The Alternative Candidate

At this point I imagine there is not much left to say about our major party presidential candidates. The facts are out there along with the possible endictments, law suits, and conspiracy theories. Pundits have analyzed and spun like gyroscopes. Emotions are flying. Rational thought is as rare as finding an albino manatee in a blue bikini. It has been, at times, envigorating, but more often embarrassing.

Over the years I have often wondered how nuts and tyrants around the world have come to power. How could people allow such a thing? Ahmadinejad, Gadaffi, Idi Amin, Kim Jong Un – Don’t try to complete the list for me, your head might explode. Yet my egocentric view of the world has never allowed for the possibility that something like that could happen in the USA. Maybe I was sleeping or swimming in denial during the last Bush administration.

Alas.

As I write this Senator Sanders seems to have been effectively eliminated. I confess his candidacy was the one which gave me hope for the future. It was nothing short of inspirational to see younger voters in the primaries, unsullied by the Cold War propoganda machine that brainwashed an older generation of Americans into thinking any mention of socialism was traitorous, embracing the idea of standing up to the established oligarchy. Yay, young people!

So that leaves us with the remaining candidates, and me searching for something constructive to say. Something not said often enough. Here goes: Consider making your vote really count.

We are told there are only two sides to the coin – steered into a corner where only two candidates exist. Any other candidate appearing on the ballot is just a waste of toner. Perhaps that is not true.

What is irrefutable is the fact that both major parties have handed us candidates with record breaking negatives. And the media continuously directs us to chose between Wall Street Wonder Woman and Assclown Man Baby. It’s as though there are no other choices.

But there are.

If you believe in small government and don’t want to be associated with Assclown Man Baby, you may want to consider the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

If you are like me and feel disappointed by Senator Sanders losing in the primary, you may want to consider another Progressive, Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Send a message to Wall Street Wonder Woman that she’s not necessarily entitled to Sanders’ supporters.

However, you will probably need to work for sufficient information to make such an important decision. Network and cable news services are probably not going to help you with this.

What we have learned so far is that our democracy is far, far from perfect. The system of PACs and super PACs, delegates and super delegates, convoluted caucuses, etc. – with each state doing its own thing ultimately is not democratic at all.

If you are a Conservative in a blue state throwing all its electoral votes to the Democrat candidate, does your vote really count? Of course the same can be said of the Liberal voter in a red state.

If you really want to thumb your nose at the establishment, consider voting for the underdog. If enough people do that who knows where it may lead?

That’s my plan.

The New Colossus

Emma LazarusI believe it is safe to assume Emma Lazarus, author of “The New Colossus” which graces the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, would not vote for Donald Trump.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let’s forget for a moment the completely insane notion that it’s actually possible to deport 13 million people of any race or origin. A nation that couldn’t find takers for a handful of Guantanamo prisoners can pull this off? Sure.

Let’s also forget the cost to execute such an undertaking would run into billions of dollars, but certainly wouldn’t end there because the bulk of those deported would no longer be contributing to the tax base. Yes, they pay taxes and do so without the loopholes.

Let’s also forget the destabilizing effect of losing those “aliens” whose lives are so intertwined with our own. Many of us love them and need them.

Instead, let’s focus on the ideal of the sonnet.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

Storied pomp? Arrogance? Apparently many in this country have decided to embrace the temperament of those ancient lands from which our predecessors fled.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me

Who could have dreamed that people of such desperation would contribute so much beauty in music, art, philosophy, and well — everything? Perhaps people who are made to feel like outsiders work a little harder for acceptance. Perhaps those who feel entitled need to be made aware of the whole picture, not just the dirty little fringe aspects that are common to the low lifes of every society.

Liberty-StatueLet me sum this up. I’m not afraid of xenophobic idiots and self righteous thinly-veiled racists who spout this nonsense. You will lose. Your numbers are dwindling. Your flag has been taken down.

