Thursday, December 18, 2014

Grandpa's Lesson

Hey rockers,

  Today is a bit of a sad day over here.  It's the 8th anniversary of my Grandfather's passing.  I was barely 21 when he died, and I wish I got a chance to know him better as an adult.  His death came rather unexpectedly, adhering to his humorous maxim of people never die on schedule.  Unlike the movies, it feels to me that there wasn't a tidy conclusion to his life, no completed arc.  There was much business left unfinished, and in a strange way, the most important thing he ever taught me was this:

  Things don't always work themselves out.  

  Needless to say, this still rattles my cage.  We don't figure it out just because we're adults.  I thought that, as a younger man, that with age comes wisdom.  It can, but the choice of how to apply that wisdom is up to us.  What will we do with it? We're at the controls of a mighty engine, and it will obey our commands.  How shall we steer?

  So, as I lean back in my chair, a few streaks of gray appearing among the neon red/pink hair, and the clouds drift high in the sky, I miss him.  I think of the man who placed such value on logic, precision, and rational thinking, and although I'm so very sad that he left before things got tied up, I like to think that it's a fitting last lesson he gave. I can almost picture him, in his scratchy flannel shirt and his black loafer slippers.  He would shuffle across the reasonably-priced carpet, over to his bookshelf, peering through his glasses, selecting some dry tome to read a lesson from to a rather teasingly unwilling audience in me.  "Oh man..." I'd grumble playfully...His finger would scan the pages, and he'd say "ah yes, here it is.  The probability of situations and challenges resolving themselves with little or no input from the engineer is statistically improbable."

I reply..."So, in other words, get it together, right?"


And then he'd laugh that lovable, hissing laugh that I used to imitate as a little boy.

Thanks, Grandpa.

- Josh   


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ten Ways to Win at Life

10.  Don't read list articles.  

  Get back to work, son!  

On #Ferguson

I haven't a clue.  In fact, I just erased a whole blog about it.

I'd just like to say:

Hey friends, I'm listening.  Let's talk.  I swear I won't try to out-meme you on social media.

#Ferguson  #OpenEars

- Josh  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Under an Empty Sky

The wind blew through the bleak trees, as the practical lights of suburbia lit up an empty sky, reflecting in a sickly pink off the night clouds.  Maybe God was out there, but he sure wasn't reflecting in the two brass keys I used to unlock my house.  "Can't be too safe nowadays."

  I had been thinking about her, seven years ago today, when she was sitting down to do some writing of a different kind.  Maybe it was a day of feeling overwhelmed with a to-do list, but I also suspect the ache of missing her contributed to my grumpy mood as I grumbled through my evening.  It's funny how sadness manifests.  "Sometimes life just sucks" I thought angrily as I dished overcooked pasta into a bowl a friend had made me.

 Seven years ago, her light winked out, her goodbye letter bobbing on a ripple in an ocean of darkness that reached even unsuspecting shores.  I hardly knew her, although we shared a bloodline.  Her choice to depart started a profound look into darkness and light.  But underneath everything, when it's all said and done, and the philosophy has been philosophized, the end answer is:  I miss her dearly, and I don't think anything will ever make that go away.  But, as I see it, there's three things that we can do with darkness:

  Let it swallow us, stumble along blindly, or third, try to light a match.  Last year, a lot of people lit matches with an idea, and we had a bit of a bonfire of goodness.  Let's start another mighty blaze in the night.

The Big Idea 

  Last year, I started something...mostly a crazy idea, but I saw how it caught.  I didn't expect it to do that.   And now, it's time to do it again.  It's time to start a spark.  I'm doing a project, and I hope you'll join me.

  It's called The Kindness Exchange.  The idea is simple:  Do or see something kind, and post it online using the hashtag #KindnessExchange.  I'll see the tagged post, and put it on a lit "beacon tree", literally lighting up the night.  Every single person is invited to create their own beacon tree.  Decorate it with red lights, and light up the night.

  On one hand, it seems incredibly trite, both the idea, and the act of talking about my cousin's suicide and a hashtag in the same blog.  On the other...there was quite a bonfire last year, with light shining out in an unexpectedly bright fashion. So, let's do it again.

...and let's save somebody.

I think we might just be able to.  The little actions add up, and the act of throwing a life preserver is often deceptively simple.

We can at least try.  That seems like a decent place to start.  See you out there.


(to get involved, visit or

Monday, September 1, 2014

10 Years After


  Happy Labor Day, stateside readers, and happy September 1st, world!

Man oh man, things have been rockin' over here.  Just wrapped up another rail tour (more on that soon), got a clinic at Sam Ash Music in a few weeks, but the main thing is...I'm a bit nostalgic today.

  It's been TEN YEARS (!) since I started teaching guitar.  Now, Ten Years After (pardon the pun - that was the first band I learned to play along with!), I'm sitting here reflecting on what a journey it's been.  Sure, sure, lots of stuff happened for me, but the main thing is...I got to hang out with YOU comrades.

  And what a journey it has been!   The very first lesson was terrifying.  Andy knew everything that I did.  I mean, exactly everything.  What was scary ten years ago turned out to be great a few weeks ago when I saw him while touring through Philadelphia.  He came out to jam, and man, was that fun!

