An Old Man on the Hill

His journey continued

Parking his car in a corn field
Walking through the field
Receiving occasional cuts on his arms and face
As corn stalk leaves grazed him
Causing his skin to itch
Almost as if they wanted to stop him
From making his way to the hill

He remembered his youth
Being paid cash by the hour
To pull the tassels out of most of the rows of corn
The task he once did all day long felt daunting
For he knew that he’d not last 15 minutes

His journey continued

Suddenly, there was a clearing
His fragile heart began to race
The open field signaled to him
That he was getting closer
To the hill

The narrow gravel path
Adorned with raspberry bushes
In season, red, and ripe as ever
He picked a few berries along the way
The taste, paired with the sensation
Of being on the path again
Took him back, way back
To a place where he was barely 7 years old

Interlaced with the raspberry bushes
Were bushes that produced other fruits
But these fruits were poisonous
He thought of his playmate, Teresa
And how he had begged her to NOT eat the berries
He told her they were “poison berries”
And she declared them “boysenberries”

She had been gone for a very long time
And yet her memory was burned into his ancient brain
She had just turned six years old
Her blond hair waving in the golden sunlight
“Oh, how I wish we’d never stopped to pick berries”

His journey continued

The narrow gravel path branched out
Gravel to the right
Dirt to the left
The old man thought long and hard
“We went left”

His journey continued

A noticeable incline began to build
Beneath his feet
Confirming his choice
Not much further now
Mud and dirt collecting on his shoes
Making his feet heavier as he progressed
Toward the hill
He could barely see the tree

His journey continued

At long last
He made it to the tree
On a hill that felt more like a bump in the land
There was a tire on the ground
Near the tree
Rope rotted
Flowers growing from the center of the tire

“I used to push Teresa in that swing”
He could hear her laughter once again
Glancing upward, a “Y” in the branches
Caught his attention
He had tried to climb the tree
But fell and scraped his knee
And Teresa comforted him as he cried

His memories of Teresa
Felt mostly correct
Except she appeared to have aged with him
Her face in his mind, youthful, yet somehow old and wrinkled
It was a life-long fantasy of his
That he and Teresa would grow old together

Leaving the shade of the tree
He sat down in some nearby tall grass
Looking at the tree, the tire, and all that surrounded it
Darkness would fall in the next few hours
Or maybe sooner than he thought

His journey continued

Walking through the tall grass
He could hear Teresa’s voice
“Let’s grow up and get married”
She said to him
What sounded yucky to his child mind
Today felt more like a regret
That it was something that could never be

His journey continued

He turned around
To glance at the tree on the hill
One last time
His left arm tingling
Just a while longer
He wanted to stay

Back toward the path
He encountered a broken, flat
Piece of concrete
His heart shuddered
It lay upon the ground
Like any other rock
And although familiar
It still had no natural reason to be there

With caution, he lifted the piece of concrete
To look underneath
Could it still be there?

A dirty, faded red hair bow
Teresa had taken it off
He remembered her putting it there
Hiding it for his older self
As she put it
“Someday, you’ll come back
Maybe you’ll think of me”

Oh, how he wished that Teresa could come back

Sunlight was fading
The tingle in his arm was gaining in strength
As was the sensation of exhaustion
Taking over his body

He held the rotted red bow in his right hand
As he laid down in the tall grass
“Just for a few minutes”
He said out loud
In a weakened voice

“Boysenberry”

His journey continued

Early 1970s: Camping in my back yard. The light-colored house was where Teresa lived.

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Bukowski, 9-to-5, and Another Old Man

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Charles Bukowski was 49 years old when he quit his job at the post office to become a full-time writer. John Martin of Black Sparrow Press offered him $100 per month to spend his time writing instead of working.

This was in 1969, and I believe that some perspective is in order to understand this. By today’s standards, $100 is such an inconsequential amount that it would attract only the most desperate.

By comparison, I recall having a life plan of sorts during the spring of 1985, after my second year of college. I had found a really nice apartment near the college campus for only $35 per week! It was an incredible deal for me, a man who had yet to pay his own rent in life.

By comparison, I found that I was making a few hundred bucks, at least, every single time my college band played a gig. One gig per month, and I’d be set. Two gigs per month, and I could plan for retirement, upgrade gear, etc.

Of course, all of this came horribly crashing down when summer came, and the various people in the band just went back to where they came from, without so much as a word. The hard truth was that I looked at the band as a serious entity for a future, while others viewed it as just something fun they did for a while.

This lesson taught me the terrifying truth that comes with the concept of “the group project.” Relying on others is essential to human survival, and it’s the kind of thing that has never ended up well for me.

