Saturday, April 2, 2016

the Music & Inspiration Blog: Breaking the Silence...the sound of

I am awakened in the middle of the night by a piano playing in my home, it’s distant.  It’s the same four notes over and over—D A F A, D A F A…D A F A, D A F A—these notes call to me as if we know each other, their ghostly echo stirring an old memory I had long forgotten. 


I awkwardly fall out of bed, careful not to wake my wife lying next to me, or my boys in the room next door.  My body drifts forward and backward, my arms scrape the walls at my side.   I make it to my basement door and open it…pitch black—D A F A, D A F A—I know this song.  The notes seem louder now. 


Owned by Simon & Garfunkel when I first was introduced to it twenty some years ago, and sang by a band named Disturbed when I last heard it (most recently), I’m very aware that a third grade choir could be humming it, its melody would nevertheless strike me still.  But on this night there are no words, only a solemn piano.  Knowing there’s no such instrument down those steps I wonder if I’m dreaming, then again—D A F A—no, not tonight.

Hello Darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.
I take the steps one at a time knowing where this is going—we have a relationship.
Because a vision softly creeping, Left its seeds while I was sleeping.
It lives in my subconscious, unknowingly it took a piece of me years earlier…time has reaped its harvest.
And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains, within the sound of silence.
Nameless, it owns me—the brightest of moments unable to outshine its grip.
In restless dreams I walked alone, narrow streets of cobblestone
Pretending to know the way, I navigate the most difficult of terrain  
Neath the halo of a street lamp, I turned my collar to the cold and damp
And guided by an ever faint light I blindly march on
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light that split the night…And touched the sound of silence
Then something fantastic happens…a great fall shakes loose the darkness in my mind—the misery is exposed
And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people maybe more
The light before me is the realization of my own despair—deep within it I begin to see humanity and am reminded of all that I’ve chosen to forget  
People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs that voices never share
    The importance of people in our lives, family—friends—strangers, the strength of the human spirit and the power of human touch.

On December 4th, 2015 I took a very bad fall.  I had bruising and blood on my brain and had ten staples in the back of my head—it took me a little over eight weeks to fully recover and when I did I realized...I had awoken!  
In the days and weeks after my fall it quickly became apparent to me that I was living in a rather dark place for quite some time and wasn’t even aware of it.  I had much to be happy for and thankful for in my life, but literally never recognized either.  I was going through the motions with little interest in the person standing to my right or left.  I have never been a selfish person, my whole life, however just because I wasn’t selfish didn’t make me righteous.  I very much lost sight of the importance of people in our lives, most notably strangers or the person(s) we are all to meet tomorrow!  
Whether they be in the coffee line at Starbucks or the commuter sitting across from us on the train, we are all better served to remember the value of human touch.  Even if it is just for a few moments a day…Greet someone, engage in conversation, be courteous; be positive…SMILE!  And in doing so you will be replacing a little darkness with a little light in your own life and the lives of the people you meet.  And should it be that you don’t find the response you were hoping for or expecting, than I encourage you to do it again the next day, and again the following day, and again, and again, for this is not a selfish act, but rather an act of human kindness that deserves no reciprocation.  Be an inspiration...Reach out and Touch Someone Today!    




Monday, May 25, 2015

We are ALL 1%'ers


Anxious, mind racing, feeling very unfulfilled, knowing life was passing me by.  My brain on overdrive, sitting at my desk Friday afternoon contemplating if this was it.  If this was as good as it was going to get.

Whatever amount of brain power we use on a daily basis, 1%, 10%, 20% (ten percent seems to be the most popular opinion), it is for some people, I'm sure, far less than they would like, while for others too much.  It's only fitting that science cannot yet determine the full capacity of what our brains can do, that three pounds of jelly inside our heads made up of 100 billion neurons with electrical mapping that is as unique to each one of us as our own fingerprint.  When you pause to think, it truly is the single most significant and complex organ in our body.    

My father died in August, 2012 of ALS.  His last request was his brain be donated to science for ALS research...they are still studying it!  It will be three years in August that Pop was carted out of the den at home, little did any of us believe we would still be waiting to officially bury him three years later, and when that day comes it will no doubt be a true Irish Wake!   

My own intrigue of the brain stems from two specific yearnings that seem to constantly fight for my attention, my thirst for liquor and my thirst for knowledge.  One physical, one emotional, they both provide me some level of unique satisfaction.

