Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I Don't Know - Thanksgiving Eve Thoughts

It's Thanksgiving Eve, and the moon looms over the lower-average grocery store.  I look across the street from my office window.  It seems extra dark this year.

  The Kindness Exchange kicked off last Friday, with the hopes of bringing some light into the season.  I'm extra glad I'm doing it this year, if for nothing else, for me.  I saw a lady on Facebook mentioning how hard this season is for those of us who have lost someone.  A student's dad got some serious family news while he was sitting in on his son's guitar lessons today. Another friend, a grandmother, is being an angel in such an uncertain time for her family.  I've got a few things I'm sad about lately, too.  

 It seems to be a full plate for everyone everywhere I turn.  I've been working on writing a song for The Kindness Exchange.  It's not about wishing the sun back.  It's about it being dark outside.   Things are tough sometimes, and I feel that acknowledging that is a way to cope.  A theme I keep scribbling is the idea that you hunt around in your pocket, your hand chapped and chilled...and there, among the pocket lint, sideways and flat against the threads so you missed it a first, is one match.  

  I guess all we can do is strike it, and light a candle, a lamp, or a beacon.  Maybe it'll light both of our ways back home.  

  What is this match?  What is this beacon?  I'm not exactly sure.  Maybe it's a kind action...perhaps giving the likely scammer a few quarters at the gas station (it's gotta be a hard way to hustle.)  Maybe it's sharing a smile and a laugh with a stranger to show that light doesn't always come from things being OK, and can happen in spite of darkness.  Maybe it's being kind to ourselves and letting anger melt away, or starting a spontaneous jam session on the street.  

 If you have any thoughts, let me know.  I'd love to hear them as I try my own ideas to bring some light this season, both for myself, and as part of the Kindness Exchange.   

  And, I know that Thanksgiving can be hard for a lot of people.  I'll be doing a Periscope concert tomorrow (Thanksgiving) for 20 minutes at 11:30 AM EST.  I'm @DontJoshMe on Twitter.  If you're having a good time, or if you're having a hard time, come on by and join in the fun. I'll be playing some seasonal faves, too., actually, even because of the difficulties I see and feel, I'm extra grateful this year to get to discuss this stuff with you, do crazy tours, talk silly, and talk serious.  It's an honor.  

Happy Thanksgiving.  

Let's light up that night.

- Josh 

Monday, November 16, 2015

How much does YOUR sadness weigh?

  Metrics.  The world runs on metrics.  What's the better deal?  How what's the zero to sixty time on this car?  "Now included - your free credit score!"  

  When something bad happens - something unimaginably familiar...barely as the sirens fade in the distance and the corners are on their second coffee break, the discussion begins.  

  It used to be that I dreaded the politics.  Watching the second tower fall on live TV on that bright and sunny September morning, I remember thinking of the wars and politics gnashing their teeth behind invisible doors, eager to run free and unquestioned any moment.  

  After Paris, it's something else...I've noticed how we compare griefs, like schoolyard children swapping stories about how their knees got chewed up over the summer.  "Why weren't you at their funeral?"  "Oh, that bomb was so much bigger."  Why do we feel the need to count mourners?  

  My sadness is not trendy, please do not suggest that it is.  It is willfully ignorant. As unfashionable as it is to admit, my heart, and my stomach, can only read about so much carnage at a time, so I do miss a lot.  But, it doesn't mean that I care less.

  I was talking to a friend about comparing sadness recently.  Her grief was the death of her mother.  Mine was my parents' divorce.  Apples and oranges, yet, on the scale, hers much worse than mine.  However, both of our hearts were split in two, and how do you measure that?  I've come to the conclusion that, for me, it's not a good idea to try.  

  As the darkness closes in, light is needed more than ever.  I'd like to ask you, me, and everyone a question confounding in it's child-like simplicity:

Can't we just be sad?

- Josh

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Back to the Lab Again

"Wanna dance again?"  I asked the stunning blonde with the half-inked tattoo.

"Nah, I'm good."

