pay off my student loans. Until after I get out of this shabby apartment. Until after I buy a home. Until after I fill my home with stuff. Until after my wedding. Until after the kids are a little older. Until after we save enough for college (and trust me – you’ll never save enough). Until after I get a promotion. Until after we take our vacation. After, after, after…
In Judaism, even the poorest among us are instructed to give to the needy, and instead of the word charity, Jews use the word Tzedakah, meaning justice or righteousness. In other words, giving to the needy isn’t a good thing to do: it is a moral obligation. It’s easy to delay this moral obligation until everything in your life is going just the way you want it to, but we’ve been told not to fall into this trap. Give. If you can’t give much money, give your time and your kindness. Mentor a child. Teach English to an immigrant. Feed a hungry person or deliver food for Meals on Wheels. Help write a resume for someone looking for work. Play music for hospital patients or senior residents. Clean the linens of a homeless shelter. There is no shortage of needs. If we wait to give until everything is just perfect, we may find that we keep moving the line since perfection is never achieved.
Switching to a different lesson from the New Testament, both Luke 12:34 and Matthew 6:21 state “For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” I love this. Wherever we put our time, our effort, our money – that’s where our heart is. To me, this is just another way of saying, “What we do is more important than what we say.” If you put all your energy into following sports, then that’s where your heart is. If you put all your time and effort into your job, then that’s where your heart is. If you find that your efforts aren’t in synch with your heart, it’s probably time to reevaluate your life. And really, that means it’s time for almost all of us to reevaluate our lives, likely on a daily basis.
These two bits of wisdom happen to come from old sacred texts, but they could just as easily have come from a fortune cookie or a Saturday morning cartoon. Doesn't matter as long as you use it and apply it.
I’m all for spending money where it matters. For some people, that might be cars or vacations. For others, fine dining and bottles of wine. For me, I don’t mind spending money on live musical acts or my yearly pilgrimage to Lambeau Field. But I hate spending money on stuff that I don’t particularly value in the first place. I’ve managed to avoid paying for cable for the past fourteen years, so that’s something, but I still piss away about $90 on a landline and Internet service each month, which irritates the hell out of me.
Three years ago I purchased my first cell-phone – a dumb phone – and paid a monthly fee of $15 for its use. Not too bad, but after three years it finally started going on the fritz, so I recently took the plunge into the smart phone waters, hopeful that I could do so without signing away my firstborn to one of the big providers. A couple of years ago, this might have been an impossible task, but today there are a number of no-contract cell phone plans that are nice alternatives for certain consumers.
I chose to go with Republic Wireless, a company that customizes the one phone it offers – the fabulous Moto X – so that it utilizes WiFi as the default, switching to a traditional cell network only when necessary. This means that when you’re at home or in the office, you can use the WiFi available to you, which ultimately allows Republic Wireless to offer packages that are far cheaper than what you’ll find at Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. I looked at the big providers, and generally the cost was $40 a month for the phone, plus another $50 or so for a data plan. There are economies of scale, however, so adding another phone or two to the data plan improves the per-phone cost. Also, the phones are free (or close to free), but that’s only as an enticement to lock you into a long-term plan.
Compare this with Republic Wireless. Yes, there’s an upfront cost: I paid $299 for my Moto X, which seems like a lot compared to the free phone I could have gotten form one of the big providers, but it’s an excellent price for an excellent 16 GB phone, and now – here’s the best part – I only pay $10 a month to use it. This includes data, text and phone when I’m in a WiFi network (including internationally), but only text and phone when traveling - no data. For me this is not a big deal, as I spend most of my time at home. But if I DO want data everywhere, Republic Wireless offers this for just $25 a month by piggybacking off of Sprint’s network. And what's really fantastic is I’m allowed to switch plans twice a month, so if, for example, I decide I need data while traveling on vacation, I can bump my plan up to include data for a week or two, and then switch back to my normal $10 a-month plan. Pretty cool.
