Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And so this is Christmas

Christmas Day, 2013. Never thought I'd be writing posts from my cell phone, but this is the age of instant communication, when we don't need a laptop to write down our thoughts. What an amazing time. As much as some people bemoan the way our children are fixated with their mobile devices, I really marvel at the way we can all communicate so easily. We''re visiting Julie's family in Ohio and it has, so far, been a warm and lovely holiday. I'm so blessed to be a part of this family, and to have been loved by them for over 20 years.

I hope that anyone reading this is having wonderful day. I hope that anyone reading this is able to spend time with their own family. I hope that you all are creating new memories that have significance, just like the stories I wrote about in Basement Songs.

God bless and Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sorry about that...

Last week was the kind of crazy hell that limits the amount of time I can contribute to the blog. Work was quite busy. Add to that the holiday rush and the general sadness that comes around every December 10th, and you can understand why spilling my guts on the Internet doesn't have its appeal.

I did get some writing done, though. With the whole write a novel in month business behind me, I've decided to focus on completing the script I've been working on for the past four months. I haven't quit the book altogether. Indeed, I've just joined a writing group and I plan to use the group as a motivator to get the book finished. It's just that I want to wrap up this script- at least the first draft - before the end of the year. Keep your fingers crossed.

I've been writing more reviews, but trying to take a less clinical approach to them and find a way to personalize the movie experience. It's getting to be less of a challenge writing a film synopsis and throwing in a couple of comments about what I liked about a movie or TV show. I'd much rather talk about why I liked or didn't like something, as if you and I were sitting in my living room, talking over a couple of drinks. If I'm going to keep writing for Popdose, I want it to be my real voice. Again, fingers crossed, my friends.

Speaking of the Dose, my friends Jeff Giles and Jason Hare are midway through their annual Mellowmas countdown, a look at some of the worst Christmas songs of the year. It's a hoot, but not for the faint of heart.

Thanks for stopping by today!


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Disturbed Podcast #8

The podcast begins with me freezing my butt off in my garage and the topic of an Ajax enema.  Good times.

Here's the link to the latest Disturbed Podcast.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In Memory of Seann Flynn

Today, December 5, 2013, marked the second year since the death of my brother-in-law, Seann Flynn. I wish there was something profound I could say on this very sad anniversary, but there's nothing profound about the death of a young man. This beautiful person was in our lives a brief time, but long enough to touch our hearts, change our minds and give us comfort.

I will always be grateful for the long conversations Seann and I had about music, film and sports. I will recall with fondness how he accepted me as a brother, how he always had an open heart for his nieces and nephews, how he loved his family so - especially his mother and father, how he wanted to protect his older sisters, and how he worked so hard to become an enlightened human being.

I can hear his voice right now, his half smirked "Yo." I can envision his outstretched on our living room chair, sleeping while some lame TV sitcom plays in the background. I can see feel his presence in our home and in my heart.

This morning Julie and I drove down to the Santa Monica Pier to see the bench that bears his name in memory of him. It faces the ocean and rests right next to Muscle Beach, one of his favorite hang outs. Julie brought an ornament to hang. It read "Little Angel." Before we left, an older couple asked if they could sit on the bench. We, of course, let them. Julie explained who Seann was and that this was our first time visiting the area. The woman, who spoke with an Eastern European accent, said that she felt that he would be happy that we were there and that he would smile at the sight of the little wooden ornament. "God bless," she said, and we left to drive home.

Oh how I wish I could lift the shadow of grief from the hearts of my loved ones. But how can I lift the shadow when I can't shake it myself?

We miss Seann.  We love you.

We were blessed.

We were blessed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Make-A-Wish and Adventure Time

As you may know, I work on Adventure Time, the Cartoon Network hit series about a boy named Finn and his best friend, a magical dog named Jake. Adventure Time is one of those rare animated series that has cross generation appeal and works on many levels. It's a silly comedy, a thoughtful look at growing up, and a philosophical contemplation on humanity.

This past spring, a boy asked to visit our production as his "wish" from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The boy's name is Christopher and he wanted to see how we produced the show, meet the show's creator, Pendleton Ward, and most important, he wanted to be a voice on an episode of the show. Christopher knew he could do funny voices and he felt that Adventure Time was the place where he could experience what it's like to be a voice over actor.

Along with his mother and sister, the boy spent the day with us. He got a tour of our offices, met the great staff and learned the entire process we go through to create one 11 minute episode of Adventure Time, had lunch with Pen, got to see two episodes that hadn't aired yet, and was welcomed with open arms by the entire crew. It was awesome.

Then, Christopher went down to the record studio, where he was met by the Adventure Time cast. John DiMaggio and Tom Kenny, two of the stars of the show, were wonderful to Christopher and really made him feel at ease in the record booth. The big moment came and Christopher recorded voices for the show. He was great!

As soon as the editors began assembling the voices for the episode, creating the animatic, our Supervising Producer, Adam Muto, was very clear that he wanted to use one of Christopher's voices. From pre-production through the final edit, Christopher remained a part of the show.

