01/02/2021: Update and A Thought

UPDATE: Yesterday, I wrote about how a ceramic bowl exploded in my hands, resulting in a good number of cuts and a big gouge.

I’m glad to say that most of what happened to my hands is on the mend. The big gouge is covered and feeling okay so far.

I have no particular topic to discuss at the moment, so here is a thought.

If social networking did not exist, I’d probably have been able to go to the grave believing that most of my “friends” from the past were really my friends.

It’s a strange sensation to be on social networking, which is why I no longer use it. Many of my “friends” and other people from my past have proven to not be so “into” me, for lack of a better term.

A few have addressed this with me in a condescending way, explaining to me that “people grow up and change.” Enough have said this to have me wondering if I’ve not grown up much. Sometimes I feel as if I am stuck at 19 or 20; the age I was during my second year in college [1984-85].

Maybe they once were my friends, and just grew out of it all. Many of them have gotten too religious or political, and therefore have become intolerable, as well as incapable of holding a conversation. To me, a person’s religious beliefs are something to be kept private. As for political positions, this is probably the least interesting thing about a person.

To me, a person is either a friend, or they are not. And if they are not now, then I wonder if they ever were in the first place.

This came to mind after getting a new year email from a “friend” who has previously mocked me. His mockery came after I apologized to him. My apology was based on a religious argument we had.

It’s strange, but when we were friends in college, not once did he bring up religion. Now, it’s just about all that he talks about.

All I can do is accept that this is who he is now, and then stay away from him. All I will do is cause him more problems if I try to stay connected.

That’s something I need to remember: A scant few friends can last for a lifetime. But most people are only friends with you during certain periods of their lives.

Commodore 64 Maintenance

I gave my Commodore 64 its annual cleaning and took some pictures this time.

The top half of the C64

The first thing to do is pop open the case. This can be unnerving, as the back is held on with some plastic hooks. The front has 3 screws. Remove those and then carefully pop it apart. Open from the bottom, toward the front, like a clam shell.

Keyboard connector

Just don’t open it too widely yet. Some important things need to be disconnected.

The next thing is to remove two connectors. There is a 3-pronged connector on the right for the power light. On the left [pictured] is the multi-wired connector that connects the keyboard to the computer.

If you haven’t removed this in a long time, or even forever, then know that disconnecting this can loosen up some corrosion. These connections need to be cleaned. I used an electronics cleaner that I typically use with sound board sliders or guitar volume pots. It’s called DeoxIT D5.

Putting some in the connectors, I then put the entire connector on and off several times to ensure that corrosion was not present.

C64 Keyboard.

Then I took apart the keyboard and cleaned underneath the keys, and on the PCB as well. I used the cleaner under the keys, and wiped the board with some rubbing alcohol. I cleaned every single connection under the keys. There are two connections per key, so it took a while.

BEFORE: Note the old heat grease on the chips.

Next, remove the heat sink/RF shield. There was a bunch of white goop on some of the chips. This is heat grease, and it’s very important.

Initially, I just cleaned around all of this and put it back together. But after that, a few keys [T, U, I] were no longer working. So I ordered more heat grease and gave the chips a healthy application. I also bent the heat sink/RF shield clips that touched the chips, so that the contact would be better.

AFTER: Application of fresh heat grease.
Heat sink/RF shield

I plugged it all back in, and everything worked! Honestly, I had no idea about heat grease or what it was all about. I found out about it after doing a few Google searches. The heat grease was a $7 investment, and it saved this computer.

Looks like this beauty from 1984 may have yet another year of life in it.

Happily ever after…. the Commodore 64.

Happy New Year to Me

I was washing a ceramic bowl, when it hit the counter and shattered in my hands.

On my left hand was a big cut on one of my fingers. I thought that was the only one. As I was holding it up in the air, pressing to stop the blood flow, I look to my right hand. There is a major gouge on one finger, a cut on another finger, and a cut in the webbing between two fingers.

The main ones were treated with Hydrogen Peroxide, with hand-made bandages on them. I’ll use some Neosporin later today when I change these wrappings.

So meta…

Finally, while I was wrapping things up, I noticed a very light, long, thin cut on my left hand. It was lower, about an inch long, and dangerously close to my wrist.

I guess it could be better. I was under no delusions that a new year ever changes much.

Happy new year to me, and a happy new year to you as well.

Is Santa Claus Real?

I’ve always had mixed feelings about characters like Santa Claus. On the one hand, it can be a great deal of fun. I remember as a child, wanting to tell Santa about my hopes and dreams. Of course, that fun ended the year that I snuck downstairs and caught my mom, dad, and a few uncles wrapping gifts.

The previous year, Santa had brought us a puppy, so I was starting to wonder.

It lead to a great deal of disappointment in the world, for me. Why would my parents LIE to me about something like this?

Fortunately for me, my parents weren’t religious, so they didn’t attach it to anything like jesus or god. But I have to wonder, how do parents get away with lying about Santa, but then declare the god and jesus stuff to be reality?

So far as I am concerned, once I found out that Santa wasn’t real, those jesus and god characters never stood a chance. As I saw my classmates grow up, holding bizarre religious beliefs, I could only feel more sadness for them. There they were, going to church and taking it all seriously, all because their parents lied to them.

Worst of all, these children grow up and tell the lie to their own children. So when I found out that I was going to be a father, I made the decision to never lie to my son about anything, even a feel-good story like Santa.

My favorite Santa of all time.

My son’s mother would take him to see Santa at the mall, and even had him dressed and photographed as Santa, just as my parents did 30 years earlier.

The first time she took him was a total disaster. The mistake she made was to try to hand him FORWARD to Santa. You’re supposed to hold a child facing you and then back them in.

