finding the true core of my creative soul.

Exactly two weeks from today, I’m going to be 52 years old.

For my birthday gift to myself, I’ve made a promise to not be afraid of challenging my true capabilities, out of such a fear of failure. Whether it’s writing new lyrics again, or becoming more fluent with the software I use with my job, or to learning acceptance of generosity and no longer fearing a failure to reciprocate appropriately.

I need to be a part of the solution to bringing passion back to creating music, and not be on the sidelines complaining about how most current pop music has become more about vibration than creativity.

It’s time to remember what it was like to enjoy writing short stories when I was much younger, and tap into the creativity, curiosity and wonder that helped me to find so many unique and one-of-a kind moments in my life throughout the years.

I’ve lived with this crippling fear since that horrific event so many years ago that altered the direction of my life, and I’ve created a comfort zone where I feel that it’s OK for me to be good enough, because I’ve been afraid to dig deeper to find out how good I could truly be.

I need to maintain the wisdom I’ve acquired in my life, but regain the level of curiosity and wonder that I had when I looked more like this guy.

In addition to continuing to write this blog, I’m going to select 52 of my friends whom I will write one letter to each of them over the next 52 weeks. I’ve always been the guy who writes those two “make them as impactful as can be” sentences in a card, instead of writing to friends in such detail in a card where I’m trying to express my feelings and end up being all over the place. (I’ve also always been the guy to say the shortest prayer. Mom, I’m so sorry.) I hope by doing so, I develop a much deeper sense of friendship and connection with these 52 people. Some of you may be VERY surprised to hear from me! 😊

I’ve more than passed the halfway point in my life, and God willing, I’m not at the 15/16th point (assuming our lives are in not created in sixteenths, of course). How much more capable can I become in my creativity? Is this the year I TRULY try doing stand-up comedy? (Dan Madonia and Mike Levinsky, you guys are part of the 52 friends group!) Is this the year I learn how to write sentences without using so many parentheses? (Hint: I’m not there yet.)

I’m excited, and focused on not being scared. To be pleasantly surprised and to have more gratitude on this journey is all I can hope for. Maybe that “To Enjoy The View, It’s a Mighty Nice Life” song popped back into my head for a reason.

By doing this, it’ll be a core workout. (True story – I was waffling between this and “it’ll make me happy to the core.” Damnit, there’s that parentheses thing again. And admit it – you giggled when you read that last sentence. I’m funny….get used to it. 😁)

my dog just ate your honors student.

One thing I remember very well from high school…..The Honor Society. I don’t remember it from being a member – I remember it more because of the snobby, “I’m smarter than you” attitude of the members in this “elite club.”

I remember being teased about my grades not being good enough, or that my average was inflated because of my grades for being in music ensembles (hello, Mark McNulty!)…here’s the thing – if not for those “fluff grades”, I might not have gotten accepted to the Ithaca College School of Music on the spot (both vocally and instrumentally….THANK YOU, Dave Unland!), and I would not have had such tremendous opportunities as a professional musician (see Cole, Natalie).

I don’t know if things have changed since 1986, but as we are now such a fractured society in terms of race, social class, gender, and just about everything else you can think of, I can’t help but think about how these seeds of division are created based on academic performance. As we now know much more about ADD and ADHD, as well as a much better understanding about different modes of learning, who’s to say that you’re a smarter human being just because of a grade point average?

Hey – does anybody know if Natalie Cole was an honors student?

Don’t get me wrong – in no way am I trying to diminish the success or careers of those who were Honor Society members….just like the jocks, the stoners, and the band geeks, we all fell into a certain group….some groups used their athletic and/or academic prowess as cause for feeling superior….I still think about that when I’m gigging, because I wouldn’t change what I’m doing as a professional musician to be a “brainiac”.

I remember seeing a bumper sticker back in the day that said “my dog just ate your honors student” …..although “my dog just shit all over your honors student” is funnier, I can only imagine the death stares I’d get from other drivers if I had that bumper sticker on my car.

To anyone who ever felt slighted or teased because of your grades – keep your chin up….WAY UP…we all have our unique gifts, and God knows we live in a world now where compassion and respect are far more important than just getting good grades.

And there’s a lot of honor in that.

a different kind of musical challenge.

“If you enjoy the view, it’s a mighty nice life.”

I’d love to say that I’m quoting a famous actor or entertainer with this quote, but truth be told, I was almost 100% sure that these were the lyrics from an R&B song I have not heard (and lyrics I obviously don’t remember) since 1983.

