Browse Category: Music

IT’S THE WORLD I KNOW

20020414towersOfLight1

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

COLLECTIVE SOUL plays on as I begin this entry. Not knowing where the words will lead me. Not knowing what stories or memories I might chose to relate to you. I do have some thoughts about New York City running about in my brain. Maybe I’ll go there…

“Has our conscience shown?
Has the sweet wind blown?
Has all the kindness gone?
Hope still lingers on.
I drink myself to newfound pity
Sitting alone in New York City
And I don’t know why.”

AS YOU MAY already know, I spend quite a bit of time in New York City. Chinatown mostly. Driving in, out and around the city has become second nature. I never had much of a problem with it really. A long time ago I learned the secret of how to drive in the city. Want to know it? Simple. Do what the taxi cab drivers do. No hesitation. No apologies. Just drive. If you hesitate, you lose, you wait. Now the drivers that I truly admire in the city are those on bicycles. Some of those guys are insane, especially the messengers! Man, they fly! They dodge pedestrians, bounce off of cars, weave among the traffic up and down the avenues. I have to do it one day! I have to take my bike to the city and go for it! Anyone man enough to go with me??

WELL, recently I was in Flushing for a business seminar. A big group of us went out to eat at Bobby V’s afterwards. Even though our waitress forgot to put our order in (and wouldn’t admit it) and all the rest of our group was on dessert before we even were served our drinks, it was a decent place to eat. It’s in the Sheraton Inn near Shea Stadium.

It’s funny how places that you went to as a kid seem so different when you see them as an adult. Such is Shea Stadium. I think I was there as a young kid with my grandfather. I think that was the time that he caught a ball with his bare hands in the stands. Pop just stood right up and caught that sucker with one hand! One bare hand! It was awesome. And I vaguely remember a friend of his who went with us. He was an older man and he had a big ol’ Jimmy Durante nose. Or did this happen at the Vet in Philadelphia? I’m not sure. But I was at Shea with my dad for a Jets game when I was around 12 or so. I distinctly remember that time because we were in the nosebleed section where binoculars didn’t even help us to see much. And that was the game where some jerk spilled beer all over my coat. But now Shea looks different than I thought I remembered.

20020414towersOfLight2

So, after a late meal at Bobby V’s, I drove from Flushing to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to take JF home. Then I drove back up to the Manhattan Bridge in crossed over into Chinatown to go out through the Holland Tunnel via Canal Street. I don’t know which is worse, paying the outrageous seven-dollar toll to cross the Verrazano into Staten Island or endangering my kidneys driving on Canal Street. I mean, there are ruts so deep on that street that my little red Toyota disappears from view several times before I reach the tunnel! But I usually go that way and make a pit stop at a Dunkin Donuts just outside the tunnel in Jersey City.

ON MY WAY through Manhattan that night I noticed that the Towers of Light were still shining up into the sky. Then I remembered that it was the last night that they would be on. So I went downtown, parked the car, grabbed the camera and strolled around. It was 1:30 am. There were a lot of people there. A lot of people had camera gear set up. I took a few shots. They didn’t come out as good as I would have liked. I walked over to Ground Zero but didn’t stay long. By then it was 2:30. I remember thinking, “Wow! Look at all these people out here at such an hour! What are they thinking?” Duh! What was I thinking?? I was probably the only one in the crowd that still had 75 miles to drive home! I was glad that I took the time to stop there. I still cannot believe that the Towers are gone. I still cannot comprehend the evil that carried out such an act. I wish that we could go back and rewrite that day. Incidentally, I found a journal written by a woman named Deima who worked in Tower One. Her fiancee worked in Tower Two and did not make it out. Her perspective on her loss is moving. Check out “Start from One.” (12/14/15 – Note – Her website no longer exists.)Here’s a clip from her entry for December 11. “A noise that sounds to me like a train slamming into a brick wall drowns out the horns and sirens and suddenly the air in front of me is milky, chalky, grey and white. Smoke or fog, something I can’t breathe, is charging after us, over us. It’s all around. I fall and someone falls on top of me. I think that I can smell cologne. I gag. Building two has come down. Rob works in building two. It is now 9:50 AM.” Be sure to go into her archives and read her entry for December 11.

20020414towersOfLight3

“Are we listening
To hymns of offering?
Have we eyes to see
That love is gathering?
All the words that I’ve been reading
Have now started the act of bleeding
Into one.”