Our current president is living proof that when push comes to shove, a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, will show up at the polls and kick your deluded asses. Enjoy the banter while you can.

Starting Out

(Originally written for Guitar Nine, June 2009)

playing_yellow_g_by_windowI’d like to share some ideas with beginner guitar players. These ideas are based on my belief that there is an attitude or, perhaps, a spirit that is common to most guitarists who have become successful. I was fortunate enough to reach many of my guitar playing goals at an early age and I feel compelled to share the things I suspect contributed most to my progress. This information centers not around playing technique but, rather, engaging the mind to fully embrace the joy of learning your instrument.

It’s okay to fall in love. Just flow with it. This is different from falling in love with girlfriends and boyfriends; your fears may be warranted there. This is guitar. It can’t really hurt you. You may, at worst, get a case of G.A.S. (newbies may not be familiar with the term “guitar acquisition syndrome”), but even that is not so bad.

You may find yourself at times feeling like you are neglecting your friends and family while you practice, but there is a reward for everyone at the end of the tunnel if you stay focused.

So, get off the shelf. Go after the guitar that has caught your eye and start making love. Please note when I say “making love” I’m not suggesting you use a 16 ft. guitar strap to hang your guitar down around your boys. That seriously hinders your ability to play well. You might think it looks realy cool, but it’s a bad idea.

Establish a productive routine

In my first rock band in college there was a bass player named Ross. One semester we shared a dorm room on campus. I remember being amazed by the sight of him laying on the lower bunk with his eyes closed, not fully conscious as he reached down with one arm and pulled his bass out from under the bed. Then he sort of dragged the big Rick onto his mid section and started playing unplugged without ever opening his eyes. Ross lived to play bass. He had his idols. He had his goals. He had his bass. He had his routine. Well, decades have passed and I`m betting he still has his routine.

That was around ’77. There was no Internet as we now know it. There was no YouTube. There were fewer gadgets to play with. I’m sure you’ve heard all this before from some other geezer, but the point is there were fewer distractions for guitar students. Modern technology now makes it possible for would-be artists to broadcast their limited abilities to the universe long before they are ready and worthy. The temptation is great, but should be resisted for a number of reasons. That’s a topic for a different article.

A good routine means keeping your guitar visible in the room when you are not playing it. It should call out to you. You need to feel like it is lonely without you.

You may be concerned that your expensive instrument will fall victim to your hyperactive nephew who likes to throw stuff in the house. Just threaten to kill the brat and he should get the message. Have something large and sharp in your hand as you explain the situation to him. Do not hide your guitar away in a safe place. Out of site, out of mind. No good will come from that.

When you practice, always start with a progression, song or scale that you have not mastered yet. Perhaps the most common mistake guitar students make is starting out with the familiar. This will cause you to waste precious time on a narcistic indulgence. Don’t do it. Work on something that needs work first. Then, when you see you have ten minutes left to practice, play something you do well and finish on a positive note. Don’t become one of the thousands of guitarists who have been playing the same three songs for years.

This is a discipline I learned in my martial arts studies. While practicing Kung Fu I always felt as though I was failing because as soon as I nearly mastered a skill, I got pushed on to the next technique. This keeps you humble. Without humility, you cannot learn, Grasshopper.

Learn to really listen

When you hear a guitar solo or piece that truly inspires you, try to break it down on your own. Know that you can do it without anyone’s help. It may take you longer, perhaps a lot longer, but nothing builds confidence like attacking problems independently.

There are always fundamental elements that cause the magic. Learn what they are and believe they are not beyond your ability to achieve them. Things are always easier when you break them down into their component parts.

For example, I recently heard a solo by John Mayer that I thought was tremendously cool. Part of the solo consisted of triplets. Anyone can do triplets, right? Well, not like this. By really listening, I noticed the third note of the triplets was noticeably softer in attack than the first two notes. This transformed it from a standard BS riff, to something with great feeling. You need to listen beyond “three notes=triplet.”