I go through stretches of time where I have this desire to learn something new, or learn more about something that interests me, then I will go through a period of darkness...heavy drinking, not much thought.  A couple weeks ago I was at the computer, early in the AM, watching a Yale Professor, Robert Schiller lecture on Financial Markets.  A 75 minute lecture he gave to his class (ECON 252 - Financial Markets) which was made available on YouTube--I understand this is not for everyone, but obviously Finance interests me.

By the way, if you were not aware Yale makes many of their college courses available for free to the public via Open Yale, mind you with no course credit or degree available, but kudos to them for doing so.

So what happens during these stretches of enlightenment that I have when I abstain from alcohol for a period of time?  Do I think more clearly when I have not drank for a few days or even a full Week!?!? 

Yes, I most definitely do.

Am I sharper in my exchanges with people, my communication with them? 

Yes, at least it feels that way.

Do I write better? 

Without question I write better.   

So then why continue to drink at all? 

Because I enjoy it, arguably as much all of the above.

Which brings me back to the power of the brain.  One act is better for me and I know this--it allows me to create, do, and achieve, the other causes me to think less, slow down and go dark, only to ponder whether I like Tito's better than Ketel One.  And that's about the time when I get that internal question again…Is this it? 

The modern day human/spiritual dilemma that there must be something more to life than this.  Have I in fact reached my full potential? 

It can be argued that life, the daily pressures of living it, prevent some of us from ever beginning to realize our full potential.  I am always amazed when I come across a single parent that's managing to do it all: raise their children, keep food on the table, keeping their kids' lives enriched with sports or after school activities. 

Couldn't it be said that single mother or father is not reaching their full potential because they are too busy seeing to the lives of their kids?  Certainly a very subjective opinion, however they (mom and dad) may say the exact opposite of what I think.  Just knowing they are doing the best for their child that they can, is fulfillment enough for them.  The beauty of our minds, they all work so differently and yet it is for that very reason that we have neurosurgeons and truck drivers, teachers and investment bankers, garbage men and architects.

Anxious, mind racing, feeling unfulfilled put me in my car, about an hour’s commute home, and I was struck by three things that I saw.  The first was two women standing outside of John's Bar (not kidding, that is the name) a few puffs into their cigarettes they looked like they were well on their way to kick starting the Memorial Day weekend.  They were laughing out loud happy.  The second, a silver haired man, probably in his mid-fifties, singing a song as he sat in traffic behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz in the opposite lane from me. Both at a stand-still, I turned my own radio off to try and catch a sound of his beat, but the noise around us was too much.  He turned and looked at me, we both smiled at one another and shared a chuckle and a nod.  And the last—the airplane that glided over my car as I drove down I-95 and the man I imagined, in my head, that wasn't sitting on that plane.

This man, in my head, let’s call him Adam--a production of my recent enlightenment that had happened just seconds earlier--has a plight that begins a few months back when he interviews with a new company for a job making more money with perhaps less pressure.  A very desirable position and one he covets it is between he and one other candidate.  He's had one phone interview and two face to face interviews over a three month period, all three interviews have gone well.  His contact there, Tom, informs him the last step in the hiring process is a trip to Chicago, where the company is headquartered, to meet with the top brass, basically a rubber stamping of things. 

Adam pencils in the date, he’s there, he knows it.  A few days go by and he receives a call from Tom.  “Sorry Adam, but we decided on the other candidate.  I won’t be brining you to Chicago.”

Adam’s devastated, he's been working toward this new opportunity for months.  He wanted it more than anything in the world, but by midnight he resigns himself to the fact that it wasn’t meant to be, that there was something bigger happening here and he would find his place--that better job opportunity--in the future.

Two days later a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Chicago crashes in Indiana, there were no survivors!  His phone rings, it’s Tom. “Adam, we’d like to bring you to in, can you fly to Chicago tomorrow?”

Adam pauses, his world slows down.   Do I take a job that almost killed me or do I owe it to Tom to take the job because he saved my life? 

I couldn’t answer Adam’s dilemma myself, however celebrated my new found protagonist by pouring myself a stiff drink when I got home…perhaps Adam and his predicament the makings of new short story.

Anxious, mind racing, feeling unfulfilled had turned into an evening of relaxed cheer and celebration, every once and a while that image of Mercedes-Benz guy popping up in my head and the fleeting moment of amity that we had shared.