The episode has been completed and tonight it premieres on Cartoon Network! It's entitled "Root Beer Guy" and it airs at 7:00 PM. This episode was written and storyboarded by a talented artist named Graham Falk. Christopher's role is that of the "Gum Drop Guy," and he appears in two scenes.

Making this information known to everyone is very important to me. As a Make-A-Wish parent, I've seen first hand the remarkable work of volunteers and the organizers of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. These people change the lives of sick children and their families. They offer a ray of sunlight and a brief respite from the fear and stress that becomes a part of your daily life when dealing with a serious illness.

The Adventure Time crew are some of the best people I've worked with and the kindness they showed for this young man moved me and should be an example for all to follow.

Tonight, Christopher's wish is complete. He wanted to be a voice on Adventure Time, and now that voice will forever be a part of the Adventure Time legacy. I hope you'll tune in and cheer him on.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Updates: A Close Shave and One Not So Much

It's December 1st and I'm back to give you an update on my two November experiments.

Experiment #1 was to use Dollar Shave Club for a month to see if their razors were better than the cheap Bic disposables I've been using for years.

The answer is "yes." I've been quite pleased with these razors that were delivered right to my mailbox and have been impressed with their durability.  I'm on my last razor of the month (the next shipment is in the mail) and I believe I'll be using the razors from now on.

Experiment #2 was to attempt to write a novel in one month as a participant in National Write A Novel Month. By the website's definition, a novel consists of 50,000 words or more. Man, I was on a roll for the first two weeks and churned our over 12,000 words in two and a half weeks. The new novel is entitled Breathe, and I guess it would be best described as a young adult romantic comedy. I was so confident that I'd be able to get that first draft completed by the end of November.

Alas, those 12,000 words were all I could get out.

A number of distractions took me away from my novel. I did my best to multitask, but the book took the hit. However, I realized that I'm never happier than when I'm writing prose and I'm really dedicated to completing this book. Most likely no one will ever read it, but I need the story to get out. I'm not giving up.

Experiment #3 was tied to #2 and it proved to be a game changer. I decided to use the Livescribe Echo pen, a special computer ballpoint pen that has actually records everything I write in free hand. Then, by hooking the pen to my laptop, the computer uploads my handwritten documents and I can convert them to computer text.

Holy crap, this has blown my mind. The one chore that taxes me the most when I'm writing is transcribing my handwritten pages. Now, that step has been removed. The computer translation isn't perfect and I still have to edit the uploaded text, but I've been saved HOURS of my life.

So there you have it. I may have not completed my book, but the attempt at completing the novel was a good thing for me.

Now, if I could just figure out how to market Basement Songs better, maybe I could sell a few more novels before the holidays.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"12 Years a Slave" is the One Film You Should See This Year

Sunday evening I went to see 12 Years a Slave, a new motion picture starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, two of the finest actors in film right now. Perhaps you've heard of this one. It's based on the true story a Solomon Northup, a free black man who had a family and lived in New York in the mid-1800s. A musician by trade, Northup was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. For twelve years he worked on plantations and suffered under the cruelty of slave owners, After he was finally rescued and returned to his family, Northup wrote a firsthand account of his experience that was published in 1853. His book, Twelve Years a Slave, was a best seller and helped open the country's eyes to the horror of slavery. 

John Ridley, a screenwriter with credits as varied as U-Turn (1997), Undercover Brother (2002) and Red Tails (2012), adapted Northup's memoir, crafting an exceptional screenplay that uses beautiful language to capture a time in our history when being able to speak eloquently could cost a man his hide. Steve McQueen, the British born film director with only two other credits - Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), both starring Fassbender - tackled this historical drama with a mixture of eloquence and horror, and has made a flawless movie.
As I sat through the first half hour of 12 Years a slave, I felt I was watching an IMPORTANT film. You know these movies- ones like Schindler's List, Platoon and Gentleman's Agreement that are socially conscious stories that hope to change the way you, the viewer, see the world. Of course 12 Years a Slave is an important film, as it shows slavery in a way that I can't recall ever being depicted on film. If the unflinching brutality at this movie-and it is very brutal- does not cause you to become physically angry, I dare say you are lacking in some humanity.  

What I didn't expect from 12 Years a Slave was the beauty McQueen creates. Working with Director of Photography, Sean Bobbitt, there are many meditative moments throughout the film that record the wonder of Louisiana, where the film takes place. The quiet of the sky, gorgeous silhouettes of tall trees dripping with Spanish moss, the wondrous stars in the sky. All of these creations from God are the backdrop of degradation and evil. It's as if McQueen wanted us to acknowledge the dichotomy of good and evil, beauty and ugliness standing side by side.

