dig a little deeper.

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?

GET OVER YOURSELVES. You dig?

mork and broadway joe.

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.

Rockets and Jets….perhaps it’s a sign.

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.

best in (a dog and pony) show? no, thank you.

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.

Making music with my incredibly talented and incredibly supportive friends.

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. ❤️

8 things for which i’m thankful…the ottomeister edition.

1. That my day starts with Otto hopping up on the bed to get cuddles, and that my day ends with our nightly walk.

2. That Otto doesn’t just love riding in the car, but that he also has a preference for different types of music.

3. Otto’s incredibly soulful eyes. Sometimes I think he understands exactly how I’m feeling.

4. The sounds Otto makes when he’s falling asleep or right before his naps.

5. That he is such a gentle giant with little kids, and his instinct would be to protect any of them from harm.

6. That he cracks us up by standing up on his hind paws to look out the front door.

7. That he loves unconditionally, and how he makes me feel like I’m not alone whenever Jenn is traveling. My mom would have loved him!

8. That Otto has helped to fill a huge void in my life – while I currently have no relationship with my teenage daughter, it’s nice to feel like a parent with him. I’m proud to be his “puppy papa!”

Thank you Otto….you truly are my best friend.

greetings from margaritaville.(aka my window of tolerance)

To be clear, I have not lost my mind and become a Jimmy Buffett fan.

Although I’ve never drunk texted, tonight I had the absolute delight of having dinner and drinks (two large Passion Fruit frozen margaritas), so I’m definitely in a “comfortable state of mind.” Although I’m not blitzed beyond recognition to the point that I won’t remember writing this tomorrow, I know that I can say what I’m feeling tonight straight from the heart.

In therapy today, we talked about the window of tolerance….that there’s a zone where my tolerance is comfortable, but there are triggers that can make it too high (anxiety) or too low (depression). During the pandemic, it has been a challenge to stay in the zone. Not playing live music has been excruciating….it’s not about being showy, but more about not being able to share something that I’m very passionate about. As much fun as I had in the recording studio this past Saturday, I felt a sense of depression on Sunday, because it was a reminder of how restricted we are, and that we still have a ways to go before we can share music with each other in live venues on a daily basis.

I’m thinking about doing my internet radio show again…it’s a great outlet for sharing music and conversation. This is what gigs are to me – sharing music, conversation, laughs and a common love of playing, singing, and having fun. Somebody (ok, the Karenator) once challenged me about sitting in with other groups, and how would I feel if people wanted to sit in with me….my answer to that is FUCK YEAH….that’s how we network, that’s how we exchange ideas and learn from each other, and that’s how we give and receive inspiration….it’s why I ended up singing with Natalie Cole….if she had no problem inviting people to sit in with her, who the hell am I to have a problem with it?

This is why I struggle with not gigging right now, and why this really challenges my tolerance – I miss the interaction more than anything else. I remember being a teenager, playing music with the hope of impressing girls….now as a 51-year-old, I miss playing music with the hope of connecting with other people. Some days it’s really hard to not get depressed about sitting in my den, only playing music for myself.

I know a lot of musicians who are struggling right now….not just financially, but also because they miss the interaction that comes with performing….there’s a feeling that’s almost impossible to describe when your music can move people in a way that conveys your passion and love for singing and playing. When you don’t have the chance to do this because it’s taken away from you because of something beyond your control, it’s almost debilitating.

Hopefully I’ll be driving to gigs again really soon…nothing but a clear view through the window.

I’ve had the chance to connect online with a lot of musicians during the pandemic – although it’s not the same as sharing the stage with them, it’s still an opportunity to find inspiration, and to hopefully collaborate when we can all be together again safely.

It feels good to write about this tonight, as my tolerance while not performing has been really challenged. The good news is that with each passing day, we seem to be getting closer to being able to have our old sense of normalcy, and this gives me hope that I’ll be back on stage on a regular basis.

The window of tolerance is leading me to a window of opportunity….and I’ll drink to that.

that’s ok….jim mcmahon would understand.

“Shine your light. The jealous criticize, the curious watch, but the inspired will be your tribe.”

I stuck my neck out today for something that I truly believe is not right…although I know what I did it was not an “expected reaction”, and I’m sure the words “that motherfucker is crazy” has crossed the minds of a few people, but you know what? I did it knowing that these things would probably happen, and that I’m strong in my belief and conviction. Honestly, I’ve missed this part of my personality a little bit, because of a fear of backlash….today, I’m not worried about it….in fact, I stopped worrying about a lot of things this week.