  As I sit here listening to some old big band records, I'm pondering just how thankful I am to have spent ten years with you folks playing guitar.  There's of course the gratitude for the financial and practical aspects of survival and all that stuff, but much more than that, the thankfulness is for the laughs, learning, and really cool guitar we've got to play together.  While I always strive to be a good influence for my younger comrades, it dawned on me that the influence goes both ways, and if I'm having a lousy day, I'm always in a better frame of mind after a round of lessons.  Be it a talk about music theory, life, or getting pranked, it's quite a privilege to get to sit in my chair and spend time playing and learning guitar with you folks.  Some folks just come through for a few sessions, and it's fun getting to know them a bit.  Others stay for years, sometimes from quite an early age, and I've been fortunate to see you grow into fine young men and women.  I guess you've seen me grow up a bit, too.  I feel that teaching has given me so much, and has allowed me to build a life filled with zany rock 'n roll.

  Thank you for such an awesome ten years.   I will always treasure them.

  I'd like to celebrate with everyone in a fitting manner, SO:  I'm going to throw a big party/jam session celebrating ten years of the Guitarmy!  Details TBA (gotta figure them out), but you're invited!  Stay tuned (and stand by for party details), and let's get ready to jam!

  In closing, once again...thank you!  


We are the champions, my friends!  

It's been an honor!

- Josh 


Thursday, May 8, 2014


  I hope things have been rockin' along for you!  I've been drinking coffee, and have a few minutes before Zumba class, so here's a few quick items before I run off and make a fool of myself.

New Video!

Just recorded a new video in my guitar teaching studio.  Most things that I put online are either really rehearsed, or totally silly.  I realized lately that...."COOL STORY, BRO!" everyone might interject now, because yeah, who cares.

Here's me playing Catfish Blues:

Tour Dates

Slight adjustment with the 2014 Josh Urban Rail Tour - it'll be kicking off on August 1st (not July 4th.)  More time to get the word out, and make it a smashing success for all of us!


Island Music in La Plata, MD, has signed on as the official guitar shop of the tour!  Since it's a worldwide jam...this means that they're the OFFICIAL GUITAR SHOP OF THE WORLD!

Check 'em out and say hello at

Thanks, comrades!  So excited!

On the Turntable

Comrade Jan B. gave me a zillion 45's.  They're so awesome, and so is she.  Some of my favorites are the ones by The Supremes.  OMG I'm so in love!  Check out this sound!  And these outfits!

Speaking of 45's...

I have a record clock my Uncle Mike made out of an old Motown 45.  It's Willie Hutch's Don't Let Nobody Tell You How To Do Your Thing or something.  When I'm at the gym, I see the talent shows on TV.  There's tremendously talented people, standing in front of a panel of smug "industry insiders" who somehow know more about art than they do.  Since art is subjective, I find this absurd, but yet, I do would care too much about what they would have to say.

I also realize that this makes for good TV, but there seems to be a mentality that we need permission or approval to move forward with our art.  Placing power outside of ourselves can only lead to defeat.

I had the honor of speaking at a local 8th grade career day.  My message to the students was "start today!"

And that's my message for you today.  Start today.  It's time.  After all, the Motown clock in my studio, speaking both about time and attitude,  says it all.

Don't let nobody tell you how to do your thing.  

And especially other musicians.  


Oh, speaking of to Zumba!

Hey!  Hey!  Hey ladies....

- Josh

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Man is the new Rockstar

"Excuse me, are you the inspector general?"

I mean, it said it on his flight suit.  I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask.

Turns out I should learn a bit more about the Air Force.

However, he was a kind and gracious fellow, and we struck up a conversation right in the restaurant today where I was grabbing a quick lunch between DJ gigs.  And I learned something way cool that pertains to the music industry and how us musicians might do well to embrace change a bit more.

Greg works for the inspector general, and his department writes the rules for how inspections are supposed to take place.  There's a gazillion people in the US Air Force (an exact, military-approved number), and his crew figures out how to write guidelines for say, how to make sure that there's no broken windows with their property.  He told me that they're going through some major changes, and they're building a culture of change in the workplace.  "There's so much change happening, and happening so rapidly, we need to do our best to embrace that."

Yes, you heard that right.  The United States Air Force, with crew cuts, strict discipline, and cool fighter jets, is building a culture of change...and I'm over here wondering about Spotify, nickles and dimes, and how to sell stuff to friends.

It's probably good that I don't fly F-16's.

When I signed up to be a musician, some of the themes that were going through my head were:

- Thinking as big as possible.

- Having friends say "wow!"

- Being change and the very cutting edge.

Time went by, and I became involved in the nitty-gritty of the industry, and got caught up in the day-to-day hustle.  I'm very grateful that I got to talk to Greg today and hear how he was embracing change.

When "the man" is outdoing me on all fronts, it's a bit of a wake-up call.   Yes, I know - it's challenging to be a musician.  But - I'm so lucky to get to make noise.  Digging ditches is hard.  Guitar is not.  The man is outdoing me.  I've got to change that.  I'm going to do my best to remember not only that I signed up for this, but why I signed up for this.  Not to have friends support me...but to raise everyone up on a tide of awesome.  Not to scrape by, but to create a sound that the wind can dance to.  Yes, I'm terribly confused, and not at all sure how it will ever work. I wish I were writing this from a platform of success and cash, and that my fellow hardworking musicians were camping in gold-plated vans eating ramen with caviar.  I get it - it's tricky.   But - it's also a great time to be a musician.  And even if it weren't, that doesn't matter.  Keep the cheese, bro.  It's been moved, but that doesn't matter, because I'm going vegan.

Are you ready to ROCK?!

- Josh

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tour prep!


  I hope everyone had a rockin' holiday weekend.  There were so many holidays - Easter, Passover, 4/20, and, of course, Record Store Day...Truly something for everyone.