While this film is full of misery I did feel some hope. Although Northup sinks to great depths of despair, he continues to takes risks to try and gain his freedom and return to home to his wife and children. 12 Years a Slave accomplishes what all movies try to do: it creates a strong protagonist in Northup and has you rooting for him throughout the story. Of course, I knew the outcome of the story, but McQueen is a gifted storyteller and managed to make me forget about the real life situations and become completely engrossed with the screen story.

Across the board the ensemble cast - which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard - are exceptional. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o gives a standout performance as Patsey, the victim of Fassbender's plantation owner's abuse and lust. This is one of the most stunning film debuts in years. I guarantee she will receive an Academy Award nomination. Likewise, Ejiofor and Fassbender should be locks for nominations, While you may see many great acting performances this year, none will top the work of these two men. 

As the final credits rolled and Hans Zimmer's remarkable score played, I openly sobbed at the "happy" ending. I wasn't alone. I was at a loss for words; not numb, but in awe.

 12 Years a Slave is an important film, that's true, but it's also a true work of art, from every aspect of the production. The acting, direction, cinematography, music, writing and especially the editing (by Joe Walker). Whether or not it wins the awards it deserves, this movie will be talked about for generations. It's strange to admit that I want to experience it again, but 12 years a Slave is that tremendous. It's one of the best moves I have seen. Ever. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Disturbed Podcast #7

Somehow we begin this episode with a prolonged conversation about Toto. It goes in strange directions from there. Witch and ghost sex. Zombie, zombie, live girl menage e trois. You have to check the latest podcast. I apologize now for the paper shuffling.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sophie, the Band and Dylan

This morning, as I backed the Jetta out of the driveway to drive Sophie to school, the Band's "Rag Mama Rag" was coming to an end on my favorite radio station, KCSN, 88.5.

"Ooh, this is a great song," I said, even before we began pulling away from the house. Sophie shrugged and let me listen to my song, for a change. Typically we listen to her station on the drive to school.

But I didn't stop with just telling her that I loved the song. I began a 7 minute lesson on the Band (who they were, how they became known as the Band, etc), Bob Dylan (his accident, how being Dylan in the 60s was close to being like a prophet), depression and how some musicians dealt with it, how the members of the Band became acrimonious, and finally, I ended my lecture by singing her some Dylan songs that I thought she might know, but didn't. I was proud of myself for knowing the lyrics to "Blowin' in the Wind," "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower." As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm not very good with the lyrics.

I was more proud at Sophie for tolerating my long winded narrative and actually asking questions. Not once did she check her phone or ask to change the radio station (at this point, Band of Horses "The Funeral" had begun).

Man, Sophie is such a cool girl. She's smart, intuitive and sometimes just a lot of fun to be around. This weekend, I'm going to play her all of "Rag Mama Rag" and Adele's version of Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love."

For you... here's the Band.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Disturbed Podcast #6 is live

I have to admit, I was a little tired when we recorded this on Saturday morning. But Jeff was patient and let me go off some tangents that didn't have much to do with American Horror Story. Still, it was another lively discussion. If you haven't checked out the Southgate Media Group site in a while, they have a lot of podcasts and they've started to make the site look really fun.  Here's the link to the latest podcast for episode six of American Horror Story: Coven, "The Axeman Cometh."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Chapter Preview: The Beatles, "Here Comes the Sun"

It's been awhile since I posted a chapter of the book. Readership of the blog has had a bit of an uptick, so for those of you who are curious about the content of Basement Songs, here is the chapter I wrote about my son, Jacob. I hope you enjoy it.  Aloha.

The phone rang sometime in the middle of the day.  I was at my desk prepping materials for an upcoming record session at the animation company where I worked.  It was busywork to keep my mind occupied while I awaited this call from Julie.  She had taken our son, Jacob, then under a month old, to see the pediatrician. Jacob’s failure to thrive had been a cause for concern, and the doctor wanted to rule out the disease cystic fibrosis as the cause of his lack of growth.  It was early December 2001.

When I answered, I could hear it in Julie’s voice that she was fighting back tears.  What we had feared was confirmed…

Jacob did indeed have cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited chronic disease that affects approximately 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide).  Due to a defective gene and the protein it produces, a CF patient’s body produces thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and obstructs the pancreas.  This mucus can lead to life-threatening lung infections that must be combated daily with a regimen of medicines inhaled via a nebulizer machine, as well as percussive vibrations on the chest and back, usually performed with a device called the Vest.  Because the pancreas is obstructed, the natural enzymes used to help the body break down and absorb food are ineffective.  A CF patient must take supplemental enzymes with each meal and snack.

The CF gene was discovered in the late ’80s, leading to advancements in treating the disease.  While medications have bettered and prolonged the lives of people who live with the disease, it is still a daily battle to stay both physically and emotionally healthy.

Julie and I were familiar with some of this CF information following the dramatic events of Jacob’s birth.  He was delivered at thirty-six weeks and immediately placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the same Burbank hospital where Sophie was delivered and had her own stay in the NICU.  After he was born, it was determined that Jacob’s intestines were blocked by a meconium plug which was preventing him from having a bowel movement.  The NICU doctor wanted to operate and remove the obstruction, but when no operating room was available the morning of the scheduled procedure, our tiny infant son was loaded onto a helicopter and flown to UCLA Medical Center where a different doctor would do the operation.

