“Hooray, Hooray, the first of May. Outdoor fucking begins today.” – Issac Taylor (James Taylor’s father)
Quite the unusual quote, which then became one of my favorite JT songs from one of my JT albums. The reason had nothing to do with the lyrics….
I used to drive a 1991 Mercury Tracer hatchback. I remember that in the summer of 1992, I needed the cassette player replaced (under warranty!), because one of my cassettes was stuck in the player – JT’s “Never Die Young” album. I found myself listening to this album over and over, but not minding having to listen to it over and over.
I specifically remember driving home from a gig in Poughkeepsie at 1:30 am on a crystal-clear full-moon night, and the song “First of May” was the first song that played. It just struck me differently that night, and I spent the 45-minute drive listening to just this song repeatedly. I don’t remember anything else about that night, but I remember listening to that track vividly, as it became a song of comfort on a night I’ll never forget almost five years later.
May 1st, 1997 – I’ll always remember this Thursday evening for two reasons….that was the night that Ellen DeGeneres officially “came out” on her sitcom, as my ex-fiancée Bonnie called off our engagement simultaneously. As courageous as I thought Ellen was for taking such a risk (and for enduring the incredibly ignorant backlash), I found myself at a low point, because I had allowed myself to feel defeated by someone who had done nothing but degrade me, I had neither the courage or self-esteem to disagree. She once said that “it’s obvious that I’m the smarter one in the relationship” and I had no response – not because I agreed, but because I didn’t even know how to respond to that. When she broke things off, it hurt deeply, because I was not yet realizing that she had done me a huge favor. My mom’s initial reaction later that night spoke volumes – “Hey, she just saved you from a divorce….go for a ride, listen to some music, and know that you’re gonna be alright.” I got in my Pontiac Grand Am, drove up I-81 from Scranton to Binghamton, and listened to JT’s Never Die Young CD….and yes, there was also a full moon that night, and although I didn’t listen to “First of May” over and over, I do remember listening to the track a few times.
The song has just become a song of hope and optimism to me – not because of the lyrics, but because of how it has inspired me from its arrangement, to the instrumentation, to the background vocals, and of course, James Taylor’s incredibly warm “like a smooth cup of hot cocoa” voice. There’s one lyric that says “it’s a rite of spring” – although this lyric is meant to be sexual in nature, I feel like listening to this song in the springtime, when the smell of flowers is in the air, the warmer temperatures and incredibly beautiful nights with moonlight are my “rite of spring”. This has become very much a traditional song to me. It reminds me that the optimism of summer will soon be here, and that no matter how dark things may seem, things will get better, and that I have to have the courage to keep moving forward.
I can’t even describe how I feel right now over the verdict….in some ways it feels 29 years in the making since the Rodney King verdict, but at the same time I’m sad that it took a death of a human being for change to finally happen. My gratitude to the prosecution and the jurors who helped to make a big step forward in standing up to systemic racism.
I’ve posted plenty on social media today….it’s hard not to, as I’m feeling a lot of emotions after the last year of such social unrest. I find myself thinking about what if it was the other way around….would I feel the same way if a minority cop did the EXACT same actions as Derek Chauvin, and a White person died? My answer is yes. The dynamics would be incredibly different, but nobody deserves to die as a victim of police brutality.
I moved to the Scranton area in the autumn of 1994….before changing my car tags from New York to Pennsylvania, it was a regular occurrence to be followed by the Scranton and South Abington Police – I was never pulled over, but they’d follow me for a couple of miles. For what? I had no tail lights out, and I was driving at or below the speed limit. And this would happen in the middle of the day. It’s one of those situations where no matter how much it pisses you off, you can’t do anything about it.
The video in the Derek Chauvin trial did not lie. I’m sure that the African-Americans who saw this happen (and shot video from the curb) felt the same type of frustration. Wanting to say something about such an incredibly wrong action, but fearing the repercussion for speaking out. In this case, a man was choked to death, and there was no question about that. Hopefully this is a strong statement towards the end of this type of police brutality. There are a lot of fantastic police officers throughout the country who risk their lives to serve and protect, and they do it the right way. They have (and will ALWAYS have) my utmost respect. There are good and bad cops, and there are good and bad people. Stevie and Paul said it best 39 years ago – “There’s good and bad in everyone. We learn to live, we learn to give each other what we need to survive, together alive.”
