Friday, August 18, 2017

Eddie

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio


  "How do I make the world a better place?" I asked Eddie, seated at my dining room table.    

  I have this shed that I'm trying to sell on Craigslist.  Eddie called me, a random person up the road.  He showed up a few minutes later, and as he was inspecting the unit, we got to talking.  He's a 64 year old African-American gentleman, a lifelong resident of the county.  He mentioned going in the back door to eat when he was a little kid in "the hard days", as he called them.  "Seems like some people are trying to take us back there" he dropped in passing.  I picked it up, and we started to talk life.  I invited him in for tea, he opted for water, and the conversation begin.  I think we were both a little surprised at first that a Craigslist call for a storage shed could be the catalyst for such an authentic discussion, but fortunately, that didn't stop Eddie.  

  He told me a good bit of his life story, how he grew up in the county, enlisted in the Navy, did multiple tours on submarines, traveled to over 30 countries, has seen a lot, endured racism, raised a family and a stepfamily, and is concerned about the hate.  One of his grandsons was talking about guns a lot as a teenager, but Eddie helped guide him to a better future, where he's now a talented college athlete.  

  We would have talked for hours, but some of my students showed up, being as it was a guitar teaching day.  And that's when I asked him what I could do to make the world a better place, and he said "Talk to people!  Ask them what they think."

  There's been a lot of discussion about Freedom of Speech.  I read a line that I just loved - "don't make free speech partisan property of the Right."  As a left-leaning centrist, I'm going to remember this.  And here's something:  this precious constitutional right of ours, sanctified by blood of multitudes, is usually just something that we notice when we don't like it.  We wrestle with the ugly price of freedom, and the downside of liberty.  As painful as it is, I plan to keep paying that price, for the alternative is unthinkable.  Once we give up a freedom, we won't get it back.  

  But since we've paid for it, let's use it!  Let's make it a positive.  Instead of just a passive endurance, I plan on flexing this constitutional muscle by following Eddie's advice, and asking people what they think, and listening to people, and realizing that their thoughts aren't regulated by someone else's.  You can't do that everywhere in the world, you know.  And I promise you this - even if I don't like it... I won't try to outlaw it.  Let's follow Eddie's advice.  Let's ask.  Let's listen to what they have to say.  It's not only good human advice, but good American advice!  I like it!  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ziggy

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning!  Here's another New York story for you:
   I shouldered the guitar, and the backpack, and hoisted the broom guitar
up the grimy subway stairs, emerging into a cool Sunday afternoon, deliciously overcast in New York City.  Fishing a box of granola bars out of the pack, I settled on a Central Park bench and let the "the sounds of the city settle like dust" as Simon and Garfunkle would sing.  Not outputting my usual roar of blues on a broom guitar let me hear, watch, and observe.  The cyclists rolled by, horses trotted, pulling carriages of rich tourists, and the breeze personally congratulated everyone who had chosen to spend the afternoon outside.

  Ziggy sat down on the bench a little ways down.  His face matched his worker's hands, and he leaned forward with a slightly confused look when I said "Come here often?"  My rat-a-tat-tat English was just a bit too fast for him, so I slowed it down, learned his name, mentioned the David Bowie reference to his name (to no avail), and we begin to converse.  I thought he might have had enough, but then he told me he welcomed the opportunity to practice his English, so we kept talking, and he grew more animated and confident in his words.  He was born in Poland, and moved to Iran as a younger man to work for a chemical company.  He had a choice of learning Arabic or English, and he chose the latter.  Then the war came.  He eventually ended up in America, and he learned how to do auto body work.  He doesn't have any family here, black cars are harder to paint as the bondo has to be right, but white cars can be tricky with the color matching. He might get a new job in Jersey.  I offered him my last granola bar, thanked him for the chat, and wandered off, as the stories biked by on that Sunday afternoon.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Why?

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning!  WOW it's a crazy day around here!  I was scurrying around my house just now, and I thought of the scene from Pirates of the Caribbean where Captain Jack Sparrow is in Davy Jones' Locker, and he's going crazier.  He imagines a ship crewed with himself, and he goes around, yelling at the other Jack Sparrows to make it work.  I so relate.  The ship is floating, and it's underway, and it's a madhouse!