Then it dawned on me that it doesn’t matter who is using their brain to do what.  We are all people who put their clothes on the same way and there’s no better moment in anyone’s day than a shared moment of humanity with a complete stranger and that there is nothing fleeting about that. 

Connect with someone today!  There may be no better medicine for snapping yourself out of a “mood” or “funk” than old fashion human interaction.
 
If you found the last two minutes entertaining and perhaps a little reflective, please consider liking this post, leaving a comment or suggesting it to a friend.  Also, be be sure to check back and see what Adam decides…

Bumper sticker of the month:  Nothing jumped out at me, however has anyone else noticed that states are no longer “stamping” license plates?  You either have a stamped plate or you have a 3-D printed version of it.  Seems even the inmates have lost jobs in this recession.

Great song I forgot about and fun to sing in the car — Do You Believe in Love, Huey Lewis & The News

Whiskey tasting…Monkey Shoulder.  A blended malt scotch whiskey that smells great (like vanilla beans), but finishes like a menthol cigarette (at least for me and I do not smoke).  Sorry Monkey.

Born this month in American Literature — Herman Wouk, May 27th, 1915.   Well known for his most celebrated novels, The Caine Mutiny and War and Remembrance, Wouk, just this week, will also be known for becoming a centenarian.  On May 27th, 2015 he will be 100 years old!  He is a decorated World War II veteran who has been translated in twenty seven languages and has been publishing novels well into his nineties.  God Bless Herman!


 






 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Thank God I'm a Country Boy


Is there anything better than streaming music?  Many years ago, I read a quote from Steve Jobs, “people want to own their own music, not rent it.”   It was a quote that stuck with me.  At the time I heard it I was still buying from iTunes, which in of itself was arguably still archaic.  I say that because I knew many people who had been downloading free music for a decade already, though I never did so myself (as someone who hoped people would find value in my words, downloading music that was ultimately pirated in my mind was wrong). 

But when I look back on Steve Jobs quote today I wonder if there wasn’t some truth to his statement.  There are a handful of identifiers that exist in our lives that say a little something about who we are, like the kind of car we drive, the shoes we may wear (BTW I could do a whole blog on shoes—I was once a huge shoe guy, but no longer see the importance considering my flip I may be an expert in this field, probably the only one, last tidbit here fellas, women always look at men’s shoes!) and last our music collections!   The music you owned said a little about who you were and in some small, but perhaps strange way, you were proud of it.

Who doesn’t remember the CD tower?  I think I was gifted a half of dozen in a six year period.  Some swiveled, some were small or curved like a snake and were obnoxiously large, acting like a small skyscraper in your six hundred square foot apartment.  It was a piece of useless furniture for that matter—a conversation starter at a party or in your dorm room as friends perused it. 

What has streaming music done for those who subscribe to it?   Well for me it has opened up a world of musical acts that I never knew existed.  Add Band of Horses as a new station on your Pandora and get introduced to Damien Jurado, an indie folk/rock solo act from Seattle, Washington.  It could be argued that even just five years ago I never would have found Damien Jurado unless I happened to stumble into a basement bar in Seattle which doubled as an underground music scene.  And while that level of accessibility that streaming music has provided is a wonderful thing for both the listener and the artist it inherently provides for some sort of detachment.  I didn’t discover Damion Jurado, but rather Jurado found me.   Before, there was something “claim staking” about tripping over a band (ten years ago) that none of your friends knew about, and if that band makes it big (radio time), you were music genius.  An example that comes to mind for me is 1994 in Cancun, Mexico, a buddy of mine Brendan Toner, introduces me to The Dave Matthews Band—enough said.  Brendan owned that one.  DMB had been recording music for three years already (1991 debut) but in relative mainstream obscurity.   You might be asking, who cares?  What’s so important about how you find a particular band or even genre?  And to that end I think you’re correct, but streaming music is just one more way in which technology has changed who we are and how we do things.  Back in the day, going to the record store was an event you thought about all week.  You would read about that upcoming release in Rolling Stone or hear about it on the radio and save up your money all week or month to buy that CD (or vinyl for those of you forty-five and older), and you couldn’t wait to get home and play it (fumbling with the ceramic packaging that took forever to get a grip on). 