My son wanted nothing to do with it. This Santa was very clever, and had a thin box of crayons hidden in one of his gloves. He waved his hand at my son, making the crayons shake. This didn’t work, and we had to abandon the idea of him sitting with Santa that year.

THE BIG MOMENT OF TRUTH
Flash forward to 1999: My son is 4 years old. He’s walking and talking, and is far out of diaper wearing age. His mother and I had separated a year earlier, and I had re-established myself in Hollywood Somehow, on this particular year, he spent Christmas with me.

In Hollywood, there are people who dress up as characters and will pose with you for a picture for cash. We would often go out and walk the few blocks it took to get to where they were, at the corner of Hollywood and Highland.

One person was dressed as Santa. My son noted something, saying, “That’s not Santa. That’s a girl!” Indeed, it was a woman, and her get-up was so good that even I did not notice at first.

This may have been what prompted him to ask me, for the first time.

“Dad, is Santa Claus real?”

MY RESPONSE
Fortunately, I had at least five years to think about my answer. I can still remember when I first decided that I’d never lie to my own child, years before I became a father. I also remember my first thought being one of panic, as in, “what the HECK am I going to say?”

I had come up with a few ideas, but had nothing that was rehearsed. But now was the moment of truth. The question had been asked, and I had been backed into a soft corner. I had several things to say, and wanted to carefully say it so that his 4-year-old brain could pick it up.

Here is what I said:

Is Santa Claus real? I assume that you mean “real,” as in whether or not he’s a person like us. I am proud that you asked me this question because it shows that you are growing up and starting to question the world. And I’m glad that you asked me this, because it shows that you trust me and what I am going to say. I will not betray your trust.

There is an old story, passed down through the generations, about Santa Claus being a real person who magically goes down your chimney, leaves gifts, and then leaves. He supposedly does this for all of the children of the world in only one night.

People have a wide range of feelings. Sometimes you feel happy, right? Other times you might feel sad. Those are feelings. Sometimes they feel good, and other times they feel bad. But sometimes feelings are so intense and complicated that we cannot express them by doing things like smiling or crying.

For me, Christmas has always been an emotional time. When I was your age, I would go with my family to grandma’s house. We would eat, sing songs, and exchange presents. Generally speaking, it was a time when people would go out of their way to show that they cared about someone else, or about others in general. Some might say it’s a big community feeling that only happens when many people feel it at the same time.

How do you express or represent this feeling? Smiling doesn’t seem like enough. Add laughter and that still isn’t enough.

Sometimes a feeling is so intense and profound that we have to find other ways to express it. This is where Santa Claus comes in.

No, Santa Claus is not a “real” person, like you or me. However, Santa Claus represents a very real emotion that is shared throughout the community.

Santa feels very real to many people. He feels even more real to a young person like you.

So… to answer the question… Is Santa Claus real? He is NOT a real person, but he IS a real feeling. Everyone dressed as Santa is creating a physical representation of how they are feeling. It’s a physical expression to match the emotions inside.

HOW IT WENT OVER
Is dressing up like Santa kind of like how we dress up to have fun on Halloween?

That was his first and only question. I gave that one a resounding “yes!” in response. I continued, “It’s like when you buy a present for someone, wrap it up, and give it to them. Then they start to open it. They see what’s inside and are happy. The happiness you feel for them is Santa.

Speaking of presents, I have a few things for you!

Christmas 1999, after our Santa talk.

We opened the gifts, which were near our tiny little potted tree. In the photo, the tree can be seen just above my son’s head.

He said that what he liked best about Christmas was hanging out with me in Hollywood.

IN THE END
Writing that story brought back some strong, profound memories. I won’t be seeing him this year, since we live in different states. He is working every day, and will be spending the holidays with his mother. We did exchange gifts, which was nice.

This year won’t be the same as other years, and I know that is difficult for most people. It’s difficult for me, for sure. Still, remaining safe during these times will give us a chance to maybe have another time together in the near future.

He doesn’t have any children and doesn’t want any children. I understand that sentiment, as I didn’t want to have any children either. But sometimes life happens, and there he was.

I’ll miss Christmas in California this year. I’ll also miss flying to San Francisco to spend time with a friend at his FESTIVUS party. You know, Festivus, for the rest of us.

Life is on hold. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk on the phone or have a video chat. This is when we should be grateful for what we DO have. Which reminds me, I have a few friends with whom I should have a video chat, and I need to get on instigating that ASAP.

Thank you to everyone who reads, even if you don’t comment. Regardless of what you celebrate or believe, I hope that it’s as good as it can be.

My son and me, 30 years apart.

Christmas, Music, and Commodore 64

One thing I love just as much as music is computers. In particular, I have a passion for the old Commodore 64. There’s one sitting on my desk right now.

Original Commodore 64, complete with a 1541 floppy drive, diskettes, game carts, game controller, and more. This C64 was made in 1983.

MY COMPUTER HISTORY
I first saw a computer in-person in 1978, when one of my school’s music teachers showed me how he could connect to a BBS.

He even played checkers with someone in Florida. This was no easy task, as he had to call the person to tell them to log in. Then he put the phone on the 300 BAUD modem, types in an initstring, and waited for it to connect.

Ever since then, I was hooked.

Our school got ONE computer in the library in 1982, at the start of my senior year. Few people knew it was there and nobody was using it. So I got on and started teaching myself programming with the help of a fellow student named Ted.

Ted came from a relatively wealthy family, so he had a computer and lots of knowledge. He taught me IF, THEN, and GOTO statements. I started working on a project.

The librarian caught me and told me the computer was for use with educational software only. And because of my horrible policy infraction, I was BANNED from the school library my senior year. Talk about American education, eh!

I did not let that stop me. In my first year of college, I spent some down-time in the computer lab, attempting to finish where I had left off. It was late in the middle of the night, and nobody was there.