Ouch.  Cue the Bill Murry scene from "What About Bob" in the therapists' office.  "ow....ow...OW!"

(To add insult to injury, she was actually a lousy dancer, even worse than me.  THAT'S how much of a fool she thought I was.)  

I've been hitting the salsa clubs with an intensity, and besides the social component, I've gained valuable insight about teaching (by being a hopeless beginner at something), confidence, and rejection.  It's this last point I'd like to mention.  

  I got an email from a comrade yesterday, and she's wondering if she has the courage to share some of her (excellent) writing with the world, and her classmates.  I get it.  I'm still terrified of singing, even though I do it all the time.  When something is so personal, and we care about it so much, the stakes get dizzingly high, and I usually fold.  

  Salsa has been teaching me otherwise.  Granted, it's easier for me to get shut down, because while I mean to get good, I never want to go pro.  My music is my (current) life's work, so there's a layer of insulation and the ability to laugh off my epic failures on the dance floor.  That being said, it's still not easy to stare down that prospect of rejection each and every dance, from the ask, to the actual dance part of it.  Sometimes girls will just stop dancing with you, and say a really catty "thaaank you" as they ooze away.  Meanies!  But I keep going back.  I have tape on my living room floor where I practice.  I watch YouTube, I go to the classes, I stomp the feet, I gradually stomp less, the moves are getting better, I see improvement, I stomp the feet again.  If the girls are snarky, there's always more.  And there's always another audience if the first one doesn't like it.

The song "Lose Yourself" applies.  "He keeps on forgetting."  "It's back to the lab again."  "Oh, there goes gravity."

  But the fear of rejection isn't deciding what I do anymore.  I drink some caffeine, and hit that floor.  I know at the very least, I'll get a good Facebook status out of it.  I'm doing it over, and over, and over.  It's getting easier (both the dancing, and the courage.)

  Now, I sure sound like a big talker.  I need to do this with artistic stuff, and I plan to.  It sure has been an interesting experiment in psychology, learning on the fly, and that "few seconds of courage" to punch that fear right in the face (or at least stomp it's fashionable foot.  I'm so sorry, Lindsey.  If you're reading this, I'll take you out for a pedicure after you get out of the doctor's office.)  

  So, to Comrade A., I say...

For those about to rock, we salute you!  Have fun, give it a shot, and you've got this!

- Josh


Friday, September 11, 2015


"Happy Friday" doesn't cut it today.

  It's been 14 years since the shadow arrived.  The elderly, paranoid neighbor called that sunny morning.  "You'd better turn on the TV, something's happening."  We hauled it out of the closet on the TV cart, put away as it usually was in my unique upbringing.  I saw the second plane hit. The elderly neighbor's paranoia couldn't stop this.  This means war.  I felt sick.  That night I crept out into the back yard with the telescope.  There were no planes in the suburban DC sky.  Humanity was grounded once again, looking up, dizzy.  Coinciding neatly with the destruction was the divorce of my parents, and September 11th seemed to mark the beginning of the Shadow.
  Today I pad around my house quietly, pouring tea and working on tour ideas.  The breeze carries the sound of crickets and a Chopin record spins on the turntable.

  I think about the Shadow.  About my friends, returned from a war that wasn't known before this day in 2001, their faces changed with the sacrifice that the Shadow demands.  There was my buddy, a young kid who used to run lights at the punk club.  I saw him the other week, barely recognizing him.  He was all grown up, and home from the army.  "I'm glad you didn't get shot or anything" I said.

 "I did.  Three times."

   There's guitar students who don't remember a time when the twin towers stood, and other guys sitting in the chair in my studio who would rather not speak about their time overseas.  "Let me know if you want help putting it in a song" I say.

  I've only been on the fringes of the Shadow, never having to walk through a NYC street or valley in Afghanistan, both choked with a dust symbolically bound.  I can feel it, though, and it's paralleled my coming of age and own struggles, while magnitudes lesser, still painful in their own way.  It's not my intention to compare war and loss to personal tribulations, as I feel that not only disrespectful, but inaccurate.