Comparing costs long-term, I’ll start saving money with Republic Wireless after only four months.
Month: Total cost with normal plan Total cost with Republic Wireless
1 90 310
2 180 320
3 270 330
4 360 340
Even if I decide to up my plan to include cell data service, I’ll start saving money after only five months.
1 90 325
2 180 350
3 270 375
4 360 400
5 450 425
Over three years, I’ll save between $2000 and $2600 depending on which plan I use at Republic Wireless. Not too shabby.
If I add a second phone, the savings become slightly less per phone, since on a traditional plan you can combine data between phones. With two phones on a traditional plan, I’d be paying $40 per phone plus another $60 for a monthly data plan – so $140 per month. That’s compared to $20 to $50 a month with Republic Wireless (plus an initial investment of $600 to purchase the phones). Over three years, that’s still a savings of between $2600 and $3700 total. Again, not chump change.
Republic Wireless clearly isn’t for everyone (anyone who wants a phone other than Moto X, for instance), but it's an excellent alternative to the way things are usually done. I suspect that in the next year or two, more and more plans will be made available to consumers that slash the cost of phone use, allowing us to spend more money on cars, fine dining or Packer tickets.
Now the question is: do I get rid of my landline?
By any measure, it’s been a cold and snowy winter for the upper Midwest. As of the end of January, Chicago was hovering around the thirteenth coldest winter on record, and this week continues the trend of below average temperatures. We’ve had four school days cancelled already, and our kids will be paying dearly for it come June, exhibit A of how delayed gratification is often the better bet.
The cold has naturally brought about bragging rights of those old enough to recall, say, the blizzard of ’79 or the cold streak of ‘85. I’m no exception. For me, this winter brings to mind January of 1994, when I resided in St. Paul, parked my ’85 Tercel outdoors and wondered why I hadn’t gone to grad school in Arizona. I was working at Federal Cartridge Company in Anoka about forty minutes away, and my poor car had to be jumped multiple times at the end of the work day. This was standard procedure for the folks in Anoka, as they had a truck available specifically for this purpose.
January 2nd began a 22 day cold spell of temperatures remaining below freezing. In the midst of this streak, my friends followed what is normally sound advice in such circumstances: get the hell out of Dodge and head for warmer pastures. We decided to take a road trip to Kentucky, my roommate’s home state, and take advantage of an opportunity to watch the Kentucky-Tennessee basketball game, ogle at young coeds and enjoy some warmer weather.
We succeeded in the first two goals. Warmer weather was not to be.
On the drive down, the moisture from our wretched breathes condensed on the windows, forming a thick sheet of ice that provided an outlet for the artistic endeavors of the passengers. Arriving in Lexington on January 15th Lexington, we were greeted to a high of 9 degrees and a low of 2 below zero. Returning home two days later only made matters worse. Here are the temperature highs and lows for Minneapolis during the cold streak of 1994.
Jan 14 -18, 6
Jan 15 -25, -9
Jan 16, -25, 0
Jan 17, -17, 0
Jan 18, -27, -7
Even the University of Minnesota cried “Uncle” that day and cancelled classes. My Tercel also acquiesced to Mother Nature. It wouldn’t start without a jump from my buddy’s El Camino. Still the streak continued…
Jan 19 -27, 1
Jan 20 -27, 2
Finally, on January 21, we made it to a high of 28 (but still a low of 3 below zero). Temperatures didn’t make it past 32 degrees until two days later, and even this respite was short-lived. Beginning on January 29th, we endured 18 consecutive days of below normal temperatures.
So yeah, it’s been a cold winter. Our heating bills are going to be high. And my back – twenty years older than it was in 1994 – it about ready to call it a winter. But at least I have a garage this time around and a car that’s less than ten years old (and money to purchase a new battery if it comes to that).
Perhaps in twenty years time, the young whippersnappers of today will blog about the Winter of 2014 with fond recollections.
1979. The year of The Knack, Led Zeppelin’s first album in over three years, 52nd Street, Tusk, The Long Run, and…
Breakfast in America.