A security guard asked to see my student ID. He asked my major. When I told him I was a Percussion Arts/Music major, he told me, “Sorry, but the computer lab is for Math and Science majors only.” Once again, I was banned.

In other words, I was actively denied access to computers throughout my formal education. It’s a very, VERY American thing.

BEYOND SCHOOL
In 1987, I got a job delivering computers for a small company in Southern California. We had lots of big-name clients. We also had lots of computers that weren’t getting rented, which I would take home and work on.

While here, I learned how to build computers, troubleshoot, install software, and more.

During this time, I ran a BBS [bulletin board] from the shop. There were some adult-oriented animated graphics, which are very crude by today’s standards. There was also an area to leave messages. I actually got to see people dating online in 1987. It was highly time-consuming and tedious, but it worked.

EARLY INTERNET
I got on as soon as the internet was made available to the general public on April 30, 1993. I used all of the regular services.

My computer at work did not have a modem, but the network downstairs had three. So I figured out how to dial the modem through the network and got online from my desk without anyone knowing. Well, anyone except for the IT manager. I stayed late and helped him with projects in exchange for him keeping that quiet.

WEB 2.0
Things took off, and I found myself working for companies like MySpace and LinkedIn. I used social networking for a long time, but have not been using it lately. There was a five year stretch where I used none at all.

For me, today’s social networking is too angry, divisive, and risky.

And that is what drove me back into the arms of my Commodore 64.

MORE THAN THAT
But it’s more than a case of negativity pushing me in a specific direction. I’ve always loved old computers. They challenge your mind and patience. I have one game that takes five minutes to load up.

It’s also a nostalgia for a time when I was passionate about something other than music. Up until 1982, music and drumming were my only true points of focus and passion.

A FUTURE WITH COMPUTERS?
I may end up doing some things with computers in the future. Unfortunately, most companies today engage in a great deal of ageism. They don’t want to hire people my age, and care more about building and worshipping a culture of youth.

No matter. I can still teach myself. I won’t spend money on school, but maybe a mentor.

UH, YOU MENTIONED CHRISTMAS?
Oh yes! I certainly did!

My Commodore 64 wasn’t always mine. For most of its life it belonged to a man who was part of a computing group called “CSUN.” No, not California State University Northridge. These were people who made a monthly diskette and shipped it to members. They communicated on their own BBS. They cracked games and associated with pirates like 1001 Crew.

My son and me, 30 years apart. Merry Xmas!

When I originally went through all of the diskettes I received with this unit over 5 years ago, I found the first-ever Christmas program [demo] that was made for the Commodore 64.

In America, it was played on the screens of Commodore 64 computers everywhere during the holidays. In the UK, it was available on a data tape called “The Very First.”

Yes, it was a marketing thing. Most of Christmas is all about marketing, pulling at heart strings, and encouraging excessive consumerism.

But for me, it’s a reminder of those simpler times, when we’d go to my grandparents’ home for a big dinner and singing songs while grandpa played the organ.

It was a time when my biggest problem revolved around whether or not I had enough gas in my car to pick up my girlfriend next weekend, or driving 20 miles round-trip to get a new set of guitar strings or drum sticks.

I could show you the demo on my screen, but someone did a better screen capture. That will be available below, at the end.

IN THE END
This Christmas is going to be rough for everyone. I don’t even want to speculate about how many people will suffer, die, or become permanently deformed by the pandemic, which will be accelerated by people engaging in Christmas traditions.

Most traditions for most people are simply not safe this year. It is during times like these that we turn toward the little things that matter. Calling your friends and loved ones, or having a video chat.

I know it’s not the same, even as I load up this program to watch it, hear it, and get taken back in time. It is during those desperate times when we have almost nothing, when we must acknowledge and be grateful for that which we do have.

Merry Xmas, happy holidays, and regardless of what you celebrate, please remain safe.

Commodore 64 Christmas demo from 1982.

Writing and “Dead-End Living”

On top of music and drumming, one of my other big passions is writing. It makes sense for me, since I have an internal monologue that never shuts up and I can type over 100 words per minute.

I love writing so much that people have told me that I should do NaNoWriMo. This is a challenge where a person spends the month of November writing a novel that is at least 50,000 words in length. By comparison, I wrote a story that was 89,000 words in one day.

To be fair, editing would take a handful of days, which would turn that day into a week. That still leaves three whole weeks.

The story that I wrote is called “Dead-End Living.” In today’s entry, I’m going to write a brief yet semi-detailed synopsis of the story. Where YOU come in is simple: Read the synopsis and let me know if you’d be interested in reading this book. If enough people are interested, then I will invest in editing it and giving it a proper publish.

SYNOPSIS: Dead-End Living
Dead-End Living is the story of a man named Ron. He’s got this fantastic career and is on the edge of retirement. His wife is Kristina, and he’s madly in love with her. They have a young adult son named Kurt.

As Ron approaches retirement, he begins to feel nostalgia for his childhood. This leads him to look up his childhood home, in a small town where he grew up. The home was situated at the end of a road that butts up against a corn field, in a curious dead-end. To his surprise, the house is for sale!

Not only that, but in the back yard is a giant tree. This isn’t just any giant tree. In fact, it’s a tree that Ron planted with his father, back when he was just six years old. His dad told him that it was a “wishing tree,” and that it could make all of his dreams come true.

Ron talks to the owners, who informed him that there was already a buyer. However, the town’s people have an aversion to big city outsiders. Since Ron grew up there, they make an exception for him, and he gets the house.

Ron has two more months of retirement left, but the couple is so excited about their retirement home that they decided that Kristina can go there early to start getting things ready.

Kristina is cleaning the extended garage one afternoon, when a hefty wind storm picks up. In what can only be described as a freak accident, the “Wishing Tree” is blown over. It crushes the extended garage, killing Kristina instantly.

