Thursday, June 30, 2011

The gift of sound

I called my grandma yesterday.

I had heard that, after long last, she had just gotten hearing aids. I called her up to say hello and congratulate her.

Boy, was she thrilled!

"Josh, I can hear the wind again! It's so beautiful." She went on to tell me how there's a creaky door in the house, and how neat clocks sound. We were brainstorming about neat things to listen to. "Hey, you've gotta go listen to the echoes at the National Gallery of Art! The voices bouncing off the marble sound neat! And have you heard your cat purring?" "You can hear her across the room?" "Sure can, if she's happy!" "I can't wait to listen!"

I listened, so happy to hear about her listening. I mentioned how I like to listen to all of my favorite songs through any new speakers I get, but how this is really like listening to life.

It got me excited about listening. I was taking a walk this morning, and I heard a bird singing lazily way off in the distance, deep in the summer forest. I marveled at how I could tell he was way far away.

Music is everywhere. As a matter of fact, sometimes I like the normal sounds of life better than music. I walked back from the grocery store yesterday, and the wind blew a mellow tune across the mouth of the open Mountain Dew bottle - probably the only calm that emanated from that green container.

I got out of the car after I hung up the phone with her, and listened to the Katydids in the forest.

I almost called her back to tell her to go outside and listen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Hometown Show

Hey Comrades!

Happy first day of summer! I was outside today, and heard the dogday harvestflies (cicadas) playing music. What a great sound. I remember being a little boy and running around listening to them. It's always a treat to hear the first one of the year!

June has been filled with great gigs so far, AND I've got another one coming up! It's called "The C3 Show - Three comrades, one Revolution - Overthrow Bad Music!" Hope you can make it out this Saturday!

I hope it won't be as logistically crazy as my gig at the Charles County Relay For Life this past Friday. It was so absurd, I need to tell you about it.

One of my comrades, friends, and former student Hunter came out to help. I think I'll explain it in a conversational format.

JU: Ashley! Call me back. I can't find you, and it's about to rain here at the stadium. I don't want to set up outside. Should I set up in the main concourse?

JU: Hello, officer. Can I park my car there? I need to unload some gear.

Officer: Sure. If you find someone with a radio, they can call Ashley.

JU: Ah, yours is the wrong channel.

JU: Hunter! Thanks so much for coming out to help! Man, sorry it's raining.

HS: Where are you setting up?

JU: In the main concourse. I'm gonna go talk to the people at the tables to make friends. Don't wanna blast 'em out.

Guitar student, to friends: Hey! This is my guitar instructor Josh!



JU: HEY! There's some more students! How's it going, fellas? Anyone want to be a roadie today?

Young Students: Yeah! Yeah yeah yeah yeah!

JU: Aw, man, you don't have to carry my shoes for the show!

Student's dad to little boy who has his whole forearm inside my size 13 basketball shoes: Yeah man, get your arm out of there!

Staff member: Why are you setting up here?

JU: I don't want my equipment to get rained on. Ashley said it's fine, and all my neighbors are cool.

Staff member: Oh, OK. (walks away.)

Two minutes later...

JU: Man, it's stopped raining, and it's looking nice. I wonder if I should move....Hunter, should I move?

HS: Uhhhh....

JU: Hey, Anthony, you think I should move?

Anthony: Well......

JU: Hey Hunter, what do you think?

HS: I mean...

JU: We're gonna move.

JU: Officer, sorry my car's been parked there so long! I'll move it ASAP!

Officer: No problem!

JU: Load this puppy up!

JU: (speaking to car.) Oh no.....come on, come on! Don't die on me! Well, the access road IS all downhill.....come onnnnnnn...........

HS: Dude, where's your car?

JU: Behind center field. My girl car died on me!


JU (lugging amps up an impossibly steep ramp high above left field): Excuse me! Excuse me! Behind you! On your left!

HS: How long we got?

JU: About a half hour!

HS (thinking): Where are his brothers?

JU: Can I have that gatorade? Thanks!

HS, impossibly loaded down with gear, most importantly a speaker stand, speaking to 8th grade twerp and his girlfriend walking in the opposite direction: Excuse me. Excuse me! Excuse me!