  I'm over here working on the 2014 JURT tour prep, and man oh man, now it's starting to pick up steam!  (If you're just joining the conversation, and are like "huh?" check out the press release at the end of the blog.) I'm making lists of people to get in touch with, and here's the categories so far.  Do you know any of these people, or are you one?

Sponsors (businesses who make things financially possible)

Partners (mainly businesses, but also media folks who are instrumental in helping the tour reach a new audience)

Media (media.)

And the one that applies to you the most:  Key people.  

I'm envisioning key people as folks who are really enthusiastic about the project.  Remember, it's collaborative, so it's all aboard, literally!  It doesn't matter if you've never tweeted or if you have a massive following - the heart is where it's at.  More on this in a second.

I've got some big plans for our tour. Pull up a chair to the planning table, and have a look at what I've been jotting down. What do you think of outdoing the previous ones times TEN?  Here's some goals I jotted down:

10,000 downloads of the new song.

30,000 YouTube views of the collaborative video.

Get our tour on national and local TV.

Get our tour in at least two national papers, and fifteen local and regional ones.

Have people involved from twenty countries.

Get our tour on every radio station we can.

Have the most fun ever.

Get at least two bitter enemies talking to each other.

Now, these goals are ambitious, to say the least.  But - I think we can do it.  I'm "cautiously optimistic" as they say, which is absolutely no way to be, so scratch that...I'm yelling my rugby native "hakka" war cry and charging ahead!

The flow

So, I see the sponsors, partners, and media working from the top down - broadcasting far and wide, reaching a new audience, making things financially possible, and burnishing the brand.

I envision the Key People as the front line soldiers, on the street with me, jamming, talking to friends, building common ground through music, saying "hey, I know how you can do _____", or "oh, I run this coffee shop, let's have a jam here" or "I'm having all my friends over and we're gonna have a broom jam on skateboards" or...and the list goes on and on.  This is one of the most exciting things about this tour, and collaboration in general.  It's a big team - almost like the A team, and just like them, we can throw together scraps and metal and cabbages and build a mega machine to fend off the bad guys.  OK, so maybe we won't be fighting actual bad guys, but just asking them to jam, instead.  You know what I'm saying, though.

So...would you like to be on that list?  Let me know!  I hope the answer is yes!  Let's see what we can build!  All abooooaaaarrrrddd!

Just so you know, here's a hakka:

And here's the press release:

Musician Josh Urban set to ignite Planetary Jam Session, take World on Tour.

Says “Instead of arguing, let's jam”

Washington, DC: Talk isn't cheap nowadays – it's free. But in an era of unparalleled communication, the world seems to be at odds more than ever. The anonymity of the internet makes it easy to forget that there's people behind the opposing sides. Enter musician Josh Urban with an idea to bring the humanity and hope back into the equation. His idea: Let's Jam. His goal: a world-wide “jam session” for everyone, musician and non, creating a common ground through music. His strategy: a collaborative music video and tour. The final media will be a diverse cross-section of humanity, with at least one concrete thing in common: a song...and in some ways, a bridge. And it all starts with a train on the 4th of July. All aboard!
The Josh Urban Rail Tour
Urban will be touring east coast cities by rail, much like a blues musician of olden days, and filming the journey for the video. Playing street corners and subways, hosting impromptu jam sessions on the street, and performing at venues, he'll be playing his new song Let's Jam, available for download from iTunes and People in each city are invited and encouraged to come to the jams and appear in the video. Urban stresses that all people are invited to participate, even if they don't play an instrument. He'll be using a home-built guitar converted from a broom – tying into a special theme of the music video.

It's sweeping the world – join the tour!
People the world over, musician and non, are invited to video themselves playing “broom guitar” (air guitar with a broom) to Urban's new song Let's Jam. They would then post it to social media using the hashtag #JURT (Josh Urban Rail Tour) to jump on the global stage, tagging it back to the tour and including it in the official video. Check out the tour YouTube channel for some ideas! Don't want to shoot a video? No problem! Post a photo of yourself or a friend playing broom guitar using that hashtag. By using the hashtag and social media, everyone gets to join the tour, sharing a worldwide stage and audience. Join the band – Let's jam!

“Music has brought me face-to-face with people I considered enemies, and taught me not only tolerance, but great respect. If we start seeing each other as “band-mates” in the human band, maybe we can realize that like good musicians, we can listen and learn from each other.

As a counterpart to the unifying theme of brooms, Josh suggests that participants include something in the video to illustrate who they are, such as auto enthusiasts appearing in front of their car, animal people with their pets, etc Additionally, musicians are invited to send in music parts for the Let's Jam, adding to the existing song with sounds from around the world.

Kicking off on the 4th of July, a symbolic day of unity and freedom, and running through the 14th, the tour will make stops in Washington, DC, Alexandria, VA, Waldorf, MD, Charlottesville, VA, Charlotte, NC, Richmond, VA, Philadelphia, PA, and New York, NY, as well as online concerts and venues TBA.
Everyone is invited to participate, either at the in-person jam sessions, or by posting a video or photo of themselves dancing to the new song, playing that broom guitar, of course! Use the hashtag #JURT (for Josh Urban Rail Tour) to join the band, and start the jam! Contact: 240-682-2801, @DontJoshMe

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hear that Train A-Comin' - You're invited to join the 2014 Rail Tour!


  Mega exciting news!  For almost four months, I've been over here pondering and thinking and plotting and inventing, and well, I think I've got it.

ARE YOU READY TO GO ON TOUR AGAIN???!  I sure am!  I'm super excited, and here's the brand new, official statement.  All aboard!

