Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Favorite Movies: White Christmas

Some people have told me recently that they have never watched the movie "White Christmas" starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney.  To me this is really outrageous, especially if you are a music fan.

The Binger in full effect.  Check out the tie.
 The song "White Christmas" is the best selling single of all time, according to Guinness Book of World Records.  It has sold over 50 million copies as a single.  If you factor in album sales the total is 100 million.  It was the only song to ever hit Number 1 on Billboard three separate years - 1942, 1945, and 1946 (at Christmas time, of course).  It won the Oscar for best song in a movie in 1942 (it was first in a movie called Holiday Inn).  It also was the only Bing Crosby song to ever reach Number 1 on the Harlem Hit Parade - a black music chart of the time (before it was called the R&B chart). 

Now why would this song sell so much?  It touches a place in the heart that few other works of art ever have on a massive scale.  You just have to listen to it to understand. 

Bing and Danny Kaye putting on a show for the troops.
To me, the best way to understand the song's appeal is to watch the first scenes of the movie "White Christmas".  Picture the place, picture the winter of 1944... you're a soldier in France, at the front.  The Nazis are about to launch their counter-attack (a.k.a. the Battle of the Bulge) and the War's conclusion is still in question.  You are not sure if you'll live to see another Christmas.  Bing steps up in the war zone to put on a little Christmas show for the men, to raise their spirits - and to gently remind them what they're really fighting for. 

Hearts are full, grown men are laying their lives on the line to breathe free.  Many of their brothers in arms have already died, and their echoes will carry on in those who survive.  That to me is the setup for this song.  You're in hell, and you want to find a way to get back home, where things make sense.  At least in the solitude of your heart. 

Where tree tops glisten, where children listen... to hear sleigh bells in the snow. 

Therefore you can't understand this song without putting it into the context of the World War Two experience of the Greatest Generation.  It is really hard to contextualize the level of sacrifice and service that this generation of Americans gave to their country.  They all put aside their own personal ambitions time and again to give to others - family, neighbors, friends, nation.  Thank God they did - we are living in the aftermath of their sacrifice.  They paid with their lives for this sacrifice.  Over 400,000 American men lost their lives in World War Two.  By comparison, in Vietnam 58,000 Americans were killed.  In Iraq, under 5,000 Americans. 

I often wonder if J.R.R. Tolkein, in pondering the metaphorical allegory that was the Lord of the Rings, envisioned the Hobbits as these very Americans who came over to France and sacrificed everything to save the world from evil tyranny.  Perhaps the Hobbits - people like Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry - are those American GI's, at least in Tolkein's mind's eye.  They were so innocent, so fresh, so unjaded by life.  Despite all that was against them, they were ever faithful, ever hopeful. 

The Fellowship of the Hobbits.
Americans today should reflect on that generation's sense of mission, community, and sacrifice - especially in light of our current state of affairs politically, socially, and culturally.  We need to take the best of the spirit of that time and bring it forward to the present day. 

There is a lot wrong with our society right now.  A lot of it could be cured if people of all ages and income levels started thinking more about "doing the right thing" and "serving others" with their behavior, their attitude, and their decisions.  If everyone only thinks of themselves to the detriment of all others, our society can not survive.  Every time I get down reading about all the bad things that have happened in my country, I take a moment to reflect on all the good things that have happened, and all the good people who sacrifice every day so that we can all have a better life.  In the end of it all, it will be those good people - the Hobbits among us - who will save us from ourselves. 

We should start thinking about why those Hobbits were so good.  What made them so humble and strong.  What - or Who - gave them the power to handle the struggles of their time.  This particular time of year is a very good time to rediscover that power - the omnipotent power that entered the human world in the body of a helpless child. 

Hark! The herald angels sing.  Glory to the new-born King.
Remember that when you watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this year.  The one time of year you hear the Gospel of Luke read on a TV network - by Linus of course.

God bless you, and Merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Favorite Movies: The Big Lebowski

THE DUDE.  From Los An-guh-LEEES... now that's not a name I'd self-apply where I come from. 

Thinking about how that smell will taste with Smirnoff & Kahlua.
Has there ever been a greater beginning to a movie than the unfolding canvas of glory that is The Big Lebowski?  The husky-voiced narrator, the "tumbling tumbleweeds", the Dylan song, the bowling tableau, all flowing seamlessly into the first scene.  Breathtaking.  Watching it is like being high, even if you're not.
I find it particularly interesting that when this movie was released in Italy, it was called "Mr. Marijuana" in their native tongue. 

What is it about this strange, silly, plodding film that so captivates?  I guess a story so STOO-peh-FYEN can not be explained away easily.  But I reckon I'll take a gander.

Much obliged.
The Dude is out there, taking 'er easy for all of us folks who have normal lives.  He has basically perpetuated a lifestyle that many men of Generation X found a way to lead in their college days.  We perfected the art of slacking off, hanging out, eating pizza and drinking beer, and enjoying the fact that we were hours away from our parents and living off of their substantial benevolence.  It was really sweet.  We even attempted to extend that existence well into our mid- to late-20s.  Some were successful, some were less so...

Yeah, like that's just your opinion man.
Those days are gone though.  College life as we know it is coming to an end.  Tuition prices, unemployment... But -- whoa, lost my train of thought there.  What we're here for is the DUDE. He IS the Big Lebowski... the Dude abides.  And that's why we love this movie. 

It's just so cool watching Jeff Bridges as the Dude, bumbling his way through these crazy events, handling these complex, childish, very rich and very immature people.  He views them as children, really.  Even though they have massive wealth, power, and privilege, they really are childish fools.  Sort of a comment on America, and our obsession with youth, superficial beauty, sex... whoa, losing my train of thought again.

Lots of strings in the ol' Duder's head.

The idea here is that the Dude has found a way to navigate the vicissitudes of life by just being mellow, drinking White Russians, and bowling. 

Man, I am going to need at least 3 more posts to cover the Zen of the Dude. 

Consider this the beginning of a conversation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Favorite Albums: Pet Sounds

To enter into Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds is to journey deep into your soul.  This album is a landmark in the pop recording era, by any measure.  Musicians love it because it tells sophisticated tales of young adulthood with emotion and with technical virtuosity that does not distract; it reinforces the themes and carries them to another level.

Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys
 Anyone who has ever wanted to write and arrange music wishes to achieve a complete statement such as Pet Sounds as the culmination of their creative output.  What amazes me about this work is that its progenitor was only 23 years old when he recorded it.  What kind of genius finds his creative peak at such a young age?  How do you gain the level of confidence that young to pull off something so bold? 