  But, I also am aware that while SURE it's a little hectic, it's exactly what I would, and did, choose.  Which brings us to the thought of the day:  Why are you doing something?  Often, "for the money" or "because it's the right thing to do" is the answer to the question, and a darn good reason.  Sometimes "for the love of it" is the reply.  Excellent!  So much the better when those two areas overlap in our Venn diagram.  I run into trouble, though, when I fall completely outside of any of these areas.  Interestingly, the topic of what I'm doing isn't always related to how rewarding it is.  I've played in bands that don't make any money, and aren't any fun.  Talk about a lose-lose!  So, as I scurry around getting ready for the mini-tour on Friday...I'm keeping reasons in mind.  Seems most everything is a mindset.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  I poked around a bit, and then wrote a note on my board.  I looked around on Google, learning the differences and the threats and possible controls, then I stomped around under the tree, then I went back to Google, then I went back and got the weed wacker and cleared the ground cover, and then stomped around some more to flatten the soil to establish a clean testing slate, and worried and thought "oh no, I hope this isn't a problem" and....realized I was the real-life interpretation of making a mountain out of a molehill.  Literally.  Except in this case, I was leveling the grade.  Close enough. There are moles in the lawn!  As long as the voles don't show up.  Those are the problem.

  It's not everyday that we get to live a metaphor.  I had to chuckle at the reminder!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Signalman Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Yo!  It's Monday, and time for an announcement!  There's gonna be a tour this year!  I didn't think it was gonna happen, but, things changed, and I'm stoked.  Some of you may know about the #JURT, or Josh Urban Rail Tour.  I've been running this since 2012, traveling by train and playing on street corners along the east coast.  It's been a blast, but decided to take a year off.  WELL, got booked to kick off a celebration at a LIBRARY of all things right outside of New York City, which turned into a weekend of busking in the big apple, and then there's the solar eclipse a few weeks later in the southeast...So, a tour is happening!   This one is going to be my first road tour, so there will be lots of driving and coffee and snacks along the way.

  I'm still working out the details, but as with the other ones, it will be interactive - your participation is encouraged!  This one, like the very first tour I did, will be a theme of stories - finding them, sharing them, cultivating them, and celebrating them.  I'm taking a break from the planning to do this podcast right now, so this is super fresh.  Will let you know as soon as I figure it out!  I'm excited, and have ordered a voice recorder to take with me.  I'll be collecting stories in the subway and in little towns and anywhere I can.  I'll be playing the  broom guitar, showing kids how to make stomp fiddles, and making a ruckus with an electric guitar in a library, playing a punk cover of Sinatra's "New York, New York", and recording much of it on a GoPro.  I even ordered a special clip for my wireless mic, so I can use it in the library, having a volunteer kid drop the beats, and me strutting around with the wireless yelling "I THREW IT ON THE GROUND!"  Stay tuned, 'cause I'd love to have you involved in some way or another, be it jamming at a tour stop, sharing a story, or following along!  This is gonna be a blast!

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Weekend Challenge

The Morning Show is the blog companion to the podcast audio

  Happy Friday!  It's TIME for the weekend challenge!

  There's a spider in the shower.  Just a little web in the corner, and now a buddy has joined him on the wall.  They are very small, and I don't mind 'em.  Makes it feel like summer camp or something, which brings us to THE WEEKEND CHALLENGE....