We packed up our things, and even though Julie was still recovering from a C-section, prepared to relocate.  Sophie was placed in the care of her aunt and uncle while we drove across town to UCLA.  Maybe it was the altitude from the helicopter ride, or perhaps it was some higher power stepping it to stop an unneeded medical procedure, but Jacob finally passed the meconium and the operation was put on hold.  Two days later, we were discharged from the hospital.  This incident seemed just a bump in the road, and we were on our way home to become the typical American family.

The morning Jacob was released from UCLA, the surgeon spoke to us, the first and only time we met him.  It was a routine exchange of information, and although I tried to focus on everything he said, I really just wanted to go home.  Then he made a comment that pricked my ears: he said that he believed a cystic fibrosis test had been administered and that he’d forward the results to our pediatrician.  Those two words registered somewhere in the corner of my memory.  Wasn’t cystic fibrosis the disease my cousin Kenny’s son had?  Wasn’t that the disease that took his son’s life when he was just a boy?

I tabled those thoughts for the time being.  Jacob was coming home, that’s what mattered.  “Everything is fine,” we thought.  

Obviously, it wasn't.

On that December afternoon, when I hung up the phone with Julie, my initial thought was, “I should have been there.”  Julie shouldn’t have been alone to receive this news.  But deep down we didn’t believe it was CF.  It had to be a virus or something easily treatable.  The optimist in me was certain Jacob would be fine, because everything always seemed to work out for us.  

Damn it, I was so wrong.  I should have been there.

I told my boss the news, and as I spoke those words, “cystic fibrosis,” I felt removed from my body, as if watching myself in a movie.  This unreal feeling continued for the next hour as I left work and drove home.  I could only imagine what Julie had experienced. She described the room beginning to spin and the doctor’s words swirling around her head, try as she might to remain composed.  

I should have been there.

Information I’d picked up from the Internet ran through my head.  Clogged lungs?  Malnutrition?  One fact cut the deepest: Statistics had the average life expectancy of a CF patient living into his/her early 30’s.  Dear Christ, I was 32 years old.  Was it possible that my precious boy would not make it to his 32nd birthday?  How could that be?

When I arrived home, I walked in the front door and found Julie.  I just wanted to hold her and the kids.  I felt like if we curled up in a ball, this dream would end and we would awaken the next day to a different test result.  You become a parent with an understanding that there will be challenges every single day, but the challenges will be worth it because of the love you get in return from your child.  It was difficult to wrap my head around this bigger challenge.  Yes, I would never waver from being there for my son, but what did the future hold?  Was I a weaker father for even questioning these things?  That’s how I felt.

The rest of the evening was spent making phone calls.  Our friends and family offered encouragement along with promises to be there whenever we needed them.  My mom said she would drive out from Tucson at the drop of a hat while Julie’s mother was ready to hop on a plane.  When I called my friend Matt, he was speechless. Normally a man full of an unabridged dictionary of words, he suddenly had none.  Of all the conversations I had that night, I won’t forget the call I got from my cousin Kenny, telephoning from his home in Alabama.  Even though Kenny’s beloved son had lost the battle with CF, Kenny was the most hopeful person I spoke to that night.  He told me of the advances made to prolong the lives of people with CF and better their quality of life.  This man, who had suffered so much, was trying to lift Julie and me up.

It took some time for me to realize how gracious it was for Kenny to make that call.  Julie and I soon learned that all CF families support each other, and the day Jacob was diagnosed we had instantly become members of a much larger family.  Sadly, it’s one we wish we weren’t a part of.

2001 crawled to an end. Whatever holiday cheer we mustered was dampened by the news about Jacob.  Thank God for Sophie and her cousins to remind us of the joy and love of the holiday season. We didn’t travel to Ohio that year and spent our first Christmas in the new house.  I tried to hold on to my optimism, to counter our fears with a determination to make sure Jacob would outlive everyone.  Throughout this period, I found myself humming George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” from the Beatles album, Abbey Road.  Harrison was in the news as he’d succumbed to cancer in late November which is perhaps why I found myself with the song on my mind.  Or perhaps it was because my brother, Budd, had latched on to the song, sometimes saying to me, “Hey, bro, here comes the son,” when referring to Jacob.  At other times, I know he was expressing the hopefulness of the composition.

During that sad, tearful Christmas season, one moment remains frozen in my memory.  It was this night that “Here Comes the Sun” played on the stereo in our living room while Budd held Jacob up in the air, my son’s tiny frame swimming in a onesie.  Budd stared at him with such intensity, as if he might be able to will the illness out of Jacob’s body, before handing Jacob off and leaving the room to collect himself, away from the rest of us.  It was only one of a couple occasions that I’ve ever seen Budd tear up.