(Well, OK, so that sums it up, but here's the PRESS RELEASE.  Looking forward to seeing you out there!)

For Release 6/25/14 or later
Musician Josh Urban set to ignite Planetary Jam Session, take World on Tour.
Washington, DC: Us people will talk. Now, for the first time, we can – to anyone, anywhere. We are the pioneers in an era of ultra-connectedness. Friendships are formed halfway around the planet, and translation software breaks down language barriers. Yet much division and strife remains. Enter musician Josh Urban with an idea: Instead of arguing – let's jam! “When you look at it one way, we're really all in the same 'band'” states Urban, making the point that most people are after similar goals of happiness and a fulfilling life. Kicking off an international project on the 4th of July, Urban aims to highlight the unity of humanity instead of the division so commonly seen. His goal: a worldwide “jam session” and tour for everyone, musician and non. His strategy: a collaborative music video.

The Rail Tour
Building the video in several phases, Urban will be touring east coast cities by train, much like a blues musician of olden days, playing street corners and subways, filming the journey, hosting impromptu jam sessions on the street, and taking the world on tour with him through collaborative social media. He'll be playing his new song We're in the band , available for download from iTunes and People in each city are invited and encouraged to come to the jams and appear in the video. He'll be using a home-built guitar converted from a broom – tying into a special theme of the music video.

It's sweeping the world!
People the world over, musician and non, are invited to video themselves playing “broom guitar” (air guitar with a broom) to Urban's new song We're in the band. They would then post it to social media using the hashtag #JURT (Josh Urban Rail Tour) to jump on the global stage, tagging it back to the tour and including it in the official video. Don't want to shoot a video? No problem! Post a photo of yourself or a friend playing broom guitar back to the tour to show that you're in the band. No matter where you are, you're on tour – invite your friends! The worldwide jam is sweeping the planet!

As a counterpart to the unifying theme of brooms, Josh suggests that participants include something in the video to illustrate who they are, such as auto enthusiasts appearing in front of their car, animal people with their pets, etc Additionally, musicians are invited to send in music parts for the We're in the Band, adding to the existing song. Urban will be collecting sound samples of his rail journey, and mixing that with guest artists' contributions for the soundtrack to the final video. “Music has shown me such respect for people I formerly considered enemies. I'd like to scale that up to the international. If we start seeing each other as “band-mates”, maybe we can realize that like good musicians, we can listen and learn from each other. Instead of arguing – let's jam!”
Kicking off on the 4th of July, a symbolic day of unity and freedom, and running through the 14th, the tour will make stops in Washington, DC, Alexandria, VA, Waldorf, MD, Charlottesville, VA, Charlotte, NC, Richmond, VA, Philadelphia, PA, and New York, NY, as well as online concerts and venues TBA.

Everyone is invited to participate, either at the in-person jam sessions, or by posting a video or photo of themselves dancing to the new song, playing that broom guitar, of course! Use the hashtag #JURT (for Josh Urban Rail Tour) to show the world that you're in the band!

Contact: 240-682-2801, @DontJoshMe

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

From the woodshed: On learning, week of 3/17/14


  When I first started this blog a few years ago, I was talking almost exclusively about the technical and mental aspects of the guitar.  Since then, it's turned into a little bit of everything, and I get a kick out of that.  I hope you do, too.  However, it's been a while since I've written about the learning of music, something that's turning into a lifelong endeavor for me.  So, welcome to a new occasional series designed primarily for guitar players, but hey, everyone is welcome to join in the From the Woodshed posts.

On the Turntable

One of my teachers told me once "make sure your music library is as extensive as your usual library."  Sounds like a great philosophy to me - especially if I can get some competitions going between those two libraries of mine!  Vinyl records are the new preferred format for me, and here's four records that I can't stop listening to this week.  Hopefully they'll manifest in my playing.  If you haven't heard them, give 'em a listen.  They rock!

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue  

Check out Miles' tone on the first trumpet solo - how focused, careful, and breathtaking it is.  Then when Coltrane jumps in with the tenor sax, I'm struck with how open his heart sounds.

Thelonious Monk - Monk's Dream

I got this old and scratchy record for a buck in Richmond, VA.  Wired on Mountain Dew and up way past my bedtime, I returned home, put it on the turntable, and was blown away.  It's like the rules of music are a sidewalk, and we all walk blindly down it.  Monk laughs, steps off to the side, picks up the sidewalk, twists it like a pretzel, and puts it back down.  It's very surreal.  Check out his cover of the jazz standard Body and Soul to see what I mean.

Johnny Cash - American VI -Ain't No Grave  

Cash's last album of Rick Rubin's American series, released posthumously, has been called Rubin's eulogy to Cash.  It's spooky, moving, and addictive.  The title track is one of the heaviest things I've ever heard.

Johnny Cash - American V - A Hundred Highways

Like Ain't No Grave, this album is also part of Rubin's brilliant series.  It seems like they've both managed to capture the essence of what it must be like to be old, tired, somber, and well aware of the reaper.  Another traditional is my favorite on the track, and it's right scary.

On the bookshelf

The power of habit. 

Got me thinking about how practice is more than just about acquiring skill - it's also to build discipline and willpower.

On the music stand

One of my comrades has been learning the solo to Dream Theater's Under a Glass Moon, and I've jumped in and joined the fun.  Check out measure 148.  It's a great position-shifting exercise!

A quote

Just saw this on Facebook, via my mom.  It seems like this encapsulates the songwriting process for me right now:

Tear off the mask. Your face is glorious.  - Rumi 

Till next time, comrades!  That's what I've been working on.  Feel free to join the conversation in the comments below.  I'd love to get some ideas from what you've been working on!  Keep on rockin'!