Devastated by this development, Ron takes an early retirement and moves into the house alone. His nostalgic feelings of the past are transformed into a nightmare, when his present and dashed future infect the past with hard feelings.

Making things worse, most of the people he knew moved away, save for a few who never left. Those who knew him are welcoming, while others who view him as a big city outsider have their grievances with his presence.

Ron is beginning to regret his decision. But he also knows that he cannot go back to his old life, and his new life is a far cry from what he had planned.

Alone and in a familiar place that has turned strange, Ron navigates his new world alone, struggling to make sense of his life.

What will he find?

IN THE END
You’d have to read it to find out what Ron finds and what happens.

Although I have ~89,000 words, the book could end up slightly shorter or longer. There are certain elements that I wasn’t happy with when I read the story again today.

I’m torn between finishing this book and starting another one.

John Lennon: 1940-1980 in 2020

As of today, John Lennon has been dead for pretty much as long as he had been alive. That’s something to wrap one’s head around. It is an observation that prompts the consideration of how short life can be.

Everyone has a story about where they were when this happened. Today, I will tell mine.

MY JOHN LENNON STORY
December 1980 was a big deal for me. I would turn 16 years old early in the week. I’d worked the entire summer to purchase a used car, and was looking forward to having my drivers license and freedom.

It started out as possibly the best month ever.

Before the first week of December was done, I had my drivers license, my own car, and enough birthday money that I could do some unsupervised running around.

On December 8, 1980, I left my small Indiana town and drove over to a neighboring small town to pick up my friend, Tom. Tom played keyboards, he was a drummer in the school band for a brief period, and he was the first person with whom I had ever jammed on drums.

Our mission for the day was to go to the K-MART store, about 10 miles away in the nearby “big city” of 60,000 people. Beyond going there, we had no real plan. It was a Monday, there was no school due to snow, and we weren’t about to stay indoors.

We messed around with the little rides out front. They had a horse that rocked back and forth, so we’d put a quarter in it, and then stand behind it like we were perverts or something. It was 16-year-old entertainment in 1980.

Once inside the store, we hung a sharp left and went straight to the records section of the store. We looked at all of the records that we wanted, with the idea that we might buy one.

I saw a copy of DOUBLE FANTASY by John Lennon and picked it up. We were looking at the cover, and joking about how much John and Yoko look alike.

As we were messing around, hypothesizing ideas on how they could make a photo where they put John’s face on Yoko, there was an announcement over the PA system. Announcements were typically reserved for their “Blue Light Special,” but this one was different.

“Attention K-Mart shoppers. The news has just reported that John Lennon has been shot.”

And there we were, being stupid.

We put the record back and made a beeline out the exit, straight to the car. We were both in shock and didn’t say much to one another. I had the radio on and we were listening in the hopes of hearing some news. We heard nothing.

After dropping Tom off at home, I went home and turned on the radio. I sat in my room and noodled on my guitar while I waited to hear something.

Eventually, I heard the report. John Lennon was dead at 40.

HOW THIS IMPACTED ME
Subsequent reports would indicate that he was working on an album titled, “Life Begins at 40.” I’d sit and wonder what the songs on this mythical album might have sounded like. What would he have written about? What songs would I like or not like?

It would be a few months before I would have to force myself to let go of that obsession.

I’d also be torn between wanting to listen to The Beatles and NOT wanting to listen to them. Reminders were everywhere.

I started performing more poorly in school, except for my efforts at band. Outside of music, for the most part, I stopped opening books and stopped participating in school, skating through and barely graduating.

I went to lots of concerts with the idea that I had to go to see that artist perform before they died. While that might sound paranoid, I got to see Ozzy with Randy Rhoads the following year, before Randy died.

It also helped me to re-focus my efforts and goals. In 1978, I got highly distracted by Van Halen and shredding guitar. The passing of John Lennon was encouragement for me to focus on songwriting as much as my musical abilities.

On a side note, it would not be until my post-high school life that I would be able to see through the shredding guitar and learn to appreciate the songwriting abilities of Eddie Van Halen.

In my humble opinion, The Beatles were not stellar musicians. There was nothing that was impressive about their chops, at all. To me, at best, they were serviceable musicians.

Nobody in The Beatles was shredding impressive licks like dancing monkeys. They weren’t known for their technical prowess. In fact, I’d read stories about how the music had to be slowed down in a few instances so that the lead guitar parts could be played.

So where did John and the band source their magical powers? It came from their songwriting abilities.

They were masters of chord progressions, rhythmic pleasantries, and incredible lyrics. This is what made The Beatles great, and it’s what fueled John Lennon for the remainder of his all-too-short life.

So while they were not virtuosos or impresarios, they were serviceable and reliable musicians, and amazing songwriters.

IN THE END
It was 1968 when I got my first toy drum set. With my radio on the floor tom, I would turn on the radio and play along with those songs by The Beatles. This may very well be where I developed my sense of rhythm, and they were there with me the whole time.

Since then, I’ve played many songs by The Beatles and John Lennon, and have been inspired by them many times. John is always an inspiration who actively lives within my being on an almost daily basis.

John would have been 80. Having recently turned 56, I sometimes wonder why I lived so long, while he was cut down so soon. I suppose it’s a mystery that will never get solved, because there are no answers for any of this.

As I write this, I still wonder what Life Begins at 40 would have sounded like. I wonder “what if” about it all, even still. I don’t obsess over it, but I do think about it during this time of year.

What can we do?

Let’s take a chance and fly away… somewhere…

Value and Money

This morning I have been reading lots of recent stories about musicians selling off their catalogs to big companies or investors. The latest was Bob Dylan, who sold his catalog for $300 million.

It reminded me of when Michael Jackson out-bid Paul McCartney for the back-catalog of The Beatles, for somewhere around $50 million.