“Here Comes the Sun” quickly became one of Jacob’s anthems. The same optimism that Harrison sang about is the same optimism that our family has that a cure for CF is just over the horizon.  Since Jacob was diagnosed, our family of friends and relatives have been involved with many fundraisers, from our yearly participation in the national CF Foundation fundraiser, Great Strides, to running marathons, climbing stairs, selling hats and even holding a couple screenings of King’s Highway, the feature movie that I wrote and directed.  Our efforts may sound like a lot of work, but it never feels that way.  

When your child has an illness, especially one that seems so close to a cure, you willingly do anything you can to make sure that he will see many, many more sunrises in his lifetime.

(I love this remix of "Here Comes the Sun" almost as much as the original).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Happy Birthday to Jacob!

Jacob is 12 years old today. This "tweener" (as he likes to remind us) is one of the bravest, strongest and most righteous guys I know. When I think of all that he endures, I feel like half a man.

Each day when I get home from work, he comes up to me and has an enormous hug. When I was his age I rarely hugged my parents like that. I'm so glad that he can express his love so openly.  Those hugs often lift my days up and restore my hope.

Happy Birthday, Jacob. I'm a blessed man to have a son as wonderful as you are. May this year be filled with joy and great things.


(this picture was taken 6 years ago!)

Now here's one of the songs that will always remind me of my boy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Actual Nice Review for "King's Highway"

If you venture over to the King's Highway page on Netflix, you'll find some pretty scathing reviews. Some people are actually pissed off at me for making the movie. A part of me would like to reply to their comments, but after 10 years there's no point. We made a feature length digital movie for $5000, before there was a digital revolution! Is it perfect? No. But it's still a quality project with some great performances and some exceptional behind the scenes work. I stand by that as the writer/director and one of the producers.

If you haven't seen King's Highway, you can get it in the mail from Netflix (like anyone does that anymore), or you can stream it through Amazon Prime. The movie stars Geoff Stults, a sincere and talented actor who has a new sitcom that premieres on FOX in January.

Occasionally I'll check to see if anyone leaves their two cents, and it's on Amazon Prime that I found this really nice review:

"Did not know the actors and had never heard of the movie, but was pleasantly surprised by the touching story, and eccentrically real characters dealing with life's unexpected challenges. This one's definitely worth your time and will leave you feeling glad you experienced it. Enjoy!"
The review was written by "Anonymous." Thank you, Anonymous! Hopefully you'll inspire someone else to check out the movie.
And hey, if you want to own your own physical DVD of King's Highway, drop me a line. I have a box of them in my garage. Unless your name is Bob Bellamy. I already owe him one.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veterans Day 2013

I've never served in the military, so I don't understand what it takes to place your life on the line for your country. That doesn't mean that I'm not moved by the sacrifices the men and women of our military, past and present, have made for our freedoms. Today we salute all veterans, those who lived through the hell of war and came home and those who did not make it back alive.

Take a moment to listen to this majestic theme from the HBO miniseries, The Pacific. This music captures everything I wish I could say about how much I respect the men and women of our armed forces.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Goin' Country: The CMA Awards

In case you missed it, I posted a new Goin' Country column at Popdose, the best damn pop culture site on the Internet. This week I discuss the Country Music Association Awards that were handed out on Wednesday (the same night as American Horror Story: Coven- it was a very eclectic evening).

The CMA Awards are a night of celebration of country music. If the show was just handing out awards, it would be over in an hour. To fill the other two hours, country music stars play some pretty great music.

Here's a link to my column. If you have a couple of minutes, please check it out!


Distrubed Podcast #5 is Live

The latest Disturbed Podcast has just gone live. Jeff and I breakdown last week's American Horror Story: Coven episode, "Burn, Witch Burn." Happy to say that I'm feeling a lot better and I don't cough as much in this week's installment. Please check it out, and if you like it, the LIKE us at the Disturbed Podcast Facebook page... or send money. You can always send money.

Just follow this LINK .

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bruce Springsteen - New York City Serenade (Rome 7/11/13)

My love affair with Springsteen's music really began in the mid-90s, as I dug deeper into his back catalog. I stumbled across some bootlegs from his early years, one of which contained an alternate version of "New York Serenade" that is just as good as the released version on The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. I've never heard "New York Serenade" in concert; it's one of those rarities (like "The Price You Pay") that I pray will show up each time I see the boss, but never does.

Now I can say I've heard a live version, at least.

This is my favorite song from Springsteen's sophomore effort (which he released in late 1973... 40 years ago!). There are more popular tracks on the album, and others that have more complex lyrics, but "New York Serenade" tugs at my heart like none of those other songs. When the rest of the band fades out at the end and it's just David Sancious's piano and strings there are always tears in my eyes.

This video, shot in Italy this past July, is sublime. Watch the string section (man what a nice touch) and they way their faces light up during the pivotal moments of the song. The joy on their faces to be playing this classic song and to be on stage with Springsteen is a sight to behold.