Rest In Peace, George Floyd. It’s time for us all to do better…..it’s time to start “living in perfect harmony.“
We’re getting a new fence for our backyard. The existing fence is very old, and I’m 99.999% sure that The Floofinator could easily knock it down. This seems very symbolic to me, as knocking down my own walls by writing this blog has improved my life the way building our new fence will improve the quality of “The StoweAway.”
Over the last two years, I’ve written about things that I never thought I’d share publicly, out of fear of what my friends and family would think of me. Some of these things are deeply personal, and sharing these things publicly was truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it needed to be done. For years I’ve put some many walls up to protect myself (including using sarcasm, snarkiness and arrogance), and it really took its toll on my emotional health.
I had a conversation with a friend recently that easily could have gone on for hours or days….we started taking about music and life, and my friend shares the same appreciation for music that I do. As we talked and shared stories about our lives (both good and bad), I realized that I felt like I could speak open and freely in a way that a couple of years ago I was afraid to speak. The fear of judgement (even self-judgement) that has always consumed me wasn’t there. As I talked about things like being able to relate musical notes to colors, or how cool it felt to win our high school battle of the bands, or how debilitating it was to go through a very ugly divorce, at no point did I feel afraid or ashamed.
What meant a lot to me about this conversation is that my friend totally understood, as we’re definitely on the same wavelength. I don’t know if I’m ready to have conversations with a lot of my other friends who don’t understand me musically or otherwise, but it was the first time in a very long time that I truly felt like my walls were down. I remember having a lot of similar conversations with my friend Pat Cerello before he passed, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this probably was the first time I felt this way since my last conversation with him 10 years ago.
I’ve been blessed to have “family” that I’ve always been able to talk with openly and honestly, but I’ve still been very self-critical in my head. And family to me isn’t just my immediate family – my friend and former band mate Patty, my dear friend Brenda and my college friend Maria I consider to be like sisters, and Brenda’s husband Marc, and my friends Sean and Rob are my “brothers from other mothers.” Have I truly let my walls down with them? It’s hard to say, but as I go forward, I need to focus on letting the walls down with myself, and not be afraid to let people understand my feelings, my quirkiness, and the things that I truly care about.
Time to build something new, better, and different.
“This is Us” had an incredibly powerful episode last night. In the episode, brothers Kevin and Randall (who is Black and was adopted at birth) had a long overdue face-to-face discussion, as they’ve had years of animosity between them, partially fueled with racial overtones. Although this was fictional, the dialogue hit me very hard, as I experienced some of the exact same situations and insults.
I didn’t go to my high school senior prom, because the parents of the White girl I asked would not let her go with me. I was one of four Black students in a graduating class of over 200. Both my brother and I were teased because we weren’t great basketball players (we were told we had “White Man’s Disease”) in addition to being called the “N word” and other racial insults by some of our “ignorance-gifted” classmates. When we both went to the same college/music school, we were called “pseudo-Black” and “Oreo” by some of the Black students, because we didn’t hang out with them. This was not by choice – the majority of our time was spent in classes and rehearsals. Even though I played bass for the college gospel choir, I was still considered “the outcast” for being different.
And let’s just address the “Carlton” issue….I could easily retire if I had $5 for every person who has called me that to my face. Sadly, when a very small number my Black friends do it as a cheap shot, more often than not, they’re the ones who also ask (excuse me, “axe”) me questions like “Hey, where you at?” See the irony here? Does using correct grammar make me want to be White? Are you fucking kidding me? Carlton was a caricature, but he was also a curse, as it made certain types of Black people a target of ridicule. For anyone who watches “The Simpsons”, voice character actor Hank Azeria has gone above and beyond with his regret and apologies to the Indian community for the character of Apu on the show. The stereotypes for that character have reached a point where “Apu” is now used as a racial insult. I plan to watch the documentary “The Problem With Apu” to truly understand the level of bigotry that now exists. Perhaps it’s time for a “The Problem With Carlton” documentary as well?