All of this got me to thinking about the concept of money, how it influences the concept of “value,” and why it should not always be the point of measure for such a concept. I’m mean, if you are BUYING something, then you will want to have an understanding of value.

But what if you’re not buying? What if you just… ARE?

CRITERIA FOR BEING A MUSICIAN
Someone once told me, to my face, “If you’re not making at least $10,000 per year at it, then you are NOT a musician.” Fortunately for me, I never again suffered the displeasure of encountering this person.

This encounter got me thinking about how people apply money as a measure to almost anything and everything. I will maintain the focus of music or musician for most of this.

Still, I will say it. In America, if you do not have money, then you are not treated as a valid human being. You are a “bum,” a “loser,” or at least a big, lazy burden who needs to grab his own bootstraps and pick himself up.

To me, the definition of a “musician” involves a person who has the ability to express themselves via music. They can play an instrument or even just use their own voice.

There are some “nice to have” features, such as reading music, understanding music theory, and engaging in formal study. I have achieved all three of these things. Still, The Beatles did not understand music theory, and Eddie Van Halen couldn’t read sheet music. Should they be discounted? Of course not!

Hell, there are people in the music industry today who cannot play an instrument, and who cannot really sing. They have lots of producers and studio musicians working on their tracks. The producers will modify the vocals to make them on-pitch and in-time.

Then they are lauded as “genius musicians.” How ironic that some who exist in the music industry have more in the way of personality than they do actual musical ability. To me, they aren’t expressing themselves, but their producers are. To be fair, they might write some or all of their own lyrics. But then declaring one’s own self to be a “genius” takes it all way too far.

To wrap up on Kanye, who became my main focus for the past few paragraphs, the guy is a decent rapper. However, he tries to sing and can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and then hails himself to be a musical genius. While he is an extreme example, he is inside the music business, he is raking in millions upon millions, and he has been worked up to the point that he sincerely believes that he’s got musical abilities that he simply does not possess.

My take is that he’s most definitely NOT a musical genius, by any stretch of the imagination. However, even in this I am fine with him calling himself a musician, and NOT because of his money.

His money doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he records tracks and goes out to perform them.

So yes, while I am no fan of Kanye West, and I am pained by his lack of ability and knowledge, I will still recognize him as a “musician.”

THE LOWER END
That’s the higher end, within the context of the music industry. What about those of us at the lower end?

Me, spring of 1966.

I have been making music for my entire life. From the early days of drumming, when I used trash cans and other things to generate various percussive sounds, to the first grade trump recital, to high school marching band, to the theater, jazz, and pep bands, to the ISSMA state competitions, all the way up to writing, recording, and performing with bands since 1984, I felt it in my heart that I was a musician.

I studied trumpet with Gary Hoover. I studied drums with John W. McMahan and Richard Paul, and took formal lessons from players like Chad Wackerman. I studied bass with Dr. Irwin Mueller in college. I’ve taken guitar lessons from a variety of people, most recently Zoot Horn Rollo of Captain Beefheart fame.

I’ve written musicals and have been the Music Director for a few productions. I’ve played drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards in a variety of bands over the past 33+ years. I wrote an album for a singer and worked with studio musicians to get the precise sound that we wanted for the album.

And for all of this, I have no money or fame to show for any of it.

MY PHILOSOPHY
I think that fame and money are a rare thing for musicians. For every rich-and-famous musician, there are thousands of other musicians who have played the clubs, weddings, and other events that play a major role in the lives of people.

And I know way too many musicians, more talented than me, who aren’t making any significant money with music. As great as they are, they will never find fame.

Money and fame aren’t the norm in the world of music, so why use it as a measure of validity? A broke and unknown musician is just as valid as a rich and famous musician.

SOME CASE STUDIES
There are a few extreme best-case studies for my idea. One can be found in my friend, the late Nick Menza, who was a pro drummer with Megadeth for roughly 11 years. After he was let go, he never got another huge gig. For the remaining 19 years of his life, he played drums in a few bands, played guitar on a few projects, and made his living in woodworking in a drum-related shop.

Even though he was no longer in Megadeth, was no longer in a big band, and not making big money, and not releasing any new music, he was still a musician to me.

But the most extreme case is a guitarist who was also one of my music teachers, Bill Harkleroad, aka Zoot Horn Rollo of Captain Beefheart fame. His career started with Captain Beefheart in 1969.

Taking a Skype guitar lesson with Zoot Horn Rollo [2017].

At one point, he had a handful of albums and a few world tours under his belt, and he yet was still waiting in line for food stamps and waiting for his mother to send money to pay the rent.

He’s listed in Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time, and he could barely make two pennies to rub together as a musician. He quit the music business in 1986, to work at a record store, before becoming a guitar teacher.

He never made any money, and only has niche fame, at best. Is he NOT a musician? To the contrary, he IS a musician and always will be.

My final case study is my own uncle, Kevin. He had a band in the late 60s called The Sounder. When I was very little, I would sit on a stool behind the drummer. I’d watch them play their instruments with great excitement. My uncle even wrote out the six-string F Major scale for me, which I kept for almost 10 years before I referenced it after buying my first guitar.

He was a MAJOR early influence on me as a musician.

Is he a musician?

Not anymore. He quit music, declaring it to be “a waste of time.” He married rich women and sat around. Today, he’s overweight and spends his day in a chair. He couldn’t play a chord on a guitar if his life depended on it.

One of my greatest musical inspirations is no longer a musician. Imagine that.

I have taken short breaks from music at times when life demands my total attention. But I will often think up melodies and motifs, rhythms, bass lines, and other things in my head. I’ll sing them into my phone or watch and work them up later.

That is what makes a person a musician, even when they are not making any music at all.