   I watch the trees sway and hear trucks rumbling on the highway.  The small businessman who owns his trash truck stops at the curb as I write this. Life goes on.  I've been reading Machiavelli's The Prince and planning The Kindness Exchange tour.  It's an odd combination.   On this anniversary, two thoughts strike me:

  Actions are both ineffective and indelible.  The attackers failed to break a people, and yet, that shadow is forever.  One must remember this in one's own actions.  What we do is ultimately futile, yet everything...everything leaves a mark.  I had a dream last night that I was rude to a beggar, and then tossed him a penny in a power play.  I told my mother with tears in my eyes "and he stooped for it - I know how he feels ."  I chased after him, hoping to give him a dollar, having a change of heart.  He ran away, thinking I would hurt him.  He never came back.

 The Shadow takes much from us, yet shows us more than any light.  For those of us still here to gaze at the sunlight filtering through drying leaves 14 years later, I think it's worth pondering.  We not only see how dark the night can get, but we live to see the day.  The dawn may be cloudy, but it's there, and so are we.

How have we changed?  What are we made up?  What's important?  What will we do with our time?

- Josh


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Music, personified

I've been working on salsa dancing lately.  As Donald Trump would say..."It's a total disaster!"

  Well, not quite.  But the results have hardly been graceful.  It's been most helpful with my guitar teaching, though.  Always a sympathetic teacher, I have extra respect for my students.  It's hard to learn something new, and there's nothing to bring the feeling back than to get repeatedly kicked in the metaphorical teeth! 

  The journey is not all sweat, though.  New experiences bring new thoughts, and recently, I saw a question that I haven't been able to answer, but one that I hope to figure out with everyone.  

  At the salsa club the other night, I witnessed a performance by some experienced performers.  The two best dancers presented a striking contrast, and the heart of the questions:

One of them was a knockout gorgeous Latina wearing a slinky feather costume, and the other was a man in tights and a sparkly jacket.  Now, the only reason I mention this detail is to illustrate that I'm predisposed to enjoy the Latina's performance just a bit more...

  Now that we have our scientific basis stated - Mr. Sparkly Jacket floored me.  I mean - this dude was out of this world.  

  He spun and leaped across the floor, and became the music.  I was reminded of a flame flickering with cheery and mysterious abandon across dying embers, a mind of it's own, bearing a message if we but watch.  If Salsa, that smoky, exotic sound, the vapors of a fiesta far, far away, were to condense into human would be this guy.  

  Ms. Feather Mermaid shimmied across the floor, tossed her hair, and demonstrated utmost skill - but remained mortal, a person who knew how to dance at a high level.  

  I recalled the time I saw Jeff Beck in 2006.  His band was talented, skilled, and earned every cent of their pay.  They knew a lot of licks.  Then Jeff picked up his guitar, played one note, and in doing so, explained why it was his name on the ticket.

  Why?  And how can we condense out of the sounds swirling through the air to become a flame of whatever we're trying to express?  

  I don't know, but let's figure it out.  

- Josh  

Monday, July 20, 2015

If Jack White said...

Rockers!  Comrades!

  Happy Summer.  It's been hoppin' over here.  Went to the New Music Seminar in NYC to write for Dotted Music.  This interview just hit.  Beat Mickey Mouse in Times Square in a Cigar Box Guitar dance-off, and heaped Zumba taunts on him.  Ah, I love the Big Apple.

  I've been mulling an idea for a while that, if applied, can make each and every one of us rockstars.  Then again, so could most any idea in any self-help book.  It's the dedication and the application that count.

  However, the New Music Seminar gave me some fresh insight on it.  I tend to approach the business side of my music with a 1970's mindset of needing a cigar-smoking executive to say "you're gonna go far, kid."

  This emphasis on the value of approval doesn't fit my world for two reasons:

1.  That's not how things always work anymore.  The "new music industry" has many avenues to success now, from Vine stars to traditional labels.  But this is old news.