My big issue with “Miss Vitriol/The Karenator” was fueled by her ignorance and racism. She made threats towards me that she would not have made to a person of non-color. No matter how important she thinks she is in society, to me all of her other accomplishments and accolades are irrelevant – what she said was not “heat of the moment” – it was ingrained. PERIOD.
As we saw the African-American Lieutenant in Virginia get pepper-sprayed by police last week, what really infuriated me was that he did nothing “stereotypical” to deserve that type of abuse. Would the police have done the exact same things had he been White?
Our parents did not have a goal of making us want to be White….both of my parents endured extreme racism growing up in the 30’s and 40’s, even after they were married in the 50’s. They wanted my brother and me to have a better life than what they had. It’s that plain and simple. Yes, they knew that by living in a predominantly White community that they would face challenges, but they also taught us how to rise above it…..and that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with skin color.
A lot of my friends are now aware of something that severely impacted my first marriage…..about two years after our wedding, my ex-mother-in-law informed me that my ex-father-in-law had spoken to his pastor before we were married, to make sure that an interracial marriage was OK in the eyes of God. She told me this like it was no big deal….WHAT THE ENTIRE FUCK????? Had I known this prior to the wedding, there never would have been a wedding. From that moment and until this very day, I lost all respect for them, and that they consider themselves “exemplary Christians” makes me want to puke.
It was my “Whiteness” that made me a token in the JCPenney company. I was hired in Poughkeepsie NY in 1993, as the company was getting negative press for not having enough diversity in middle management (it was a “good ol’ boys club)….my management colleagues in the Poughkeepsie store treated me like I was stupid, almost as if they looked at me like I was their “Affirmative Action poster child.” I was then transferred to Scranton, and fed this line of bullshit that “we know that with your personality, you’ll be a good fit.” I ended up working for a misogynistic, racist store manager for two years (on more than one occasion, he referred to one of his female Asian colleagues as a “Sumo Wrestler” because she was not a Size 4). To my JCP colleagues who read this, please know that when I left (and you all know EXACTLY how I left!), I left because I’d had enough….I can only imagine what I would’ve truly endured if I acted based on stereotype. FUCK JCPENNEY.
One of the things that really stood out in last night’s episode was that Kevin apologized to Randall, but it was an apology based more on Kevin’s conscience and not based on his lack of understanding. By the end of the episode, Randall explained in great detail (and also in flashback sequences) what had truly hurt him for many years. I’ve received many apologies like Kevin’s apology for years….apologies done because they needed to be done, not because they wanted to be done. I’ve received these from both Black people and White people. Although appreciated, they rang very hollow. Now we’re at a point where phrases like “cancel culture” are used and mocked as excuses for not showing remorse for blatant bigotry. Seeing the verbal and physical abuse towards Asians because of COVID disgusts me – I have one soon-to-be-former friend who made a point of cracking “Wuhan Flu” jokes on social media, like being that bigoted is somehow OK. Ironically she got very sick from the vaccine – can you say KARMA?
It sucks that in 2021, we’re still having this same discussion, and that it’s coming from every nationality. Wanting to better yourself has nothing to do with “wanting to be White”…..if there are those who still don’t understand, I suggest you take a HARD LOOK IN THE MIRROR.
At 2:47 early yesterday morning, I had an epiphany…I finally figured out a name to describe a feeling I’ve had for the last 9 years…..I’m a “plus one” friend. The majority of the friends I have are friends of Jenn’s, which makes me the plus one.
I’ve always had an genuine interest in all of my friends, and try to take the time to learn about what they do and what they enjoy. The ones who view me as the plus one would be surprised at how much I’ve learned about them and what I remember. They all know I’m a musician, and that I like the music of David Sanborn, but it’s no surprise that their interest stops there. And from this, I’ve realized just how much I’ve wasted time on these people. It amazes me that there are friends 400-600 miles from me that I feel closer to than people less than five miles….oh well.
The thing I love about my friends up in Woodstock and in Pennsylvania is that regardless of how long it’s been since I’ve seen them, we can easily pick up right where we left off…there’s a mutual respect of what we do and what we care about, and a feeling of being welcomed.
My therapist made a very impactful statement to me this week….that it’s ok to want attention and support. We’ve been so conditioned that it’s wrong to ask for this….it’s not about “look at me!” – it’s about sharing a part of ourselves in hopes that the people around us take some sort of genuine interest.