And that’s my new musical challenge….trying to find a 38-year-old obscure song of which I don’t remember the lyrics. For my friends who grew up with me in Woodstock – it was in a steady rotation on WDST in the mornings….yes, the odds are snowball-in-Hell, but I’m determined to find this song if it kills me….I loved the bouncy groove of this song, and I especially loved the chorus. I remember that the singer sounded a little bit like Irene Cara, but I’ve gone through her entire album catalog with no luck.

I look forward to the reward of this musical quest.

I’m hopeful that someone is familiar with this song, and that my description is enough to match it up. The last time I was on a quest like this was 2003, when I was trying to find D Train’s “You’re The One For Me” (thank you Ken Wine, for helping me find that!), so I hope to have the same success.

Although I’m not losing sleep over this, I know that when I do find it, I’ll have an incredible nostalgic flashback when I listen to it for the very first time.

That’s what makes this challenge so enjoyable!

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

1. My awesome wife, who is not a nudist but supports me 1000% in my love of the clothing-optional lifestyle.

My only tan line this week.

2. That I’m getting the “Pastry Chef” award tomorrow, for getting through the week without burning my buns.

3. My family and friends who totally understand where I am this week, and the reason why I’ve been doing this for 26 YEARS.

4. My friends and family who totally do not understand where I am this week, and the reason why I’ve been doing this for 26 years. Just remember, I’m living MY best life, not yours.

5. The fantastic folks here at Cypress Cove…this truly is a community of acceptance, and it’s a community with a LOT of Upstate New Yorkers! Bonus!

6. The Mango Frozen Margarita industry….you will never go out of business….I’ll make sure of that.

Love my mango frozen margaritas this week!

7. The underrated bass playing of Darryl Dragon (the Captain in Captain & Tennille). It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a recording of C & T’s “The Way That I Want to Touch You” with the bass line isolated. He does some really impressive stuff on this tune. It’s been in my music rotation this week.

Refreshed and relaxed.

8. Laughter – if I had a dollar for every time I’ve laughed or giggled at the thought of my friends’ spectrum of reactions to my vacation destination this week, I’d almost have enough money to buy my RV….which would look perfect under one of these incredibly beautiful palm trees…😎☀️🌴

the woodstock effect.

Thank you, Max Yasgur.

Almost there.

Even though your farm was about 90 minutes from the town of which the rock festival was named, it created an event that is still revered and cherished almost 52 years later.

The Village Green,
in the heart of Woodstock, New York.

I’m writing this post from my brother’s house in Woodstock, where my niece Claire graciously let me have her room as my guest room for the past two nights. In some ways, this feels very “full circle”, as I remember thinking about many memories of hanging out in Woodstock the same way I did as a teenager 35 years ago.

The Woodstock Playhouse theatre

Because of a couple of floating holidays I needed to use at work, I decided to drive up to Woodstock on Thursday. As I had not been here since 2018, I knew I’d get the chance to catch up with my family and a lot of great friends, but I knew I’d get to do something very near and dear to me….I got to hang out on the Woodstock Village Green, and listen to Todd Rundgren’s “Something/Anything?” album….this was a ritual I started back in 1991, after I’d graduated and moved back home from Ithaca, but was struggling to find a job (thank you, recession) and face the world as an adult. I could come here, put on my Walkman, and enjoy a few moments of inner peace. And when I was going through my separation and divorce 11 years ago, this was somewhere I felt I could come to put on my headphones and gather my thoughts.

With Lee, my older brother

Yesterday was a perfect afternoon to sit there and enjoy the sunshine (in the afternoon) and feel very thankful for the love I felt these last two days. I’ve spent quality time with my brother Lee, my sister-in-law Margaret and my nieces Rose and Claire, and I got to see very close friends like Sean Tarleton, Paul Rakov, Bobby Weiss and Maureen Swingle. I’ve reconnected with former work colleagues, and I even did my part to support the local clothing stores, trust me!

Doing my part to support local-owned business.

The original Woodstock was about love, peace and music. After the incredible turbulence of the year 2020, it’s nice to not only see these three things starting to reappear in our society, but I got to come up here to see and feel them in the place where I grew up. Listening to Todd Rundgren’s “Hello, It’s Me”, my favorite lyric in the song is “It’s important to me that you know you are free. ‘Cause I never want to make you change for me.” I’ve spent many years meditating on those words, and yesterday this brought me a tremendous feeling of peace, as I know have have the love of my family and friends.

The beautiful Catskill Mountains.

This is what I call “The Woodstock Effect.” And it’s pretty groovy, man. ☮️💟🎶

knowing your value.