2.  In a crowded playing field, I sometimes think "ah, if Jack White only called me to go on tour, then things would change."  Perhaps you've thought something similar.  However, here's the deal:  If Jack White called me right now, I would have to put him on hold while I freaked out first, then realized that I don't have a show built that could play his tour.  So, the problem isn't with Mr. White.

  This is quite empowering.  There's no gatekeeper keeping me out in the cold.  So, time to throw all the junk out of the garage, and build that show.  It's the old "dress for the job you want, not the job you have" idea.

  This isn't to say that I'm just sitting around.  Well, I am blogging right now, but still, I'm plenty busy and work very hard.  I'm excited to tweak this for the long game, though.  And get that music factory going in the garage!

  So, just a few New York thoughts for you.  Stay tuned for more.  It was such an experience, from getting to interview American Author's James Adam Shelley, to jamming on the street, and of course, chatting with such a diverse and ambitious industry.  (Oh, and again, the defeat of Times Square mascots means that I'm the alpha mouse, and I take great pride in that.   #SupMinnie?)

- Josh

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday writings

Heya, comrades! 

  Well, it's been a totally rockin' weekend, what with the Farm Fest and Funk Fest and mega broom guitar jams!   To top it off, I was hanging out with my mom and two brothers today, and driving home, was struck with a "Sunday feeling." Maybe it'll make it into a song, maybe it won't...(wouldn't a 7 track concept album for each day of the week be nifty?) But, wanted to share some writing with you. Any song you hear is usually VERY processed and edited - here's an early draft of some "destination writing" that's nowhere close to music, but might get there someday.

"The waves exchanged
goodbyes floating through the late afternoon air
and laughter fades in my rear view mirror
The sunlight igniting a lime green blaze of the
beech leaves
I can almost feel the cycle ready to trip
like the black and white numbers through the dusty dash
on the odometer of that old car I used to try to drive around
The wheels harmonize with the wind
as my hand sculpts it
rushing past my arm
resting on the windowsill of the car
not clenching the steering wheel
that's for the deals and hustles of the Wednesdays
Timeless, ageless, yet always of a slightly worn chronology
sturdy, resting, able, yet expecting the heavy lifting to begin again soon
But quiet for now
just a few bird songs in the approaching twilight
and the questions gather like the dusk
"where will this all lead?"

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Intentional Listening

Happy #ThrowbackThursday, comrades!

  Just went up the street to drop some stuff off at the thrift store....annnd wound up getting some cool jazz records.

  As is human nature, I've been justifying my obsession with collecting music, and I've stumbled onto a cool idea that I'd like to share with you.  I think it can improve both your musicianship and your life (and at the very least, make me feel OK about all the crazy records.)

  What if you looked at music the way nutritionists look at food?  You know the food pyramid, with the recommended daily servings of the different food groups?  What if you did that with music?

  I've been telling this idea to a few comrades this week, and wanted to share it with you.  What if you tried to listen to at least five styles of music each day?  (So far, I'm on track.  I woke up to the classical radio station, blasted some Franz Ferdinand, was studying and building a Run DMC beat in my studio, put on a Motown record, listened to Poets of the Fall - pop rock from Finland - and now have Billy Taylor spinning on the classroom turntable.  He's jazz, and I've never heard him before.  Wow, what an album!)

  I'm intrigued with this idea of intentional, or active listening. One of the first questions I ask my guitar students is "what have you been listening to?"  Most people, myself included, listen to what's there, be it on the radio, the iPhone, or whatever we put on our playlist a few months ago.

  I'd encourage you to go beyond, and watch your musical diet.  Listen to what you like, and keep adding stuff.  I hope that I'm right when I say "you are what you hear."  Of course, this wouldn't explain why I can't play Mozart, but I like to think that, deep in my musical mind, there's a bit of everything that I listen to.

  Our intention can be to hit a balance, like the five styles a day, it can be a research, as in "I'm going to add some gypsy jazz elements to my playing, so first I'll add it to my listening", or it can be an all-consuming study, as it was with most of my family when we discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan...and got a ton of his bootleg recordings.

  The point is - try paying attention to how you listen to music, and see what happens.