Once you have unveiled that fundamental element that caused the magic, drill it to smitherines. Roughly speaking, repetition causes nerve impulses to cross certain synapses in your brain multiple times contributing to “muscle memory.” You eventually reach a point where the brain can perform the function without conscious thought beforehand. Hence, the riff becomes one that you “own” and can deliver in a state of zen. No repetition, no zen.

If you happen to be involved in formal instruction, embrace it for all its worth. However, when you hear this little ghost in your head telling you that you need to start weaning yourself, listen to her. She’s the ghost of artistry. She’s also the ghost of saving some dough. But become independent for the right reasons. Don`t cop out because you get bored with scales. Be disciplined and learn to love the boring stuff by focusing on the vision of the great artist you will become.

Be Nice

In the late ’70s and early ’80s I was involved in a Christian Pentecostal church which subsequently became very controversial because of its association with a high profile evangelist of dubious sincerity. I was young, inexperienced and, for the most part, dumber than a rock. However, in retrospect there were many great lessons to be learned apart from faith and scripture. Also, this experience exposed me to many fascinating characters; some good, some outright disdainful.

One of the good ones was an elderly preacher by the name of Glen Miller. As a musician I will never forget his name for obvious reasons. He was a sweet man who was extremely fond of the adage “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” In that regard he practiced what he preached. I once witnessed him in a heated debate with another preacher during which he remained kind and respectful throughout. All the heat came from his opposition.

The United States is moving forward with some historic Supreme Court decisions that step on very sensitive areas in our communities. Many people feel their rights and traditions are under attack. Perhaps the latter is true. I think it’s clear some traditions need to be attacked. After all, sacrificing virgins to the Sun God was once an acceptable tradition somewhere. With the way we are able to exchange information in modern times, there is no excuse for failing to evolve and become more enlightened.

The momentum of social progress can rise gradually like the tide, or come crashing like a wave. It’s the wave that concerns me. As we debate the issues of today, we need to understand that the adage is true. Human nature can be extremely defensive. If you start an argument with an insult, your words are completely wasted beyond their contribution to a mob mentality. You will not convert anyone regardless of the strength of your logic. However, if inciting a mob reaction is what you intend, be prepared for the consequences.

Am I guilty of this? Oh, hell yeah. That’s why I decided to do a little blog writing as self penance.

We are truly divided. There will never be a time when everyone becomes liberal or conservative. In fact, there are studies that indicate our political views may be more in our DNA than in our souls. Is it not wrong to attack someone for having tendencies that they were born with? I know this is a fuzzy line. Even I have moved from one end of the political spectrum to the other as the result of arguments put forth with the correct recipe of logic, diplomacy and persistence.

Keeping it real, I know that at my self righteous best I am still dumber than a rock in the greater scheme of things. When you spend enough time looking at Earth from the perspective of the Hubble Space Telescope you are forced to realize there will always be more questions than answers. It’s an exercise in humility. Like that line in the Lee Ann Womack song “I Hope You Dance”: I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean. Humility and diplomacy go hand in hand.

The country is experiencing growing pains. Everyone is cranky. The best advice I can give was better delivered by the Patrick Swayze character in the 1989 film Road House. Be nice.

Rickie

Rickie and JenniferI don’t really know how to say good bye. It’s really a struggle.

For those who know me as a musician, this guy was my first fan. Over the years he gave me more encouragement than anyone. For that, especially, I will forever be thankful.

Rickie was uniquely Rickie.

We were childhood friends about as opposite as two can be. He had a seemingly insatiable penchant for mischief. I was always a very reluctant cowardly type. Socially, he seemed to be able to connect well with anyone, at least from my perspective. I was the brooding introvert. He was into everything, never wanting to miss out on a good time. But he never made me feel pressured to follow along. He was a class rebel. I was the good student.

The two things we did share, however, were a passion for music and a love of the water. Ultimately, we spent more time jamming together than fishing or water skiing on the bayou.