Monday, November 4, 2013

November Experiment #'s 2 & 3

Okay, my second and third experiments for the month of November go hand in hand and they're a little daunting.

Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? I didn't either until a couple of years ago, when a friend introduced me to this special time when budding novelists try to cram 50,000 words into 30 days. Two years ago I toyed with trying to start a new book; this year I'm ready.

My very first novel, an unpublished YA romantic comedy called Legendary, was written very fast. Well, the first draft was written fast, and then I began revising for a year. But getting that first draft out is the most important step, at least it is for me. So, if I can get into a rhythm and write 50,000 words by the end of November, I could have novel #2 under my belt (again, just the first draft).

I'm cheating, a little, by adapting an old screenplay. The structure of the book is kind of in place, although I'm going to focus on just one character instead of the two from the original script. Still, writing is writing and I'll be happy if I can finally get this story out of my system.

The second part of this experiment involves a special tool that I discovered a few weeks ago. It's the
Livescribe Echo Smartpen. This magical device allows me to write freehand on sheets of special paper and the pen records what I've written. I can then upload the text to my computer and another program should be able to convert my handwriting to a Word document.

Anyone who knows me knows that I prefer to write with pen and paper. There's something about the feel of a pen in my hand and the tactile experience of pressing ink to paper. It's how I learned to write and I still feel that my ideas flow much better when I'm working this way (much better than this blog entry, that's for sure). The pen is heavier than what I'm accustomed to, but if I can get used to it I may have found the most magical device in the world.

Wish me luck. 

Oh, and if you're interested in reading my first novel, Legendary, drop me a line and I'll send you a copy. If you want to read Basement Songs, well, look to the right, dear traveller, and you'll find the links to where to buy the book.


November Experiment #1

The month is still fresh and I feel I should tell you about the first of my three experiments this month. It's the easier of the three and I'm doing it thanks to this video:

One of my Facebook friends introduced me to the video for the Dollar Shave Club and the video was so well done - it's funny, informative and made me want to try their product - that I couldn't resist. I wish I knew someone who could market like this so I could get Basement Songs into more hands. Maybe I should try something with the same tone as they have. Hmm.

Anyway, I joined the club and the first pack of razors arrived on November 1st, appropriately enough. So far so good. I'm supposed to change the razor each week, which is revolutionary for me, as I've been known to go a whole month before tossing out one of the Bic disposables I'm used to shaving with. I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Disturbed Podcast #4 is Live

Jeff and I break down the latest episode of American Horror Story: Coven, as I try not to hack up a loogie during the recording. TMI? Man, if that grosses you out, what does the voodoo snake slicing zombie ritual from the show do to you?

Here's the link to this week's Disturbed Podcast.  You can also download it from iTunes.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One More for Lou Reed

In 1988, bassist Rob Wasserman released his second solo album, Duets. It's a great album full of duets (hence the title) performed by Wasserman and various artists. Each song features Wasserman and a guest performing all instruments and/or vocals. I happened catch a performance of Wasserman and Aaron Neville doing their version of "Stardust" on the David Sanborn show, Sunday Night, and was inspired to seek out the album. This same version of "Stardust" appears on the Rain Man soundtrack, for those of you interested.

Duets remains one of the most listened to albums in my collection. Besides the Neville track, there are great songs with Ricki Lee Jones, Bobby McFerrin (which I used in my college film, The Brass Ring - don't tell them) and Cheryl Bentyne of the Manhattan Transfer. However, the one song I return to almost monthly is "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," a pop standard written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer and made popular by Frank Sinatra. The Chairman of the Board once called this song a "drunk song,"with his arrangement being a big band ballad sung by a man lamenting the loss of his lady. The version on Duets is most definitely not a big band version. Instead, it's a late night blues rocker sung with conviction by Lou Reed.

At the time of the release of Duets, Wasserman was working with Reed on his acclaimed concept album, New York (1989), and a camaraderie between the two men really comes through in Reed's performance. In the song he may be singing to a bartender, but he seems to be singing directly to Wassermen, the only other guy in the room while they were recording. An image immediately comes to mind when their "One for My Baby..." begins. The reverb on Reed's guitar certainly creates the mood of an empty bar, after hours, with the house lights on, and some tired bartender trying to close up for the night. But there's this one guy- probably a friend - who's had a shitty night and he just needs to let it all out to someone.

The defiance in Reed's voice does wonders for this song. Instead of a poor sap lamenting about a his broken heart, Reed makes the narrator a little pissed off and poised to take on the next round of crap the next day will bring him. Written in 1943, "One for My Baby (One More for the Road)" is timeless, and this particular version, now 25 years old, has certainly stands up there with Sinatra's.

