Monday, May 22, 2017

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, You Should Too


I have heard that more antidepressants are being prescribed every day, than the day before. It isn't the people are any more depressed, although I think some of the increase may be improved diagnosis methods for depression, I think it is that people expect to be happy all the time and by happy I don't mean just not sad but actually feeling jubilant.  I am not in any way making light of serious depression or the people that have it -- I am talking about that occasional feeling of blues or ennui we all get.  I don't believe it is in human nature to feel happy 100% of the time; in fact, I believe it is harmful to not feel anything except happiness.

Setting aside the wonderful music that people feeling less than happy has given us, like the blues or melancholy classics, would there have been any creation of the wonderful tales and poems of Edgar Allen Poe if he had not felt anything except happiness? The Taj Mahal was built as a memorial the sadness one man felt at the death of his wife – – suppose he had never mourned, would it have ever been built?  Inventors and engineers creating things to prevent accidents and failures usually has a basis for inspiration in something tragic that is happened. It is how they work through their sadness and back into joy. Would we have seen such marvels if everyone just took a pill when they felt down?

I don't consider myself someone whose writing is considered earth shattering, but recently I was looking back through several entries in this blog and I came across a few that were actually based in sad memories and feelings I was having and wrote about. It served two purposes, it let me share those feelings publicly with people who may be had not found their own voice for their melancholy thereby finding some relief; but also in the end I found I had written my sadness out rather than allowing it to stay inward.

One of my favorite movies is Elizabethtown -- if you haven’t seen it, great chance romance story, I recommend it.  In the movie, Drew has just had a failure of epic proportions at the same time his father dies, then he meets Claire, who is more force of nature than flight attendant and at a pivotal point in Drew's blues -- she sends  him on a guided  journey (with soundtrack) across country so that he can learn to feel and see sights based on things she feels strongly about.  The trip is actually self-indulgent in that it allows him complete immersion in feeling sorry for himself but at the same time shows him new and beautiful things that are meant to allow him to heal. Claire also says what I consider to be one of the most memorable lines from the film that also can serve you well in real life:

I want you to get into the deep beautiful melancholy of everything that's happened.

She wants him to indulge in the sad feelings that he is having rather than trying to immediately drop and get over them – – she knows that somewhere in that deep beautiful melancholy is redemption. 

By the end of the journey, when she guides him to a place where she is waiting – – he is ready to proceed and embrace true joy. From time to time, I am on the highway passing by Elizabethtown, and I am always tempted to take the exit and allow myself to take Highway 60B. 

Life is meant to be a journey of ups and downs, not a mediocre level or only joy existence. It is the downs that make you appreciate and enjoy the ups.

After all, what good would a wonderful Taco Tuesday be without a blue Monday, Monday?



123,387

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll, 2017 Edition - The Mersey Beatles



I am not sure when I first heard a Beatles' song or which one it was, but I do know I bought my first Beatles’ album during the summer of 1974 and it was The Beatles Yesterday and Today -- I still have that well-worn piece of vinyl.  That album was first published 11 years before I bought it and the Beatles  broke up 4 years before I became a fan.  

Over the course of my life I have owned nearly all of their albums, I never saw a need for 6 different studio cuts of a song that were deemed not be good enough to keep when first produced, but now are considered the Holy Grail.  One of my favorite albums by the Beatles was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; which I no longer have.  I took the album to a barber shop trying to explain that I wanted a haircut like John’s from the gatefold photo – I have always been very specific about how I like my hair --- the barber screwed up and I was so upset when I left that I walked out leaving my album there.

Even though I was in Hamburg in 1960 when the group made their appearances at the Indra Club in Hamburg, I don’t recall getting in to see the band -- after all I was only one.  So, the chance to see the Beatles live never existed except through Cover or Tribute bands.  Those terms are NOT interchangeable, a Cover band just plays another band’s songs, whereas a Tribute band tries to recapture the actual look and feel of the original.  So far, I have seen five different Beatles Tribute bands: two mediocre bands whose names I cannot recall performing at various large open venues (Air show & Country Fair), the worst was Beatlemania (performing at the worst venue in Michigan) and the best was Rain – until now.  Now, I have to give the title of best Tribute band to The Mersey Beatles.  

I have developed a mental checklist for Tribute bands and I weigh each band I see against the list as a way to compare and judge.  Physical appearance really doesn’t come in to play – getting the hair and clothes right matter more than whether or not the musician looks like Paul or Ringo.  What matters most is musical quality and the ability for me to close my eyes and be mentally taken to the original.   There are nuances that really display the extent to which the band has gone to make the performance an experience – is John’s stance right while playing (cool and in control), Ringo’s facial expressions and smile as he plays while rocking back and forth, does Paul shake his head while singing the Oooo's in She Loves You, and does George come to the front when playing and then step back when playing rhythm.  Things like the correct instruments (Gretsch & Rickenbacher guitars, Hofner Classic Bass, Ludwig drum kit etc) and stage presence are crucial.  I have gotten over the need for Paul to play left handed – I would rather hear the music played well than forcing a musician to relearn how to play with the opposite hand.  Here is how the The Mersey Beatles did and why I now consider them my best seen to date.