Rickie loved playing guitar. But learning to play guitar came a little easier for me, probably because I was more withdrawn from the rest of the world than Rickie. So he started to celebrate my abilities in ways that always made me feel special. It was support I desperately needed at times. His kindness had no bounds.

We briefly separated when I went to college. Then he decided to take a stab at the college life himself and tracked me down. I tried to help him adjust, but it seemed his free spirit couldn’t be contained for any extended period of time.

Years later, we connected again in Maryland. I had rebooted my life up there. He was bouncing around after getting displaced by a hurricane. That was an eventful era with many stories. So many things have happened since, but we never completely got out of touch. He made a point to follow every band I’ve ever been in. I could never leave a musical project or start one without wondering how I was going to explain it to Rickie.

Many times Rickie would call or write me and say, “Remember so and so?” He never seemed to forget anyone or anything that happened when we were kids and beyond. My memory was not so good.

But I won’t forget him.

Ever.

 

Wiggly Tail Dreams

As a young boy growing up on the Mississippi River delta, I felt strongly connected to nature. This, of course, was a little before the technology boom that brought us personal computers, Xbox games and the internet.

stoop-275Oh, here we go. Only two sentences into this little article and I already sound like the old farts who preached to me as a child. “When I was your age, we didn’t have all those new fangled….” Well, whatever.

Hopefully, this won’t sound self righteous or condescending. Kids from any generation certainly can’t be blamed for what their era provides for them. But relative to this day and age, the kids I grew up with were more likely to spend their free time out of the house, roaming the neighborhood and bantering with friends. When we wanted to escape to an alternative universe, there were fewer options. The most important of which was our imaginations.

I recall spending many hours sitting on the concrete stoop attached to the rear of my family home where I taught myself to play guitar, or played with my dogs. Next to the stoop was a perpetually dripping water faucet. I would use that faucet to pour water for the dogs, but my hands were not strong enough to close the valve tightly, so it would continue dripping. There was always a little puddle on the ground underneath.

Lizard-275In the south Louisiana heat, a little fresh water will attract all kinds of critters. The area around this particular faucet was constantly visited by super cool green lizards. I loved watching those guys. They looked like miniature dragons or dinosaurs. My imagination would run wild with adventures of what life would be like if those lizards were gigantic, or if I was reduced to their size. It would be a short life, no doubt.

If you were really quick, you could catch one of these lizards with your bare hands. The only problem was that they would probably bite you in the process. They weren’t poisonous. The bite didn’t really hurt at all, but the idea of getting bit by one of these little creatures was still scary enough to give a young boy pause. The best approach was from behind, trying to catch it in a way that would minimize the risk of getting bit. Yep, I wasn’t taking these guys head on.

Now, apparently other animals felt this way about the lizards. Enough, in fact, that evolution provided these lizards with a particular protective adaptation. They possess a tail that will easily break off so they can escape while a predator is left with only a wiggling tail in its mouth, or, in my case, my hand. As long as my nerve remained anemic, I was unable to catch anything more than a tail that would oddly continue to wiggle for several minutes after it broke off in my hand.

Hang in there. I’m going somewhere with this.

Practicing guitar was a big part of my early years. By the time I got to college, I was rather accomplished. It wasn’t long before I began to realize that I would not fail to pass any audition I showed up at. However, in spite of knowing I was one of the most skilled players in the area, I still suffered from self esteem issues. I was mentally unprepared for success.

Like most guitar wielding young men, I had dreams of being on the big concert stage. I also wanted to record albums similar to those that inspired me to learn my craft. But, alas, for whatever reason my confidence was impaired. Word of my abilities spread and opportunities came my way, but I was afraid to act on them–afraid to take those challenges head on. I made excuses. Lame, cowardly excuses.

Now the universe has changed all around me. The music industry in no way resembles what it once was. I reflect on those dreams I once had and realize my music career is now at the wiggly tail stage.