With my local music dreams dashed, I tried to save it. However, the band I had joined (The Switch) was planning on breaking up. I joined the band in time to play guitar on their last show. It would also be my final music performance in Indiana.

They gave me a Dean guitar as a parting gift. Around that time, my mother offered me a place in California, so I packed up and took that on.

As lamentable as life on earth has become, I can still remember plotting out my first-ever budget in my head. Playing two shows per month with my band would mean that I would have a roof over my head, I’d be able to eat properly, and might even be able to afford a car! At the very least, I’d be able to afford more of my own music gear, so that I’d not have to pay $35 every time I rented the PA system from a bigger local act.

Forget about the 33 years that I spent in Los Angeles, working to build a music career. That one year in college was the most hopeful that I ever felt about a possible future earning a living as a musician.

The problem wasn’t that responsibility kicked in. The problem was that life became too expensive, and the work available no longer pays a dignified adult living wage.

I have work ethic. The powers-that-be have no human ethics.

MY START IN WRITING
I started writing when I was in early grade school, around 1973, and would use my mother’s IBM Selectric Presidential Series typewriter. She would received tapes in the mail from a law firm and would transcribe. I would be paid 25 cents to review up to 4 pages, and receive a nickel for every additional page.

I used this until she sold it to buy a car, after taking a job in the office and seeing how the office was changing.

She told me about how word processors and computers were going to become ubiquitous in the office. What this meant was that secretaries would be able to get their typing done in one third of the time.

There was also talk of the 30-hour work week, or even 25!

But this did not happen.

What DID happen was that the workload was at least tripled, and the pay was kept the same, if not lowered slightly.

The Modern Age was supposed to free us. Instead, it served to galvanize our slavery.

RETURN TO NOW
Return to now, where I am once again writing. True, I am writing about writing, and while this activity is somewhat meta, it does lead to other types of writing.

Currently, I do not write for money, although I am open to that idea. For now, I write because I feel that I have some things to say.

I did see a writer on YouTube who was giving advice to young or new writers. She noted that, “You may view your latest works as your baby. But trust me, nobody cares. Not even your friends. Don’t expect them to read what you write, let alone be supportive of it all. Your friends don’t care. Your family doesn’t care. Nobody cares.”

I thanked her for her hopeful message, as well as for reminding me that I should not care about her links where she sells her books.

That’s to say, I disagree with her message. Sure, I can see how people around me might not be so eager. I do have a few friends who actually read what I write and we talk about it, so I have that going for me, which is nice.

Like a busking musician on the street corner, the best I can do is to set my hat on the sidewalk and see if anyone drops a buck in it. Maybe I will connect with some readers, while others will have different expectations. This happens no matter how great or small a writer may be.

BUKOWSKI’S THOUGHTS
Charles Bukowski had some hard life experiences. Today, many of us can relate to what he was saying, although many in the 80s were so focused on greed that they may not have had time to hear what a “loser” would have to whine about.

Unfortunately, this attitude of poorly-placed judgment is by far more prevalent in today’s society. They’d tell him that he should have planned, or should have gone to college, or whatever other garbage argument is to be presented in an effort to protect the ego of the person passing the judgment.

To be fair, they pass this judgment out of fear. They fear that they, too, will end up at the bottom, in the gutter, or on the streets. Indeed, it is their future, since they are not the company owner.

They will work hard, not get compensated, and be tossed to the streets. It is easier, and requires less fear and energy to blame the “bum,” than it is to wake up, realize your OWN predicament, and then do something about it.

Americans continued to point at the “bums” and “losers,” as their own situations deteriorated right from underneath their own wore shoes.

As a writer and reader, I believe it is important to acknowledge and understand this human flaw as you read the words that came directly from Bukowski’s own head.

Charles Bukowski wrote a letter to John Martin to thank him for his freedom.

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,

Hank

This is the best that anyone can hope to have.

Grandma Warned Me About Van Halen

It was the Spring of 1978, and I had just turned 13 years old a few months earlier. I had been spending time listening to a cassette tape making the rounds at my Indiana school. It was as bootleg of a new band playing their last local show in Pasadena, because they were about to hit the big-time.

That first Van Halen album blew me away! In fact, it impressed me so much that I took it to my grandmother’s house and asked her to listen to it with me.

Grandma E

I was particularly close with my grandmother. I used to joke and say that, “the stork left me at the wrong house.” It was something that was viewed as cute. But the hard truth was that I felt closer to my grandmother because she would encourage me to talk, and she would listen to me.

We would converse like adults. The time I spent with her made me who I am today.

“You’ve just GOT to hear this new guitarist and this new band!” I could barely contain myself, as grandma lifted the dust cover from her Hi-Fi stereo system.