A Few Notes on Sgt. Pepper’s


Released in 1967, it was the first studio album that the Beatles released that was NEVER intended to be performed live.  The band had just reunited in the studio after a short break following a grueling tour and they made the unanimous decision not to tour again -- feeling that the performances on the road were more about the event than about the music.  Watch any old videos of them and you will agree.  As a result, the music on Sgt. Pepper had a wider variety of instruments and recording techniques than they had ever used before.  The result was a masterpiece that ranks near the top of any list of top albums ever recorded.  Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields were recorded for the album, but instead were released as a double A side 45. Producer George Martin said he always regretted that decision.  I love both songs, but I also see how they fit into Sgt. Pepper.

The Mersey Beatles


The band’s “hook” is that all four of the band members were born and live in Liverpool, but I think the fact that they were the house band at The Cavern Club (also in Liverpool) is more impressive.  The club is a Mecca for Beatle’s fans and a bad copy would not be accepted or last as they would be the most critical audience of all.  The show began with a video short of the band’s history which ended with a list of tour dates that included local landmarks – good way to get the crowd on your side from the start.

The Mersey Beatles took the stage and in proper attire played Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, including Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields.  The costumes were dead-on and even had the fringe on the bottom edge of the coats, a detail usually overlooked.  The band played the entire album, in order, start to finish.  The placement of the two added songs were probably based on producer Sir George Martin’s original intent, as they fit where placed.  The music was amazing and since it had been awhile since I heard the entire album played that way it was a real treat.

The banter between the band member sand the audience was all in character and added to the authentic feel of the evening.  While a lot of people sang along with every song, the band encouraged participation for When I'm Sixty-Four that had the whole crowd participating.  Great fun.

My only negative comment about this section of the show is the facial hair.  Instead of wearing mustache wigs the band had them drawn on.  From a distance, it might have looked acceptable but I was in the front row and it did not pass muster.  Having done stage productions that involved adding artificial facial hair, I know it can be time consuming – but worth every minute for the correct appearance on stage.

After intermission, The Mersey Beatles turned back the clock and returned to stage dressed in the Fab Four’s trademark suits and boots to play the music that became labeled as the British Invasion.  All of it was perfect and the sequence of the songs made sense. Several individual songs garnered standing ovations which the band seemed to feed off.  The harmonies were terrific and songs like My Life were like individual presents enjoyed one at a time.  I will admit that I channeled Ferris Bueller and danced in the aisle to Twist and Shout.

They transitioned wardrobe, hair, and music to play songs from the Abbey Road, Revolver, and Rubber Soul albums. It was great to hear all those live, as most Tribute bans concentrate on the early Beatles.  Even though not a Beatles song, John performed one of my favorite John Lennon songs – Imagine.  It was beautiful.  Get Back and Revolution were magnificent and the sing a long for Hey Jude also noteworthy.

A few minor cons…. Ringo was only featured on one number in this section of the show.  I was too busy enjoying the show to record a proper setlist so it may or may not have been Honey Don’t.  In my opinion, there were better choices – Act Naturally came immediately to mind as it would have fit the timeline they were on.  It should be noted that Ringo only sang 11 tunes with Beatles, With a Little Help From My Friends was done during the first half of this show.  Also, the musician playing George has serious guitar skills, and I was looking forward to hearing While My Guitar Gently Weeps – alas it was not played.

Individual notes:


Ringo (Brian Ambrose) – the absolute best I have ever seen.  He rocked to back and forth as he played, had all the right facial expressions, and beat for beat was always right where he was supposed to be and when he was supposed to be there.  Outstanding.



George (David Howard) – The lead guitar segments were fantastic and alive.  He was obviously having a good time and provided the joker persona George was famous for, most Tribute bands get that wrong.  Within Without You was cosmic.








John (Mark Bloor) – From the on-stage banter to the transition of his personality through the timeline – it was like watching John.  The voice, playing and appearance were all solid.  The portrayal was polished and professional.  He also seemed to command the stage the way John had a tendency to do – it worked.  Come Together and Imagine were wonderful.







Paul (Steven Howard) – The performance was a little inconsistent – when he was on he was really on – you could close your eyes and hear Paul – notable were Yesterday and Let It Be but a few times he appeared to drop character and even head off away from the rest of the band.

Billy Preston/George Martin (Tony Cook) – Playing all the keyboards plus the added horns, calliope and sound effects plus production items was no small task.  I hope this musician knows that I for one realize and appreciate the difficulty and admire his immense talent.  Well done.