There is something to be said for the loss of excitement in our lives as technology continues to burgeon.  For kids today I guess it’s the anticipation of that new x-box game they are waiting on.  It may be the excitement their feeling in the car on the way to Target or waiting by the front door for the mailman to deliver that Amazon package.  But isn’t something lost with it being a video game and not a record album or CD cover?  Growing up, specifically my teenage years, my music collection rarely varied.  Scrub my CD tower (any one of them) and you’d find a steady collection of Rock with some old school Heavy Metal.

I think Steve Jobs comment may have been a product of his age and generation.  For someone as technologically savvy and cutting edge as he was, could it be perhaps, his music collection was in part a statement about who he was as a person?  Was that trip to the music store an event he never forgot?  Tough to say without asking him, but I would guess at some point Mr. Jobs (like many of us) held tightly onto a record album waiting in line to buy it eagerly thinking about hearing that first cut or replaying his favorite song a dozen times before someone in the house screamed “enough already.”

For me, music has always been a driving force of my writing.  It’s no secret (for anyone that has read Fantastik) that I’m a huge Springsteen fan and wrote most of the book while listening to many of his classics.   But beyond the loss of nostalgia that an old record album or CD cover can bring out in us, I am thankful for streaming music if for no other reason than reconnecting me with some part of my childhood that I had forgotten about. 

I would not categorize my parents as music heads by any stretch.  They were both born in 1939 and were a product of the 50’s…even Elvis and the Beatles were a touch after their time.  Further, if I had to categorize their music tastes I would say it was classical, jazz and big band (Lawrence Welk was on every Friday night), however both of them had a unique and rather curious fondness for country music and in the 1970’s, which was a part of my childhood years, country music was at its absolute best.  In my mind the 70’s was the Golden era of country; acts like Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and John Denver to name a few.  There was a box of eight tracks in the built in’s in the family room and every one of those acts, along with a few more, were in that box.  I have good memories of hearing John Denver playing on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon in the spring time.  A happy, hopeful time…his words said as much. 

I reconnected with country several years ago (the country I knew well, 1970 acts) and thanks to streaming music I have been introduced to a slew of other artists I had never listened to before, acts like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr, Merle Haggard and Charlie Pride. 

Streaming /digital music, for all it has changed (or taken away) from the way I perceive music, it has put back in an immeasurable way.  I can be in my office writing, listening to the John Denver station on Pandora and instantly be taken back to any number of Saturday afternoon’s thirty years ago and recall the moment, Sunshine on my Shoulders filling the house as we did our chores, read a book or just sat around.

It was my parent’s music collection, not mine, and while my music tastes still vary and seems to expand with every year that passes, I often find myself listening to that golden era of country more than any other genre of music.  Hard to say whether I ever would have downloaded/bought that John Denver album from iTunes a few years back, let alone Waylon Jennings, but my guess is no.       

Bumper sticker of the month:  Wag More, Bark Less…thanks maroon Prius, wise words!

Great song I forgot about and fun to sing in the car—Dance the Night Way, Van Halen

Whiskey tasting…I couldn’t write my first one without choosing Jack Daniels Old No. 7.  My first introduction to Jack Daniels was as a teenager when we’d raid my parents liquor cabinet, careful only to drink whatever wasn’t drank.  By and large I’ve always drank vodka, however I would tend to switch it up from time to time with bourbon—at some point I fell from bourbon to whiskey, particularly JD. 

Much like its iconic bottle; square jug with black and white label, its origins are distinctively American.   The stories of young Jasper Newton Daniel and the beginnings of his whiskey empire vary, even the home website provides little background, however I tend to lean towards the one that reads like a Mark Twain novel—young teenager orphaned by the death of his father in the Civil War, meets up with a lay preacher named Dan Call who distills whiskey out the back of his general store.  Call decides to pick up a rifle and fight in the Civil War, leaving young Jack and a slave named Nearest Green to tend to the whiskey.   Jack learns the art of whiskey making from Nearest Green, an old slave hand of Dan Call…are you kidding me?  What a story and as far as it’s taste?  Sorry, I know my limits and a whiskey sommelier I am not, but I do know it tastes better the more you drink it!  In three words…toasty, spicy and sweet.

Born this month (in American Literature) Edgar Allen Poe, January 19th, 1809.  His significance not only in American literature but literature’s galaxy?  He is credited with writing the first detective story as now known to the free reading world.  Wow!  Think about that.  And the stories title? The Murders in the Rue Morgue.  Not only did Poe write the first detective story, he nailed the title!