- Josh

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A quick update

Comrades!  I hope you're having a great Thursday!  OK, no heavy stuff today, just a quick update to shout out to the army and give you a quick behind-the-scenes look at Revolution HQ!

In the works:   Stay tuned for the JURT III rail tour announcement soon!  I'm SO CLOSE to having everything set, and of course, this one is going to be the coolest tour yet.  And, you're invited.  DUH!  Can't wait to tour with you!

On the stage:   I've been jammin' hard over here, working on the opener of the concert season this Saturday in DC.  I'll be cheering runners on at the Rock 'n Roll Marathon at mile 18.  One thing that just makes me cackle with delight - I'll be joined by my buddy Allison Shapira, self-described as a "recovering opera singer."  Allison couldn't be much more opposite:  she's calm, collected, and sings pretty songs.  My favorite anecdote about her:  Last year, after hearing me play "Three Little Pigs" with the line earned his masters' degree from Harvard College, built his house with his architect knowledge, she said to me quite seriously "actually, the graduate program is called Harvard University."  (By the way, she's taught at the Harvard School of Business...or whatever it's called - now I'm paranoid.)
Well, she requested that we do a duet of Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters."   So, should be fun.  Hope you can make it!  It's at the Titanic Memorial, near 4th and P streets Southwest, nine till noon.

On the turntable: 

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue.  Been listening to a lot of Miles Davis lately. I got "Kind of Blue" on a brand new 182-gram reissue vinyl record (in mono!), and am just blown away by it. I've heard the album for years, but I really LISTENED recently. I've been trying to find a parallel in the music world for impressionist art, something that plays life as it appears, capturing the light and movement of a moment. Sure, sure, there's Debussy, but looking for a non-classical one. It seems as if the music I write and listen to usually involves symbolism, much like some of the more classical paintings. So, where's the impressionism? "Kind of Blue" strikes me as this. Looking forward to figuring out how to put that into my music!

On my mind:  Hey guitar players, when I talk about tone, I usually think "downstream", that is, what kind of guitar, cables, amps, picks, effects, etc, I use.  Listening to Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard over these last few days has really gotten me thinking about the tone at the source - both the heart and the hands.  

On the paper:  Just went to Best Buy to grab some guitar strings, and my poetic side was struck with the vastness of consumer land later in the evening, when the unseen fluorescent lights bathe the aisles of promised happiness with a sinister noon never-ending, and people drifted, alone.    OK, gotta pare that down a bit and dial it back a notch, but perhaps there will be a song about it.  

See ya soon!  - Josh


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Iron and War - a Remarkable Conversation with a WWII Nurse

Sunday: “WWII”.

I forgot about it. So the next week, I wrote on my dry erase planner “WWII.”

I also forgot about that.

I read the stories in the morning about old men getting a long overdue purple heart, or their daughters remembering a father they'd never met.

And each week, I wrote “WWII” on my calendar. I wanted to talk to some of these men who had fought with guns and tanks, planes and skill, in distant lands in distant times.

I hadn't thought of the women. Like many young people, my mind had stopped at the story conveyed in black and white, and like the colors presented in the glamourized documentaries, I had viewed the conflict in those monotones.

Then one day I met Tharon.

Sitting at my DJ table, I had finished up a set of big band music at a veteran's home. She approached, thanked me for the show, and we struck up a conversation about classical music. I asked her what her story was. She had been a nurse in WWII, fighting stateside with penicillin and cotton, bandages and skill. She painted a much more complex picture of the war for me – with many colors, and insight that only a woman would have – and one I had never heard before. This is just a small part of her life story, and bit of a Remarkable Conversation.

Undated photo of Tharon and her husband

Irons in the Fire

I had asked if I could return later in the day to sit down and really talk. Stopping by that Saturday evening, we chatted while the Red Sox battled the Tigers during the playoff games on the TV. “I love baseball” she said. “So do I!” But our mutual love of America's past time was sacrificed for the sake of story telling. The TV was unplugged to provide power for the recording devices, and our walk down memory lane had begun.

“I grew up in upstate New York. I loved the piano. I played it all the time. Then my house burned down, and the piano with it. No more piano lessons...”

“Then I got another piano. The middle keys didn't work, so I didn't play it a lot. One day I came home from school, and my mother took me aside in the yard. “Tharon, your father is going to chop up the piano for wood.” He was a carpenter, you see, and he had been eying the piano for quite some time. He built a cabinet out of it.”

Did you mind?

“Well...” she paused.

“It wasn't my piano – it belonged to the family – and it was good wood.”

We talked and talked, and later in the evening, she told the another story from her early years.

“My older sister always used to beat me. I don't know why, but she always did. One day, I was in the shed, ironing clothes. I saw my mother and father get in the car and drive away. I said to myself “Tharon, she's going to come beat you.” Sure enough, five minutes later, she walks through the door, fist in the air, ready to hit me. As she walked up to me, I held the hot iron up right next to her face. We stared at each other, not saying a word. She lowered her fist, and walked away – never to beat me again.”

What were you feeling?

“I was scared. What if I had burned her face? It would have been a lifetime scar. But I had to stand up for myself. And ever since then, I always have.”