  Bring a bug outside.  That's right.  I know you hate 'em.  I know you're jumpin' up on chairs and screaming, and your girlfriend is looking at you funny.  It's easy to say no to life, it's easy to squelch dreams, and it's easy to squish bugs.  So be a gent, or a lady, and try bringing an icky bug outside as a small act of kindness.  And if you'd prefer not to touch, say, a wasp or spider, use a paper cup, creep up on that sucker, and BLAM, catch him.  Then slide a piece of paper under the cup, and take the whole assembly out of doors.  Heeeere buggy buggy!  Have a fun weekend, and I'll "catch" up with you on Monday!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ask the Experts

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning!  Welcome to the show.  It's a theme I talk about often, and there's a reason - this idea consistently makes my life better.  And, for some reason, I don't see more people using it.  It's the idea of asking the experts around us.  For help, advice, guidance, feedback...everything!  I'd like to shout out two people today.  The first is Curtis Blues, a musician, artist, and teacher.  I met Curtis on the docks of Alexandria, where he was performing his blues revival street show.    He was set up with a resonator guitar, a drum set strapped to his feet, and a harmonica, singing pre-war delta blues and introducing legions to the story of America's music.  He let me play his guitar, and later, when I approached him for advice about starting street music on my own, when others would have been guarded, he did everything he could to make sure I succeeded.  I remember many days of playing on the docks, too, hearing his booming voice drift over the water like a delta blues bullfrog (in a melodious way), and him stopping by to offer tips on the art and craft.  "Make it easy for people to pay you."  I just had a phone call with him yesterday, where he continued this tradition, helping me learn about bringing a show to schools and students.  His generous spirit is not only kind, but actually improves the artform that we both love.  Thanks to his encouragement, I've played street music for the past ten years, in many cities, for countless people, involving many of them in the experience, and others in the craft and the business.  From broom guitar workshops, stomp fiddles in the south, little kids getting to try cigar box guitars in Philly, guitar students learning how to busk, or the folks on the subway joining in the blues jam as the 7 train rumbled above Queens, Curtis' encouragement was a sizable investment as a patron of the arts.  I was lucky enough to ask for advice, and he was generous enough to give.

  The second person is a lady named Savannah.  She's a dance teacher, and a kind soul.  I go to a salsa club near DC often - you've heard me talk about it - and MAN it's confusing.  At first, it was terrifying.  I was even clumsier than I am now, but after much practice, trial, and mostly error, I'm slowly improving.  Savannah and her guy Will lead the regular Friday night class at the club before the floor opens for social dancing.  One evening she pointed at me across the floor, and invited me to a dance. I happened to be wearing my "Don't Hassle Me, I'm Local" shirt, a reference to the comedy "What about Bob."  Man, I felt like Bill Murray.  "I'm SAILING!  I'm SAILING!"  (In the movie, he's actually tied to the mast, as he's afraid of falling overboard.  But sail he does!)  I'll ask her questions after class, and she'll give me encouragement and feedback, guiding me to better technique.  "Stand up straight!  Stop sticking your butt out!  There you go!"  Like Curtis, her guidance is not only kind, but makes the community better for everyone.  Every girl I've danced with after her advice has benefited from her time invested.

  I know other people ask Curtis and Savannah for help.  But I don't know why there's not a longer line.  We live in such a brilliant world.  YES, of course we should check Google first, but let's make sure we ask these skilled teachers for their wisdom.  It would be a shame to waste it!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

German Steel

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning!  Got a little art for you today!  Gonna wax poetic!

  The sparks flew off the German steel...the German steel made before the words had the ability to paint pictures of trenches and telegrams, before they became a rallying cry, before it was measured it muzzle velocity and tombstones and aching loss, and later trade bickering and alliances and....peace.

  I put down the cutting wheel, the German steel repaired and trimmed.  I'll take this German steel mainspring from 1883, carefully cleaned, and put it back in the clock...and the clock will watch from it's vantage point on the wall, erasing all of my problems, too, tick by tock.  And yet I'll still glance anxiously at it's face, hurried.  


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Until We're Somebody

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning!  The Blue Jays are screaming at something, much like the political commentary I was reading this morning.  It's an interesting reminder about the benefits of obscurity.  Like you, I'm working hard to be somebody.  But in the mad dash to build castles of varying degrees of sand, it's worth noting the joy of the construction site, unfinished, and obscure.

  Auston Kleon, in his dope book "Steal Like an Artist" , observes that obscurity grants the emerging artist freedom to experiment without consequence.  (Buy the book, it's awesome.  I just picked it up - again - for $2.50 on Amazon's kindle store.)