35 years….a lot of lessons learned. (Picture on right copyrighted by Michael G. Stewart, Photographer.)

There’s a big difference between the person on the left and the person on the right in the picture above….and it’s not just the hair.

The picture on the left is me in 1986. Insecure, unhappy, not knowing I was suffering from depression, and suppressing a traumatic experience that I didn’t realize was already consuming me. Behind a layer of arrogance and anger was a person who felt he was not good enough at anything – music, school or friendships.

I was living in other people’s shadows, both dead and alive….my father, my brother and Allen Roosa, a music student in my high school who died tragically in 1979 during his senior year. He then was considered the “gold standard” of all music students in our school district going forward, as a music award was created in his honor.

There are days when I can’t believe I didn’t truly try to take my own life during these years. I remember the night of my graduation in 1987 as the time I came closest to doing it. As I spent my last year of high school at a junior college, I had no desire to go to my high school graduation to feel judged one more time. As my peer received the Roosa award along with a slew of other awards I was given the equivalent of a “seventh place trophy” award that night, I would rather have not gotten any fucking awards that night, and that was a moment that pushed me over the edge, as my dad made me go to graduation because of how it would make him look if I didn’t. I heard one classmate crack a joke at my expense as awards were being presented. I felt no self-worth, and felt beyond numb. I just wanted to walk out, get in my car, drive to the Rhinecliff Bridge and just be DONE.

Instead, I just went to the movies by myself, where I felt I could just “vanish”. After years of being picked on and being looked at as not good enough, self-value was not part of my vocabulary. I now post this senior picture for fun – part of that was to create a new narrative for that picture compared to the negative one that had been in my head for years.

I’m thankful for my years of therapy, and I’m not the least bit ashamed or embarrassed to say that I suffer from depression, that I’m on medication for it, and that some days there are triggers that still can bring me down. After years of making mistakes and finally facing my demons, I’ve learned (I’m still learning) the importance of self-worth. Although I appreciate compliments about my musical ability, I still hear the voices of my critics (my dad, my high school chorus teacher) who loved to bring up my “deficiencies”. I don’t play piano – I’ve always felt like I’m not a good musician because of this, as this has been thrown in my face more times than I care to remember. (It’s also the reason why I now have no desire to learn).

Doing the photo shoots with Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet was a lot of fun….I look at the picture on the right very differently than the one on the left, because the picture on the right represents a lot of hard work. That smile comes after a lot of years of darkness. At 51, I finally feel the confidence that I wish I had when I was younger. I’ve still had people try to knock me down – from my ex-wife to Miss Vitriolic 2019, who took every possible shot that she could – where I would have felt like a failure about what was said, I know know I can consider the source with those types of comments…and besides, why give that much power to a self-righteous douchebag, or an incredibly racist asshole? (Or a “Karen”, as the kids say these days.)

These pictures represent two very different people, even though they are one in the same. I’m glad I’m still here for the journey, and I can look back at my life with a lot less shame and guilt. Although there are still days where the struggle is real, I just try to be as positive as I can be each and every day.

There’s a lot of value in that.

fallen idol. (aka drop a falling star)

One of the hardest doses of reality is when your childhood heroes are not who you always thought they’d be. After O.J. Simpson, I never thought I’d have such another major disappointment. This week felt like an all-time low, based on a “legal technicality.”

Like millions of Americans, I used to hold Bill Cosby in the highest regard. From watching him on The Electric Company as a small child, to growing up watching Fat Albert, to seeing every episode of The Cosby Show. He truly showed us he reality of an upper-class African-American family with the Huxtables, and you could not have found a better pitchman for advertising your product.

As shocked and appalled as I was when he was found guilty of rape, I found myself very angry not just at the court’s decision to overturn his conviction, but also outraged at his arrogance about being released from prison. They did not find another person who was truly responsible for these crimes….this was overturned because of a technicality.

I’d be happier if they were “pudding”
his ass back behind bars.

The fact that he’s saying he’s innocent and wanting to tour again repulses me. Why would anyone give him another dime? And his spokesperson Andrew Wyatt? This guy takes being an asshole to a whole new level…saying that the overturned conviction is “a great day for women everywhere?” How dare he use this as an opportunity to do nothing but take a cheap shot at the accusers? I’m also very disappointed in Phylicia Rashad’s comment that “a wrong has been righted.” I get her loyalty from their years of working together, but this was not an overturned traffic ticket. These comments are beyond insensitive.