“There's a quote from my mother – it reminds me of you” I said. “she took her power back – without permission.” (terri st. cloud/

The War

Tharon enlisted in the Army during the last six months of WWII. Once out of nursing school, she shipped to Virginia Beach, working at a hotel that had been converted to a hospital. Earlier in the day I had asked her the rather indelicate question: “Did you lose any friends in the war?” Her eyes suddenly brimmed with tears. “Yes – my two next door neighbors. They were twins, and they were like brothers to me. We grew up together. One was lost over land, when his plane went down in northern Europe, the other at sea. The military asked the family if they would like the bodies recovered, but the family said no - “they're together, just like they always were.” As the gray sky of the present day filtered light into the community room of the VA home, she choked up, her eyes brimming with tears. I, too, suddenly felt the pain of a loss of two men I had never met – and the war's shadow continued to reach across the years, almost as if adding to the clouds on that already overcast day.

We begin to speak of her service as a nurse. “The men had been lying wounded in pastures, sometimes for days. They were infected with all sorts of things. We would clean them up as best as we could. We'd start off each day with a shot of penicillin right in the Gluteus Maximus” she said, laughing.

She told me quietly “all of my guys died when they went home. I didn't lose any at the hospital – except for one man. He had been shot in the neck, and was paralyzed. He was very hoarse – but we could communicate with him. He had so much infection. All of the patients needed so much care – they would all have chill. That's how sick they were. They were just a couple of steps away from being gone themselves. They were bedridden, but I did get that one up into a chair, and one day, he wanted to go on the porch. I was about to go to lunch, and I asked him if he wanted to go back inside, because there was no one to take care of him while I was gone. “No, I'm fine! I want to stay here!” he said Well, when I got back from lunch, the Chill had come over him again, and there he is, mad at me. He never got over it...because I was gone. Of course, I understood him, and I wasn't there when he got the Chill. He eventually died, because he had so much infection in his body. He couldn't manage with less care.”

The conversation turned to what happened after the war. “They just shut the hospital right down, and sent everyone home. It's not like it is now. The families didn't know how to care for their wounded, and many probably couldn't afford the medication.”

“What did you think when you heard the hospital was shutting down – were you worried for these men?”

“No, not at first. The thought didn't occur to me at that time. Then, when I had heard what had happened to them at that time, I could see that the Army Medical Corps had just sustained them. We never cured them. We couldn't cure them. We just sustained this level of health that required a registered nurse and all of this medication and care that they got. And when they didn't get it, their body couldn't deal with it. So, I think there's a lot to be said for the Army Medical Corps......and also, they (the families) couldn't keep it up because of the expense. Everybody, if they could cut something out, they had to do it. There was no tomorrow.”

Was it difficult to work there?

“No, no, the patients were always pleasant, polite, and cooperative. If they were ever angry at us, well, we got over it. I thought they were very good patients.”

How about seeing these young men return from the battlefields with these serious injuries? Was that difficult to see?

“It bothered me later on...” she said, her voice trailing off huskily. “It's bothered me to this day....A waste of our young's a waste of our young me....that's what war is. And I hate it.”

The Late 40's

“You mentioned earlier that while there was a victory overall, each person didn't feel directly responsible for it.”

“That's true – we were such a miniscule part of it, but in the whole, everyone did our job, and we won, because every little person did their job. Even a big general, he did his job.”

“Walking down the street in 1947, what was your mindset towards the war?”

“ I was very happy it was over with, we were anxious to get back into civilian life – we got out right away.”

I asked her about the post war time.

“You cannot...cannot imagine it. The movies glorify it.”

“Was it a feeling of pride? Of sadness? A mix?” I asked.

“Not that deep. It wasn't that deep. Our immediate lives changed, we were glad to get out, we had no regrets that way, but we no longer had a job, and it was hard for a lot of people to find them. It was easy for me, but hard for other people, especially to find a job that paid a living wage. You didn't have an automobile, you walked everywhere. Automobiles were expensive, and scarce during the war. They didn't manufacture them, they made guns instead. And the cars were older, and always broke down.” Here she chuckled, remembering the mechanical difficulties that plagued post war American drivers.

“What did you think when the Korean War broke out?”

“I didn't know where Korea was. I didn't give it much thought. It seemed so far away, who's going there? It was such a small country, what were we doing in there? Leave those people alone, we don't have any business being in there. That was I thought then, and I still think that today.”

“What did you think when you heard about a new conflict, from a nurses' point of view? We've had quite a few conflicts since then.”

Here she became extra animated.

“We've constantly been at war! Cut it out! Talk it out – you don't have to fight it out! You don't have to fight. Never, never, to put young mens' lives there, to kill them for your satisfaction...Talk it out.”

Did you think that before you went in to the army and saw all the carnage?

“I had no experience – I didn't know what I was getting into. I was always peaceful. I had never any guns around me, never heard a gunshot. I feel for those people who went through all that noise. It ruined a lot of hearing...a lot of hearing. And especially kids – kids are traumatized by war. It's with 'em all their life. And they don't get over it. They think they do, but...but it influences them a lot...”


  The time had grown late, and it was time for me to drive back, two hours to the north on that autumn evening.  I thanked her for the time, stories, and sharing.  I walked through the quiet halls with the occasional warriors sitting peacefully musing in wheelchairs, out into the orange glow of the sodium vapor lights of the VA home parking lot.  When I was little, I used to pretend the moon followed me home on car trips back from my grandparents.  Now that I'm older, I haven't completely given up on that idea.  But, sometimes the light takes a different form.  That night it was the orange street lamp - washing the parking lot with it's glow, twinkling in the seemingly deserted heavy industry of the cigarette plant down the street amid a maze of pipes and railroad tracks, flickering in my face as I sped north on I-95, waving from the distance as my little car sped past sleepy houses with their security lights on the quiet byways...They were like earthly stars, for sometimes the night, like it was then, is cloudy-a fine metaphor for how the passing of the years can sometimes wear us down, and obscure the stars that once shone so clearly on our younger days.