LAST SATURDAY, I was in New York with JF. It was a nice time. We went to the South Street Seaport. JF wanted to try on some dresses at Anne Taylor. She looked great in this black sleeveless dress! There’s something about a Chinese girl in a black dress! Is it the dark hair? Is it the dark eyes? Is it the skin tone? Maybe it’s just JF. She sure made that dress look good! At the Seaport we also walked around in several other stores. I got an “air plant” from this little seashell shop. It’s really cool! It doesn’t have to be planted in dirt. It has no roots. Its leaves absorb moisture from the humidity in the air. Talk about low maintenance!

Also that Saturday we went to Long Island City in Queens to visit Yue Yun, one of JF’s friends. This girl works in a garment factory there. She works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. She was working this day and brought us inside. So, quite unexpectedly I found myself in the middle of what we would definitely call a “sweatshop.” It was a damp rainy day. But even with fans blowing, that room was pretty warm. I am sure that it is nearly unbearable in there in the summer. There I sat with my tie and dress shirt on, the only white guy in the place, surrounded by a few dozen Chinese women and a few Mexican ladies and guys. The floor supervisor came running over asking if he could help me with something, a look of anxiety in his eye. Yue Yun said something in Chinese and he just walked away. I guess whatever she said assured him that I was not INS or CIA or FBI or anything. Can you imagine that? Me as an undercover agent for the CIA or something? There’s a place where JF and I go in Chinatown where they have gambling in a back room. The room is always full of smoke and the sound of mahjong tiles shuffling around on the tables. The bathroom is at the end of the hallway just before the door to this back room. About a month ago I noticed that the people in the room get rather apprehensive when I walk down the hall to use the bathroom. It cracks me up! So now I intentionally use my best secret agent strut when I go down that hall. The last time I did that one guy in the room looked really scared. As soon as I shut the bathroom door, I heard the other door slam and lock. What was he thinking? Doesn’t he know that Inspector Snyder always gets his man? “I’ll be baachk.” And I’ll be wearing a tie too, punk!

20020414towersOfLight4

“So I walk up on high
And I step to the edge
To see my world below.
And I laugh at myself
As the tears roll down.
‘Cause it’s the world I know.
It’s the world I know.”*

YES, this is the world I know. This journal just relates bits and pieces of it. Sometimes the tears roll down and I wonder how some of it got to be the way that it is. Mostly I laugh at myself. Someone said, “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Five years ago it felt like it was all tragedy and tears. It was like the line in the song above, “Has all the kindness gone?” Back then I would not have believed you if you told me that a whole new world would begin to open up in a few years. “Hope still lingers on.” There is always hope. When you cannot feel it you have to just believe it. How does one believe in hope when he feels like there is no hope? Well, I don’t know how to explain it in a few words. That would take several journal entries. Some of the explanation has been woven between the lines of this journal already. I just know that hope still lingers on even in the darkest of days. You can believe it even when you can’t see it or feel it. I did. You can too. “Walk up on high and step to the edge to see my world below.” Stand here with me for a moment. I finally found the courage to step to that edge. “It’s the world I know.” Sometimes it’s crazy as a single dad. Sometimes it’s quite interesting as an American guy in love with a Chinese girl. Sometimes it’s exciting as a country boy in the big city. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s heart-wrenching. “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” If I wrote the story of my life, would it be a “tragically romantic comedy” or a “comically tragic romance?” I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

*Lyrics from the song “The World I Know” by Collective Soul.

DRAW THE LINE

sam19

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

JOE PERRY’S slide guitar licks are bending the sound waves and I am sliding back to age 14 right now. Yeah, it’s Aerosmith again. I have not listened to much music lately. But at lunch today I was telling someone about how different I was way back when. They found it a little hard to believe. But I was certainly a different person then. “Draw the Line” seems like the appropriate background music for this article.

You see, back in ninth grade, I was a rock star. That is what I lived for. Many hours were spent behind my drum kit, a stack of records on the player, headphones pumping at full volume on my ears. Play until I get it right. Play until I get it right. Play until my hands bleed. Do it again. Do it again. Aerosmith. AC/DC. Boston. Kansas. Play until I master it. Do it again. Thin Lizzy. Kiss. Again. Again. Rush… well, at least attempt Rush and then tip my hat to Neil Peart as the greatest.

It was in ninth grade that I participated in my first “Battle of the Drummers” when our school jazz band played a concert before the whole school. My competition was this rather dorky kid, greasy hair, plaid pants, button-down shirt. His drumming was tight though. For a dork, he was pretty fast. I can’t remember his name. Technically speaking, as far as rudiments and precision go, he was just a slight step above me. Drove me crazy! I wanted to be at the top! But I had something that he lacked. I had the whole rock-n-roll image thing working in my favor. On the day of the “Battle” I showed up in my normal faded ripped Levi’s and my favorite Aerosmith t-shirt. It was a black and white half-sleeve with the artwork from “Draw the Line” on it. I was nothing but long hair and denim. How could double-knit polyester ever compete? It was like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass versus Steven Tyler and the boys.