As much as I’m angered by all of this, I still feel heartbroken when reconciling the Bill Cosby of my childhood compared to the Bill Cosby of this week. I don’t watch The Cosby Show the way I used to, as I doesn’t feel right anymore, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

It truly hurts to see a childhood idol become something far beyond what I ever thought they could become. As much as Bill Cosby has fallen from his status as “America’s Dad”, I wish he would just fade into oblivion, and not try to get back up.

There are no winners when there’s a technicality.

and the band will play on…(for stacey)

This one REALLY hurts.

I found out that one of my best friends from high school passed away this week. He wasn’t just a best friend – he was also the person with whom I played my very first “professional” gig 36 years ago.

Our first gig, March 1985. Back row – George, me, Stacey and Sean; Front row – Ray and Eric

Stacey Waterous and I became friends when we were in high school jazz band together. He played lead tenor sax and I played lead trombone. Although I was the epitome of a “band geek”, I started to hang out with Stacey, who brought me into the fold with some of the “cooler” musicians who had their own bands, like Jonathan Sanborn. This was the beginning of when I started to consider the idea of becoming a professional musician, and my friendship with Stacey helped to lay that foundation.

The first gig at Levon Helm’s restaurant

The following year, Stacey and I formed a band with our friends Sean Tarleton (our bassist, who was in our high school for his senior year), Ray Kim (keyboards), George Matthews (drums) and Eric Kirk (percussion). Our big event was the high school talent show in February 1985. We knew the other bands would be playing rock and heavy metal, but we were playing jazz fusion (Spyro Gyra and Weather Report). I had turned Stacey on to the music of Stanley Turrentine, and “Blue Hour” was one of his classic albums. We made our name “Black Hour” (a name my dad hated because of the racial implications), as we thought it sounded “goth” enough that we’d surprise the audience with incredibly different music…..and it worked. With Jonathan Sanborn sitting in on percussion, we played Spyro Gyra’s “Carnaval” and Weather Report’s classic tune “Birdland”. Stacey and I played lead instruments, and we nailed our solos. I still remember every moment of that performance, as it was the first time I played in a band in front of my peers.

The OCS Talent Show, 1985

The next month, we played our first professional “paid gig” (chicken wings and soda!) at Levon Helm’s restaurant in Saugerties, right outside of Woodstock. My mom drove me to the gig, and I remember how cool it felt to be on the stage for the very first time, playing to a very receptive and supportive audience. Here we were, these teenage kids playing music, not knowing that we’d be doing this for years to come.

Me and Stacey, with Jonathan Sanborn, and my college friends Rob and Maria, NYC 1989

Stacey had a shitty 1975(?) Dodge Duster….shitty is too kind a word for this car – it was baby blue, seriously rusted, and none of the dashboard lights worked. I’ll be damned if we didn’t love riding around in that car. We nicknamed it “The Loadster”, because we used to load our gear into the trunk, and also because that car was truly a load of crap! I have a lot of fond memories of listening to a lot of great music while riding around in that car!

A picture from The Loadster (courtesy of Sean Tarleton)
Stacey during a rehearsal, 1990.

The following year, both Stacey and I started playing electric bass, and we formed a new band called Palladium. We again played the high school talent show with a different lineup of musicians: Jeremy Baum (keyboards – he’s a brilliant jazz organist up in New York), Eric Kelsey (guitar), Eric Kirk on drums, and Stacey and I switched off on playing bass and lead horns. We opened with David Sanborn’s tune “Butterfat”….I remember being so excited/nervous before the curtain opened that both my hands were shaking while holding my bass. Stacey came out and once he played the intro, we were locked in. I switched to lead horn on the next tune, and we closed with a Jimmy Smith tune with Stacey playing tenor sax. I vividly remember Eric Kelsey’s rhythm guitar playing, as it was incredibly smooth…a month later, we performed at the Woodstock Homemade Jam concert (my brother Lee filled in for Jeremy that day), and we played right before legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette and his group. I remember looking off to the side of the stage and seeing Jack bobbing his head along as we were playing Butterfat….that was AWESOME!

Rehearsing for the ‘86 Talent Show and the Woodstock Homemade Jam with Stacey and Jeremy

I didn’t see Stacey much after high school…I bumped into him a few times with Jonathan in NYC, and a time or two when I was back in Woodstock. The last time I saw him was right before Christmas a few years ago. I knew he was still playing sax, and all was well. I reconnected with him on social media, and was delighted to hear that he and Sean had played some gigs together.

One helluva soulful sax player.