We actually listened to both sides of the album. The look on grandma’s face informed me that she was genuinely listening to the album, like a musician would. Active listening is the name.

Grandma’s Baldwin Vibraslim bass and 100-watt Kustom Charger amp.

This is precisely what she was doing, since she was a 7th generation bass player. I would later borrow her bass rig when I had my college band in the mid-80s.

Long before this age, I had declared that I wanted to be a pro musician when I grew up. For the majority of my life, grandma served as a mentor to guide my philosophies to maximize my chances.

GRANDMA’S WARNINGS
After the last song ended, grandma had a few things to say. I can still remember hearing the first words out of her mouth.

“You do NOT want to copy this guitar player!” Grandma knew that I already played guitar, an instrument that I had added to my arsenal years ago. At age 13, I played drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, trumpet, and more.

Why not? Why wouldn’t I want to emulate this incredible player?

Late 1982: Playing the lead during my performance of “Goodbye To Romance” at the high school talent show.

Playing like this is VERY impressive. However, you don’t want to emulate this player. His sound is so unique that everyone and their mother is going to try to be just like him. The problem is that he’s already doing it well, so why would you want to try to do it better than him?

She continued.

“The solo guitarist wants the spotlight all the time. While they seem powerful, their true power lies in the platform on which they stand: Drums and Bass! If either of these players messes up, the spotlit guitar god will instantly look like a buffoon.

She proceeded to compliment the band and the songwriting.

“The guys and parts you really need to listen to is the rhythm section. They really know what they’re doing. And the songwriting is impeccable. A flashy guitar solo without strong music underneath it can only go so far.

She then sold the idea of me being an 8th generation bassist.

“Besides, the drums and bass generate frequencies that cause women’s pelvic bones to vibrate. They know who’s turning them on.”

Yea, grandma went for the hard sell by using my pubescent mind to get me to focus on drums and bass.

Me [far right] with my guitar in Stage Band [1981-82].

I played guitar in high school anyway. I was in the Jazz Band. In the Pep Band, for basketball games, I would play the lead solo for “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. That was fun. While I can learn solos, I never did focus on shredding.

THE AFTERMATH
I moved to Hollywood in 1986 to tackle my music career pursuits, almost 8 years after that conversation.

By the early 90s, Guitar Institute of Technology [GIT] was pumping out Van Halen copies, and it got annoying. I’d place ads for guitarists that would say “No GIT, please.” People would call me and be very angry, because they spent a great deal of time and money at GIT learning how to shred like Van Halen. I could only tell them, “Van Halen already did it. I see no need to do it again.”

I’m glad that era is passed, and we are now in an age where new guitarists are thumping on 8-strings. They seem somewhat inspired by Edward Van Halen, but are going their own route, or at least the route that is currently popular. There’s still room for the 6-stringers, so don’t give up. Whatever you play, originality is key.

Through it all, I was under no delusions. I didn’t think that I’d be the next Van Halen, Hendrix, Peart, Jamerson, etc. What I did see for myself, however, was a future in being a supporting player in a band. I could be the drummer who isn’t really well known, but who is always working.

IN THE END
Looking back, having my focus on songwriting and performing as part of a cohesive rhythm section was the best thing that I could have done for myself. I became a value-added drummer by learning how to sing while playing, and also run samplers, sequencers, and other pieces of a show at the same time.

I even ran a mixing board for one of my bands. A drummer who can do multiple tasks is of great value.

Grandma’s warning to not become a shredding guitar player was important. Keep in mind that this was 1978, and I did not get my High-Functioning Autism diagnosis until 2017.

Grandma knew, even then, that I was easily distracted, especially by music-related things. She helped me maintain my focus as I worked toward becoming a solid player who could step into a wide variety of situations.

It was probably the most useful musical advice that I had ever received.

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.

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!

Do An Inventory

The purpose of today’s entry is to help my fellow musicians, and maybe others, get through these difficult times.

THE SET-UP
By mid-2014, I was beginning to feel some burn-out. For many years leading up to that, I made sure that I was in at least 2-3 bands at the same time. I would have multiple gigs in one night, sometimes in the form of back-to-back performances at a club, and other times at completely different clubs.

Worst case, I would have to load up two drum sets into two cars. My drum tech, Junior, would follow me to the first club and help set up before going to the second club to do a pre-setup staging. I’d play the show, pack up, and drive myself to the second venue, walking in with my pedal and stick bag.

All of this was after waking up at 6:00am to go to work for an 8-10 hour work day. Chances are good that I had a gig the night before, too.

EXPLORATION
I left the rapid-fire Hollywood gigging world on an involuntary basis in mid-2014. Since this time, I’ve taken a few years to study guitar and music theory, as well as work on “curing” my burn-out.

