Friday, April 27, 2012

Speak your mind, even if your voice squeaks


  Well, it's almost time for the student recital, and my students have been working hard to get their songs ready for prime time.   I teach guitar in Waldorf, Maryland.  I'm always yelling about overthrowing things, so we are going to be renaming the town WalGRAD, in honor of the Revolution.  And one of my students thought the recital would be boring...

  I had a great lesson yesterday that I'd like to share with you.

Sam stopped by for his lesson yesterday.  Sam is about nine years old, and has been taking guitar for about two years.  He is naturally verbose, something that he says is discouraged by his teachers and cousins.  "You've got some cool stuff to say, man!"  I reply, then encourage him to express himself.

  Well, it's crunch time with the recital less than  24 hours away.  He sits down in the chair, and just as I'm about to ask him what he's been up to, he holds up his hand with a very sincere look on his face, and says most intently "We shouldn't talk this week, we've got to practice for tomorrow's show."  He dives into his practice, pauses where he would normally mention something cool, and says "I went to my aunt's work today!", then remembers his goal, and dives back in.  Surfacing again, he says "I made a castle!...but I'll tell you about that next week!"

  We're working on the George Thorogood tune "Bad to the Bone", and we've decided to play a duet.  I'm singing and playing guitar, and he's playing guitar with the occasional "YEAH!" thrown in, as instructed, blues-style.

"B-b-b-baaad"  "Yeah!"

  "Wow, my voice sounded really high there"  Sam says with dismay.

"Nah man, it's fine."

He doesn't seem convinced.  So, I tell him about falsettos, have him listen to the end part of "Stairway to Heaven", and tell him that since he's "like nine, dude, your voice is gonna be a little higher, no worries!"

  "But wait - your teenage cousin teases you about it, right?"  I ask.  "All the time."

I told him that his voice will be lower in a few years, but in the meantime, never, ever be ashamed of how it sounds.  I told him that while we as a culture always seem to be striving towards the lower voices, certain styles of music like the higher sounds, and that his voice was always something to be proud of, no matter what anyone says.  I should have told him there's always a "cousin" around to tell us what's what, and how we might not want to pay them any attention.

  I wonder how many of us are going around, literally or metaphorically, "singing" through life with a false voice because someone, somewhere, told us it wasn't right.

  I'm not just talking about vocals - our song doesn't even have to deal with words or speaking.  It is the act of living.

  I wonder how many of us are striving for uniqueness.  Many of us artistic folks are.  But doesn't this just lead to false notes and sung lies, too?

  What if, instead, we strove for authenticity, and sang how we really sound?

At the gym the other night, given the choice between lifting weights or watching Christina Aguilera on TV, I found myself watching The Voice.   Man, what a lousy show, though!  What the heck is wrong with us?  Who can judge musical merit, or any merit, for that case?  Sure, sure, notes can be hit or missed, skill can be practiced - but man, what a shame that we would take anyone's opinion serious enough to put them in...way cool red chairs!  (Man, so Revolutionary - I want one!)

  But seriously, folks...

What people in your life are sitting in those red chairs, saying "Ehhh.......your voice squeaked."?

More importantly, how long will we continue to say "Yes, cousin?"

Now, I'm off to go set up the stage for this overthrowing of Waldorf.

I think the night sky is going to be filled with stars.  Red ones.

- Josh  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Don't waste my life, bro!


  Man oh man, I hope spring has been treating everyone well!  Each year I'm reminded what a cool season it is.

Plus, the frogs and crickets are back, who are, in my opinion, the best musicians around.  #winning!

  I've been doing a lot of music marketing lately, as well as watching even more happen around  me.  It is both fascinating (on a good day), and discouraging and frustrating (on a bad day.)  There seems to be quite a bit of noise cluttering the airwaves, and I wanted to talk about that in a philosophical and practical sense today.  While this post is aimed at musicians, I think it can apply to anyone.

Here's the question:  Remember when we were little kids, thinking "Man, I can't wait to grow up, be a musician, and... harass my friends until they buy my CD or come to my show."?  No!  We wanted to be stars!  We wanted to change the world!  And yet, here we are, endlessly inviting each other to events that we don't really want to go to, and pushing merchandise.

For, indeed, there seems to be a lot of taking going on, and I think it's worth a look, both from a tactics standpoint, and a life purpose view.  (That being said, I just got some really cool wristbands.  You should buy one!)

  The advent of the Internet has created almost limitless possibilities for to connect with people.  We have this magnificent vehicle for building meaningful connections all over the world.  However, since we're humans, we have promptly turned around and used it as a means to get in people's faces more effectively.

  Perhaps we need to re-examine what we're asking for.

We're generally asking for people's time.  "Come to my show!"  "Like my Facebook page!"  "Follow me on Twitter!"  Sometimes it leads to money (you should really buy that wristband!), but most often, it's time.

  Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with engaging an audience.  It must be done to succeed. There are fresh, creative ideas all around us, and it's nice to be told what's going on. The danger perhaps is this - maybe we don't value people's time as much as we should.  It's funny, because time is the most precious commodity in existence. Yet, any time we tweet something lame, we're wasting both ours and theirs.  If we play a show, and we don't give it our all, even if there's only one person watching, and they're the bartender, we're stealing time from people.  As the noise fills our screen, our lives are literally being taken from us bit by bit.  I resent that, and I think you probably do, too.

 So, definitely keep on engaging, tweeting, taking cool shots with Instagram, releasing EP's, and playing shows.

  Just know that your audience is giving you part of their lives.  Make it worth it.

Thank you for reading this post!

- Josh

Monday, April 2, 2012



Man, oh man, it's been a rough couple of weeks. I went to three funerals in just as many days. One was for the lady who was helping me become an adjunct professor at a community college, one was a friend's mom, and the last was for my Aunt Janene, who finally lost her battle to cancer.

Sitting there in a suit and tie, watching the family circus, and wanting to utter so many profanities that it would be must unfitting of the occasion, but perfect for the underlying and all-too-real situation, I got to thinking, grieving, and changing a bit.

The question has been asked so many times it's been beaten into a pulp of cliches, but seriously, man, what is it all about?

I don't have an answer.

You know, I think at my funeral, I want somebody to stand up, and say "Josh is dead. It's really sad. There's no happy ending. Perhaps we'll never see him again. Perhaps he's burning in hell. Perhaps he's jamming with Jimi Hendrix. All I know for sure is that he's in the ground, and now I'm gonna go cry." I'd like someone to grab a guitar and sing "One Kind Favor" with the line "Now you'll know the poor boy's in the ground." (To be honest of what I REALLY want, perhaps the guitar could be from my personal collection, and encrusted with diamonds and rubies for that "authentic delta blues sound.")

In times of distress, we grasp desperately for answers. Maybe there aren't any.

I seem to be growing into an adulthood where things are a bit more somber, grayer, sadder, and more poignant than I had expected - and that's OK.

I read the achievements on the cheap paper that litter the pews after the masses shuffle off, equally as uncomfortable with death as with the ill-fitting suits they wear, and think how empty the degrees and towns and jobs sound.

I pick up my guitar, glad to be able to feel the strings under my fingertips, and play to the early evening street corner, where only a few people pass by, none of them really listening.

And I'm so glad that I'm alive and well to add to the night music.

Maybe what my mom said is right - it's not what you do, it's how you do it.

- Josh