IN THE END
A musician is one who creates music. Nothing more. Nothing less. So long as one is creating or making sound, they are still a musician.

I’ll close this with a Zoot Horn Rollo solo track. Have a great day!

Autism and Music

18 months old [spring 1966]

I was drawn to music at a very early age. While I do play multiple instruments, drums were my first love. I just couldn’t get enough of the rhythmic sounds that could be produced.

By the time I got to high school band, I was completely taking charge of my musical experience. I would write drum cadences, write the music for the drum line, and engage in state and regional competitions.

In college, while studying Percussion Arts, I did play bass with a rock band. This is where I discovered that I could listen to a pop/rock song one time and then be able to play it. There was no sitting with a piece for hours, struggling with it all. It would just happen.

THE SET-UP
At my peak in live performance, in the mid-2000s, I was presented with a special circumstance. My band WHIPLADS was set to do a show with another band, Thomas’ Apartment. They were a bigger band than us, and were friends with our bass player, so we had a big night planned.

That night was important to WHIPLADS because it meant getting lots more exposure and more fans.

Four days before the show, Thomas got a message from his drummer. He had to go to Texas to work on an issue, and found out that he would be stuck there for a few weeks. This meant that they would have to cancel the gig.

Thomas called me and explained it. I told him to NOT cancel the show. “Just give me your CD and a set list tonight, and I’ll meet up with you guys in 24 hours to have a rehearsal.”

“I’m So Confused” by Thomas’ Apartment

Thomas was skeptical of my claim, as was the rest of the band. Their bass player, Billy, was probably the most skeptical. I met Thomas in the alley behind my apartment, got the CD and went to work.

Each song would get four listens. The first was a basic set-up. The second was for rhythmic cues. The third was for musical cues. The final was for lyrical or vocal cues. I scratched out some notes, fitting the entire album onto one page. Then, I slept with the CD on repeat for the entire night.

THE REHEARSAL
The next evening, we met at Uncle Studios in the valley in LA. Everyone walked in and met me for the first time. Billy stood close by the kit, ready to give me guidance.

We go through the first song, and I’m giving the band those unspoken cues that musicians give each other when they’ve worked together for a long time.

Billy was shocked! When the song ended, he said, “Wow, and you were singing along, too!!” I told him that I learned it all, and that I even knew the key signature for each song.

We run through the entire set. There was talk of doing it a second time, but instead we ran through a few songs the band wanted to do over. The consensus was that I was ready to perform.

THE BIG SHOW
The Liquid Den was packed that evening of June 3, 2004. The WHIPLADS set went off without a hitch. I rested between sets, sipping water and eating some bee pollen.

Then I took the stage with the main band for the evening. How did it go? I reviewed the entire set on video, and it was incredible. The last song of the evening, HOLD, was and is my favorite of theirs, so I’m including it below for your review and enjoyment.

June 3, 2004: Performing HOLD with Thomas’ Apartment at The Liquid Den.

SOME TEMPORARY EXCITEMENT
After I did this, I was excited about the idea that maybe I have figured out how to do something neat, AND that I could earn a living by teaching others how to do it.

With that thought, I set out to build a system to re-create what I did, so that I could package it and teach it to people who want to learn.

There was just one problem.

I tested it on my band members, and it didn’t work. They were unable to replicate my success.

In less than two weeks, I determined that the system I had created and wanted to teach was not substantive enough to be effective.

HOW DID I DO IT?
I’ve always been a quick learner who picks up fast. I can memorize entire albums of music, work with bands while using minimal rehearsal time, and work up parts quickly in the recording studio.

Whatever it was, it allowed me to be in at least THREE bands at the same time, while holding down full-time employment and being a father.

No matter how deeply I looked, I could not figure out how I had this ability.

THE POSSIBLE ANSWER
It was late 2017, when I was given proper testing and received the diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism.

Finding out that you are Autistic at the age of 53 is a very difficult thing. It answers lots of questions, and many things can make sense. There are also elements or “features” of Autism that tend to get in the way, and dealing with [or accepting] these things can be demoralizing at times, with no path around them in sight.

The one positive I can see is my musical abilities.

On the plus side, my Autism generated my interest in drums, my undying focus, and my desire to practice all the time.

On the down side, my Autism got in the way when it came to doing certain things, like dealing with people, promoting a band, and keeping a band together in general.

My Autism made a music career possible, while simultaneously getting in the way of it all. It’s a frustration that is sometimes difficult to consider, and the pain it generates can be difficult to endure.

Having an ability and not being able to monetize it might be the greatest frustration and disappointment of my existence.

Today, I keep on with my music, but not for the music industry or anyone else. I do it for me, because I love playing instruments and making music for myself. The music industry might be almost completely dead, but I’m still playing.

IN THE END
So I thought that I had figured out something really cool and useful, but later learned that it was a super power of sorts that could not be properly documented or taught. Can I really call it that if it does nothing for society and cannot really be effectively monetized?

The answers to those questions are simple. My super powers are for me, and as much as they get in the way of life, they can provide things that allow me to cope with life.

As for the money aspect, I absolutely REFUSE to allow a concept so vapid as money to delegitimize or define my powers. Some may say that you cannot call yourself a musician unless you make at least $10,000 with it. Those people are gatekeepers who were not hired by me, which is why I dismiss them and their words.

It’s okay to just be. Make music, write, create, dance… do whatever it is that makes you happy. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks about it. Enjoy it while you can.

Thoughts: “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix, Modern Social Networking, and a Brief History

I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix yesterday. What these tech workers said struck a major chord with me, and I think that it is something worthy of discussion.

The Netflix Documentary
If you have not yet seen this, below is a clip from YouTube.

In The Social Dilemma, a variety of Tech workers discuss their activities and thoughts on the products they worked to build. These aren’t lower-level Tech workers like myself. Rather, these are founders, owners, and even inventors.