  Maybe those lights are like the quiet people like Tharon, and unlike some planet in the sky that only shines on clear nights, they're here on the ground with the rest of us, despite the clouds, quietly helping, healing, standing strong in the darkness, guiding..and seeing us home safely.

Here's to the lights...

- Josh  

Copyright 2014 Josh Urban and Tharon B.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material with the express and written permission of the authors is strictly prohibited.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A semi-imaginary conversation

"People never die on schedule."  - Theodore Lorei

Unfortunately, he was right.  My grandpa Ted passed away when I was just twenty years old.  I wish his love of schedules, stemming from his German farmer heritage, would have kept him around a little longer so I could have had a real conversation with him.  The last time I talked with him was a spontaneous visit that will remain a fond memory, yet sometimes I wish I hadn't been so young and intent on talking instead of listening.
He had a wonderful (ooops, lazy writing - he wouldn't stand for that) - he had an intriguing tradition of birthday wisdom.  Every time is was somebody's birthday, him included, they would be required to share some philosophy from where they stood on the road of life.  He would usually stand up from the spaghetti dinner, wander to his bookshelf in the other room...and read the driest, most academic point that was probably quite deep, but always went over my head as a grumbling kid.

  Now, time has passed, and again, people never die on schedule.  As I sit here on what would be his 81st birthday, eating spaghetti with a few of his books on my shelf, listening to another German musician (J.S. Bach, to be precise, and one should always be precise), I think back to a few dreams I've had.  There he is, suddenly returned from the afterlife, just hanging out at a family gathering.

  My mom wrote a blog today about what birthday wisdom he might give today if he could return.  I'd like to put my own words to the idea if I may.  I'm not sure if he'd even say these things, but I've taken what I know of him, mixed it with the shadow of mortality (a bird looking over my left shoulder, if you're into the Carlos Casteneda sort of thing), and applied it to what I know of me.

I picture the two of us sitting in his living room, the freezing March day's gray sky filtering through the sheer curtains.  There he is, in a scratchy flannel shirt, sitting with one leg crossed over the other.  "Would you like a beer, Joshua?"  Walking to the kitchen, he reaches to the bottom shelf on the door of the fridge, where they always used to be.


I don't drink, but this seems like a good time to break that rule.  The smell of the Milwaukee's Best brew rises to greet my nose, as my thumb cracks open the can, and I settle back into the blue rocking chair, ready for a quick conversation - this time, to listen.

"Grandpa, it's your birthday.  That means it's time for birthday wisdom."

We talk and talk, and he laughs that glorious hissing laugh I was so fascinated with as a four year old.  A few sentences stand out.

On goals:  "The small stuff will get done.  Some people won't, but look, you'll pay your bills.  What's the point of what you're trying to do?  Seriously, what's the point?  You need to ask yourself that.  Does it stand up to the bigger plan?   Does it fit in?  How much time do you think you have?  Are you wasting it?  What is your bigger plan?  Does it matter?"

On money:  "It's almost irrelevant.  Once you have an adequate amount, it makes such little difference.  Has it ever brought you lasting happiness?  The pursuit of it can ruin you.  Pursue something else."

On fear:  "How much is fear distracting you from your plan?  Does it really help?  I used to be sure of it.  Now, not so much."

On control.  "Dale Carnegie told me personally in the afterlife that the energy spent on control can be channeled towards productive means that actually accomplish something - the irony is that letting go and refocusing actually empowers one more than trying to control."

On change:  "It happens.  Look what happened to me.  I see now that it can't be avoided.  And it's not so bad, after all."

On worry:  "Stop it.  Immediately."  He walked over to an electrical socket, and stuck a match in it.  "The ignition source has failed to ignite.  I've spent too long worrying about imaginary fires."  I sat, mouth slightly agape, rocked back in my rocking chair, and stopped swirling the half-empty beer can around.

On work:  "It seems that we were made to try and work as hard as possible, not for money, but for the sake of reaching potential."  "You mean like Bruce Springsteen Born to Run?""  "Bruce who?  "Uhhh...never mind."

  "Look, anything less than full effort means less than full potential, and potential doesn't equal money.  It's what we can do.  What can you do?  Again, how much time do you think we have here?  One must run at ...what's it called in mechanics, full throttle?"  "Yeah - yeah, I like that idea."

I had never had a conversation like this, although I can recall the uneasy feeling of being asked a question that I probably knew the answer to, but didn't like.  I had avoided it - and that one time I honestly didn't know where Afghanistan was when I was 7. (To be fair, he wasn't seriously asking, just joking around.)  But as I've grown older, I've realized that these are the questions to stand in the presence of, their light illuminating any weakness of ideas presented.  The substance that snuffs out the light is denial, and it snuffs out pretty much any chance for a real life, too.

My mind had grown too busy with my own thoughts, and I reluctantly bid him good-bye.  We shook hands - and then I pulled him in for a hug, his shirt scratching my face and smelling like a warm car in the summer one last time.  I drove away, and suddenly smacked the steering wheel.  "Man, I didn't tell him about all the stuff I've been doing!"  Glancing in the rear-view mirror, I saw him waving with one hand, standing in his slippers in the cold. That's funny - it's almost as if he was waving me forward.  Not away, mind you (although I'm sure he had a schedule to keep), but forward.  