Brian was a California kid from Hawthorne.  He played high school football, and combed his hair neatly to the side.  He had two brothers, Carl and Dennis, and together they would sing in harmony.  Family members in harmony create a special sound - think of the Bee Gees.  They were a bunch of teenagers when Brian's father Murry, an modestly successful songwriter, got his sons a tryout at Capitol Records in Los Angeles.  Brian wrote a song about surfing called "Surfin' ", but he had never surfed before.  His brother Dennis was a surfer, and there was a culture building up around it that Brian tapped into with his song.  
A very young Brian Wilson on bass in the studio at Capitol

Capitol loved the song and signed them on the spot in 1962.  Brian then created hit after hit - so much so that by 1965 they were mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles.  A competition formed between them, which Paul McCartney has later confirmed. 

It is difficult to grasp now, but Brian Wilson essentially created an entire industry with these surfing songs.  Before the Beach Boys, only a few thousand people in the entire world knew how to surf.  There was no such thing as "surf music" or "surf guitar".  Now, millions of people surf all over the world.  When you think of the beach, or of Southern California, the soundtrack of those thoughts & dreams is almost inevitably Beach Boys music. 

This is the backdrop for Pet Sounds.  In late 1965, Brian Wilson was on top of his game - rich, successful, famous throughout the world, held in high esteem for both his artistic and commercial success - all at a very young age.  Capitol saw him as a cash machine and pushed him hard to create more new music.  Brian developed a nagging stage fright, and grew weary of touring.  He wanted to stay home and write.  So the band hired Bruce Johnston to stand in for Brian on tour while he worked on songs. 

Then the Beatles released Rubber Soul - their first album made up entirely of their own compositions.  Brian was deeply affected by the greatness of the Beatles' work.  He took it as a personal challenge to respond with his best work.  He even told his wife at the time, "I'm gonna make the greatest rock album ever made!"

Brian working in the studio.  He always recorded in mono because he was deaf in one ear.

Pet Sounds was the result - a deeply meditative inner search for meaning, for love, and for purpose from the perspective of a young man, surrounded with lush instrumentation and rich harmonies.  Each song deals with emotions any young man contemplates - will I ever get married?  What kind of woman will my wife be?  When does childhood end and adulthood begin?  How can I survive?  What happens when that first flower of a new relationship settles into something less exciting?  What makes it last? 

I have listened to this record hundreds of times since I was a baby.  For me part of the appeal is that it conjures memories of my youth when my mother would often play great '60s-era LPs while she was doing her household chores.  The Beach Boys are a reminder of that time, with their divine harmonies permeating my young mind.  So I always loved how the music on this record made me feel.  As I grew older, the lyrics began to reveal to me a sensibility that was very deeply mature and personal.  And now that I am older, married, and a father, my focus is on studying the virtuosity of how he combined his feelings that inspired the composition with the lyrics and the baroque arrangements.

On this album, Brian hired the best studio musicians in Los Angeles to assemble the instrument tracks.  He wrote intricate arrangements that defied normal pop/rock convention.  For example, Brian's bass lines were very innovative in that on most songs on this album, the bass note is rarely playing the root chord.  What I mean is if the song is in G in a certain section, usually the bass note is a G.  Brian would make it a B-flat, or another melody line altogether, like Mozart does. 

Carol Kaye, bass player for The Wrecking Crew - Brian's studio band
 A great example of this compositional technique is on the song "Don't Talk".  I love the break where Brian sings, "listen to my heart...beat" and when he sings "heart", the bass line suggests a heart beat with a walking-down line.  The effect is so sublime; it perfectly captures the mood of intimacy.  You almost feel you are naked in bed with your lover, in the dark, with your head on her chest listening to her heart at that moment.  The music conjures just that kind of imagery. 

I have always loved "Sloop John B" which takes you on a metaphorical journey aboard a sailing ship.  For me, it has always represented the wandering aimlessness of the single life, with its constant trips to bars and parties every weekend.  The life can take its toll on you physically.  At some point, you just want the trip to end; you want to find love and settle down.  But you're still on the ship.  "Home, let me go home..." they all sing. 

A sloop - a two-mast boat of 50-75 feet made from cedar; many were made in Bermuda for the British Navy in the 1800s. 
 "God Only Knows" has always gotten a lot of critical attention.  For me it does what John Lennon's "Across the Universe" from "Let It Be" does - it takes the listener beyond the boundaries of time and space.  But Brian went beyond what Lennon conteplated in his song by putting a man's love for a woman in the context of the eternal.  Just magnificent. 

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" is a daydream about marriage.  What will it be like to sleep with a woman, wake up with her every day, sharing everything?  "Here Today" discusses how fleeting relationships can be.  To really discover love, you have to be vulnerable; you have to expose yourself to the danger of being hurt by that other person.  Sometimes it ends quickly.  But you have to keep trying, because if you don't take that risk, you will never find the love you seek. 

This album is my favorite ever.  Thank you, Brian.  I will treasure it until my days on this earth are done.  I recommend it to you, dear reader.  Listen to it and share your thoughts. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Too Long, Blues Junior, Craigslist, Connections

It has been too long since I posted, yet my totally lame explanation is that I started a new job and I'm trying to ensure that I don't lose said job.  In case you weren't aware, we are in a global recession.  Being unemployed means you're in deep trouble these days.  Three of my best friends - including two current band members and one former - have been laid off in just the last few months.  Two other current band mates are back in school at night to learn new skills - to add value to their resume and show their employer they are valuable employees who are serious about their future. 

My new job entails, among other things, learning how to run a fairly complex software system which is used to forecast performance in a loan portfolio.  The better I do my job, the better able my employer is to lend money to people who need it.  At least, that is what I tell myself.

As Grandmaster Flash once said,

It's all about money
Ain't a damn thing funny
You gotta have a con
In this land of milk and honey

So don't go getting high and mighty on me.  I am doing what I gotta do to make sure my wife and 3 kids can eat, can have a roof over their heads, and can live with a relative sense of comfort and security.  If the whole world comes crashing down, well I'll deal with that as it comes and trust God has my back.  I find the Sermon on the Mount to be most comforting when despair sets in... Take Mathew 6 for example.  In verses 26-29, Jesus says,