One of the hardest things during the pandemic has been the lack of face-to-face interaction….there’s an energy that you get interacting directly with people that you don’t get from a Skype or a Zoom screen. Although I’m thankful that we have this technology, it’s still not the same as being face to face. This has been almost as much a stress point to a lot of entertainers as the loss of income. Not being face to face with my close friends during the pandemic has been an incredible challenge.
As we start to head back to a sense of normalcy with interaction, I have this request of my friends, whether we’ve been friends for two weeks or forty years: DIG A LITTLE DEEPER. Don’t be so fast to write off the people around you, or take the time to get to know about them. We don’t know how much time we have on this planet, and we’ve seen how many loved ones have been lost unexpectedly over the last year. Don’t be afraid to get to know people with different interests than you. Who knows – you might even discover a new interest from the people that have been kept in your “outer circle.”
And for those who still put themselves on a pedestal, like you’re too good or too busy to get to know the people around you?
Robin Williams. Joe Namath. Two very different men, but with incredible similarities. Two men for whom I’ve been in awe, as they left indelible performances in their chosen profession.
I had the opportunity to watch the documentaries of both men on HBO this week. To say that I was blown away by the details of their lives is truly an understatement. They both experienced moments in history that will never be forgotten, and the way in which they both performed and influenced others is quite monumental.
I watched the Robin Williams “Come Inside My Mind” first. Without question, Robin Williams was a genius. His improvisational skills were unmatched, as there were times where he could almost instinctively know what response he’d receive, and how to riff about a reply. He said that “this is his jazz”, and I put him right up there with people like Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane for his ability to improvise just as flawlessly with comedy as they did with music.
Robin Williams legacy was criticized for the way in which his life ended, and although I don’t agree with how he did it, I can’t fathom the anguish (both mentally and physically) that he endured, as Parkinson’s Disease was taking away both his mind and body. As his comedy was both physical and mental (at warped speed, no less), it seemed so incredibly unfair to see a person with such an incredible gift have it taken away so tragically.
From Robin Williams, I’ve been reminded about the importance of an appreciation of life every day, and to always challenge my own creativity. One of his colleagues said that he needed laughter like a drug – I don’t think that this was him craving attention….it’s the satisfaction of knowing how your creativity has a positive impact on others. For me, this was a very validating statement, as people who are not of a creative mind look at this as a negative, when in fact it’s a huge positive. Robin Williams loved comedy – it was his true gift, and we’re all so very fortunate to have seen such a tremendous performer and tremendous personality.
Joe Willie Namath – even though he played for “that other New York team”, here’s a guy that overcame tremendous obstacles, and he did it with such confidence. Yes, he was labeled as cocky, but as I watched his life story, I got a much deeper understanding as to why he had such a confident personality. His older brothers were very supportive of him, but they never let his ego get out of control. As Namath went from Beaver Falls, PA to the University of Alabama in 1961, he was standing 30 feet away from the first African American to be admitted on the day the University first integrated (with much opposition). As his closest childhood friend was African-American, he was not in agreement with separate drinking fountains and accommodations for people of a different color, and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right, even with his AFL teammates of color in the mid to late Sixties.
Most of us know about his “guarantee” of winning Super Bowl III, and how the Jets shocked the Baltimore Colts in that game. I had no idea of the extent of the injuries that plagued Namath throughout his career, and the perseverance that he needed just to overcome these injuries. His impact off the field was legendary, as he was the first big-time bachelor during the time of flower power and free love. And his impact in commercials (especially pantyhose) was more than groundbreaking. And hey, who else could pull off wearing a fur coat on the sidelines? Whether he was “Broadway Joe” or “Madison Avenue Joe”, he was a groundbreaker.
The part of Namath’s documentary that most resonated with me was how he dealt with his alcoholism. I was watching the game on ESPN when he had his incredibly intoxicated interview with Suzy Kobler. As embarrassing as that was for him and the entire Jets organization, I never knew the whole story behind what had happened. He had stopped drinking when his kids were young, and he stopped cold Turkey. His drinking then spiraled way out of his control after his divorce a few years later, as he fell (hard) off the wagon. I admired his accountability for his actions, and how he got the help that he needed to recover. In his own words, “It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up.” There have been many times where I feel I have failed, whether it be in a performance, or with friends and family. The part that isn’t said in the “get back up” part is self-forgiveness, and it was obvious that Joe Namath found that as part of his path to recovery.