8th grader: ........

HS: Excuse me!

8th grader's face: Bam!

Speaker stand (thinking): Ten points!

8th grader's girlfriend: You deserved that!

HS: This speaker over here?

JU: Yep! Yep! Here's a cable!

Brothers: Hey man.

JU: Dude, I left my emergency blinkers on in my car. Can you turn 'em off?

Brothers (later): Dude, you left your car in the middle of the road!

JU: Huh...Like Hendrix.

Ashley: OK, you're good to go!

JU: Hello Waldorf! Here's a song I wrote about a laundromat.

JU: (Thinking) WOW! My voice is echoing through the place like those stadium reverb plugins in a recording program!

(Several songs later)


JU: Thank you, Waldorf!

(Hunter moves gear like a camel.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aye Aye, Captain(s)

Hey Comrades!

Wow, what an eventful past few days! I had the great good fortune to play a snazzy gig in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The local paper was most friendly, and gave me a great write up before my show. Check it out here!

I arrived at the outdoor venue with my good buddy Hunter, and we spent the next two hours setting up the PA (and figuring out it's various mysterious gremlins), checking levels, and setting up shop. I had promoted the gig quite a bit, and the promoter was expecting a lot of people, as well.

Well, maybe it was the threat of rain, because turnout was relatively light. I'm actually glad it was, though, as it was like playing to a living room full of friends. They were really supportive, AND taught me an extraordinarily valuable lesson.

The guy on stage is always the employee. These people had come out on a beautiful Saturday evening, bought food, brought chairs, and were giving me the most valuable thing of all: their time.

Musicians deal in many currencies, and we often make the mistake of assuming that money is the most valuable one. I'd venture to say that it's time that we're really after. It takes time to listen to a song, and it takes time to watch a show. There's plenty of rich people in the world, but I rarely hear about people who say "man, I've just got so much time!" For someone to sit down and watch me for an hour is really quite generous of them. My folks drove for over an hour to watch, help, and support my show. My brothers were there and took some great photos and videos of the show. It happened to be a very special day for my mom and step dad, but there they were, watching and laughing and clapping. People walked in off the street and sat, instead of going to a bar or baseball game. Hunter set up a PA and had to watch the show.

They all gave me their time, and I did my best to reward that. I realized, behind the mic looking out into the park, that I was looking at a crowd of bosses. Granted, I needed to present my artistic vision, and use the stage with authority. At the same time, they were the reason I was there. I was working for them.

A guy came up to me after the show, and as he was buying a CD, he said "Josh, I always like to support artists who really work the audience." I'll never forget that. I guess it was like a boss giving me a Christmas bonus.

I even got to sign some lady's hat. I was getting ready to sing a Johnny Cash song, and said I needed a black hat. She obliged, and wanted me to sign it afterwards. I was honored!

Money can be lost, earned, stolen, cheated, invested, and multiplied. Time can never be. When you spend it, it's a little bit of your life you'll never get back. I'm humbled and grateful to those of you who have spent some listening to me. Thanks, bosses!

"Didn't mean to take up all your sweet time...Give it back to of these days."

- Josh

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Rock Star - part II

Hello, everyone!

Wow, wow, wow. Thank you all so much for your most supportive comments about my idea to teach guitar to combat vets (see the last post if you're confused reading this.) There were some great ideas presented. Thank you! I'm sorry I haven't answered each one individually (it's been a little hectic over here), but I want to let everyone know that I'm grateful.

My plan as of now is to visit a local VA facility in the next few weeks and chat with them about stopping by to teach. I will report back what I find, and keep you good people informed.

Once again, thank you very much for your kindness, support, and instant willingness to do good and better the world.


- Josh

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Rock Star

You never know where you'll have the week's most interesting conversation.

I've talked to some interesting people in the past few days, both on friendly and extremely hostile terms. People have refused to shake my hand, while other, more powerful people have said to call them if there's any problems.

However, the most moving exchange came around 10:30 pm with the guy who checks your receipt at Wal Mart. You know, the nondescript person who sits by the door to make sure you don't walk off with the whole store. Here's what happened, paraphrased.