Living in Milwaukee in 1979, there was nobody bigger than Supertramp. Already mainstays of Milwaukee radio from their previous three releases, Supertramp was kept in constant rotation on WQFM and WLPX, with “Logical Song,” “Goodbye Stanger,” “Breakfast in America,” “Take the Long Way Home” and “Lord Is It Mine” all making the airwaves. Supertramp played at Mecca Arena on March 22, and then returned to Alpine Valley for three consecutive shows on June 15-June 17, just a week after exiting the Billboard best-selling album ranking (only to return a week later).
The tour culminated six months later in Paris, after selling over four million copies of Breakfast in America in the US alone, the fifth-best selling album that year, eventually winning the Grammy for the best engineered recording. The Paris show was recorded and subsequently released as a live LP, and though the concert was also filmed, it wasn’t made available in video. This glaring omission in rock concert libraries has now been rectified, as the show is now available on DVD and Blue Ray.
I missed the 1979 tour. As an 11 year-old, too young to see rock concerts, I was filled with jealousy when my brother returned home from one of the Alpine Valley shows with a t-shirt in hand. I made the next Supertramp concert at Alpine Valley on August 28, 1983, for what would be Roger Rodgson’s last tour with the band, and I have terrific memories of Bob Siebenberg starting the show with the kick drum from “Don’t Leave Me Now” as a giant tightrope walker appeared on the film screen behind the stage and the band launched into the song “Crazy.”
Watching the Breakfast in America DVD last night brought back fond memories of that show, but I was also able to watch the band with perhaps a more discerning eye than back in 1983. A few thoughts:
- Davies and Hodgson have no stage presence whatsoever. Hodgson sings most of his songs with his eyes closed, and Davies has a twitch that makes him look like he’s expending the greatest of effort even when he’s playing the simplest of keyboard parts. I remember both of the band leaders having little to no interaction with the audience in 1983 as well, with the exception of Hodgson announcing his decision to leave the band (just before playing "Give a Little Bit").
- John Helliwell, in addition to being a great woodwind and keyboard contributor, is the voice of the band, adding a much needed sense of humor and dialogue with the audience.
- Hodgson is a very underrated guitarist. I liken him to David Gilmore; perhaps his chops aren’t extraordinary, but his choice of notes and sounds are flawless. Just hearing him play the tasteful guitar solo in “School” was enough for me to take notice, and I still love his work at the end of “Goodbye Stranger.”
- The stage setup is interesting, so that even though Davies only plays keyboards (and harmonica), he positions himself in one of four different places on the stage: one for the front stage Wurlizer, one for the grand piano, one for the Hammond and other keyboards stage left, and another keyboard setup that allows for Hodgson and Helliwell to have easy access during songs that require guitar and woodwinds. In effect, you have three of the five members moving around regularly, which makes for a more fulfilling visual experience.
- The highlight of the concert for me is the inclusion of “Another Man’s Woman,” a Davies tour de force and completely unexpected. Hodgson’s understated guitar work during this song is another example of how less is more.
- Perplexingly absent from the set list are Davies’s contribution to Supertramp's latest release. Only one of his songs from Breakfast in America is performed, the hit “Goodbye Stranger.” In the notes from my concert program for the …Famous Last Words… tour, is states, “Rick Davies was so sure that Breakfast in America would not reach the top 5 on the American charts that he bet Bob Siebenberg $100 that it wouldn’t.” Perhaps he didn’t really like the tunes from this record, which would explain why he played all four of his songs from Crime of the Century, but only one from the best-selling album in the band’s history.
- The screen behind the stage is used fleetingly, and I suspect this was a rather extravagant and expensive proposition in 1979. On the DVD, film is used only for the songs “Rudy,” “Fool’s Overture” and “Crime of the Century.” When I saw them in 1983, I recall them using the screen for "Crazy" and “Child of Vision” as well.