After 33+ years in Hollywood, I decided to pack up and move to Nowheresville, Oregon.

And just as I was about to start getting somewhere with my relocation and refocus on life, the pandemic hit.

A YEAR OF ???
This past year has brought about some major stress for everyone. For me, the stress hit in the form of constantly feeling blocked when I’d want to sit down and write and record something. Some days, I’ll not want to practice guitar or drums. I’ll make myself do it, and will feel better after.

But I had some higher goals for all of this, including joining a band and gigging out in a more local sense. None of those goals got met.

So what now?

DOING AN INVENTORY
I was talking with someone the other day, and they commented, “You’ve got so many awesome stories to tell!” This was after I shared a few anecdotes about my Hollywood music experiences.

I said, “The problem with these stories is that I don’t have any photographic or video evidence. They sound so unbelievable that they’re not worth telling.”

She replied, “But those stories are for YOU! You lived them, so you get to re-tell them. If someone doesn’t believe it, then that’s fine. They can move on. But you have experiences. You have something to say.”

It got me thinking about all of the people I’ve met and the things I’ve done in my life. Those stories are nice and all, but are they really, truly meaningful?

EDDIE VAN HALEN STORIES
I don’t have any Eddie Van Halen stories, per se. My ex-wife did babysit Wolfgang when he was maybe six months old, for a few months.

Ever since Mr. Van Halen passed away almost two months ago, everyone has been sharing pictures and stories. These are complete strangers on the internet, and their stories are very cool. Most of them have photos, although some do not. The more famous people who tell their stories may not have a photo.

Alex Van Halen, downing it fast before the next song starts.

Nobody worries about anyone challenging their stories or memories, and I’m sure many of them get the skeptical eye by cynics.

But suppose that I did have a Van Halen story.

Well, I have the one about my ex-wife, as noted above. As for me, I met Alex Van Halen at a music store for a signing when I was 16 years old. It was a major highlight of my life.

I took a beer with me so that I could give it to him. He ripped off the tab and downed it, just like in the picture that was inside one of their early albums.

MY OWN STORIES
I have many stories about many famous people I’ve met and jammed with over the decades. But today, I’m going to share a story involving nobody you know, except for me.

There was a time when I would take screen shots of things that others had posted online. I did it so that I could save it and have the memory without having to dig through a website for it.

Every so often I would get post or messages like this one, which was posted on MySpace on November 21, 2005.

This comment was left by a person who ended up attending a few shows and buying some CDs. At the time, it was very meaningful to hear from someone who enjoyed what I was doing.

Should it be any less meaningful now? Certainly, I cannot hang my hat on it or build a career on it. All the same, it is important to remember these types of interactions, especially during the times when we cannot build or otherwise engage new interactions.

A HIGH-LEVEL INVENTORY
My personal inventory is wide-spread over the decades. I once marched as the First Chair of the drum line for an assembled band that performed at Riverfront Stadium for Johnny Bench Day.

I’ve jammed with famous musicians, and also made a few famous friends along the way. I’ve recorded in some awesome studios and have made some decent music, and I’m still proud of it.

I have played every relevant big club on The Sunset Strip as a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and keyboardist. Sometimes there were name changes to the clubs, and it wasn’t with the same band. This was dozens of bands over about 25 years.

I have no record of it, and very few photographs that support the achievement. No matter. I’m not trying to get into an official World Record book or anything. It’s just something that I set as a personal goal. I achieved it. And now, I will enjoy reflecting upon that achievement.

Some will not believe me. That’s fine. They can join the crowd of people who don’t like me and have fun with it.

IN THE END
As you read this, you’re probably in quarantine at home. Maybe you’re wondering when the next gig will take place. Maybe you miss those interactions that you had with other musicians and audience members. And maybe you’re feeling more than a little un-accomplished, to put it nicely.

Take some time to remember the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, and the things that you’ve done. It doesn’t have to be anything like what I’ve experienced. It can be regular people, even family members, and regular events.

Remembering those times may help us get through these more difficult times.

As for me, I may end up writing some of those stories here.

New Blog: What To Expect

New website, new location, new blog. It’s a fresh start!

2020 — also known as “The BEST Year Ever!” — didn’t do much to inspire, I must admit. My old blogs left a great deal to be desired, to put it nicely.

In this blog, I’ll be writing about music and my personal philosophies regarding music, which sometimes bleed into life philosophy. There will be nothing that sparks controversy or causes division. The world has too much of that already.

So this blog will be way more positive.

I’ll also try to keep things more brief, so I’ll end on that note. Thanks for reading, and see you again soon!

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