I was zoned out, filled with glee at how such a giant corporation can make a line stand for twenty minutes and get away with it, when I noticed his hat and all the pins on it. Emblazoned across the front stained with sweat and probably more than a few tears were the words "Vietnam Vet."

"Those are a lot of medals" I said, and our conversation began. "Do you mind talking about it?" I asked him. "I like history."

He didn't seem to, and told me about his service. "Oh, I fought at the battle of ____ (Ed's note: I can't place the name. AND it's late, and I may have the numbers and facts slightly off. Like - maybe REALLY off.) We lost two hundred men in a very short period of time. If it weren't for the Korean regiment, a lot more of us would have died. See, they didn't believe in the Geneva convention or rules of engagement. So when the VC put a bunch of kids on the front line, we had to stop shooting. We were already being labeled back home as baby killers, so we had to stop. Then the Koreans came through, and lit everyone up. I probably wouldn't be here if they didn't do that."

I stood there and listened to him talk. I wondered how he was still standing after witnessing the slaughter of kids trying to kill you. What a head trip. I noticed a scar on his face. "Thank you, have a nice evening" he would say to the menagerie of people walking out the door.

"My boss messed up my paperwork, and I got drafted. I was the only certified teacher in Maryland to end up in 'Nam. I was on the front lines. When I came home, everyone treated me like dirt. All the rich people were making money hand over fist over there. We couldn't get decent jobs. They let the communists have the country, and then a just few years later, we're seeing shirts and jackets come to the U.S. with labels "Made in Vietnam"

"Was that hard?"

"Yes. Yes, it was hard. When I retired from administrative work in the school system, I started working here...It kinda keeps me busy. I had been in and out of the hospitals for years, as the stuff kept coming back. So the Vietnamese folks with their nail salon business right across from the front door...well, I couldn't do it. They had to move me over here by the exit. I don't speak it, but I know what it means."

"I'm sorry you got treated so bad. That's not fair."

"Well, there's a few local politicians that stick up for us vets. But not all of those guys do. See, the system is set up for a certain number of people to die. If you come back with an arm or leg blown off, well, they don't mind putting people out in Arlington (Cemetery.)"

I stood there looking at this guy, and when I shook his hand to thank him, I had tears in my eyes.

I'm a leftist. I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in most war, and certainly not the ones we're fighting. I don't think their reasons outweigh the human, economic, or mental cost. I don't think they're winnable, as if any war is. I know there's some soldiers who are heroes, and some that are not. They're people, and people are complicated. But when I stand there, and look at this old man with a scar on his face and his fuses completely blown, saying "Have a nice evening" to make sure an indifferent and apathetic nation hell bent on consuming imported garbage doesn't steal anything, I really have no idea how we sleep at night.

I went to an air show recently, and was amazed at how we've been sold a bill of goods in general, and a lot of overpriced planes in particular. I felt insulted, used, and more than a little scared that the runway seemed to turn into a chess board, and let me assure you, nobody there was a king, queen, rook, knight, or bishop.

I saw someone put a "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon on their gas tank lid on the car. It was almost as ironic as the WD-40 cans to support the troops in the auto parts store today.

It's my personal belief that the human psyche is not wired to withstand the horrors of war, no matter how tough you may be. I don't know how to fix it, and I don't know if it's even possible.

I wouldn't be so arrogant as to say I have a solution - but I do have something that I'd personally like to do. I got to thinking - if people sign up to work at Wal Mart to keep themselves busy, perhaps...perhaps they'd like to play guitar. I always say it's healing to play all your angst out,And it' a definitely something to lose yourself in.

I'm not quite sure logistically how I'll put it off, but I'd like to set up something where I could help combat vets learn music. I once gave an informal guitar lesson to an Iraqi vet a year older than me who was missing a leg, and thumb and index finger of his left hand. Try playing guitar like that, folks, and see how it works. It's extraordinarily hard.

You know, there's a silver star program. Some people get the bronze star.

How about The Rock Star program? I'm open to ideas. I'd like to do something, at least to keep these folks busy. Please let me know what you think.


- Josh