I remember that just before our concert was to start, one of the cutest girls in our class came up to me. She was one of a set of twins that every guy in school was crazy about. She took a thread off of her coat, tied it around one of my drumsticks, kissed me and said, “That is for good luck.” I was the embodiment of rock-n-roll that day! I had the attitude. I had the sharp looking drum kit. I had the girls. The dork had the rudiments. I had the hair and the attitude! When we battled, everyone politely watched when it was his turn. When it was my turn, the lights flashed, the walls shook and a zillion girls screamed. Still happens when I walk into a room now and then.

IT WAS NOT all fame and glory back then. There was confusion, fear and frustration as a teenager. There were insecurities. There was even a short period when I thought I was losing my mind. It happened one day as I walked down the hallway in school with my girlfriend. I suddenly thought to myself, “What if everything that I see, hear and feel is not real? What if it is all an illusion?” I had this feeling like I could put my hand out and tear through what I saw to reveal what was truly there. I remember feeling like I was floating through life at that point. It was so unnerving! Nothing was real! It was all a big joke, all a big trick that all the non-real people around me conspired to pull off at the expense of my sanity. My mom even took me to talk to a shrink. What was his advice? “When you feel anxious and a little crazy, go play your drums.” I guess that is how I got so good. Insanity drove me to it! You have to be half-crazy to really succeed at anything in your life anyway!

AS I SAID in the beginning of the article, my friend could not believe that I was so drastically different back in the day. It kind of boggled her mind when I told her how cruel I could be to other people. My group of friends and I made it a habit of letting people know just how stupid, ugly or otherwise below us we felt that they were. I remember one poor girl who constantly went out of her way to be kind to me. Yet, every time she said hello to me, my response was, “You’re a dog.” And that was mild cruelty compared to some of the ways I treated people! When I look back on it, I don’t know how my friends and I didn’t get ourselves seriously hurt. We were a bunch of skinny kids picking on kids that were twice our size in some cases. I distinctly remember this big guy. We very affectionately called him “Boogerdy.” He was huge, dressed a little sloppily, and hung out with a group of real nerds. We said horrible things to Boogs! We threw food at him during lunch. We made comments about buffaloes being in his family line and other assorted obscenities.

Somehow I managed to make it into my junior year of high school without getting killed by any of the people that I ridiculed. In the middle of that year my life changed quite unexpectedly. I became a Christian. Maybe I will relate that story some other time. For now I will tell you that my whole perspective on life and people changed. Before I knew what really happened to me, I found myself caring about people. I found myself talking to people whom a few short months before I would have rather died than even acknowledge their existence. The girl who always said hello was no longer an animal but a person with a name.

During this time of my life I found a whole new group of people to be friends with. It was a little hard for me to fit in at first. You have to remember the whole rock-n-roll image syndrome. I found myself associating with people who were dorks. People who were intelligent. People who were not afraid to care about other people. People who were not so concerned with their own coolness. They accepted me. I knew their acceptance was genuine when I attended a home Bible study for the very first time. It was being held at a friend’s house. After ringing the doorbell, I could not believe who opened the door. It was Boogs! Before I could say anything or run or disappear, he shook my hand and said, “Good to see you!” I just wanted to crawl under the welcome mat and hide in shame! We became friends and he never, ever once mentioned even one of the many unkind things that I did to him. Shortly after that night, when I was talking with Boogs in school, one of my “best” friends stopped and said, “How can you even talk to him? He’s so stupid and ugly!” I said, “It just doesn’t matter anymore, man.” He didn’t get it and soon thereafter he didn’t want anything to do with me.

SO WHAT is the moral of the story? Long hair and Levi’s are better than greasy hair and double-knit plaid? He who has the most girls wins the drum battle? No. The moral is that he who has the most heart wins. He wins happiness. He wins friends. He might lose associates who do not know how to be friends. But he wins much more than he loses. He enjoys much more than he suffers. He adds depth and satisfaction to his existence. He adds quality to his character. Without heart, whether you are a dork or a rock star, you are nothing. That is where we must “Draw the Line.” The line is drawn at the issue of our hearts. Got heart? It does a body good! It looks good on ya! A heart is a terrible thing to waste.