After Reed's death, I gave "One for My Baby..." a quick listen and I thought the lyrics were somehow fitting for one man's passing from one world to the next. Whether you believe in the afterlife or not, it's also a great song for hoisting whatever drink brings you comfort and saluting one of rock's great poets.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Popdose Rewind: Lou Reed, "Walk on the Wild Side"

Lou Reed died today, at the age of 71. I can't claim to be the world's biggest Reed fan, but several of his works are favorites. Transformer and New York receive regular plays on my iPod, while the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," and Reed's moderate hit single, "I Love You, Suzanne," are songs I can't go very long without listening to. In 2009, I wrote about a memorable night in North Olmsted, driving around and listening "Walk on the Wild Side." I do believe this was the first time I heard this song and it was my introduction to Transformer, one of the best albums of the 70s.

We huddled outside the North Olmsted recreation center waiting for the rest of the spirit band to
arrive.  On this cold December night, we were supposed to be energizing high school hockey fans, but when not enough kids showed up, we were presented with a three-hour window to spend the rest of the night.  Our foursome included Dan, a junior, cool, laid back (like most trombone players) and the one with the car.  There was Mark, a stocky, sophomore coronet player who was the epitome of band geek (really nice guy, though).  Mark often wore a t-shirt that asked the question, "Why be normal?"  He liked to smoke pot. Jay was a fellow freshman drummer, one of those guys who bled talent, and a close friend at the time.  He was an emotional firecracker, calm and fun-loving most of the time and then- BAM! -- an explosion of anger.  Finally, I rounded out the group, the dorky son of the band director.  I wore big '80s-style glasses, had poofy hair (I'd yet to learn what gel was), and dressed in god-awful sweatpants that covered the knee brace of my right knee, which was recovering from ACL surgery.  With nowhere to be and nothing in particular to do, we piled into Dan's car and drove away.
Cruising through the hometown seems like a time-honored rite of passage for most young men.  You get the keys to the car, you don't want to be stuck at home, so you hit the road and just drive, listening to whatever music is on the radio and killing time until you have to roll into bed and sleep away the weekend.  On that night, navigating the slick streets of a Saturday night, with the melted snow sloshing around in the tire wells making that sound like water running, we owned this city. With a swagger you only have as a teenager, we felt like kings, invincible; nothing could hurt us.  The neon signs from the fast food joints, the banks and the gas stations beckoned us, but we drove on, searching for what I don't know.  Camaraderie, I suppose. Isn't that what we all want when we're trying to figure out who we are?
I was in low mood; my girlfriend had broken up with me the night before.  Somehow, even though I'd only spoken to a couple people about the break up, everyone knew. This was my first experience of gossip traveling faster than the tears can hit the pillow.  These three guys, boys I hardly hung out with before that night, decided to comfort me in the same manner they knew adults handled pain and loss: by scoring some beer.  Meanwhile, the radio dial was tuned to the venerable Cleveland station, WMMS, and their new weekend program, Classic Rock Saturday Night.  The deep voice of one of Cleveland's legendary DJs (I swear it was Len "Boom Boom" Goldberg, but more likely it was the equally great "Spaceman" Scott Hughes) spoke to us through the speakers in Dan's car, as he introduced music from the early 70s by the artists who had shaped rock and roll.  We were a generation raised on new wave and MTV and in 1984 if we'd heard the music of Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who or Pink Floyd, it was because of our older siblings who had passed the music down. I hadn't received that passing of the torch, so listening to MMS and the songs they played opened up a new world to me.
In a parking lot behind a second-run movie theater we received our contraband, a 12-pack of Michelob, bought by one of the guys' older brothers. I look back on what we did next with a sense of fondness, but also a realization of how fucking stupid we were. Back then, when you wanted to discreetly drink and drive, the Valley was the place to go. Our next destination was the Cleveland Metroparks, also known as the Valley because of the steep descent you took getting into the park. An entire night could be spent looping around on the twisting and winding roads that passed through several neighboring cities for over 20 miles. On that night the sky was clear without a moon ad the Valley was pitch black, save for the headlight beams from Dan's car. Occasionally we passed fellow wanderers or even parked cars with steamed-up windows. Otherwise, we were alone, in a separate universe, with Classic Rock Saturday Night as our soundtrack.
Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" came on, with its dual bass lines, jazzy brushes on the snare, and Reed singing endearingly about the transvestites and drug addicts he knew; we all quieted and listened, letting the music sweep over us. When I tried to explain to Mark that the entire moment felt like a movie and wouldn't let up about what I was feeling, he nudged me and said, "Shut up and enjoy the movie." The background singers came in with their "doo da doo da doos" and the four of us began singing, uninhibited, at the top of our lungs, until our laughter was louder than the radio. It was one of those strange, mystical nights that only happens in the movies: Four guys, friends, but not best friends, spend the night driving around talking about the things that only guys talk about. In the course of the evening, they discover that they are not alone. They discover that everyone suffers heartbreak and wants to go out with the pretty girl and wants to get good grades and wants to impress their parents and wants to get a hug from their dad on occasion and wants to be the cool kid in school and wants to have a lot of friends and wants to lose their virginity and just wants to be loved. And they discover that everyone wants to escape from the place where they grew up, at least for a little while.
I've often questioned why this particular event in my life has stuck with me. Of all the pointless times aimlessly cruising through the Valley, of all the irresponsible incidents of my adolescence, why does this one event remain so vivid? Perhaps because on that night, free of the pressures and expectations of our peers, the four of us let our guard down and allowed other humans to glimpse at our souls. Or perhaps it was just stupid fun that I was never able to replicate in the remaining four years of high school. Dan, Mark, Jay and I never hung out that way ever again. We remained friendly, but it was like after that night, the universe we lived in realigned and the four of us slipped back into our old selves. Still, there would be times when we saw each other in the hall and a simple nod or knowing smile would draw a laugh and we'd recall our walk on the wild side.