My alma mater made a decision that I don’t agree with….at all. There was a lack of transparency, and they’ve put the School of Music in a very precarious position. I made it known that as an alum, I’m very upset about the decision and that I won’t be a vocal supporter alum for a while….my way of communicating my feelings was unorthodox (but not offensive or profane), and my hope is that it will open up a dialogue, so that I can feel like the supportive alum that I’ve been for over 30 years. I feel like my single voice would have been ignored or viewed as not as important if I’d just written a letter. Besides my family, I consider my time at Ithaca as one of the most important things in my life, from the lifelong friendships I’ve made, to the exceptional education that I received. I hate knowing that financial decisions (or lack thereof) are the root of the issue, and I hope that a better resolution is found. And I truly hope that my out-of-the-box message is heard by the right people.

Jimmy Mac! Forever one of my heroes.

I can’t help but think back to my teenage years, when Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon (“the Punky QB”) took America by storm with his unorthodox ways of getting his message across, and how he got his message right to the top. In the ‘85 NFC Divisional playoff game against the Giants, he was fined for wearing an Adidas headband during the game by then-commissioner Pete Rozelle. The following week in the NFC Championship game, he still wore a headband, but a white headband with the word “ROZELLE” on it in Sharpie ink. Defiant? Yes. Harmless? Definitely. Even the commissioner thought it was brilliant, especially as McMahon wore different headbands during the Bears’ Super Bowl win, drawing attention and funding to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and support for POW/MIA’s.

I don’t expect anyone to completely understand my different ways of thinking, just as Jim McMahon didn’t expect his team, the NFL, or the country to completely understand his mindset. I like marching to the beat of my own drum sometimes….one of the main reasons I enjoy doing this blog. I have no expectations that anyone will know everything about me from reading my posts, as there are things I share, and a lot of things that I don’t share….it’s what I feel about sharing on certain days, and for nobody’s approval but my own. (Sorry to disappoint, Miss Karenator.) Today was a day that I felt like I needed to get a message across, and I found a very different way of doing so in hopes for positive change.

And with that, I’m definitely not your average “punky musician.”

and so it goes….and so it is.

I was listening to the Grateful Dead – Live at the Fillmore East this afternoon…I love their cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Second That Emotion.” One of the things I love about it is that the mistakes in their performance of the song are included, and that the mistakes give the song an added character. From this, I found a reminder of an important life lesson.

I’ve always been so critical of myself, and at times have allowed myself to play the role of victim….it’s been a “and so it goes” mentality of failure and defeat. Prior to the pandemic, one of the things I truly enjoyed was singing at the CSL Metro services, as the services always ended with the saying “and so it is”, as an uplifting way of wishing peace to one another. From this, I’ve found a way of finding a new since of inner peace, as I don’t feel a sense of being a victim or a failure, and I don’t nit-pick at my mistakes the way I used to.

My new company is having a virtual contest similar to “America’s Got Talent”….as I’m one of the finalists, one of my goals is not to focus on winning or losing – I’m going to give it 1000%, but once I’m done singing, I will feel completely satisfied, even if I end up hitting a wrong note or two. Normally, I’d be very down on myself after a bad performance, looking for some type of excuse or justification in my head as a way of making myself feel like a victim. The phrase “and so it goes” would replay like a tape in my mind. I’m learning to flip that to “and so it is,” as that’s more of a feeling of comfort, like mistakes are not the end of the world, and that they don’t define my talents or my abilities. It’s easier said than done after years of quickly going to the negative, but it will help me to stay more positively in the moment.

For this, I’ll always be Grateful.

As I listened to the Dead song today, I noticed that Jerry Garcia’s guitar was a hair flat, but had it been perfectly in tune, the song wouldn’t have had that flavor or characteristic. For some reason, I enjoy the song more because of that, and I hope that I can better embrace my own imperfections the same way.

And so it is.

gold and glitter.

“And all that glitters is gold. Only shooting stars break the mold.” – Smash Mouth, “Rock Star”

It was during an Ithaca College Jazz Ensemble rehearsal in either 1987 or 1988….we were taking a quick breather between rehearsing a couple of charts, and someone had brought up the subject of how videos were making music much more visual, and that the quality of pop music was starting to fade into the visual background. I don’t remember what band we were referring to at the time, but I remember our director Steve Brown’s response – “Hey, you can take a piece of shit and wrap it in gold and glitter, but it’s still a piece of shit.”

