Upcoming Gigs:

Fri, March 27: I'll be joining Ken Slauf and Glen West with Crazy Wizdom at Adelle's in Wheaton.  7PM to 10PM.

Fri, April 17: I'm playing with Ken Slauf for the first time at Foxfire in Geneva, IL.

Fri, May 15: The Chi-town Showstoppers will be whoppin' it up at Blue Chip Casino in Indiana.

Fri, May 30: It will have been a while, but I'll be back at Dock's in Wauconda playing with Second Time Around. 9PM to 12:45AM.  Come on out and have a few!

Monday, June 1: Second Time Around kicks off the summer in Schaumburg Town Square, where we'll be showcasing its library concert series.  6:45 to 8:15.  Rain date on June 4th.

Fri, June 5: I'll be joining Ken Slauf and Glen West with Crazy Wizdom at Adelle's in Wheaton.  7PM to 10PM.

Tue, June 20: Ken Slauf, Glen West and I will be playing again this year at Schaumburg's fabulous Hop and Vine celebration from 6 to 9PM.  We had a blast here last year once the rain stopped!

Fri, July 3: I'm back with Second Time Around at Dock's in Wauconda for our outdoor show on the porch and fireworks over the lake.  This is a great event every year. 7PM to 11PM.

Thur, July 9: Second Time Around will perform at Summer Concert in the Park Series in North Riverside form 7 to 9. 

Sat, July 11: Second Time Around is back at Barrington Brew Fest, an annual outing for us, and always a blast.  3PM to 7PM.

Fri, August 14: I'll be joining Ken Slauf and Glen West with Crazy Wizdom again at Adelle's in Wheaton.  7PM to 10PM.

Sat, September 19: I'll be playing with my old high school classmates in our band I ON U for the first time in twenty-eight years.  Should be a great time.  We'll be playing sometime around noon at Oscar's Bar and Grill, 1712 W. Pierce St.

You can also catch me and my colleagues almost every Sunday at 10:30am at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church for contemporary, uplifting music.

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For my upcoming gigs, check out the right hand margin.

Great gigs last weekend at the Grand Victoria Casina in Elgin.  Thanks to everyone who stopped by.  Check out the right hand margin and see if you can make it out for any of my upcoming shows. In the meantime, I've submitted a new short story for publication, and an idea for a CD or new original music is percolating. Stay tuned... You can also catch me most Sundays at 10:30AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, 367 Spring Road in Elmhurst.

 Original Song of the Week: The Part Of You

 


A Lesson from St. Vincent and The Fisher King

** SPOILER ALERT *** If you haven’t seen these two movies, consider reading this essay after you do.

Watching Bill Murray’s film St. Vincent last week, I was reminded of another movie: The Fisher King, starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams.  Both the 1991 and 2014 releases are similar, not just because they’re manipulative and contrived, but because they could potentially lead one to view the more downtrodden among us differently.  How?  Well, that depends on how you look at things.  For some, the movies might invoke a spirited response similar to that of Christopher Tookey, who wrote of the Fisher King:

"The sagacity of the saga is diminished by screenwriter Richard LaGravenese's naively sentimental approach to homelessness and insanity.  Madness in this film can be cured just by knowing that someone cares about you, and homelessness is not a social problem, but a picturesque way that individuals have of coping with personal tragedy.”

Whereas Tookey feared people could stop viewing homelessness as a real problem, I remember walking away from The Fisher King with a more positive thought:  that its tale of a personal tragedy might lead people to view homeless in a more humane way, concluding that perhaps it wasn’t drug use, crime, or other poor choices that led their downfall, but rather a terrible event over which they had no control.

Never mind that generalizing a film’s depiction of a fictional character as a universal truth is unfair to a medium that’s primary purpose is to entertain.  After all, just because Robin Williams’s character suffered a horrendous tragedy doesn’t mean all homeless people have.  But it might be a positive step when we’re confronted with, say, a panhandler, to help use the movie as an example, and consider that this person asking for money may once have been living a full and rich life only to have a tragedy propel them downward (of course, you could argue that it shouldn’t matter one way or the other.  A person in need is a person in need, no matter what led to their circumstances).

St. Vincent walks a similar line to that of The Fisher King.  Its egregiously manipulative screenplay has the main character – who’s been a complete ass for most of the film – conveniently throw out the remnants of his nobler past just as a neighborhood kid watches through a window, thus casting the curmudgeon in a new light.  Like The Fisher King, this film seems to shout out, “Don’t judge a person too harshly – you don’t know what he’s been through.”