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
In other words, Let Go and Let God.  So that's what I try to do when it comes to worrying.  Just give it up to God.  God gave me my talent; God gave me my wife, and my children too.  As my wise Capuchin confessor Brother Ron has said to me, "God got you this far."  Letting go isn't easy.  But I'm trying. 
I allowed myself a treat upon getting the new job.  I wanted to get a new amplifier.  For the last 10+ years, I have used a 1975 Fender Twin Reverb, which weighs about 70-80 lbs.  Many a night I have hauled that thing up and down wet fire-escape stairs at various venues.  And being that it is so old, it behaves like an old woman.  By the end of gigs, it coughs out notes like a chain-smoker after a jog around the track.  So the time has come.
First I looked at a Vox AC15, and found one for $500.  But those are made in China.  A big no-no there.  The British made ones are over $1200 each.  Too much money.  Then I looked at the Orange.  They look cool, but who uses those?  So I settled in on a Fender Blues Junior.  My friend Kieran turned me on to BillM, a real electronics pro who has a famous website showing folks how to upgrade Blues Juniors so they achieve much better tone with more power while keeping the convenience & light weight.  So I priced it out.  A new Blues Junior runs $500, and the standard BillM mods are about $200.  Total $700. 
Then, my friend Sam Starr heard I was in the market for a Blues Junior and turned me on to a Craigslist posting.  Some guy who likes to tinker posted his Fender Blues Junior, which he had just completed BillM mods for, at $300.  So of course I just saved myself $400 by picking one up.  It sounds amazing - I can't wait to use it next Friday at the next gig. 
I think that in the new era we are entering, friendships - connections - are becoming so important.  I got my new job because a friend I know works there, and six months ago she and her husband were over for dinner.  I told her I was desperate to get out of my job because my company had been sold and I would probably lose my job.  She said she'd help.  Six months later, someone asked her if she knew anyone who could do this job, and she gave them my name.  Now I'm here.  The guy who hired me used to work on the same floor as me - over 9 years ago. 
Everything in life, for me, seems to come down to friendships and developing a large network of people you can trust in all walks of life.  Whether it's a plumber you can trust to fix your overflowing toilet and not totally rip you off, or the mechanic to change your brake pads and actually replace them with new ones, or your booking agent who gives you a great gig and makes sure to get you that nice bar tab comp'd, or your doctor who decides not to prescribe you a drug because he thinks your body will heal itself.  If you want to survive, you have to take care of this. 
Two days ago I met a woman from a marketing firm who I used to work with at the company I just left.  She brought a guy with her who she works with now.  It was essentially a networking lunch - they do business with my company, and we were just getting to know each other.  Turns out the guy lives in Philly and plays in a band (I think called the Tall Boys).  In addition, he is personal friends with the owner of the Princeton in Avalon, NJ.  His band plays there all summer long.  So he says he will introduce me to her and help us get summer gigs.  Can you believe this?  It felt like Christmas Day when he told me.  I've been trying to crack the Avalon bars for 10 years and got nothing.  My parents have a house there so the band has a place to stay.  Suddenly I meet the right person and I'm in - those will be the band's highest-paying gigs by far.  They regularly pay bands $1000+ down there.  Connections...
Mahalo ;=~

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gigs... gigs... GIGS!!!

This week marks two excellent gigs.  Friday we play at an original venue called the Logan House in Wilmington with another band opening for us.  Saturday we play at our home base, the Deer Park.  Having a back-to-back like this reminds me of the old days, when we played three gigs a week.  It was a bit nuts back then, but of course I was younger, with no family and a job I really wasn't interested in.

The band practiced Monday, and it was one of our better practices.  It was such in part because I came into it with a defined game plan, coupled with the added pressure of the upcoming gigs.  I knew I could drive them hard because they knew we weren't ready.  So in the first half we cranked through covers in our regular set that needed polish.  In the second half we reviewed originals recently added, and we added a new one.  I have so much new material that it is really becoming difficult for me to contain my anxiousness to work on them with the band.  But with looming big gigs I had to bite the bullet and do what was right for the gigs.  Adding one song was all I could expect to accomplish.  The rest will have to be saved for another day.

As I mentioned previously - gigs coming up are so important to adding some focus and a sense of urgency to a band's musical work. 

If you, dear readers, are interested, stop by this weekend, saddle up to the bar, have a beer, and listen to the band.  One thing about us is that we keep coming.  We keep trying, keep getting better, inch by inch.  We're the little engine that could.  I'm so happy that each band member has gotten better over time, and we are more in synch than ever.

There truly are few things in this world like a good band in sync with each other and with their audience.  It can bring a higher state of consciousness & connectedness.  The venue in which it has been easiest for this band to accomplish that feat is the Deer Park.  If you want to feel a great live environment, stop by there and see us.  A fine event with music to sooth the soul is guaranteed! 

One recommendation - bring earplugs.  We can tend to be loud.  But in a good way.  Really! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How do I find balance?

OK so I just started a new job... and I'm lucky to have one at all these days.  That said, it has been kicking my arse.  I keep telling friends that the "garden of my life has been upset" and I'm "trying to figure out the new normal."

Let me tell you why the new job is good.

1. I didn't have to move.  In fact, my commute is exactly the same.  My office is on the riverfront, about 100 feet from where I was.  So everything I had going can remain intact - same home, same schools for kids, same church, same walk in the park.  This is HUGE.  For anyone out there looking for a job, you know how it is.  First you start looking within about a 20 mile radius, then that quickly turns into 50 miles, and so on until you find something.  I met a guy who told me how he commuted from Media, PA to NYC - for three years!  That is my worst nightmare.  I was preparing to commute a long way, then didn't have to.  This is important.

2. I got a raise.  This is really amazing because I was willing to leave without getting a raise.  My previous employer has been sold to a much larger institution that everybody hates.  Typically in a merger situation in the US, between 1/3 and 1/2 of the workforce is laid off within 18 months of the merger.  Given that fact, I wanted to quickly jump off the lily pad for what is called a "lateral move" (i.e. the same pay) without question.  Getting a raise is a blessing because the cost of food and gas has gone up, squeezing our budget.  Commodity inflation, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood FED, has crushed Americans' budgets.  We were living lean & mean anyway, and any extra $ that comes in will go into savings.  It's a jungle out there - only the fittest of the fittest will survive.  Have to continue to prepare for hard times. 

3. My boss is cool.  Anyone who gets up in the morning and works knows that you are happiest at work when you like your boss.  If you don't like your boss, you need to move or leave.  "Hating my boss" is the #1 reason why people leave their job.  My boss plays hockey, has a wife and two little kids who play soccer, lets me work from home if I want, is smart, and generally is really happy that I'm there because I'm helping him get home at a decent hour.

4. The company is growing.  This is important.  You want to work somewhere where things are looking up.  People are talking about how much work they have to do.  That is a good thing - it means job security!  So instead of talking about when can I leave work, or when will I take my next nap with my eyes open sitting at my desk, we are crushed with work.  Which for me at least is a good thing.  The best situation for me is to have interesting work to do.  Boredom is the playground of vice and depression.  Growth means excitement, energy, passion, and avoidance of boredom. 

Sounds great, right?  Well these are not necessarily the days of wine and roses.  Let's review why this job is rough.

1. I'm working longer hours.  There is so much work, and we are so behind on everything, that the only way to keep all the plates spinning is to work longer & harder.  I have no problem with that, but it is cutting into my time dedicated to playing with my kids, meditation, composition, prayer, reading, and writing. I'm composing this post in 5 minute spurts between work assignments where my boss comes around my desk behind me.  It's totally nuts.

2. The company I work for is disorganized.  There are all these opportunities, people are coming and going, there is a lack of leadership, and it's barely holding together.  Imagine a stick of chewed gum holding the O-rings on the Space Shuttle... there's chewed gum all over the place.  There are lots of critical functions outsourced to India, like IT & technology functions, and it would be real helpful to have those people right here in the trenches.  What a mess! 

3. The job is occupying more of my brain than usual.  This is important because the dream of creating an album seems farther away.  I have to learn a lot of new stuff - which is good.  I enjoy learning.  But the issue is that it is occupying larger amounts of my bandwidth as I get up to speed.  So songwriting, reading, meditation, and creative energy in general are all being pushed back farther until I can get a grip on this job. 

I have to figure out a way to get everything back into balance in my life.  BALANCE is the key to a happy & fulfilling life.  I've always been able to figure out a good balance.  This job may help me improve my ability to multi-task and to compartmentalize different roles & responsibilities. 

For me, the band has always brought balance to my life.  Work has always been on the intense side, because of my chosen day job.  Music has been, from the moment I left college, my counterweight to the stress of work.  I get this opportunity every week to blow off steam in an extraordinary way.  It has kept me young, creative, fresh... happy.  My wife, thankfully, knows that. 

Work affects everything else.  If you spend 50 hours per week somewhere, that is bound to happen.  Perhaps due to the impatient rush of my new work life, I'm growing impatient with the band because I have so much new material, and I can't seem to get them to engage.  Especially since the Queen show, I know the material is really solid.  I have strong ideas about how to arrange it & record it.  I'm chomping at the bit to take a weekend and demo the songs. 

In past cycles, I have driven to NYC to demo my songs with Kieran at his studio.  But it is really difficult now to go up there.  Plus Kieran is so good at it now, I can't afford him anymore.  I'm thinking I may demo the songs with someone more local - Brian Fitzgerald, known as Fitzy.  He accompanied me at the Queen show and he really liked the songs.  In fact, he offered to help me record the songs at his home studio, where he has recorded three of his own full albums. 

My thinking is that Fitzy and I could bang out 8 songs in one weekend - that's how he works, and that's how I have to work now, given all my other responsibilities.  And I'm at a stage in my music life where I believe I'm capable of bringing all my talent & experience to bear in one intense weekend of recording.  Once that is done, I can give the demo to the band and they can just interpret what we have done.  This will be so much quicker than trying to get them to write their parts.  Thinking back, this has always been the approach we took.  Tom Demos the Songs, then The Band Plays the Songs. 

OK, back to work... talk amongst yourselves...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Do unto others

Tonight the band is playing for an event called "Relay for Life" which is a cancer charity.  The deal is that cancer survivors and their families camp out all night and walk in shifts, as a symbol of their perseverance in the face of the fatal disease.

This will be our third year participating, sharing our time and talent, and celebrating together with these fine people.  I can not say enough that if you want to be happy, do nice things for other people.  It's "good karma" as they say.  But of course it's more than that. 

As Paul McCartney once said to Chris Farley, "In my experience, the more you give, the more you get."  I am here to tell you that is true!  Giving your time to a charitable cause connects you with people in the community; keeps things in their proper perspective; reminds you how blessed and good your life really is; and brings you happiness and a warm heart. 

Let me tell you a story about Page, our keyboardist.  Yesterday he was laid off by a company he worked for over a decade.  For 10 years he had worked with his boss, who had to fire him.  His boss cried when he gave Page the news.  But my friend told him not to worry, he will be all right.  There are people all around us who are going through this - people who always did the right thing, studied in school, worked hard.  People who did what they were told to do to succeed.  They are losing their jobs their homes, their lives, their happiness.  For what?  Who took this American Dream away from them? 

I have a good idea who it is... and none of the people who did this to us are rotting in a jail, or even mildly humiliated.  They didn't even lose their jobs.  They are laughing while counting their piles of gold while We The People wither on the vine.  I ask again, for what?

Some day the cream will once again rise to the top.  The chickens will come home to roost.  Those who have taken from us will be called to the witness stand.  Until that day comes, we are all, as John Mayer says, "waiting for the world to change."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dealing with Bars...and their booking guys

Anyone who has ever played in a band and dealt with booking gigs has encountered issues with their intermediaries (bar managers, owners, etc) in the booking and confirmation of gigs.

There is a certain bar in West Chester.  I contacted their booking guy, Rob.  We agreed back in July on a show Friday, September 9th.  To confirm the start time & end time, I emailed him last Wednesday to say we were looking forward to the gig, and when do you want us to start?  He comes back... "Oh, I had you on the calendar for Thursday night.  Call me ASAP."  Unbelievable!  I dig up the old email where he confirmed the date with me.  Check.

I call him... he goes on this long story about how the owner has established a "piano man" scene on Friday nights, with bands on Thursdays and Saturdays.  Which is fine in itself.  But why had he not called me and let me know?  Is that too much to ask?  Had I not emailed him Wednesday, we would have showed up Friday night with all our gear (including PA) for a jam session with Piano Man, and not gotten paid.  
Sing us a song, you're the piano man.
This kind of thing goes on all the time.  It's par for the course.  That is why it is so important to find good people and work with them - to build relationships with bars where the people are cool and the bartenders treat you well.  I have a personal relationship with a certain individual in our area, Jim Miller, who books two of the best live venues in the state - Deer Park and Logan House.  We have a relationship going way back.  He takes care of us, and we take care of him.  This is exactly the type of situation you must create as a band in order to succeed for any length of time.

Because the simple fact is, if you do not have a relationship like that, it will be very difficult to keep your band together.  When all else fails - when you are fighting inside the band, when other members play in other bands, when you are tired - it's the gigs that pull you back together.  It's the gigs that make all the work and the sacrifice worth it.  It's the gigs that focus the minds of the members and get guys off their horse to practice.  The gigs are the big payoff.  That's why you pick up a guitar and play.  To play your music for people to enjoy.

The man who invented the phonograph, and therefore the music industry.  Thomas Edison.
I have never understood this fantasy of selling records and making millions... if it were ever true it isn't any more because music is free now.  Anyone can download any song without paying for it.  So we are back where we were before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, before large corporations controlled the distribution of music, before these same corporations forced people to buy entire albums of lousy music just to get that one song you really like (it was a place called the '90s).  I have a Case Logic CD case full of albums like that - Blind Melon, Black Crowes, albums with one good song and the rest suck. 

One-hit-wonder: Blind Melon
I think it is hilarious when bands try to sell their CDs for $10 now.  I wonder how many they have sold?  There is a new paradigm in music now, and the sooner everyone adjusts, the sooner bands will be the better for it.  
The man who blew up the world of popular music - Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs is a genius for a reason.  He not only invented the personal computer; he re-invented the music business.  He removed the middle man - the big mean music corporation - using technology (iPod, iTunes) and common sense.  99 cents per song is very easy for everyone to understand. Except many musicians who still try to get $10 for their CD. 

So, Will, what's your point? Well, the reason to play music now is the same reason that men played music 1,000 years ago.  To entertain the locals with your talent; to give the young a reason to move their feet and meet a mate on the dance floor; to grease the wheels of commerce at your local saloon; to find yourself in the company of a woman you have no business being with otherwise; to have a darn good time making people happy.  That's why. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Playing at World Cafe @ Queen

News flash for all who are interested:

Yours truly has been invited to play at the World Cafe Live @ the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware on Friday, August 26 for their "Free At Noon" show from 12-1pm.  So if you want to know who Will Smyth really is, then come to the show and find out!  I could use your support & encouragement.

World Cafe Live is an extension of 88.5 FM WXPN, which is a very important non-profit public radio station connected to the University of Pennsylvania.  They have an afternoon broadcast called the World Cafe which is syndicated nationwide on public radio, hence the name. 

How did I get the gig?  It was pretty simple really.  I heard they had an open mic night on Tuesdays at 7, sign-ups at 6:30.  I showed up with my acoustic guitar last week and played 3 new songs.  Totally new - didn't rely on the old successes.  The woman who runs it dug my voice and called me the next day offering me the gig.  This was last week. 

Anyways I have very little clue how to promote a gig like this, other than to tell you that the World Cafe serves lunch - excellent lunch - and you come in for your lunch hour, enjoy the food, and hear me sing.  I checked out my man Kevin Sarkissian play last Friday.  I had a pizza and a cappuchino - both of which were excellent.  I have asked for a little help from my friends so we should have some interesting accompaniment for my music. 

I will be playing a selection of new compositions coupled with some very interesting covers.  With one hour, figure that there will be time for about 15 songs, maybe less.  I will prepare 15.  The first half will be just me alone, then I will bring up my friends to help for the second half. 

If you are reading this, please PLEASE consider coming.  If it goes well, then I can get the band in there ultimately, and then who knows what will happen?  I'll be a step closer to realizing my dream - to record and release a full album with my band.  And the best place in these parts to do a CD release party is at the Queen.  Bands like Mad Sweet Pangs and New Sweden have both done CD release parties there with much success. 

Thank you - thank you - thank you for your support!

Mahalo ;)=~

Friday, July 22, 2011

Local Hero

One of my favorite movies is "Local Hero".  It is an environmental film, in more ways than one.  You say "environmental" and people think about saving the whales, and there is definitely that element in the film.  An oil company wants to tear apart a town on the beautiful west coast of northern Scotland in order to build a deep-water refinery close to the North Sea oil fields for shipment of refined fuel back to America.  The beauty of the place, the people, and their simple communal way of life slowly overcomes these more corporate needs to win the day and preserve the beauty of the coastline.   

Yet there is also an element of putting a man who is comfortable and successful in one environment - urban, corporate, upper-middle-class life driven by money and materialism - and dropping him in a very different place - more wild, more affected by the rhythms of nature - and it transforms him.  He becomes more his true self.  He finds the path.  The experience transforms him. 

Mac in Houston - before he leaves for Scotland
Mac has a great job, by current American standards.  He is in M&A at a large oil company headquartered in Houston.  He owns a Porsche, has a big office, has lots of money in stocks, and brokers large land deals representing the oil company.  He gets chosen for the Scotland deal because his name is MacIntyre - a Scottish name to be sure.  But his Hungarian parents changed their name to MacIntyre when they immigrated here to be "more American".  This is true for so many people who came to these shores.  So who is Mac really?  He doesn't even have his own name.    

By every measure that our modern society equates with happiness and success, Mac should be very happy.  Yet we find out that he is not.  He has no intimacy in his life; no love; no connection with people.  No friendships, even at work.  He is a man consumed by the corporate ladder.  His whole life is geared toward world domination by his own employer.  There are so many people - good people - like this in America.  These are the guys and girls who are willing to move to all corners of the earth (read: America and Western Europe only) in order to get that next promotion, that next raise.  Because that is what they blindly see as the way to get ahead.  But where are they going?  Why?  These questions are left unanswered by these people. 

Mac's transformation begins on the journey to Ferness, the Scottish town he has to acquire.  He comes to buy the entire town, all the property from the coast line to a mile inland.  It takes nearly two days to get there, and at one point on the drive from Aberdeen, there is so much fog on the mountain road that he has to merely stop driving in the middle of the road.  Can you imagine that?  Being in a place so remote that you can just stop in the middle of the road with no cars coming or going for hours on end?  Just thinking about that gives me a sense of peace. 

Gordon and Stella
 Mac arrives in town of Ferness to find Gordon Urquhart, the town's chief accountant, hotelier, and restauranteur, among his other duties.  Gordon is married to Stella, a woman who represents the ideal for Mac.  Why does Gordon have Stella when Mac doesn't?  The movie goes a long way in explaining why.  Women love a man comfortable in his own skin who knows who he really is.  Gordon knows that; Mac doesn't, though in the course of his cinematic journey in this film he discovers who he is in his bones. 

Ferness along the beach
In order to enhance his negotiating position, Gordon suggests slyly to Mac that he spend a few days in the town, getting to know the landscape and the people.  Here Gordon shows he is a far better businessman and negotiator than Mac.  Just because you have a Porsche and make more money than someone else does not mean that you are better or smarter than anyone else.  Corporate life can become a form of indentured servitude where everything in your life is defined by your position on the ladder.  People just go to sleep and surrender too many decisions to large corporations.  At the end of the day - in America there is capital and there is labor.  All employees of corporations are labor.  In this case, Gordon is capital and Mac is labor.  Gordon's businesses may be comparatively small - but he owns them.  He is an entrepreneur - a master of his own fate.  Mac is a salaried employee who is probably three paychecks away from being broke (like so many of us Americans).  
Gordon and Mac, after a night of whiskey at the Ceili
By the time of the Ceili (pronounced KHAY-lee), which is a Gaelic word for a party, Mac has realized that Gordon has somehow discovered the secret of happiness, while he on the other hand is miserable.  He also feels that Gordon is his best friend in the world.  In the pivotal moment in the film, shown above, a drunken Mac begs Gordon to participate in a new negotiation - to discuss terms for swapping identities.  Mac gets to be Gordon, with his "little bits of business" and with his wife Stella, and Gordon gets to be Mac, with his big-time job, his Houston apartment, his stock portfolio, and his Porsche.  Then he pees on the floor.  Gordon says, "Sure, Mac."  And really he is just showing compassion in saying that to Mac.  He knows he has already won in life. 

This film is rich with sub-plots and I am only choosing one of them.  It is really more of a meditation than a film.  Its richness is like an old book, or a fine smooth 42-year-old whiskey on a cool quiet night.  You need time with this film to let it sink into your bones.  Local Hero has changed my life for the better and it has put my priorities into perspective. 

Mac has been given a gift - the ability to see his life for what it is by being allowed to go somewhere completely different to what he is used to.  In our own lives we should all try to leave our comfort zone at times, just to see what it is like.  Because taking chances like this can be transformative. 

Let me add one musical note.  Mark Knopfler recorded the soundtrack for this work.  It is an excellent soundtrack, and Knopfler is Scottish, so I'm sure his heritage played an important role in his work.  While his work could on the surface be considered an homage to Vangelis' excellent soundtrack for "Chariots of Fire," I do think it stands on its own as an excellent and essential component of the film.  I love films where the music is a part of the story, and I believe that in the case of Local Hero, this is assuredly so.  Knopfler is as much a part of this story as Peter Reigert is. 

Mahalo ;)=~

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Rick Ocasek Rule

Why does any young man want to play in a band?  This was an easier question to answer in the days before MTV.  Most young men would probably answer that the reason was "to meet girls."  Hot girls.  Girls you would have no business being with otherwise. 

For me, the reason was the Ric Ocasek Rule. 

Like many rock stars (especially pre-MTV), Ric is not a handsome man.  He is abundantly cool, however.  He was the co-lead singer and principal songwriter of the Cars, who were together from 1976-1988.  You may not have heard of them, but if you ever listen to classic rock stations, many of his songs will be familiar to you.  "Just What I Needed", "My Best Friend's Girl", "Shake It Up" and "Let the Good Times Roll" are all theirs.  He is also cool because he was the producer of Weezer's first album (the Blue Album) and if you listen to it now, it definitely has a Cars-like sonic quality. 

Ric Ocasek at his peak - not a handsome man.  Even in a press photo.

But that is not why he is important to us, dear readers.  Put yourself into the mindset of a 13 year old boy.  You are just beginning to discover those pangs of puberty.  The girls in school suddenly have growth in the chestal area.  You listen to popular music all the time and one day discover that nearly every song is about meeting a girl, getting a girl, or breaking up with a girl.  You find yourself in class staring at a girl's neck, or wrist, or ankles even (preferably skinny ankles) - and being aroused by just those simple features.  Yet she seems impenetrable.  So close and yet so far.  How to bridge the gap? 

I was a dork in school.  Never smoked or drank, never in detention.  I studied and got A's.  The only time I was punished was in the 2nd grade, when I accidentally poked Catherine Olsavsky in the arm with a pencil.  Total accident.  The teacher, a nun named Sister Theresa, said to me "Don't do that, son, you could give that little girl lead poisining!"  To which I retorted, "Duh, there's no lead in pencils!  It's graphite!"  Detention.  Take this conduct slip back to your parents and have them sign. 

I played a lot of sports though.  And when you hit puberty when I did and your dad liked sports, that means he had a subscription to Sports Illustrated.  And if that is the case, then the week after the Super Bowl was the week you looked forward to every year with salivating mouth and watering eyes.  Because it was then that the coveted Swimsuit Issue would arrive. 

You would hope Dad wouldn't get home early the day it arrived, so you could have a good look at it before he even knew it was there.  Maybe you would have two days before Dad would ask Mom, "Honey, where is the mail?  Did the Sports Illustrated arrive yet?"  Then the window had closed.  You have to understand that this was pre-PC, pre-internet, pre-DVD, and VHS was barely out there.  We were the last people on the block to get a VCR besides.  Porn stars were not household names, especially in suburban Catholic areas.  To look at porn videos, you had to walk into a video rental store (which was full of people you knew) and go to the back of the store where there was a red curtain.  Look around to make sure no one is watching, then slip through.  Behind the curtain was the wall of porn videos.  And all you could do was look at the cover photos.  How could you rent a porn video with all those other people around?  Your other option of course was to somehow obtain a Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler at a magazine store.  But at 13, this was a totally impossible scenario. 

Nevertheless, for me, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue was it, baby - full sexual excitement, beauty personified in nubile athletic women in their early 20s on the beach in bikinis.  And Paulina was, to me, the most beautiful of them all.  Something about her was so exotic, yet so vulnerable.  Amazing what a teenage mind can conjure from a good photograph.  I could stare at the cover and be completely satisfied.  But what lay within...

The Ric Ocasek Rule, simply stated, is this.  Ric Ocasek filmed a video for the Cars' last, great hit - "Drive" - and in the video, Ric pretends to have a romantic fight-and-make-up with Paulina Porizkova.  This is 1988.  Ric's band is breaking up at the time and this was their last hurrah.  Ric and Paulina hit it off big-time on the set.  Paulina told Ric that she had loved him through his music from afar for some time before meeting him there.  They got married a year later.  She said later that Ric was "a combination of Mr. Spock, David Bowie, Jesus Christ, and Chopin."  They have two sons, and are still married - 23 years later.  The calculus in a teenage boy's mind is this: "Ugly dude gets hottest girl in universe!!!  How is this possible?  He sings in a band.  OK - so if I sing in a band, I can somehow get hot girls like Ric?  I need to get a guitar right away."   

Married 23 years.
From a young age, I was attracted to Beauty with a capital B.  I didn't quite understand what I was searching for, but I think I do now.  Not really understanding back then led me to a lot of mistakes.  So as a public service, I will bestow on you my Codicil to the Ric Ocasek Rule... How to Find Beauty In Life.

  1. Don't look at Internet porn.  It damages your perception of what a woman is supposed to be.  You begin to view women as participants in the athetic event of sex, rather than delicate human souls capable of intense personal friendship, love, and intimacy.  And that's just from staring into her eyes.  Additionally, it can become an addiction, in the same way as gambling, booze, and drugs.  Porn is very bad, and it leads to men thinking cheaply of women.  Porn basically turns men into animals.  What separates men from beasts is free will.  We can freely chose to ignore our instinct if we think it harms us.  Porn harms us.  A monkey can't stop - a man can.  Choose to be a man! 
  2. Deny yourself certain desires for extended periods.  You need to learn to control yourself, your emotions, and your desires in order to harness your creative power.  This is textbook Art 101 stuff, though since the sexual revolution it has become passe.  Let me give you an example.  Many modern art historians think that Michelangelo was gay, in part because of the very muscular female bodies he painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  Personally I think it is not important.  But let's just say that it was actually true that Michelangelo was gay.  According to historical records he never acted on this impulse.  Never.  He was absorbed in his work.  If you make that argument, you can also conclude that he focused all that sexual emotion and frustration with great intensity into his art: the Sistine Chapel, the David, the Pieta.  Work of such immense longing... God gives us talents and challenges.  We must learn to deny ourselves in order to truly unleash our potential. 
  3. There are two kinds of Knowledge.  There is knowledge through Instruction - such as that which can be read from a book or watched on TV.  Knowledge like this remains second-hand and does not really connect you with reality itself.  My adolescent deduction of Ric Ocasek bagging Paulina is this kind of knowledge.  The second kind is knowledge through Experience.  Experiential knowledge involves being struck by the arrow of Beauty which wounds a man (i.e. pain and suffering in your life), and you are thus moved by reality.  You learn more from what happens to you - especially painful experiences - than you can ever learn from a book.  According to a 14th century theologian named Cabasilas, "When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom [Jesus] who has smitten them with his longing.  It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes.  The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound."  Re-read that one & let it bake your head for a while. 
  4. There are two kinds of Beauty.  One is False Beauty.  You see a picture of a beautiful woman naked, your body responds.  It's never as good as the first time.  You do it more & more, but it is less and less satisfying so you continue to do more and more.  And so on.  Pretty soon you have a problem.  False beauty is dazzling, but it fails to bring a human being out of himself into the larger world or open us to the ecstasy of rising heights.  It locks you entirely into yourself.  Advertising is another example of false beauty - it tempts us with images crafted with supreme skill to get us to separate ourselves from our money. 
  5. There are two kinds of Beauty.  One is True Beauty.  I was struck by the arrow of suffering.  It inflicted a nearly mortal wound upon my heart.  It really hurt!  After a time I recognized what was happening to me.  Through my own Dark Night experience, God was saving my life from destruction.  I discovered True Beauty in that sweaty, bloody, humiliated man nailed to a cross.  How can such violence, such pain and suffering, be beautiful?  Because of who he is, and why he did it.  This is reality - this is the Truth.  In finding that out I discovered what True Beauty is. 
Do not dismiss me for what I believe.  My entire life - my happiness - relies on God alone.  To be without God is to be without the only One who can satisfy your soul.  God is the Sole Satisfier.  To be with God is to understand we are all One - we are not alone.  But again, as I learned - you have to figure this out for yourself and make your choice.  That's what free will is all about. 

After God mercifully pointed me toward True Beauty, I soon discovered a woman who would become my wife.  She was born in Poland and came to the US as a teenager.  Paulina Porizkova is from Czech Republic and came to the US as a teenager.  I have heard that the two places to find the most beautiful women in Europe are the Czech Republic and Poland.  I am here to testify that I can vouch for Poland as one of those countries.  And meeting her had nothing at all to do with Ric Ocasek. 

Mahalo ;)=~

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Meet the Band - Miles and the Saga of Skunk Baxter's Bass Players

In a previous post, I introduced you to two band members, Page and Sully.  This post will serve to introduce you to our bass man Miles, and address some history that involves our relationship. 

Where to begin with Miles?  He plays the bass guitar.  He is a big guy, likes hockey.  Very white skin, yet he believed that the best musicians in the world were black (he did, not sure if he still feels that way).  As a younger guy, he was a real musical snob.  Nowadays he is much more mellow and kind to me but he still is the same guy deep down.  Aren't we all?  He loves jazz and actually is fully responsible for my knowledge, and subsequent love, of jazz as an art form.  I have to be honest here because we have not always seen eye-to-eye, particularly in the pre-band-breakup era.  Let me preface this relationship a bit by saying that I am a bass player myself, and I believe that any great band requires a great bass player.  The bass player is critical to making the band sound like you can dance to the beat.  The bass sound makes women want to get on the floor.  I am a student of James Jamerson and Paul McCartney, and I love their music. 

James Jamerson, playing a Fender Precision Bass

I was the first bass player in the band.  I played bass and sang, like my favorite Beatle did.  I still write on the bass occasionally - I often want a certain bass line to interact with my lyric line a certain way, for example.  What happened was that we got to a certain level of ability as a band where my live performance as a singer was being compromised because I had to hold down the bottom end too.  The other factor in this band is that the bass player keeps time, not the drummer.  Our drummer, as mentioned previously, is given to flights of fancy.  So it is the bass player's job in this band to be the metronome - to keep the drummer on the one at all times. 

We added a new bass player that Page knew from work, Chris Ford, who I called "The King" because he reminded me of Elvis.  He was very dedicated and worked hard at his craft, but three things happened that did him in.  First, he loved Guns 'n' Roses, and insisted that we cover "Sweet Child O' Mine" which made me want to throw up.  But I try to be nice, so we did the song.  Second, he played with a graphite bodied bass and used a pick.  Imagine a guy who loves G'n'R playing bass in Phish or DMB.  It just didn't make sense.  But we liked the guy because he was cool and organized.  He learned the songs we liked and tried his best to "get it".  He raced cars on the side too - Mazda RX-7s with the rotary engines, all tricked out.  We were impressed with that fact.  He was fearless. 

The King on bass
The third thing though... this was the straw that broke the camel's back.  I had written this song called "To Give" which to this day I love.  It is a great song, one of my best; and I went up to New York to my friend Kieran's studio and demoed the work.  Kieran played drums, I played guitars and bass, and we had a rough demo which I brought back to the band so they could learn it quickly.  The band went into a local studio with Kieran as producer and we recorded it as part of our first EP.  I thought it was good work.  The King got a little out of hand with delusions of grandeur however, and one day over lunch he announced to me that he thought "To Give" would propel us into super-stardom, and he began demanding from me his "rights" to the song.  He insisted that he had "written" the bass part and that therefore he was entitled to a large chunk of the "rights" associated with the song. 

Now this whole incident blew me away.  I had lived the life that led me to write the song.  It was my baby.  It was me, through and through.  The song still gives me the chills.  Additionally, I had taken the time and effort (and money) to go to NY and lay it down in a studio with my friend Kieran's help.  The bass line the King referred to that he "wrote" was nearly a note-for-note homage of the bass line I played on the demo.  Of course he executed it in a far more polished way, but the IDEA was already there - I had done the work.  Moreover, his whole obsession with this song launching us into some stratosphere of MTV and radio and everything else was just dark and strange.  I thought he was out of his mind and wanted him out of the band then and there.  It was contrary to the whole spirit of what I was trying to accomplish. 

So, we kicked him out of the band.  I knew of a cousin of Kieran's, Brandon Jones, who lived in the area, and he played bass.  He was a really mellow guy, and he seemed to operate within our musical sphere of influence.  Everyone liked him right away - the perfect antidote to "The King".  But his problem was that he had moments of amazing clarity, and then he would turn around and mess things up awfully, like a guy on hard drugs.  Which it turned out he was.  This dude had a seventeen year old heroin-dealer girlfriend who had him wrapped up around her little finger, and he had been trying to "escape" from her for months.  He even called her "the Black Widow".  Once the band discovered what was going on we told him - no hard drugs in our band.  If you do them again, you're out.  No exceptions.  He came to my door one day and said he was leaving for Pittsburgh, where his mother was, to escape from the Black Widow.  I offered to let him move in & hide out with me - but told him if he did drugs one time in my house, he was out.  We tried... and I think Brandon lasted about four days before the Black Widow hunted him down one day while I was at work.  He was honest with me - I give him that - and he knew he had to escape from this evil situation with this girl.  May God have mercy on the guy - I hope he is OK.  Brandon if you're out there I hope you are in a better place.   

Brandon's girlfriend - as portrayed by Scarlett Johansson. A fair representation IMHO.
So at this point, we still had this great song "To Give" but were faced with a personnel impasse.  The clock was ticking.  Our manager at the time, Kevin DiBergi, who was quite the character in his own right (more about all that later), had somehow just signed an amazing regional hip-hop star to his stable and wanted to send us out on a national tour supporting him.  He had hooked it up with a record label and had been given $400,000 to develop his stable of artists.  So there was a real Russell Simmons-like vibe to the whole situation - if we could only find a bass player.  The hip-hop star, Charles E, had won a new-artist Grammy a few years earlier with his old group which had been DJ-sample based, in a very Tribe Called Quest kind of way.  He wanted to set things up this time like the Roots, where he rapped over a live band.  He and I met at a gig where we both played up at Elizabethtown College on a flatbed in this big field with hundreds of college kids, and he said to me, "Man, I dig your song.  It is for real.  It's good.  Take good care of it."  For a dude with a Grammy from the streets of West Philly to say that to me - wow.  I didn't know what to make of it entirely, then or now.  But I cherish the memory, and always will. 

Hip hop wasn't always about gangstas. There was humor, integration, and social consciousness too!
 Somehow DiBergi found Miles.  My first recollection of Miles was that he was cocky.  I had heard through DiBergi's people that he called himself "the best bass player in town" which seemed quite arrogant to me, especially since I knew another bass player in another of DiBergi's bands - Vibes - who was better (they were to be the backing band for Charles E).  We invited him to my basement for a night of practice.  He sounded really good - he played with his fingers and had that right combination of touch and power that I had always searched for in a bass player.  He learned fast and he was clearly a serious student of the instrument.  He did not mess around when it came to music.  He lived in a rented house with four other dedicated jazz musicians who lived crudely but were constantly focused on their own personal musical development, among other diversions

Jaco Pastorius - Miles' favorite bass player

Sometimes I wonder if I had said "no" which was what I was thinking down deep.  I had hesitations about his personality, which seemed aggressive & forceful.  DiBergi's right hand man, a Jamaican Rastafarian named Tuck (imagine Samuel Jackson with an accent & dreds), told me before I made my decision, "Will, the dude is an asshole."  But where were we going to find a bass player with his talent in such a small city?  I was thinking that we either add him and get to play gigs again, or we don't.  He had a musical tone that I really wanted to add to the mix.  So I made the call.  "You're in," I told him after that first practice, to the delight of the other members. 

"Will, the dude is an asshole."

My grand sonic vision had been that we would have blue eyed soul on top, with harmonies and melodic lyrics, coupled with a modern R&B bottom end - a combination of Brian Wilson and hip-hop - to bring back together the fragmented popular music that began breaking apart starting with the King assassination in 1968.  With Miles and with "To Give" I felt we could do that.  We had the ingredients so that I could brew the musical vision I had heard in my head for years. 

Brian Wilson in the studio making "Pet Sounds" - my favorite album
 But the young Miles was so aggressive back then.  He pushed me well out of my comfort zone.  He pushed our musical tastes, he pushed me to quit my job and tour, he pushed all of us to work harder.  It just wasn't fun to play anymore.  And I was struggling to come to grips with the possibilities of a tour.  DiBergi, admittedly, while a wizard at personal relationships, was no businessman.  He spent nearly the entire $400K buying a tour bus.  So instead of putting that money in the bank and spending it slowly & cautiously to leverage it for great opportunities (festivals, regional touring, marketing, etc), and LEASING a bus for a few hundred dollars a month, he got stuck with a $400K luxury tour bus sitting in his driveway after a 3 week national tour was done and there was no money left in the bank.  DiBergi ended up running bus tours to places like Key West, attempting to monetize the asset.  Things got disorganized really fast, and I could foresee (especially with the bus purchase decision) that I would be jumping onto a sinking ship without lifeboats.  Amid this turmoil the band was breaking up anyways.  I think that Miles had less to do with it than I thought at the time.  Because he was the new guy he came to embody to me the frustrations and problems the band was going through. 

MCI Entertainer Bus for Sale picture
The tour bus... it was top of the line.

The real problem was me.  I was being asked to quit my job and three square meals a day, to climb in a van and go all over the country and play gigs for nearly no money.  There would be a free flow of drugs (probably not hard stuff, just grass - but I heard that some of the guys in the other bands were into blow) which did not interest me at all.  I'm a homebody and I felt that I was not made to be a troubadour.  I like good food, hot meals, and my own warm bed.  Going from town to town, shacking up in cheap hotels, going through women in meaningless one-night stands... that was really the opposite of what my song "To Give" was all about!  That song is about longing to find that one special partner in life who you can share with and create life with and be with forever.  And I felt responsible for the other guys in the band too.  Like I had to think for all of us.  Some of them already had girlfriends who are now their wives.  Was I really going to lead these men off on some crazy train

So I quit the band and moved away to the city.  

About three years later, after each of the band members had settled down and married, I was doing a solo album with my friend Kieran in New York (so yes, I have recorded a full album, just not with the band).  I recorded one song called "Charlie's Farm" about my old job which I had sent to a local paper's blogger.  Miles read that blog and listened to the song which was posted there in MP3 format.  Out of nowhere he dropped me an email.  One thing led to another and we got together to discuss playing again.  I'm really glad we did.  He's a good guy deep down, and I didn't give him a fair shake back then.  We both have grown a lot in the years since the band split.  Sometimes you do learn from traumatic experiences and become better for it.  I like to think we both did.  I was going through some serious personal turmoil back then and he was a convenient excuse for me to assign blame where it wasn't really deserved - just because his personality lent itself to my ridicule.  I do regret that and hope the success we've had recently has made up for it somehow, if that is possible. 

I am so proud, actually, that our friendship - and the friendship with all the band members, especially Page and Sully, who went through all that with me too - was strong enough to survive what happened all those years ago.  And the amazing thing was that when we did actually get back together, we were more focused and we sounded better than we ever had back then when we were dreaming big dreams.  We play now for the music; sometimes I think back then we played for the party.  Big difference.  Now I mentioned before that you define success on your own terms as an artist.  You don't let others define it, or money, or anything else.  You decide what success is for you.  For me, now, success is being in a great band that can play music and have a good time to the enjoyment and enrichment of our community.  I'm just glad we can still play after all these years.  It is so much fun to play with these guys.  Thank you Miles for sending me that email and for making amends.  We've never really talked about it, but the fact that we are playing now says enough.  Forgiveness is such a powerful thing.