  As I was visiting with my father, and we discussed 1960's tunes as a Beatles record played, he made the point of how lucky we are to have access to recordings.  Imagine being a composer before you could listen to music on the radio or any sort of recording.  Here we have a shelf of priceless knowledge that we can access any time we like.  Want to know how Beethoven would put some chords together?  Go ask him!  (listen.)  Wondering about cool snare drum sounds and how they evolved over the years?  Listen to Elvis, The Temptations, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Pharrell Williams.  They're all there, and we can learn from them anytime we like.

So...have fun listening!  I always learn a lot when I do.  And try that 5-style a day experiment and see how it works.  If you haven't already, download a free Spotify account to access pretty much any song ever.

- Josh

         (My living room, being taken over by my record collection!)

Monday, April 27, 2015

The 2015 Rail Tour!


  Happy #MusicMonday!

  Boy oh boy, I've got some exciting news for you today!  I'm proud to announce....The 2015 Rail Tour!  That's right, backed by my newly-formed label, 5th Grade Records, I'll be embarking on a 10 city tour on September 4th, and of course, playing a lot of online events, too.  (I'm also excited to see if the new live-streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat will help bring the tour to everyone!)

  Now, now, big news for me, but let's face it, it wouldn't appear to influence you at all.  "Bah, good for him" you might be growling into your fifth cup of coffee, trying to catch up on a mountain of paperwork.  "Musicians...."

  Yes, I realize that, at first glance, this might be another "Hey, I'm going to travel half a day by dragonfly to a Spanish castle, with your help on kickstarter!" type of deal.  (Bonus points if anyone gets the Hendrix reference.)

  But nope, this is a bit different.  There will be a cool social/world bettering element announced soon, and as with previous projects, it's very interactive.  So, basically, I get the hassle of checking into distant hotels in the middle of the night, and you get the fun of a being part of a big social and music project.  Plus, there's no money or fundraising involved from individuals, so you don't have to worry about that.  I can't wait, and the planning phase is kicking off in a big way!

  Just off the top of my head, at this part in the logistical journey, I'm especially looking to talk to musicians to collaborate in the cities listed, venues/performance opportunities, business sponsors, media connections and outlets, and anyone enthusiastic about the idea!

  Happy #MusicMonday, and WOW this is going to be fun!

All Aboaaaaaarrrrd!

- Josh

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Rockchemist

Happy Earth Day, comrades!

  Have you heard the story The Alchemist?  To sum it up in the bluntest of terms, a dude goes looking for a treasure, travels far and wide, and in a distant land, figures out it's under his stove.  At home.

Or something like that.

  I was just working on some songwriting, and I was "taking inventory."  It's a new thing I do when I write.  I see what's going on in my mind, and what I'd like to write about.  I was sitting hunched over my desk, inside, on the most beautiful earth day I can remember.  Suddenly, in a corner of my mind, I discovered a much younger version of myself, sitting there in a dusty corner with 80's toys.  I had forgotten about him, and he wanted to forget all of this boring adult work, and go outside.  So, I finished up the writing, and wandered out into the light from our nearest star.

  Immediately I was drawn to the flowers under the dogwood tree.  I really need to mow the lawn, but an unexpected benefit from my procrastination is the miniature meadow of wildflowers under the tree.  I crouched down, and watched the bees tend their garden.   They looked like flying puzzles, ones which I could spend lifetimes studying.  Some of the plants flickered into recognition.  "Creeping Charlie...Dandelion...Indian Strawberry...Violet.."

  I remembered how I would get the same sense of delight witnessing nature as a child.  I wanted to be part of it.  So, I begin to study it.  I was this close to becoming a naturalist instead of musician.  But, studying something brings a different sort of joy, and in a way, only further removes one from the initial awe of the situation.  Perhaps my way is just to sit with the delight and magic, just watching.  (Don't get me wrong, I have the greatest respect for the study of nature, and believe it essential to the planet's well-being.)

  I wondered if I was doing the same thing with music, dissecting the mystical roar of the electric guitar into specifications of amplifier circuits, music theory, and techniques.