And as contrived as this message may be, this is exactly the default setting we should be employing in our lives.  When someone cuts us off on the highway, treats us inconsiderately at the cash register or demeans us at the doctor’s office, it’s easy for us to conclude that the person we’re dealing with is simply a low-life asshole who thinks of nothing but himself.  And you know what?  The easy conclusion may actually be right on the mark. 

But aren’t we much better served by assuming that the person who’s cut us off on the highway is in a terrible hurry because he just found out his spouse has cancer, or the inconsiderate cashier just discovered she can’t pay this month’s rent, or the demeaning physician just had to tell a patient that he’s dying.  Unlikely scenarios, perhaps, but possible, just like it’s possible the homeless person you encountered lost his wife in an unspeakably horrific way, and it’s possible that the cranky neighbor who everyone dislikes is a war veteran who’s been taking care of his wife with dementia for years.

It doesn’t hurt to assume the best in people, and it could even do a lot of good.  As Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  It’s a difficult ideal to live up to, but it’s certainly one to aspire to, and movies like St. Vincent and The Fisher King are helpful – if a bit melodramatic – reminders if that ideal.

The End of Cable? (sniff, sniff)

A few months ago I documented an infuriating experience I had with Comcast for what should have been a simple fix (i.e., replacing a broken router).  Despite the fact that a friend of mine who I hadn’t heard from in over half a year proactively reached out to me to mock my essay, I stand by it, and now Joel Stein of TIME Magazine does too, at least tacitly.

In this week’s TIME, Stein discusses his attempt to transfer his cable service to a new address, but apparently Time Warner shares Comcast’s penchant for ineptness and stupidity.  After several phone calls with no resolution, Stein decided to cut the cord and discontinue cable altogether.  My blog may not have much of an impact on the cable industry, but Time Warner can’t exactly be thrilled with Stein declaring,“…I really, really, really hate Time Warner Cable.”  He certainly isn’t alone.

When Blockbuster went belly-up a few years back, I said to a friend of mine, “Well, I guess that’s what happens when your business model is built on treating customers like three year-old felons.”  Cable companies could learn a thing or two from the likes of Blockbuster.  My family hasn’t had cable TV in over 14 years, and it’s becoming less of a sacrifice with each passing year of added streaming content through Amazon, Netlfix, and the like.  And now, poor customer service is jeopardizing our decision to use Comcast for Internet and phone service.  

It may only be a matter of time before cable compaies take the dive, and when it does, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch fo guys.  Except possibly the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

12 Music Documentaries

I can think of few better ways to pass a late evening after the wife and kids have called it a night than by pursuing the solitary but highly rewarding activity of watching a musical documentary. Hell, the wife and kids wouldn’t get it anyhow, so why not delve into a topic no one else in my family cares about, without interruption, and walk away with a new set of musical facts to share with my fellow musical geeks…er…aficionados? 

I’ve been watching a lot of these lately, mostly because I keep running into people saying, “You haven’t seen Movie X?  And you’re a musician?”  So I’ve been catching up, filling in the gaping holes in my musical knowledge, and enjoying the ride.  In no particular order – except for the first one – I’d like to recommend the following…

1. Searching for Sugar Man (2012):  Oscar winner for Best Documentary in 2012, this is an expertly executed movie, especially if you go into it with no knowledge of musician Rodriguez.  I didn’t, and the movie blew me away, and I’d rather not say anything more for fear of ruining the experience for someone else.  This is one of those examples of how real life is stranger than fiction.  Inspiring, unbelievable, and positively engrossing.

2. Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? (2010):  Whether or not you know who Harry Nilsson is, this movie is an entertaining romp about a bold, fearless, irreverent musician whose lifestyle led to his downfall.  A wonderfully candid film that doesn’t gloss over the obvious failings of one of best vocalists of the 20th Century.

3. Vinyl (2000): A film that exposes the underbelly of record-collecting, which for some people is less an enjoyable hobby than an addictive burden.  This would be a completely depressing movie were it not for the genuine humanity and likability of its filmmaker, Alan Zweig.

4. Muscle Shoals (2013): If you don’t know what the hell Muscle Shoals is, you’ve probably heard it mentioned hundreds of times in the Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song, “Sweet Home, Alabama.”  They sing:

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers 
And they've been known to pick a song or two 
Lord they get me off so much 
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue 
Now how about you?

So how about you?  If this lyric is nothing but gibberish to you, check out the movie that explains how Rick Hall and a band of musicians called The Swampers created a unique sound that changed music.  To me, this isn’t a brilliant film, but the interviews with Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Cliff, Steve Winwood and others make it a worthwhile view.