Two very unique gentlemen. Two very unique life stories. Two men to whom I’m thankful…..Mork and Broadway Joe.
Over this past weekend, a friend from my childhood posted about the impact of many years of verbal abuse. Although this did not trigger a meltdown for me from remembering my similar circumstances, it has been in the back of my mind for the last couple of days, especially as our paths of emotional abuse are incredibly similar. I finally have been able to think of the right words to express my feelings.
Although I’m very happy with what I’m doing musically, and happy where I am with my emotional health, I gotta tell ya, being the son of an image-conscious music teacher really lead me deeper into the cycle of abuse. To be perfectly clear, it REALLY SUCKED. A lot of kids felt like their parents expected more of them. When you’re constantly compared to your peers in terms of your music ability, your grades, and a false sense of reputation, it’s debilitating.
As shared in a previous post, I was a victim of sexual abuse by a stranger. This one time occurrence caused me to lose focus of my self worth. My grades started to suffer because I tuned out in class, and I was considered “not working to the level of my ability” by my teachers, my principal, and worst of all, my dad. Music was my escape…..and because my dad was my junior high band director, it was more about meeting his expectations than enjoyment. And as my dad did not know about my sexual abuse, his insults were like pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.
I remember doing All-County Band and regional and state competition, and in hindsight, it was a dog and pony show….it was about which music teacher’s kid was better than the others, with my old man being like Kreese from Cobra Kai….not only was I berated for not being as good as others, but other music teachers could take cheap shots at my talent and ability, and my dad made no effort to support/defend me. The ultimate insult/emotional put down came from him when I got a score of 99 on my audition for All-State Choir, and because my “perceived high school rival” got a 100, I was considered a FAILURE (exact words used).
I want to take this opportunity to apologize to Dave Unland, my euphonium/tuba teacher my first year at Ithaca. I’ve always had a great relationship with Dave, and he was one of the most supportive teachers I had as an undergraduate. I was a square peg in a round hole as a euphonium major, as I was doing that because I didn’t have the courage to stand up for myself to do what I really wanted to do. During the summer after my first year at IC, I was asked to play at a member of my church’s “wedding concert” (don’t ask)…as I could’ve cared less, my heart and mind weren’t into my performance. It was by no means horrible, but I was just going through the motions, and it brought on a tidal wave of comments and put downs from my dad and other music teachers in attendance, including the insult of “this is what I’m paying for you to go to Ithaca to do? You’re an embarrassment!” (For my IC friends who couldn’t understand why I switched my major to Business Management for a short period of time, I hope you now understand.) Compared to the other music majors or children of music teacher’s kids who also performed that day, it was perceived that I was the worst performer…..again, a dog and pony show.
I hated being so competitive, but that was how I was conditioned to be….my brother and I had to be better than everyone else at anything and everything we did, and if we weren’t, we were considered failures. For all of my friends who thought our dad was the be-all, end-all best teacher in the world…..PLEASE LET THAT SINK IN. Sorry for bursting your bubble. (Actually, I’m not.)
Here’s how I know I haven’t spiraled….in the past, I’d just internalize how all of these past experiences made me feel, for fear of upsetting others, or being considered “weak”…it’s the cycle and pattern of abuse….feeling like someone has power over you in your entire existence. My ex-wife is exactly like my dad used to be….all expectations, with no ability to love unconditionally. NONE. I know that none of us are perfect, and God knows I’m flawed, but at no point have I ever or will I ever put expectations on my daughter the way they were put on me. She’s going to have her own issues to work out soon enough….she doesn’t need me or anyone else belittling her or unfairly comparing her to anyone else.
One of Hunter S. Thompson’s best quotes is this: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” This is so incredibly spot-on….I’m where I am musically right now for a good reason. I’d rather be a mediocre musician with a sense of self than the “best musician” (not that there is such a thing), focused on being better than everyone else, no matter what. I burned a lot of bridges when I felt like I needed to be that way…..not anymore.
To my friend who had the courage to share their story and how they’ve worked through their abuse, I cannot thank you enough. ❤️