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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

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.

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.

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!

More About My Book, The PDF

Download the e-book today: The PDF: A guaranteed plan on how to “make it” as a STAR in the music industry in 6-8 weeks!

One of my absolute favorite books about the music industry is called “The Manual” by none other than The KLF. It’s a cynical view of the music industry from their perspective in 1988.

The music industry has changed a great deal since 1988. Some of their funny advice still remains true [i.e., don’t practice your instruments]. But other funny advice does not age well [i.e., use your friend’s house phone for your important calls, so they can say they knew you when.]

I love this book. Knowing that The KLF will probably never update the book, I decided to take it upon myself to do just that!

My version of the book includes things like having an online presence as an influencer.

While their book was about how to have a hit record, my book changes the focus to being a “star.” These days, having a hit is nothing compared to being popular online.

The book sells for $1 on Amazon, and the link is above. It’s a short, fun read that might inspire you to look up The Manual.

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