In this documentary, the overwhelming suggestion and concern revolves around the manipulation of individuals for the sake of profits.

Many like to say that if the website is free, then YOU are the product. This is an over-simplification of it all. Others say that your information is getting sold, but they really have no motivation to sell off the data most of the time. Still, others will suggest that your TIME is the product.

Regardless of how it is described, YOU do end up being the product. Their goal is to get you to see certain things, to have certain feelings, and to stay on the site for as long as possible.

It can fairly be classified as an addiction.

My recommendation of this piece revolves around the warning that these people have for the general public; that using these products is addictive. It’s dangerous. It’s lending an individual “reality” to each person who uses the websites. The AI predicts what you like and do not like, and then fashions a reality around these predictions with the intention of getting you to stay.

Before long, you are in your own customized thought bubble, full of confirmation bias. Now you’re trapped in a very comfortable place where everyone agrees with you, and you can even find self-righteous indignation.

Through it all, you will wonder why “the others” are so stupid. “The Others” are people who are not in your tribe. This can be a tribe about politics, religion, music, cooking, or pretty much anything.

While in your own thought bubble, you may encounter other friends who do not fit in with your bubble. Discussions can devolve quickly into fights. Online anger and fighting is no accident, and it generates a phenomenon known as Engagement. It doesn’t matter why you stay on, so long as you’re on. And if the inspiration is negative or destructive, then so be it.

RATING
Out of 5 stars, I would rate The Social Dilemma at 4.5 stars. I found myself getting distracted at times, when they would flip between the experts talking and the scenes with actors that illustrated how people, families, and communities are impacted.

Lynda Weinmann as Lady Gaga, and me as “Justin Bieber in 30 Years” at the Lynda.com Halloween party 2011.

MY THOUGHTS
Disclaimer: In the interest of full disclosure, I did work in Tech for a number of years, most notably at MySpace (2005-2008) and LinkedIn (2015-2016). I also worked at Lynda.com from 2011-2016, which was owned by two of the documentary’s Executive Producers, Lynda Weinmann and her husband, Bruce Heavin.

There is a blatant difference when comparing social networking of the past to social networking in the post Web 2.0 era that began in 2004.

In the “before times,” I recall using sites like ICQ, mIRC, Yahoo Chat, AOL/AIM, CompuSERVE, and even GeoCities. The internet was referenced as “the wild, wild west,” where anything could happen. Nothing seemed regulated or controlled, and the end-user.

Now, everything is tracked, measured, sometimes encouraged, aggregated, and then used against you in an effort to monopolize your time.

That’s not to say that there weren’t problems before Web 2.0. I recall a period in 1993-1994 where I found myself hopelessly addicted to AOL. Back then, people would be given a set of hours per month to use, and then they would be charged by the hour for any overages. My internet habit was costing me between $400-$700 per month at times.

The one thing I remember slowing me down was the need to actually dial up a phone number, and wait for the modem to shake hands with the server.

Imagine what finances would look like for the world if everyone was still paying per hour for their overages. Then again, it didn’t take long for companies to figure out that it is in their best interest to keep you online for as long as possible.

WEB 2.0 AND MYSPACE
Web 2.0 came into being in 2004, which was when high-speed internet started becoming more ubiquitous. A bigger data pipeline meant that companies could send and receive more packets of data faster than usual. While some details of a website’s functionality will be optimized for the user experience, what made the data transfers bigger was the added data required for tracking.

The high-speed floodgates were opened, and the efforts began.

I started using MySpace in early 2004, when a friend showed it to me and described how his band would use the site to “promote” their shows. I put “promote” in quotes because of how they did it.

Each person in the three-piece band would log in and just add friends like crazy. It seemed like a great idea, until I went to their first heavily-promoted show at Molly Malone’s in Los Angeles.

There were three people there, counting me. On MySpace, it was always the same: “Wish that I could have gone to your show, but X.” For X, it was things like, “but I don’t live in California” or “I’m only 12 years old.” It was a lesson in how having no focus at all can result in failure. But all of this was new.

I made some friends on MySpace and was enjoying being on chat with them. However, the site would always go down. People got frustrated. We even threatened to move over to Friendster, and we did, but the experience was lacking, so we went back to MySpace to wait for Pac-Man to go away. Pac-Man always appeared on the screen when the site was down.

I got so frustrated with this, but then I had an idea. I would look for problems on the website, and then send a message to “Tom,” everyone’s first friend. Maybe that would help them get the site working.

Working at the MySpace HQ with everyone’s first friend, Tom Anderson [2005].

I sent issues to Tom, and he would actually write back and tell me that things were fixed and ask me to test them out. I did this for the better part of a year. Then, in mid-2005, I went to the MySpace offices and got hired on-the-spot.

Next thing you know, I’m one of the ~40 people who are working on the website.

And I did find the problem that was cropping up every time the site would go down and we’d get Pac-Man. In the early dates of the site, there was only ONE server. That server had a bad network cable that they would be jiggling from time to time to keep the site alive.

But it wasn’t long after I got there that this little server became nothing more than a relic, as we were adding new servers to the farm every single day.

The MySpace story is one that could go on for a long time. In the end, the website was destroyed by greed, power grabs, tribal warfare, and a sheer contempt for the people who were using the website.

LYNDA AND LINKEDIN
I got downsized from MySpace in mid-2008, right as the website was about to become irrelevant. For a time, I would be proud to say that I worked at the biggest website in the world during “the years that mattered.”

Then I spent three years freelancing before getting hired on at Lynda.com in mid-2011. I spent five years with that company. But my time there would be cut short. The beginning of my end came in 2015, when they sold the website to LinkedIn for $1.5BLN.

Christmas party with Lynda Weinmann, 2011.