I found out about his passing yesterday afternoon, and it stopped me in my tracks. I was on my way to meet someone about some upcoming musical opportunities, and I asked if we could reschedule. I started thinking about how much it would have meant to me to see him again…..he had a laugh like no other. There was always talk of us all getting back together to play some of our old tunes, and now that won’t come to fruition. I drove back home last night while listening to Butterfat over and over.

Stacey playing in the horn section with my former Mass Driver band mates Peter Buettner and Bill Yitalo, playing as the Blue Flood Horns at the Butterfield Blues Band Revisited concert in Woodstock.

Rest In Peace, Stacey William Waterous….you’re already so incredibly missed, and for you, the band will play on.

Love you, brother. ❤️😞🎶🎷🎸

a tribute to a wonderful friend.

This is a post that has been in my head for a few weeks. It’s in honor of my friend Debra Kepner, who passed away before the end of 2020. Her memorial service took place a couple of weeks ago, and although I was not able to attend, I wanted to write a tribute to her, as she was truly one of the most inspirational and spiritual friends that I’ve ever had.

I met Deb in 2001 when we worked together at The Vanguard Group. We were cube mates working together in Recordkeeping Services. From the first time I met her, I knew right away that we would be good friends, as our first conversation was about music and football. Things only got better from there.

Deb was a fun and energetic person, and definitely made work a fun place to be. She was my backup for my clients, and I was her client backup as well. I remember coming back from vacations, and my clients being so thankful to have both of us as their contacts. Deb never missed attending a Vanguard Band/Choir concert, and she was INCREDIBLY supportive of my music career. I remember that she used to tease me and say “I can hear your musical spirit dying here at Vanguard!” as a way of keeping me focused on my true passion for playing and singing music.

If it’s possible, Deb loved her Philadelphia Eagles almost as much as I love my New York Giants (who she lovingly called “The Midgets”)….she pulled a good prank on me which I’ll always remember. I had a Giants mini-helmet on my desk, and one day it ended up missing. I went home from work that night a little peeved (ok, a LOT peeved) that someone would take my helmet. The next morning I came to work and there was a ransom note saying “Either you sing ‘Fly, Eagles Fly, or the helmet gets it!” written in Deb’s handwriting. I wrote “I’ll just buy another helmet instead of singing such a horrible song!” with a smiley face on the back of her note, and put it back on her desk. Needless to say, we both had a really good laugh about that!

I was also very honored to do a very special favor for Deb, as it was for something very serious. When her husband Bill passed away in 2007, she asked me to sing at his memorial service. Although I had never been a huge fan of the original version of “Free Bird”, I had recently watched the movie Duets, where Arnold McCuller is the dubbed voice for Andre Braugher’s character doing a beautiful a capella version of the song. This was how I performed the song that day, and Deb told me that to her, it was the most beautiful my voice had ever sounded. It’s during moments like this when you truly realize the genuine friendships you have in your life, and I was so glad to bring some joy to a day of such sorrow.

There are so many wonderful times I spent with Deb – when Michal and I were splitting up, Deb let me stay in her guest room a few nights when I needed some space, and she was a tremendous listener as I told her what was on my mind during that whole ordeal. Deb introduced me to the band Vuja De, with whom I had the chance to play some gigs in PA. Deb was very spiritual, and always found the beauty in things that we sometimes take for granted. I don’t doubt for one second that her spirit is still here…I think about Deb when I listen to music (especially Entrain and Rusted Root), as our tastes in music were similar. I can still hear her laugh and see that smile. Debra – THANK YOU for being such a wonderful human being, and for having such an incredible impact on all of our lives.

You’re as free as a bird now…, eagle fly.

cruising again.

Saturday cannot get here soon enough….it’s not because I’m having a bad week – for the first time since September of 2019, I’m doing a gig with the Cruise Control Band up in Hershey PA.

This is truly one of my favorite bands with whom I perform. Top-notch musicians, and great friends. It’s been really tough not seeing everyone in the band because of the pandemic, and as excited as I am to play music with everyone, I’m even more excited to just see them, and have a fun evening (and maybe even have a good bandwich!)…

It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Cruise Control Band.

I’ve been playing music professionally for 34 years….between the All-Night Band and the Cruise Control Band, I’ve been very blessed. There’s a natural rapport and chemistry that takes place when you work with the right people – it’s even stronger when you’re focused on playing music and finding that perfect sound and blend. I have missed this tremendously over the past 21 months, and I can hardly wait to do that again on Saturday night.

Only a few more days until Cruise Control will be smooth sailing again.