  I realized that it was a bit of an Alchemist moment for me...studying nature so thoroughly, wanting to be part of it.  Studying music so thoroughly, that it seemed tired sometimes.  And now, in a home I had purchased with the money I made from music, across from a forest I had helped save with my involvement in grassroots organizing....the answer I had been looking for was just to sit and look at the weeds blooming so stunningly in an unkempt simply sit with the magic, not to do anything with it.  Sort of like what psychologist Erich Fromm would say..."To have, or to be?"

So, I just lay in the grass with my eyes closed, feeling the sun on my face as the windchimes sang and the bees tended their garden.

(Unlike The Alchemist, there's no way I'm looking under the stove, though.)

Happy Earth Day.  May you find what you're looking for.

- Josh 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Metal with a Message

Happy Music Monday, comrades!

  It seems to be human nature to seek similarities in others, and I'm no exception...probably to the chagrin of those I claim to be like me!

  One of the great joys in my life is teaching guitar, and recently, two younger comrades were in their lesson, and the conversation turned to metal.  These brothers are upstanding citizens, actively working even at a young age to steer their lives in accordance with their principles.  They've discovered the roar of metal, and I suggested that I put a list together of some of my favorite metal songs with a good message.  I remember being in their shoes, and it can be tricky to find music that is good on all accounts.  So, here's four cool tunes with power, roar, and good ideas behind them.  They represent a variety of styles, and are a cool starting point in the world of metal.  I know for a fact that I'm overlooking many great songs, so feel free to add them in the comments!

Metallica - The Unforgiven  

A thought-provoking song about authority, rules, and a life wasted.

Iron Maiden - Flight of Icarus  

Mythology provides the material for this tune.  If only Zeus had a boombox.

Ozzy Osbourne - Crazy Train

A classic metal tune, and I never even knew all the words.  Turns out it's lamenting the division of humanity, and saying "Maybe it's not too late."

System of a Down - Aerials

Bizarre, deep, profound, and crazy..."Life is a waterfall, we're one in the river, and one again after the fall."  You can headbang to S.O.A.D, and ask the important questions, too.

There's a quick sampling of a rockin' genre...Four songs is hardly an overview, but fellas, I hope this gets you started.  These are some of my favorite jams.

Metallically yours,

- Josh


Monday, January 5, 2015

Free Guitar in 2015

Happy New Year, Comrades!

  Man oh man, I'm super excited for 2015.  There's going to be big doings in the Revolution:  more tours, new albums, an epic live show, etc etc....but the thing I'd like to talk about today is...FREE GUITAR LESSONS!

  OK, here's what's up.  For the past ten years, I've been fortunate enough to make my living teaching guitar.  I'm looking forward to the next decade of teaching, and I'm making a slight change to lessons.

  No, no, they still cost money (I still have to eat, and this is how I put food on the table), BUT:  I always say to people "when I'm a rich rock star, I'll do this for free."

  I'm still working on all parts of the "rich rock star" title (plan to get it, though!), but in the meantime, I realized something:  Although busy, I have a few extra minutes here and there.  I can't make every lesson free, but I'm going to offer some free lessons in the meantime.  I'll be starting a bit of a series at my studio.  I already think of it as a tree house, it being on the second floor, and it's decorated festively.  So, come party in the tree house!

  The first in the series will be on Wednesday, January  14th, from 7-9 pm EST.  I'll be hanging out at my Waldorf studio, and also hosting this on a Google + hangout, so no matter where you are in the world, you can join in the fun.  We can go over any topic at all, but I'll be spinning some rootsy music, and have the cigar box guitar in the studio.  I think January is a good time to start at beginnings of things, and American roots music has been capturing my attention recently.  So, let's talk about it, listen to it, and learn some cool stuff.  Bring your guitar, and bring your friends.  This is going to be fun.

  See you there!  You can call me Professor Redhair.  (Unless I've cut out all the seasonal neon dye!)

Rock on, and Happy New Year!

- Josh

PS.  Here's a video I just did talking about rhythm guitar: