Tag Archives: music

A Time to Release . . .

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A Time to Release

Things have been a bit radio silent here for the last several weeks.  It’s time you knew why.

The picture up there is from last Monday, the 28th of March.  Just two days after the anniversary of my wife’s passing . . . two days past what would have been my 23rd wedding anniversary (we married young, and yes…they are the same day) I was in a recording studio.

Fancying myself a bit of a storyteller let me give you the long-winded explanation of why this is significant.  It comes, essentially, in two parts.

First . . . this whole thing started in the week or so following my wife, Andrea’s death.  I binge-watched in a sleepless week the entire TV series The Wire, which was good, from what I remember.  Then I did something my wife disliked…I picked up a guitar, in the living room, at 3am.  A song started to form and the anger and frustration I had got my blood going and in my sleepless state I had inspiration for music.   All the anger and emotion flooded out and I wrote a song about where I was at.

Then the writer’s block hit.  For more than a year-and-a-half I was unable to write music.  It was frustrating.  After that time, though, the dam burst and I was nearly prolific.  The result was close to a dozen or more songs that I was constantly honing and re-recording in demo form.

Fast forward a few years . . . my oldest daughter was struggling with what her career choice would be.  Deep down she wanted to do one thing but was clinging to what her mother wanted: something in the medical field.  She would have been good at it, it’s a noble thing to do . . . but I knew she didn’t want to.  So I told her to look at herself, her life, this was her time, after all.  “Find something you love, what you’re passionate about and work really hard at it and you will be happy.  Maybe not rich, but you will be fulfilled.”  (Or words to that effect)  My daughter turned that around on me a year later.  “When are you going to do that, Dad?”

I was floored.

“You need to go into the recording studio again.  You’re too good and you talk a good game . . . but don’t use us (the kids) as an excuse.  Find a way.”

So I have taken my own advice.

I joined a band . . . the Ain’t Got No Time (rock and blues) Band.  This is a group of some of the most talented people I know.  We started gigging first, a couple free fundraisers for charity.

Then I asked them if they’d record an album with me.  I even considered, at their suggestion, whether or not this could be a band album.  I almost did that . . . but a couple things stopped me:

  • Much of the material (most of it, in fact) helped me get through the struggles, the grief and confusion.  I wrote what I felt and this was a very personal project.
  • I wasn’t going to say this was “the band’s” record when I wrote all the material.  These guys all write and they write amazing stuff.  The world needs to hear a full band record, too.  That will come later.

We started rehearsals:

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And the band seriously became nearly de-facto producers of the record.

Here are the cast of characters of AGNT:

IMG_6543Kevin Mooney is the drummer.  He basically looked up, said “who do you want this to sound like,” and counted off the beat.  When we said more he gave more.  When we needed a break in the song he hit it dead-on.

IMG_6565Eric Rosander plays bass and sings backup (at least here).  He sings in an a capella   group so his vocal arrangements are strong.  He plays upright, and is one of the best bassists I’ve ever played with.

IMG_6569 (1)Matt Retz plays guitar – rhythm and lead – and sings.  He and Eric arranged backup vocals for my first single that sound like a full chorus of people behind us.  It simultaneously evokes gospel meets The Eagles and I’m so proud of it all.  Matt took some of the reigns and helped produce an amazing three songs.

IMG_0752Then there’s Robert Sabino…our keyboard player…though he’s so much more.  A resume that includes Bowie, Madonna, Simon and Garfunkel, Mick Jagger, and a who’s who of people from the 70’s-90’s and beyond.  Rob helped so much with arrangements that made the songs so much more than I ever thought they would be.  Between Rob and Matt the material didn’t just get better, it sang.

So two days in the studio, a massive amount of guitar amplification and a set of torched vocal chords by the end and I have two full songs and an acoustic instrumental that may be my proudest work so far in my life.

This was certainly something I did for me, for sure.  But without this band and these people it certainly wouldn’t be the material it is.  I love them all and they are truly magical people to be around.

So . . . that said . . . instead of working toward a full record and holding off, I’m so proud of this material I’m going to release a single in the coming weeks.  I am simply waiting on the publishing and copyright paperwork to clear.

Stay tuned for updates . . . hopefully the term “radio silence” will not be applicable is so many more ways.

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In Three Part Harmony

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In Three Part Harmony

Working on your own material with a group of very talented musicians might seem nerve-racking.  I can’t speak for  other writers, but I always have apprehension when I bring up a new piece of material.

Yet when you have a group of guys who are not just talented but wanting to hear your stuff and wanting to help you succeed there is something so very satisfying about that.

My goal in the first recording session is to have two songs recorded and completed.  If there had been any fear that this wouldn’t happen I left those by the wayside after Friday’s rehearsal.

We started slowly, listening to the very bare demo and quickly put an arrangement together.  Then we tweaked it, wrote out a bass line, put things together, took them apart . . . and then it just seemed to work.

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When we finished the arrangement came the harmonies, which just added even more life to the song.  Something more than I could ever have hoped.

This all came after visiting the studio, Pus Cavern studios, which is small but comfortable.  It looks like the right kind of place for a group of guys working out harmonies in the drummer’s living room.

Not that doing this in a living room detracts from the material.  One of the best feelings is to have these guys say they like the songs and help me make the arrangements.  One of the bad parts of having learned guitar by ear is the fact that I cannot easily write up anything about what we’re playing.  It takes me awhile to even figure out what chords I’ve been playing by scrolling through reams of chord charts.

But as I look at the material, my daughter on the couch listening, she started to hear what it was all pointing toward.  “I always liked that song when you played it,” she told me, remembering my writing it with an acoustic guitar on the living room couch.  “But I just listened to the lyrics all the way through and . . . wow, I just never thought about things like that, from how you look at it, dad.  Wow.”

When you can touch a 16-year-old with your lyrics and music it’s a big deal, at least to me.  That says the themes are pretty universal.

It also says that the idea of finishing this and closing one door while opening another on my life is the right direction.  What an amazing experience to work with such talented people.  The songs take this raw form and turn into something so much bigger and livelier.

What an amazing experience . . . and we haven’t even hit the studio yet.

A Family Affair

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A Family Affair

In what was my first live gig in a very high number of years I recruited a couple people to help me. They were, obviously, my children.

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It started before I ever hit the stage.  One of my twin boys is getting guitar lessons and has to practice tuning up his guitar so he asked to practice on the guitars I re-strung for my weekend gig. So as I worked on one Fender Stratocaster he tuned up the Fender Esprit I had just re-strung and polished.  It was tuned to perfection.

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When the time came to hit the stage my son was my tech…handing me the myriad of guitars I switched from song to song. When I played Vaughan he handed me the SRV model. When I did Hendrix, my beloved green Strat. He knew their names, watched and listened.

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His brother listened from the audience and sang along with songs he knew.  Midway through the show I brought their sister up and she played acoustic guitar on an Allman Brothers song we played.  It was, after all, a family affair.

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While the gig was amazing . . . it wasn’t necessarily the performance – which I absolutely had a blast doing -that was the highest point.

When our keyboard player, an amazing musician in his own right, told me how much fun it was to play together I had a bit of beaming pride.

But the greatest moment was when my son gave us a compliment.

That Allman Brothers song is one of the most complicated pieces we played. It had harmonized guitar lines that along with the acoustic guitar.  While I thought we had more than a few hiccups my son ran up next to me as we were loading up our amplifiers and guitars at the end of the night beaming.

“That sounded sooooo cool when you played Jessica,” he shouted. The harmonized lines, the live feel, the melodic tone was enough to have him bursting at the seams. Then to see his sister as part of it I think he began to see just what the possibilities were if you could play guitar with a group of people you admire, sure, but have deep friendship with as well.  We didn’t rehearse as much as we should have but our playing was pretty spot-on.

“You guys sounded so good,” said my daughter! As musicians, we tend to see only the flaws and want to improve on them. But sometimes it’s great to hear what others heard . . . the fresh ears that haven’t been there to hear your rehearsals and the clunky notes or broken strings.

But more than that . . . I can’t help but be a little proud that I impressed my kids . . . even the teenage one . . . and showed them that you can still do some pretty cool things, even if you’re a Dad.

The Moment She Realized

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The Moment She Realized

It started tonight with Whitesnake.

Wait, wait . . . stay with me! I know, it’s a hair band from the 1980’s and the embarrassed icon of all that is excess and every boy my age in that era was able to sing (badly) along with David Coverdale.

Having tucked my sons into bed and cleaned up from the night’s culinary creation I sat down for the mere half hour or so of television I had available to me only to find that, with more than 500 channels, there was just nothing on TV. It was in scrolling through the guide on this weary evening that one channel had Whitesnake Live.

I chuckled as I said it aloud: “Whitesnake live!”

My daughter looked up with a smile that I realized, having raised her this past 16 years, was trying to be sly but was, in fact, completely faked.

“You don’t know who Whitesnake is.”
“Uhh…nnnno?”

I belted the next line out.

“...and here I go again on my ooo-oh-own….
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known!”

She had that look of cognition that was filled with both enlightenment and horror.

“Oh! That’s Whitesnake?!”

Before she could say “geez, Dad, why would you even know that song?” I looked at her and said:
“Yeah, they were a bit cheesy then…and accused of trying waaay to hard to copy Led Zeppelin but every boy loved them for the songs, the cars, and the girls in their videos.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Say what you want,” I sarcastically told her, “but David Coverdale, their singer . . . he had some pipes, my girl.”

She looked skeptical.

So I played her a different song. In the 1990’s, when the world was itching for Zep to get back together, there seemed no hope. Then out of the blue, after Jimmy Page had made disparaging remarks about Whitesnake he joined up with David Coverdale. It was as close, at that time, as we’d ever get to something Zep-like.

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I played the first cut off the record Coverdale/Page, Shake My Tree, for my daughter. She was transfixed.

“I’m weirdly into this song! It’s not metal, but kinda, and it’s very Zeppelin, but . . . not . . . oh my God, I like it!”

It was here my memory started to finally kick in.

“It was interesting when this record came out because it’s a moment of realization for your mother,” I told my daughter.

The kids all knew that their mother didn’t want to be married to a touring musician, and that’s okay…I wasn’t really one anyway. It was part of why it wasn’t hard to relegate the guitars to the back room. But my wife also, in the beginning, saw music as a phase, a thing that had little hold on me or little talent holding onto me.

That was, you see, until Coverdale/Page came out.

I put the album on and we listened to that first song, Shake My Tree, and when it was over I picked up the guitar I’d just gotten – from her, by the way – a Gibson Firebird. My wife was in the kitchen of our apartment. I started playing the opening riff, that maddeningly fast, sort of off-kilter line and my wife rounded the corner.

“Are you really listening to that first song over again…”

And she stopped dead in her tracks.

“How many times have you listened to that song,” she asked me, her mouth slightly agape.
“Once, just when you heard it here with me.”
“Aaand…you just started playing it.”
“Yeah…”
“After hearing it once.”

I honestly didn’t understand her confusion. It was a little hard to hit that off-kilter note here and there but once you had the muscle memory, I didn’t think much of it. It didn’t dawn on me – and I swear it’s not ego talking – that it was anything significant. It was just learning the song.

Andrea walked over, absent-mindedly put her hand on the back of my head, and said “I just never realized you really could play like that . . . that you could just . . . figure it out. That’s . . . ” (pardon all the ellipses, but it is for effect) she trailed off.

She kissed me, full-on, love of my life kissed me.

“I never told you how talented you are. This just drove it home.”

It was a great moment for a musician to know the person he loves now supported something so important in his life. We would have more arguments about music and more conflicts over my playing a night here or making a bunch of money on a Valentine’s Day there…but Coverdale/Page had driven home I was more than just some minor hobbyist noodling around on his guitar.

My daughter, hearing the fun story about her mother, no more than an anecdote, smiled and then looked up to see the guide still sitting on the TV screen.

Regardless…we still did not watch the Whitesnake concert.

 

The Loss of a King

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The Loss of a King

I was awakened last night by the news…the distinct and jarring tones of the BBC News World Service alerts. One of only two that I allow my phone to chime.  When it goes off, I know it’s likely important.  (Except the day the royal baby was born…I silenced my phone that day)

I got the chime around 10pm PST.  It simply read “BB King, legendary blues singer, dies in his sleep at 89 confirms manager.”

I talk a lot about parenting, loss, home all that here.  It is no small thing, no subtle metaphor to say that this man was a hero of mine.  He was, without question, an icon – a uniquely American form of royalty that spread throughout the world.

I grew up with Mr. King playing in my home.  His records played all while I was growing up in Nebraska.  His 1970’s LP Completely Well was completely worn out.  When we would go to the mall and I’d walk out with a Clapton or Van Halen record my father would have a cassette with a live BB King show.  We always listened to it . . . and it first.  None of us ever complained, either.

I went to my first BB King show in high school.  My older brother had procured tickets at Red Rocks Amphitheater and it was a triple-bill: Taj Majal, Stevie Ray Vauhan, and BB King, with BB being the headliner.  Taj was good as always.  SRV was amazing, but a bit hesitant.  We found out later that he’d spent hours the night before jamming with Jeff Beck and worn off his callouses.  He’d super-glued his fingers in order to get through the night.

But BB King…the man was just brilliant.

Years later I learned to play guitar and it was important to me to learn who the influences of my influences were.  When I looked at Clapton, Beck, Green, Vaughan, Allman, they all did songs I recognized.  They all recorded BB King songs…but yet somehow, not quite BB King songs.

That tone.  That crying . . . that singing tone . . . only he could do it.  I learned from this master of the instrument and musical mediums (plural, lest you be fooled that all he could do was sing in 3 chords) that one note was all you needed if it was the RIGHT note.  You could play 1,000 notes in a single song and he would tell you more by wringing a tone from Lucille than the best of guitarists.

When I met an amazing woman who loved me and cared and treated me well I sang her a song one night on stage.

“I got a sweet little angel…I love the way she spreads her wings.”
I called my wife, Andrea, that all our married life.  Even in death, on her headstone, carved on the back, it says “fly on my sweet little angel…I love the way you spread your wings.”

In the late 1990’s I worked the phones, pushed, screamed and begged until I got the opportunity – during his tour promoting Riding With the King – to interview him.  While he was supposed to give us just 5 minutes in a dark corner, deep in the bowels of Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, the maestro of the blues ushered us onto his bus.  He gave us close to an hour there and we did almost a half-hour interview with him.  He talked about how he had an incessant appetite to learn as much as he could.  He toured with a laptop computer and a library of books he read constantly.

My father was unable to come to the show and I asked, rather sheepishly, if I could bring him my father’s worn-out copy of Completely Well and have him sign it.  He insisted I bring it backstage after the show.

I told King that my daughter asked to see him for her birthday . . . and he insisted I bring her along.

Abbi and BB

My daughter was scared to meet this man . . . this American King.  You can see it in the photo we took with him.  But after we walked into the dressing room – following a stellar show – he said “you don’t have to worry about coming in here, Princess…” and he gave her a hug.  He took her arm in his and sat down on a chair.  He asked her “do you have a brother or sister?”
My daughter nodded.  Her sister was just a baby.  “I have a little sister, Hannah,” she told him.

King tipped over a cup on the counter, filled with guitar picks and plastic pins.
“Grab something out of there for your sister Hannah,” he told her.  She obliged.
“You probably want something in there, too,” he told her.  She nodded.  “Well, I’m not going to give you any of that,” he said, a twinkle growing in the corner of his eye.

My daughter looked at him, crestfallen but quiet.

“You know why,” he asked her?  She shook her head “no.”
He pointed to his lapel, where an enamel pin of Lucille hung…gold-embossed with her name on the headstock and his on the pin.
“I’m going to give you this one,” he told her.  He unpinned it and put it on her collar.

On the way home my daughter just repeated, in hushed tones, “BB King called me Princess!”

My daughter marks the 3rd generation of my family to love this man and his music.  For an American King to call her Princess is simply beyond description.

We saw him several more times…each time floored by the energy, tone and warmth this man projected.

When I put the phone down tonight I could only think . . . a beautiful woman is silent tonight. Lucille cannot cry, she cannot wail, she cannot shout for joy.

She cannot sing.  The man who says his only love is Lucille left her behind, and she will be silent.

But for years they made music together, sang together, were sad and angry and sarcastic…and joyous.

And what an amazing body of work they left us.

A tuxedo and a shiny 335
You could see it in his face, the blues has arrived
Tonight’s everybody’s getting their angel wings
Don’t you know you’re riding with the King!

Birthdays and Band Practice

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Birthdays and Band Practice

It could easily have been a stressful and exhausting weekend.

My sons turn twelve this week, twin boys with dissimilar tastes and lots of bright ideas for birthday presents and no real clue how much the things might cost. Still, they’ve never complained if they know the gift they want is too much and this year they didn’t really ask for much.

I learned, after years of attempting to do birthday parties at home, that it’s cheaper, easier and cleaner to do the party at a place that handles the cleanup for you. So this year we went to the local movie theater.

It wasn’t a complicated movie. No superheros, no explosions. (Well, a couple). We saw the movie “Home”. It was cute, if a bit vanilla at times, but it did the job quite well.

Where I’d normally make a cake from scratch I ran out of time so a local bakery substituted just fine, thank you. Salted caramel chocolate cake is a great substitute for Dad’s Devil’s Food one. Plus it looked nicer.

We ate pizza, opened presents, had cake, sang “Happy Birthday” and walked off to home and play the videogames they’d gotten as presents.

The day after was the interesting one.

While the boys went to a friend’s house, after their party, my middle daughter had the first practice for a band she’s been dying to put together for months.

The bass player arrived and in true teenage fashion they spent a large amount of time trying to find musical middle ground and get used to being in the same room with each other.

It might have been my greatest luck that I didn’t start playing the guitar until I was 19. By then, after being asked to join a cover band, I was itching to play. So the idea that I would spend more time talking seemed a waste of time. “Stop with the words, grab your guitars and let’s rock!” At least, that’s what my memory says. In reality it probably wasn’t too different from my daughter’s day.

But when dinner time came I looked at my daughter and said “can I give you some advice?”
She rolled her eyes and in typical teenage style used one word, dripping in disdain and sarcasm: “what?!”

I was stunned, a bit taken aback.

“I was just going to say . . . I heard you both saying you didn’t know how to play the songs the other wanted. You have it a lot easier. In my day we had to find the songs on the radio if they just happened to play them and record them on a cassette tape.  That was always hard. We’d trade mix tapes and hope for the best.”
She looked at me like I’d just given birth to a cat or something.
“I thought you were going to say we did something wrong.”
It was my turn for a stunned look.
“No . . . I was trying to help. So today, you have it so easy. Get a Spotify playlist together and share them with each other. Rather than learning from tape you can just go online.”

My daughter was afraid I was going to criticize her . . . but it wasn’t at all on my mind. It actually concerned me that he thought I was going to go straight to criticism. I was worried she thinks that’s all I do.

“No…but the Spotify thing . . . that’s a GREAT idea!”
“Yeah, we even played with the recordings and then came up with our own arrangements.”

Once in awhile the little people realize that there’s value in what their Dad says when it comes to past experiences.

I need to do a better job, I realized, of expressing that so they don’t immediately think I’m going to criticize what they do.

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

The musician and his daughter
The musician and his daughter

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

Over the weekend I watched a documentary on a free preview of the Showtime network.  I’m not afraid nor am I ashamed to admit that it was on the band Genesis.  I know there’s some backlash, particularly since the shift from music in the 1970’s to the 1980’s and today when people have some chip on their shoulder about the band.  I’m not sure why, perhaps it was the second lead singer, Phil Collins, having been everywhere from on television to a cop on the film Hook to doing the soundtrack to Disney cartoons.

That said, I’ve always liked them, no shame or afterthought to that statement.

But this isn’t about them, at least not particularly.  No throwback to the 1980’s or melancholy or wishing things were like when I was a kid.  Genesis is just the impetus of one of the sweeter surprises I’ve had in some time.

The picture up there is from the 1990’s, not long after my oldest daughter was born.  She’s the infant in my arms, on a stage, Clapton Stratocaster around my neck, while I have long hair and look something like a character from the movie Death at a Funeral.  My wife took that photo, though I can say I never thought she was particularly pleased to be there.  This was my band, with my brother a member, playing at a summer festival in Omaha.

My wife had little or no use for my being a musician.  It didn’t make a ton of money – which isn’t at all what I was performing for in the first place.  It didn’t focus on our relationship or on her, except the couple songs I’d written about her or us.  Neither of those was easy enough to pull off live so there was no focus for her.  She wasn’t at all convinced this was a good idea.  In my defense, I just cannot stop being a musician.  It’s in my DNA.  It’s like that Stratocaster is part of my left arm and if you removed it I may as well bleed out.  I will also argue that there were months, in the bleakest of times when she was in Pharmacy school and I was working two jobs to keep the heat on in our home that we ate due to the gigs I played.  It wasn’t a ton of money, but it was money and every dime counted.

Living Years

Watching the Genesis documentary they brought up each of their solo careers.  Sure, Phil Collins had one; a stellar one, in fact.  But the guitarist, Mike Rutherford, had a band and still plays much of the time with his own band, Mike and the Mechanics.  After a start with one singer they switched to another singer, from the band Squeeze, named Paul Carrack.  The album came out in 1988, some years prior to that photo of my daughter and I but it continued to get some airplay.

As Rutherford recounted the fact he couldn’t sing and that may have affected his ability to sell the millions of records like Collins, my daughter looked over at me with a smile.

“Mom always thought you sounded just like him, did she ever tell you that?”
I looked at my daughter and at the television and was more than a little bewildered.  “Like Paul Carrack?!”
“Yeah.  She never told you that?”
“No!  I would have remembered that.  That’s a helluva compliment.”
“She was right.”  She looked at my son sitting next to me and asked him . . .  “don’t you think Dad sounds like that guy?”
My son just looked up, matter-of-fact, “yeah.”
“I can’t believe Mom never told you that,” she said, confused.

In less than two months it will have been four years since my wife passed away.  We had an interesting relationship.  Always loving, always friends, and often contentious.  Music was part of our lives but not always a part she wanted.  I always had a dream, even with 1, 2, then 4 kids of making a living doing it.  She never thought that was practical or realistic.

But then she’d surprise me.  She always did.  I never made the connection nor have I ever claimed to be of the caliber that Paul Carrack is.  I’ll take the complement, nonetheless.

Now, almost four years after she’s gone, I hear that she heard my voice and heard possibilities.  I knew her well enough to know that’s what was going through her head.  When she’d dismiss recordings I’d make she’d tell her daughter or friends that her boyfriend/husband sounded like Paul Carrack.  Should I be mad that she never told me?  No.  Not a whip.

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Today I’m sitting home, recording, getting ready to find funds to hit the studio and hire a drummer and bassist to put a full record together.  Where I’ve been frustrated trying to get that chord progression right or my computer gives me CPU errors during a take or I just can’t get the lyrics the way I want I’ve been frustrated and silent of late.

And then this comes, out of nowhere, blasting through, and I feel a pride I hadn’t known for awhile.  Pride in the fact she heard something in my voice, even if she never voiced it to me herself, not in that way.

This weekend she said it loud, said it clear.

It’s just up to me to listen.

A New Year, Another Start

A New Year, Another Start

People look at a new year as yet another transition.  It’s a new year, a new start, a new, fresh outlook.

So often, though, we get to June, halfway through the year, and we realize that it’s the same year, just different numbers on the calendar.

“New Start” may be a misnomer for some, I certainly don’t feel like January 1st came and suddenly the world shifted on its axis and all life’s worries, problems and realities became clear.  As a matter of fact all the problems remain and the realities are just that…realities.

It may be slightly different for my kids and I, though.  Much like it’s different for others out there, I suppose.  Say you lose a parent, or you get a divorce or your spouse leaves you.  Happier things change you, too.  You have a child or another child.  You get a new job or a better job.  These are paradigm shifts in your life.

My new start came nearly four years ago.  I’ve never been one of those to take significance in numbers, but significance in days is something I’ve come to think about.  I was married on the 26th of March.  It’s also the day my marriage ended when my wife passed away.  8:30am, exactly, she took her last breath.

Talk about paradigm shifts.

Here’s the thing with that shift, though.  The easy, lazy, terribly attractive thing to do would have been to shut down and just let it all fall apart.  In some ways that happened here and there.  However, in other ways it’s been a trace back to that day that’s become a very new start for all of us.

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Don’t get me wrong, if nothing more than the mental stability of my children was the reality, I would gladly wish away the grief and the problems it created.  Still, the changes that came after that day, four years ago, were a completely new start for me.  They were big changes for my kids, too, and in many ways we came out for the better.

I have a new job, take my family seriously, try to put them first and all the things we do I try to do together.  That’s always been the case…except now we try new things.  We eat different foods, we travel other roads, we experience things just because we can.  It’s not that we didn’t when their mother was here, really.  Maybe the whole “life is just too short” mantra rings in our ears, but we do it regardless.

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I’ve become a musician again, full-force.  I was always one, sure, but the guitars were relegated to the spare room, the idea of writing or recording tossed aside.

This year is definitely a shift.  2014 saw loss…lots of loss and we weathered it, again, as best we could.  We got closer to some people, more distant from others.  Still, it was a good year, it truly was.

Yet 2015 looks even better.  My brother has a record coming out and we’re all excited by that.  I hope, pray, and am working toward going into the studio myself this summer.  If I can pull that off some of the best material I’ve written in awhile will be laid to tape and I’ll be pushing you all to give it a listen.

More than anything…it’s been four years of changes and adjustments and I couldn’t be prouder of these four little people who are in my charge.  They all stick together, band of brothers and sisters, and follow me when I charge into the unknown.  They never wavered in their trust of their Dad.  Four years ago I also took the mantle of parent – only parent – and rode off into the dark quagmire that is single parenting.  What we created was a new, unique, quirky, sometimes snarky and sarcastic world that outsiders may think is strange and odd.

But then, others think it’s odd that we can be so happy when we’ve lost so much.  What they don’t see is that losing so much does actually make you appreciate when you have so much left.

Yes…it’s a change.  But then sometimes, a change will do you good.

Happy 2015 everyone.

An Electric Monk on a Bored Horse

 

IMG_4150An Electric Monk on a Bored Horse

I always go all-out at Christmas.  It’s a habit, perhaps a poor one, but a habit nonetheless.  The last many years that habit has been one where I give and never really think about receiving.  It’s not a bad thing, more end-of-Christmas-Carol Scrooge than “Humbug” Scrooge.

This year, though – and I promise, I made no allusions toward complaint or statement about getting no presents – my kids and others humbled me beyond belief.

I made a thousand treats throughout the last couple days.  I had a full cake I made; there’s homemade sugar cookies; there’s caramel fudge bars; there’s giant chocolate chip cookies.  Then my dinner came with my late wife’s sister and her family.  Ham, potatoes, corn and she brought rolls and wine and beer. You know, the essentials!

But as much as I prefer the season being about my giving . . . not getting gifts, I must share what was some of this year for me.  The gifts I received.

I got a gift from a friend and colleague that had the sweetest of cards and tons of treats and made me feel uniformly special and guilty that my gift for them was nowhere near as great.  Another colleague gave me an entire case of coffee to replace the small box of Peet’s Kuerig cups someone stole from our office at work.  While that may seem more a fun gift than “gift” it’s not.  We live off caffeine.

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My son took great pride in having the first present under the tree this year.  I was so happy because he was smiling, proud, and overly excited.  No talk about new video games, no thoughts about what he really wanted . . . he simply grinned looked at me and said “it’s for you Dad!”  In that present, one of my favorites, was a 2015 calendar he had made for me.  It was 12 Biomes of the World, all drawn by him.  I will hang it at my desk and use it proudly.  He’s had it hidden somewhere in our home for months just waiting to give it to me for Christmas.

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My other favorite was from my oldest.  She knows me well.  Exceptionally well.

Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was the series he wrote after The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  I’d never read it and looking at the yellowed cover I knew what immediately came out of her mouth.

“It’s a first-edition.  I read the first chapter and it was hilarious.”

As did I . . . then the second . . . then the third, which begins: “High on a rocky promontory an Electric Monk sat on a bored horse.”  It’s surreal, darkly humorous, insane and I found myself all day yesterday laughing out loud as I read, causing me to read it aloud to same said daughter who joined in on the laughter.  “Electric monks believed in things for you thus saving you what was becoming a completely onerous task, believing in all kinds of things the world expected you to believe.”

Presents from the man in the red suit delighted all.  Presents to Andrea’s sister, her family and all seemed to hit the spot as well.  Then all day yesterday . . . the boys played all day with the RC helicopters their aunt had given them (including hitting their Dad in the face with one when they weren’t paying attention.  Good thing I wear reading glasses)

The general consensus was this was a most excellent Christmas.  That wasn’t because it was filled with presents, we didn’t have any larger a gifts than last year, I don’t believe.

This just felt Merry.  I know that’s cheesy, it’s the word for the season, but past years were good, just not as joyful as this one.

Yes…I was completely exhausted.  Over the course of 3 days I made a salted caramel peanut butter fudge pie; I made a chocolate brown sugar butter cake; I made sugar cookies; caramel fudge bars and chocolate chip cookies.  Then the dinner.

My daughter asked why I wasn’t stopping.  “Good God, you’re going to kill yourself…and worse, you’re going to make us all fat!”

I did it for one simple reason.  This is what my Mom, my Grandma, her mother . . . this is Christmas for my family.  You make the house smell of homemade cinnamon rolls (did I mention I made those for Christmas morning?) and baking bread and cookies and . . . it’s magical.

It’s Merry.

With so many years of struggles to find calm and peace and wonder in the day . . . it was pretty cool to look up at the end of December 25th and realize we hadn’t felt sad or melancholy, there were so many laughs and music (my nephew got a guitar so I taught him some chords) and love.

And we didn’t even need an electric monk to believe it could happen for us.

You Hope and I’ll Hurry . . .

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You Hope and I’ll Hurry

The day after Thanksgiving brings about more than just the anticipation of the forthcoming season.  In my home, with my family, Christmas was always huge.  That hasn’t changed in my home, nor should it.

What has begun to sink in for me is just how much of my own childhood has snuck in and taken root with my own children.  I make no allusions about the fact that I watched entirely too much television as a kid.  Even in an era when we had 3 channels.  (Four if you included PBS, and I watched that every weekend for Monty Python and then Doctor Who)  I don’t pretend that I didn’t nor do I think that it is responsible for my brain filled with miscellaneous information.  My brain was going to fill with useless tidbits no matter what.  So yes . . . I can rattle off just about every line of the mental exchange from the movie The Princess Bride but never could commit the Periodic Table of the Elements to memory.  Thankfully the invention of Google and the proliferation of the iPhone and the internet have helped me to simply look up the atomic weight of Cesium.  (It’s #55 on the chart, by the way, with a weight of 132.9054519.  Told you!)

Every Christmas, for the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, my brothers and I would wait in anticipation of the “Big 3” networks to run their competing Christmas programs.  I don’t pretend this was some “golden era” of cartooning.  We certainly have a lot of great animation today – my sons adored The Box Trolls in theaters and Pixar certainly raised the bar for motion picture storytelling.

Still . . . that’s film.  Television has a thousand channels, generally nothing on them worth watching.  The fact that cartoons are on all…the…time makes it hard to cherish any one of them that awful much.

So when Christmas comes around, the lack of repeating the classic Christmas cartoons I think gives them the same luster and anticipation they had when I was a kid.

The picture up there is from the Joel Grey centered cartoon ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  To this day, at any time, in any season, for any reason, a member of my family might burst into that phrase . . . and end with “even a miracle needs a hand!”

There was Rudolph with our favorite guy – Yukon Cornelius: “I’m just loading up on supplies.  Hamhocks, gunpowder and guitar strings!”  (How can you not love a guy carrying THAT combination on his sled!)

There was The Year Without a Santa Clause which inspired my son’s Halloween costume this year: Heat Miser!

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But the granddaddy of them all was always A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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We play the soundtrack every year.  I even found it on vinyl and we use the turntable and listen to it.  The vinyl’s green!

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree” is the go-to phrase for any pathetic looking thing, be it a tree, a cookie, a pie or a toy in our home.  “It’s not bad at all, really, it just needs a little love!”

It’s not religion; it’s not sentiment; it’s not nostalgia . . . it’s just great fun.  We love the season.  I put too many lights on the house.  I let the kids go nuts . . . even though there are clumps of decorations in spots on the tree rather than neatly arranged here and there.  I give presents to my close friends because I thoroughly enjoy seeing the look of wonder when people open that present.

No, the animation wasn’t always great.  No, the mouth didn’t always sync up with Fred Astaire’s words in Santa Claus.  But . . . my kids, like kids and their parents the world over stay up late or beg to sit and eat dinner in the living room . . . because Charlie Brown will cry “learn the true meaning of Chrismas?!  Win money, money money?!”

So watch we will, live, in real time, commercials and all.  Because…

Christmastime is here.  Happiness and cheer.