Here we are, 33 years later, and those words still resonate with me. As I’ve gotten older (especially since turning 50), I find that the “gold and glitter” material things in my life mean less and less to me. I drive a pre-owned car, I wear sweatpants every day, and I just bought a used VCR online, and just ordered a replacement amplifier and CD player for my living room. Heck, the EWI that I finally purchased has been around for over 30 years! It’s not the newest hi-tech stuff, and it sure as hell does not define me in any way.

There are so many celebrities whose personalities could qualify for the “gold and glitter” theory (yes Kanye, you’re who I’m thinking of as the poster child), and I also have a number of acquaintances who give off the same aura (thankfully not the scent). As horrific as this pandemic has been, it has also leveled the playing field – as the number of lives lost continues to climb, people are showing more and more compassion, especially as communication has become so important to all of us. Material things don’t seem as relevant, as our way of life has changed significantly. I have a few friends who defined themselves by their flyer miles and hotel points – flights and hotels are somewhat like an endangered species now…bottom line, as we go day by day until we get back to a sense of “normal”, unless it’s masks and ventilators for those in need, what material things that we take for granted have any significant relevance right now?How important is it to be pretentious and condescending, while we all feel isolated enough as it is?

Helping others….be a rock star!

Right now I have the utmost respect for first responders, and ALL people in the medical industry, putting their health at risk every day to help save the lives of others….this goes far beyond the act of selflessness. I’m also deeply touched by the genuine (and sometimes random and anonymous) acts of kindness of strangers. We had a homeless woman who was seeking shelter at the bus stop near our house – Jenn and I gave her clothes and blankets, and we encouraged her to find shelter (which she eventually did), but what really touched my heart was that quite a few people in our community were also concerned about her well being, as I was contacted by an elderly member of our neighborhood who also took steps to provide clothing, shelter and transportation. It’s really cool when material things are used as a way of helping others instead of being used as a selfish way to define one’s status.

I thank my mom for instilling in me the compassion to help others, as there are for more important things than having the biggest house, the newest car, and a pretentious attitude. There are those who define others based on “what can this person do for me” and there are those who define themselves as “what can I do for others”….the first group is purely gold and glitter – the second category are the true rock stars.

May these people be the shooting stars that continue to break the mold.

one year later…..and i still like brussel sprouts.

February 22, 2020. Pre-COVID. The day I emotionally hit rock bottom.

I was put on a two-week medical leave, because I told my boss that on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being that I wanted to “check out”, I was at a 3. I felt out of place wherever I was, and my triggers were completely out of control. I was emotionally angry (not physically), and every word that came out of my mouth felt like I was speaking a foreign language, as I felt like nobody could hear me, and that nobody had a clue about what I was feeling.

Unconditional love. It’s a life saver.

Perception vs. Reality – my perception was that the walls were caving in around me, and that I could do nothing right. I was not communicating with Lauryn, and still struggling with the insults from Miss Vitriolic (who will henceforth be referred to as “The Karenator”). People at work on my staff were working my last nerve, and I felt like giving up. The reality was that I had internalized so much of my anger and frustration that it was consuming me. The reality was that I had (and still have) friends that truly care about me, and they care about my well being. And the true reality is that I’m loved unconditionally, and that I have so much to be thankful for.

Words to live by.

I can never thank Ryan Forrester enough….a year ago tonight, I had a gig with him, and at the time, I didn’t realize just how much that helped me. I knew I couldn’t cancel on him on such short notice, and it forced me to find my footing. Had I stayed home, I would have spiraled even more.

In hindsight, I’m thankful that my breakdown happened before COVID. It gave me and my therapist time to start my recovery and develop better coping skills for me, which I still use to this day. I’m also thankful that the stigma of mental illness is changing for the better, as during this pandemic, mental health awareness has become part of the mainstream discussion in society. It was not an easy journey, as I had to figure out all of the things that were constantly consuming my brain (only being able to dwell on mistakes triggered my frustration, anger, and feelings of failure), and I needed to find ways to focus on having a positive mindset.

Otto….making my life brighter each and every day.

I’ve had to let go of the way I’ve always processed things, and learn a new way of rationalizing certain situations. It’s easier said than done, but over the last 365 days, I’ve found my footing, and although my life isn’t perfect, I definitely have a lot more good days than I do bad days.

And I still like my brussel sprouts.