WHEN WE WERE ROCK STARS

kisslogo

(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)

“YOU wanted the best and you got it! The hottest band in the land…”

“APE??”

NOW, if you are any kind of true rock-n-roller, you would know that “APE” is not the real conclusion to the above lines. You would know that those lines are at the beginning of KISS “Alive I.” Back in the early to mid seventies, KISS came on the scene and took the teenage world by storm. They were different. They were awesome with their make up, costumes, platform shoes and catchy rock-n-roll tunes. You either enlisted in the KISS Army or you just were not with it, man!

So, Cousin P and I decided that we would start our own rock band. Somehow we came up with the name APE. We each had stage names as well. He was the infamous “Alfred B. Oil” and I was the ultra-cool “Barney B. Bogart.” Hey, it sounded cool at the time! But what did we really know? We were still making the transition from plaid double-knit pants to tie-dyed bell-bottoms. We weren’t fully hip yet.

Cousin P had a small low quality drum set that Gram and Pop got for him from Sears or something. So he let me play that. His mom then got him an electric bass guitar from J C Penny, I think. So we would set up in Gram’s basement, put some colored lights on and make some noise. We would yell and scream and carry on. We even wore our blue motorcycle helmets while we played. That was the ultimate in coolness! If KISS could go on stage with their faces painted, we could certainly start a motorcycle helmet trend!

rockstar2

SPEAKING of KISS’ costumes, there is something I could never really understand. Paul Stanley is the lead singer, rhythm guitarist. His costume, with a big black star over his eye, represented a rock star. Okay, that is cool. Ace Frehley, while sporting such a happening name like Ace and playing lead guitar, represented some kind of alien. Cool again. Gene Simmons was the bass guitarist and portrayed some kind of demon lord/monster, breathing fire and spitting blood while dangling his surgically enhanced tongue all over the place. You can’t get much cooler than that! But what was Peter Criss’ deal? He was the drummer and his costume was a… cat?? Huh? (I recently heard an interview with Gene Simmons. He said that they decided to unmask themselves when the original band broke up and they had to find guys to replace Peter and Ace. He said they were afraid the next guy might want to dress up like a giraffe or something and they would have a real zoo on their hands!)

MY MY very first album was Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” I turned Cousin P on to Alice. We both were hooked! It wasn’t long before we added to Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, the Stones, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Foghat, KISS and a host of other rock giants to our record collections. Also, it was not long before we began imitating some of these people in a lot of ways. Cousin P was not allowed to, but I began letting my hair grow long. Our wardrobes suddenly had all kinds of T-shirts sporting the arrogant faces of our leaders. Circus magazine became our staple diet. My bedroom wall was covered with posters from Circus and from the Alice Cooper fan club. And we, along with many of our peers, would often pose for pictures with our tongues as long and pointed as we could get them just like Gene Simmons. Once I brought in a bloody baby copperhead snake that the cat brought home. I pulled an Alice Cooper as I let it dangle out of my mouth as I turned to the girl next to me in eighth grade homeroom. What a delight it was to see her flee the room in an ear-piercing scream! Cousin P even attempted blowing fire like Gene Simmons. A few good burns on the lips ended that though. (I sometimes think that the two of us would have ended up HERE for real if we kept following our heroes!)

rockstar1

SOME of the things we did in imitating our idols as kids were rather mindless and even a little scary, looking back at it now. What were we thinking? What do we do about our own children and the people that they are following these days? At times I have found myself acting the role of “parental censorship officer.” And rightly so! But more often than not, since I do like a lot of the music that my kids like (other than the rap), I have found that some of the issues raised by my children’s idols and their songs have given us an opportunity to talk. It has given me an opportunity to teach them some good values when I hear negative attitudes advocated in their music. It has given me an opportunity to talk to them about suicide, sex, anger, drugs, proper attire and the complete evil of boy bands (I couldn’t resist!). We have a good time listening to music. We sing. We shout. We play air-guitar. We dance, even in the car! Just recently, as we approached our street on our way home one night, AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long” came on the radio. The kids begged me to not turn the car off until the song was over. So, I cranked it up to full volume and all five kids and I drove around the streets near our home until the song was over. What a blast! And yes, later the older kids and I talked about the fact that that song is just a sex song. Rather than taking my role as “parental censorship officer” to the extreme and banning all rock-n-roll from our house, I have chosen to use it as a touch point to relate to my kids. When we were kids, rock was all fun and excitement. As an adult, it still is. But there is something more to it now. I know that I have to be an example to my children. I refuse to leave their mental and emotional molding in the hands of their idols. I am the rock star in this house! Now put the disk in, crank up the volume and dance with me kids!