  And it's forward we must all go - forward with the lessons, mistakes, triumphs, and experiments our ancestors make in this thing called life - forward we must go, to make our own.  I wonder what my grandson will blog about.  How about yours?  What would you say?  And most importantly - why aren't we right now?

Thanks, grandpa.  Happy Birthday.

- Josh(ua)  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Comrade Spotlight - Anthony Richardson


  It's with great excitement that I bring you a new video series:  The Comrade Spotlight!  This is a program to spotlight some of the outstanding comrades in the Revolution to Overthrow Bad Music and honor those who fight the good fight!

  The series kicks off with an interview with Anthony Richardson, who, at only 14, has been making quite a name for himself with his Riff 'O The Week series on Soundcloud, writing and composing constantly, and shredding it up on his trusty JP-7 guitar.  He opened for none other than Michael Angelo Batio when the shred legend came to town in November of 2013, and recently made his cello debut with the Charles County Youth Orchestra.  He's one busy, productive, and genuinely nice dude, and I had a chance to catch up with him for this interview.  Check it out, and share it with your friends - tell 'em that YOU heard about Anthony first on The Comrade Spotlight!  And there's bound to be lots of news about him in the near future at the rate he's going!  And, of course, check out his Soundcloud page.  


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Hypebot Interview


  I hope your week is rockin' right along!  WOW, it's been off to a crazy good start over here.  I had a super fun trip to Richmond on Saturday (got some Thelonious Monk AND Tommy Tutone on vinyl, DJ'd a Classic Radio Hour at the VA home, and then hosted an FM broadcast across town), and yesterday...the Hypebot interview about the Kindness Exchange went online.  WOOO!

  Mr. Clyde Smith is a very kind man, speaking of kindness, and we talked for almost an hour last week...well, OK, I talked for almost an hour last week.  He's a very good listener, and an excellent writer.  Here's what he composed:

Thanks, Clyde!  The Revolution salutes you!

- Josh 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Josh learns Zumba


  It's been an eventful week.  I electrified a diddley bow (one string guitar) and took my first Zumba class.

My ability and willingness to look like a total idiot serves me well.  For starters, it's a lot of fun!  And man, it affords a lot of freedom.  (It can also be dangerous to the ankles.  Seriously, who puts rocks on a dance floor?) But one of the biggest benefits is the way it allows learning. As someone who's on both sides of education (a guitar instructor, and a lifelong student of well...everything), I see how important this can be.

  I see many people come through my lesson studio with such an earnest desire to learn, and a studious approach that inspires great admiration.  I hope those same qualities were mirrored on my face as I flailed away at the gym, hoping that nobody noticed me way in the back.

  The biggest challenge facing me as a teacher is to make the student feel comfortable, and try to help them get out of their own way.  "You wouldn't go to a doctor if you're well, so why would you come here if you already knew how to play guitar?" I ask them.  Still, they universally feel self-conscious and embarrassed when they make the mistakes inevitable with learning (especially the female students.)  I try to lighten the mood (and have way too much fun doing it) by yelling "WRONG!  YOU MESSED UP!" and pointing at them as I bounce up and down in my chair with great glee.  (Ha, maybe I should cut that out...but it's not gonna happen!)

  I need to remember this in my next quest.

  So, now I will offer a new example for my guitar students, as well as taking a lesson from watching them.

I will learn to dance.

I will look like a fool.

And I will ignore that.  It's something I'm really, really good at.

I'll concentrate on the learning, realize that I'll make more mistakes than imaginable, trip over those stupid rocks in Zumba class, attempt to shake my hips but instead move, connected from my shoes to my hair, like an inflexible iron beam having a seizure, sweat my eyes out, wonder how people aren't dying, embarrass myself countless times, step on the feet of hot girls and probably ruin their shoes, contort my face into bewildered expressions because...I came here to learn.  Anytime I start to feel silly, I'll picture the instructor as me, trying to transfer information, and not at all concerned with how reasonable or competent I appear.

I'll look cool later.

On the dance floor.



Stay tuned for progress!

- Josh


Monday, January 27, 2014

Why is it like it is?


  Happy Monday to you!  Yeah, yeah, I know it's not the most popular day of the week, but man, it should be.  It's when we're perched at the top of the water slide, looking at the pool of possibilities, pretending we're an airplane..."Northwest flight 465 to tower, we're clear to go.  No, wait - is it tower to Northwest flight 46...465, yeah that's it."  "HEY MAN, GO ALREADY!"

Ah, pardon the true story flashback from my pool days in the 90's when "Tuesday" so rudely pushed me forward.

  My brother Noah is an insanely talented photographer.  He's been telling me lately a bit about the theory of light triggering emotions in photos.  I'm very excited to apply this to music, and as my students know, I could literally talk all day trying to figure it out.

  But, to make it brief, I'd like to share this quick thought, or, actually, question to ask yourself as you go through your day.

Why is it like it is?  

It's been really bloody chilly here in the DC area, and there's lots of snow on the ground, and so much salt covering the trees along the highways that it looks rather surreal.  So, why does it look like winter?  How to the colors change when it's cold?  How can we mix that in with music, writing, or whatever else we're doing?

What makes it so?  

It's been a fun question to ponder, and I find myself viewing even the mundane scenes with a renewed artistic interest.  Sitting at a stoplight on Saturday morning on the way to an old folks' home to DJ some Frank Sinatra stuff, I was impressed with the array of grays presented-the sky, the overpass, the street, my black car coated with salt, the few trees.  It was so...cold.  

So - how can we write that in lyrics?  How can we voice that with chords?  How can we dial that guitar tone?

Have fun looking around today!

- Josh