Originally published February 19, 2009 on POPDOSE

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Disturbed Podcast #3 is Posted

My buddy, Jeff Marsick, and I have been recording a podcast devoted to American Horror Story: Coven. The podcast is produced by Southgate Media Group and we've done three so far. The third one has just gone live on the SMG webpage.

You can download the first two eps on iTunes or from the SMG webpage.

The theme music is by the band Expiate, which was the group my brother-in-law, Seann, was in before his death. It makes me feel good to be able to use the song "No Doubt" as our theme music.

Check out the podcast. I can't promise any brilliant insight, but I think you may be entertained. This week I was starting to get a cold, so I was a little loopy in the head.

Here's the link:


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2014 Rock Hall nominees/SRV

I can't say that the list of Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame nominees this year are a bad bunch. Some people (i.e. critics) may scoff at the inclusion of KISS, but whether you like the band or not they did alter the landscape of  rock music. I'm thrilled to see the Replacements and Peter Gabriel get nominated. The 'Mats helped establish what we call indie rock and Gabriel is one of the founding fathers of alternative music. Also, he opened the eyes of young people who otherwise may not have taken interest to the plight of black South Africans living under the thumb of apartheid. Gabriel's moving anthem, "Biko," remains a cornerstone in the movement to end apartheid.

Although it's not going to happen (again), Chic deserves to get in. They were more than just a disco band. Listen to their songs and you'll be amazed and how groundbreaking they were.

Now, will someone explain why Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were not nominated?

If you check out this Wiki quotes page, you'll find words by 14 different Hall of Fame inductees all praising Stevie (the one by Clapton is especially nice). Stevie was a man who kept the blues alive in the 1980s, a time when most of the guitar greats had either conformed to the mainstream (a la Clapton) or fallen into obscurity. And his band? Double Trouble was not just two (and later three) guys backing up a guitar virtuoso.  Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon (and later Reese Wynans) were as good as Booker T & the MGs when they played with Otis, or the E street Band when they're onstage with the Boss. Double Trouble locked in to Stevie and together they became a force of nature.

I just don't get how this important figure who continues to influence new generations of guitar players has not been recognized by the Rock Hall.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gravity and Meatballs

Julie cooked her homemade meatballs tonight. Oh my God, they are the best meatballs you will ever taste. Don't tell her dad, whose recipe she is working from, but Julie makes them better.

Budd, Karyn and their family came over for dinner and they introduced us to their their new dog. It felt like old times, those nights ten or fifteen years ago when we'd get together on a whim. These days, with high school children, everything is planned. You can't just pop in on a Sunday night anymore. Nevertheless, it was wonderful just to have a casual night together.

Last night I saw Gravity, the new film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. It was incredible. I've never seen Bullock better, and Cuaron is a director whose career I will follow for the rest of my life. He is one of those rare directors who can mine human emotion out of spectacle and populous material.

As I drove Sophie to church this morning, I began describing the plot of Gravity. This is one film with a strong female protagonist whose actions are admirable and heroic. I really think Soph might enjoy the film... someday. For, as I told her what happens in Gravity she exclaimed, "The movie sounds BAD!" Mind you, it sounds "bad" to her because Bullock gets stranded in outer space after tragedy strikes and people die. Too serious for Sophie.  She gets more like her mother every day.

Today she tried out for the Saugus Swim Team. I'm so proud of her for doing it. She hasn't been on the parks and rec summer swim team for two years, due to family trips. Yet, when she came home from Ohio this summer she began training on her own. She really did her best to get ready for the tryouts and has maintained a good attitude.

"If it doesn't happen it wasn't meant to be," she's said.

Before her tryout Sophie was told that it was going to be tough to make the team. The girls team is very competitive. She didn't let this intimidate her and she did great. I really hope she makes it. Sophie would be an asset to any team simply because she would never give up and you would see a definite improvement in her skills and time. If only I was making the final decision!

Another weekend comes to a close and I'm surprisingly exhausted. I have a creak in my neck and I can barely keep my eyes open.

Oh, and I've decided to write another book.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Basement Songs at a discount price

The Kindle version of Basement Songs is being offered at the discount price of $2.99. If you have a Kindle and you've been hesitating to buy the book, now's your chance!