I am not sure what it says when I still rate the band as the best Beatle’s Tribute Band I have ever seen but say that Paul’s performance was a little unsteady.  I guess the other three were had significant enough chops to carry the overall performance -- and like I said -- when he was on -- he was on.

The Venue


I have run out of ways of saying that the Kalamazoo State Theatre is the best venue in the state of Michigan.  My thesaurus suggested I use:  unsurpassed, superlative, preeminent, paramount, Grade A, elite, crème de la crème and most excellent (apparently, my thesaurus channels Bill & Ted).  It is all those things and more.  To read other most excellent words about the Kalamazoo State Theatre that I have said in the near past, check out any of my reviews for performances there:




Hanging with the lads













122,599

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Finding Work Euphoria

Play a guitar and harmonica at the same time and people are impressed, but add cymbals and
a trumpet and you're a punchline.

While employed as a government civilian, I was having a discussion with a supervisor when I made the statement that I always do my best at my job, giving it everything I have every day.  His response was that everyone does that so it is nothing special.

I disagreed.  If you have ever gotten bad service, had a bad meal, sat in line waiting on someone muddling through the line, or had to return or throw away a defective product – you would also disagree.  It would be easy to go off on a rant about bad parenting or the loss of work ethic amongst the populace, but I think the root is much easier to see – bad matches between people and their job – indeed they put time in at a job instead of performing work.

We have all heard it… work is effort you put towards something you want to accomplish; a job is what you do for money.  Too often they are not the same thing.  I have a vastly varied work history that shows they are not the same thing.  I have had jobs that brought me great contentment and some that barely lasted a full day -  I was not then, nor now, nor will I ever be a vacuum cleaner salesman.  What all my jobs taught me was to always look for something new and different that might be a better fit and bring not only greater financial rewards but greater spiritual ones.

After many years of promising myself I would create such a list, I finally did it – I compiled a list of all the jobs I have done over the course of my life.  This does not include things I did as a volunteer or as a parent – just the things I actually made money doing, and more or less in chronological order:

Mowed Lawns, Newspaper Sales, Scout Camp Staff (Crafts & Indian Lore), Babysitting, Veterinary Assistant, Baskin-Robbin's Soda Jerk, Wendy's Burger Flipper, Night Club Janitor, Bus Boy (Officer's Club), Busch Gardens Ride Operator, Disc Jockey (Country, Rock, Oldies, & Soul), Blood Donor, Port Vehicle Delivery, Life Guard, Arcade Attendant, Research Assistant (Work Study), College Newspaper Opinion Columnist, Loan Agent, Repo-Man, Customer Service (Men's Clothing), Tour Guide Andersonville National Cemetery, County Training Center Trainer, Vacuum Cleaner Sales (1 day), Shipping Line Worker (Levi’s -- 1 week), Liquor Store Clerk, Air Passenger Service, Guitarist (Train station busker & salaried), Air Cargo, Maître D', Security Guard (unarmed), Photographer (Wedding, Sports, Art), College Instructor (Photography & Computer Science), Software developer, Software Company President and CEO, Bartender, Air Cargo Service, Strategic War Planner, Board of Directors Association of Shareware Professionals, Painter, Master of Ceremonies, Logistician, Air Force Reserve, Technologist, Chief Cyber Security Officer, IT Project Manager, Chief Information Officer, Director of IT Operations Europe, Middle East & Africa, IT Manager Middle East, Network Engineer/Architect, and Author.

In very rare instances, I have found what I call the euphoria of work.  That is work that you can’t wait to start, that in which you find intense happiness within, and that work you don’t want to stop doing at the end of the day.  I once heard that Henry Ford once said he didn’t spend the week waiting on the weekend, he spent the weekend waiting on Monday.  He had found his euphoria and I think I have found mine too.

As I continue wading into my next life choice as a full-time author; I am finding intense satisfaction and pleasure in doing it.  My mind is constantly working on telling my tale, even when I am out of my writer’s garret and away from my keyboard – not due to worry but because I find fulfillment in the work.  I hear the voices of my characters and I am always looking for ways to improve the descriptions and plot lines.  I am eager to get to work and happy with the progress and end result.  It has been a long time since I have felt such a frustration free and creative work environment.  Granted, I really like my boss, but this is something deeper and more eclectic -- a vibe that flows.

One of the biggest life lessons I can pass on is to search until you find work beyond the job.  Financial realities may not always make it possible for them to be one and the same, but there is always time for work in life – use it.  You will reap the reward of soul drenching serenity as you put your efforts towards your discovered work.

I will admit that in the back of my mind I hear a voice telling me that I will face critics and possible failure when my effort is done – but because this is work and not a job I know it will not change the way I feel about what I am doing – after all I have been writing a blog for over 7 years and I am still not a millionaire nor have I won a Pulitzer prize (yet) – but I have gotten the occasional kind word and great heartfelt joy from the work.



122,142