After MySpace, I had vowed to never work in social networking again. I was feeling badly about having a hand in bastardizing the word “friend,” to the point that it is now almost meaningless. Thanks to an acquisition, I found myself once again working for a social networking website.

When I went to their coding Bootcamp, there was this interesting moment where they gave mention to Google’s slogan of “Don’t be evil,” before sharing their own slogan of, “Don’t be creepy.”

After this declaration, the instructor proceeded to show us just how creepy things get with LinkedIn. From tracking, to downloading your contacts regardless of permissions, to recommending your neighbors to you as a potential contact because of geolocation, the picture got grim.

Everyone in the class loved it.

MY PERSONAL USE
I was a heavy-duty power-user from the time that AOL first came out, up until mid-2014. Long story short, I got taken advantage of by a “friend” who said she had cancer. A lot of time and money passed over the months before I finally found the truth.

I’d be had.

So in July 2014 I deleted all of my social networking accounts. I was done. I even deleted this website for about two months, because I was so done with the internet.

ADDICTION
I didn’t think that I was addicted to the websites. After all, I had never experienced addiction to alcohol or drugs, so I was at a loss.

For the first month, I had severe sweats, intrusive thoughts, and other issues. One of these issues is called FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out.

But an interesting thing happened by the end of the second month. By that time, I started to wonder why I had ever posted anything online, at any time, ever.

A RETURN
And just like that, I was out of the loop. I stayed away from all social networking for almost five years.

Science!

Some might say that YouTube or WordPress are social networking. They do have their qualities that can increase screen time. But I do not really engage with other people too much on these sites. At the very least, interacting with others is secondary to what I do on those sites.

I first returned to Facebook in early April 2019. This was shortly followed by Instagram. I stayed away from Twitter and everything else, just to maintain focus.

A ROCKY START
When I got back on, I instantly felt a great deal of anxiety and dread. One person welcomed me back. Most had no idea that I was gone, which was somewhat surprising.

I’d find myself posting, second-guessing what I posted, and then deleting. I was very uncomfortable. I remembered that feeling of wondering why I had ever posted anything in the first place.

Interactions were difficult, and paranoia was hiding around every single corner.

I kept it up until just a few months ago, when I deleted everything again. This time it was just Facebook and Instagram.

MY ASSESSMENT OF SOCIAL NETWORKING
I think that social networking websites are highly dangerous, not just for me, and not because I am Autistic.

What is the danger?

It’s not that they’ll sell my information, or that they’re trying to sell me ads.

Your brain on social networking. Any questions?

The danger comes when the website has a hold of you. They can inspire anger, frustration, or even nostalgia. Once it has a grip on you, it won’t let go.

This isn’t something that just happened in one bold move in one moment. Rather, this is something that slowly heats up over time.

One thing I noticed was that I was getting invited to join lots of groups. These were groups that promoted political ideologies. Some I agreed with, and some I did not.

What they had in common was that I avoided all of them, because the last thing I needed was either hearing someone who agreed with me 24/7, or someone who disagreed with me all the time.

I did try to join a few music-related groups. But inevitably, someone would get political and I’d boot myself out. Even in community groups, like the one where I can find out what’s happening in my small town, there are people who cannot help but get political.

It started to feel like some people were ignoring me and others were looking for a fight.

FURTHER ACTION REQUIRED
For me, deleting all social networking and not using it is simply not enough, and it never has been. My psyche and general emotional state was hijacked by a combination of social networking business model efforts, as well as my 9-10 month experience with the cancer scammer.

This is why I have started participating in de-programming sessions. Nothing will destroy your view of Humanity faster than social networking sites like Facebook. The scammer, the friends who plotted against me, and the hyper-angry people who fought non-stop had a profound impact on my self-image and how I interact [or don’t] with others.

Social networking sites are unhealthy for regular people, and even more dangerous for those of us who are Autistic. They’re just not good for anyone, except for those who enjoy the fat bottom-line.

IN THE END
There was a time when social networking was mostly fun. Although there was no corporate guidance in the background pulling the strings, I was still addicted to the internet itself.

Now it has been made worse, almost as if the addictive qualities have doubled.

I have backed myself off from the internet, to the point that I have my website, my YouTube page with videos, and this blog.

Today, my internet usage looks very different from any of the old days. I get up early and watch a few videos. Then I get on here and write something, some days. I pay bills, and carefully read some news articles.

With news, especially in video form, I avoid channels that hype, or people who yell at the viewers. The first time they attempt to invoke fear, I unsubscribe. If I get any sensation of being manipulated, at all, then I bail out. I can notice it now, too, thanks to my early de-programming efforts.

If it feels too good or agreeable, I question it.

If I feels too bad or ugly, I question it.

Being in touch with one’s emotions and being able to stop to identify them is important to survival.

Should you watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix, you may feel inspired to delete your social networking accounts as well. If you get that feeling, then I would give you some encouragement.

Firstly, I would encourage you to figure out why you are on Facebook or other social networking sites. Are you there to keep in touch with family? Community? Old friends?

Then ask yourself, “Is this REALLY what I’m doing with it?”

Ask yourself about your mood while using the sites. Are you angry, frustrated, or lashing out at people? Are you being aggressive?

If you try to justify the anger you feel, then stop and ask yourself if this anger is truly productive. No matter how angry you get, it won’t change things that have happened.

Did the things that you believe happened, actually happen?

Obviously, this takes lots of introspection, and I’d recommend this introspection to anyone who is on the fence about deleting their social networking profiles.

But if you possess the fortitude to plow forth and delete your social networking profiles, then I would recommend seeking therapy and talking with them about de-programming yourself to get away from the drive to use social networking sites.

Jaron Lanier has a prominent role in The Social Dilemma, so I’ll leave you with an interview that he gave two years ago. Thank you for reading!

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