5. Jimi Hendrix: Here My Train A Comin’ (2013): Part of PBS’s American Masters series, this is an excellent retrospective about the guitar great with original footage and interviews, illustrating just how innovative and influential he was.  More than any other musician, Hendrix makes me wonder what might have been. 

6.  Sound City (2013): A film by Foo Figher David Grohl, this is another showcase of an influential studio that recorded some of the biggest hits of the 70s, took a nose-dive in the 80s, and returned with a vengeance in the 90s. Grohl’s love for the studio, the equipment and the music is infectious, and he takes it a step further by recording new material with the artists and equipment that made the original studio famous.  Interviews with Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Neil Young and others make this a must-see.

7. Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (2012): Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny Journey their amazing comeback to rock stardom and the remarkable ride of vocalist Arnel Pineda.  A truly inspiring film, all the more because you get the sense that Pineda is a guy who knows how lucky he is, and who’s trying like mad to remain grounded.

8. 20 Feet From Stardom (2013): Another Oscar winner, this is a must-see film about the largely unknown vocalists who made much of the music in our musical catalogue soar.  Watching Mick Jagger listen to the soloed track of Merry Clayton singing “Gimme Shelter” gets my vote for one of the best moments in cinematic history.  Chills.

9. History of The Eagles (2013) is a thorough retrospective of a band that only released six albums in its heyday, yet managed to comletely redefine rock music in the 70s.  The changing cast members and internal feuding only add to what would have already been an interesting film about a band that for me has overstayed it's welcome.

10. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2002): This beautifully made film captures the band recording its critically-renowned album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and documents an interesting period in the music industry when record studios were collapsing and musicians were often left caught in the middle.  Lucikly, Wilco managed to rise above it somehow.  The pretentiousness of Jeff Tweedy is staggering, and the film’s music doesn’t do much for me, but it’s still cool to see the band working on their craft – much of it in glorious black and white.

11. No Direction Home (2005): A film of raw footage from Dylan’s rise to fame in the 1960s, it helps a skeptical fan like me understand what it was about Dylan that got people excited in the first place.  How can you not appreciate his response to hecklers in 1966 England, when he turns to his band and says, “Play it fuckin’ loud” before diving into “Like a Rolling Stone”?  Fantastic.

12. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010): Can a film about a band with virtually no scandals and no internal feuding be interesting?  Well, if you’re a Rush fan it can be.  I’ve watched it twice, and I’ll watch it again.

There are loads more musical documentaries to check out - George Harrison: Living In the Material World is next on my list - but if you have a favorite you think I should watch, let me know!

A New Poem

I'm in a bit of a pissy mood tonight, and when you're in a pissy mood, sometimes there's nothing better than a poem.

 

Guy A and Guy B

 

I sat on the couch in your parents’ living room.

You sat in the chair across from me.

I said I wanted to ask you out before anyone else did,

because I’d heard some other guys were thinking about it;

I had to beat them to the punch.

And you said yes, but you had to wonder,

and I knew you had to wonder,

“Who are the other guys?”

And after we watched Tom Hanks do his best with subpar material,

we ate crab legs,

and you must have been thinking,

“Where would Guy A and Guy B have taken me?  A place that serves duck and lamb instead?”

I eat duck and lamb now.  But I grew up eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

For me, crab was a stretch.

You’re lucky I didn’t take you to a place that served

scalloped potatoes and ham.  That was a staple in my home.

So was beef stroganoff.

And tuna casserole.

For you, I ordered bottom dwellers.

By comparisson, a delicacy.

When I graduated, you wrote me a letter and got me a pen.

It was engraved.

And I wondered, “What did you get for Guy A and Guy B?”

New Song: A Life of Invention

Here's a new tune you can download, A Life of Invention, written for my son's bar mitzvah.  Enjoy!  And thanks to Tim Marin for his guitar and bass work, and Glen West for mastering the song.
A Life of Invention

 

Here he comes
The man with many questions
You can't begin to answer
He'll always leave you guessing
Here he comes

Here he comes
He won't wait 'til tomorrow
The only time is now
Oh, here he comes

He's taking his mark
at the starting line
And charting the course
Inside his mind

Xs and Ys
Ones and zeros
With eyes on the prize
Comes the conquering hero
He won’t stay here long
In the present dimension
He’s craking the code
To a life of invention

Here he comes
Whether wresting with religion
Or seeped in indecision
Or pulsing with precision

Here he comes
And not to be undone
He wields a rubric and a drum
Oh here he comes

He’s bound from the blocks
From the starting line
And running the race
In record time

Xs and Ys
Ones and zeros
With eyes on the prize
Comes the conquering hero
He won’t stay here long
In the present dimension
He’s craking the code
To a life of invention