- Why the cameras didn’t roll during “Ain’t Nobody But Me,” “From Now On,” “A Soapbox Opera,” “You Started Laughing” and “Downstream” is a mystery, and one wonders if Rick’s contributions to the band were overlooked in favor of the hit-making Hodgson, since four of the five missing tracks are Davies songs. Luckily, the audio is included for these tracks as a DVD extra.
The legacy of Supertramp has been minimized in my mind due to Hodgson’s departure in 1983, a few uninteresting albums since that time, a lot of extended time off, and the inability of Davies and Hodgson to come to a settlement that would culminate in a reunion tour. Other bands have stayed relevant without new material (The Beatles, anyone? Or Billy Joel?), but one has to wonder if Supertramp is one of those bands that’s going to disappear entirely from people’s playlists in the next ten or twenty years. If so, it’ll be a shame, because Supertramp had a remarkable knack for walking the balance beam between creativity and accessibility. There is no reason in the world that a song like “School” should have gotten radio play, and yet it did. Supertramp achieved something remarkable, and I have to wonder if after the inclusion of Heart into the Rock and Roll Hall-of-Fame last year, if they shouldn’t be considered. I doubt it'll happen, but if the year 1979 is any indication of the band’s impact on the music world, perhaps it should.
Aging can be scary. Just ask my daughters about Peter Gabriel. But first, a little background…
In 1994 I mentioned to my friend Julie that I thought my hairline was starting to recede. “Well, duh!” was her response. Apparently, I was the last to know. Or maybe the last to know was Alice, my wife, because I managed to snare her prior to my long descent into baldness. 2013 helped spur the aging process, as I put on about seven pound and purchased my first pair of reading glasses. I figure it’s only downhill from here. There are exceptions to men aging in unattractive ways: say, George Clooney, Cary Grant, and every man who’s ever played James Bond.
But for me, I think I’m going to go down the path of Peter Gabriel (except for the world stardom part).
Gabriel didn’t really reach world stardom until his album So in 1986 when he was thirty-six years old, a fairly elevated age for a rock performer’s peak, but even six years later, when he toured behind his follow-up album Us and sang about aging issues like divorce, he looked good. Svelte. Tireless. Exuberant. When my daughters were young, we would play Gabriel’s Secret World DVD over and over, mesmerized by the visual spectacle of the show as much as the musical performances. Still own it. Still love it.
As Gabriel is wont to do, he stayed largely hidden from public view for a number of years, but appeared in 1999 at the Academy Awards to sing Randy Newman’s song “That’ll Do” from the movie Babe - Pig in the City. You could almost hear the audience gasp as he came onto the stage.
Check out the reaction that people shared on-line immediately following the Oscars (under the heading “Peter Gabriel YIKES”).
My favorite line is: “My husband came into the room and asked me why Marlon Brando was singing.”
Big deal, right? People age. Except it was only SIX YEARS AFTER the Secret World tour! The man went from this…
...from the age of 43 to 49!
I’m 45, smack dab in the middle of the road that goes from “tolerable looking” to “ewww”.
Four years after Gabriel’s Oscar performance, I rented the DVD of his Up tour, excited to once again show my daughters an inspiring Peter Gabriel concert. I don’t want it to sound like I’ve raised two shallow-minded girls, but they practically cowered while watching the hairless, bloated figure on screen. They were only six years old, but they knew a cover up when the saw one.
“This is the same man?” they asked.
“Are you sure?”
I wasn’t. They went back to playing with their Barbies, and I finished the DVD, searching for a melody in tunes like “More than This” and “Growing Up.” It was as if the songs had suffered the same fate as their creator, plodding along, suffocating beneath their own weight.
It’s said that people see themselves at a certain age, frozen in time, and are shocked and betrayed when the mirror shows their true age. But better to live by that internal age then the external one. Better to be surprised when looking into the mirror than validated.
I guess that's the trick. So I've decided I'm going to live like I'm twenty-one and see what happens. Should be divorced and homeless within a month's time.