  Should all of our hard work and dedication pay off, the spotlight will find it's way to our illustrious faces, as well as the Blue Jays who will scream and tweet their displeasure.  I was remarking to a friend last night at how this transition time of us millennials, between the initial launch of adulthood and the responsibilities of settling down, while lonely and sometimes without anchor, should be cherished as a rare period of solitude, halcyon days of personal freedom and power.  And so too is our obscurity at any age, before our blockbuster success.  I'm off to hustle some more.  But I'm also enjoying the breeze on my porch on this beautiful July day.  And oh, listen.  Silence.  The Blue Jays have flown away.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Signalman Show: Levels and Levels

The Signalman Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey, good evening!  And you thought I forgot about you!  NEVER!  Got a super quick thought for you tonight.

  Saw a cool story over the weekend.  A successful fella asserted that we have 18 hours a day to build empires.  He made the unfortunate mistake of putting a number on things.  People latched onto this on Twitter.  "I NEED MORE THAN SIX HOURS OF SLEEP!"  And so the argument devolved into how much sleep was good, and the original point was missed, that being:  Quit watching TV, and hustle.

  As a guitar instructor, I see this happen all the time, with my students, but especially myself.  Those excuses are sneaky, especially when we give our power away by arguing for their necessity, or defining their quantity.  Let's go make it happen!

The Weekend Challenge

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning, and HAPPY FRIDAY!

  It's like a million degrees over here, but that's OK, it's the weekend, which means it's time to go salsa dancing and try not to break faces.  It also means it's time for the WEEKEND CHALLENGE!

  This week's challenge is definitely something you've heard of, but have you done it before?  I haven't.  I'm gonna send a care pack to a soldier.  One of my musician buddies has served as a ranger in Iraq, and he's now a bandleader.  His son is serving in Afghanistan.  The war is still happening.  I have many students who have never known it to be otherwise.  Jim posted a picture of his son on patrol, and mentioned the care pack idea.  So, I'm sending one, for several reasons: 1. It's a good thing to do.  2.  I've been feeling like "the system" has been failing a lot of people, and it's easy to hide behind that idea.  If the car breaks down, it's much easier to wring one's hands and say "oh, we're not going anywhere" than to start walking.  The war drags on, and it's up to us individually not to forget about those far away.  Hopefully we can get things working again, but while we do that, one foot in front of the other.

  I invite you to join me in this Weekend Challenge!  Drop me an email at joshurban251@gmail.com if you need guidance or an address to send things.  See ya on Monday, and have a great weekend...this is gonna keep things in perspective for me!

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning!  Oh man, I have something you've GOTTA hear!  It's a new song, and here's the story. You all probably realize by now that I'm a musician, and I teach guitar.  Through that avenue, I get to meet some pretty awesome people, like Anthony and Brian R.  Anthony is the older brother, about to head off to the University of Maryland.  He's been jammin' in the "Guitarmy", as I call it, since he was 12, and is one of the most talented people I know.  He wins competitions with his playing, and friends with his kindness and humility.

  His little brother Brian first joined in the musical experience when he was about 8 or  9.  I was having a birthday party/jam session with my students, and us "big kids" were all rockin' out on guitar.  Brian was watching intently, and when I held up a cigar box guitar to join in the festivities, he eagerly jumped in, learning as he went.  My own brother Noah snapped a great picture of him, a look of laser focus on his face as he followed along.  He eventually started lessons, and WOW, is like a fish in the water, swimming along in an ocean of music, learning from his brother, and inventing  his own style.  Equally as talented as Anthony, he too has the ability  to channel his personality into his playing.

  So, we all finished recording a song yesterday.  (We had started a week ago, but the power went out in the middle of the session, right as Brian was about to track his guitar solo.)  I'd like to explain what you're hearing.

  I programmed an electronic-sounding dance track with a hint of DC go go in a program called Ableton Live.  The keyboard sounds are a sample that I made with my guitar synthesizer and a reel-to-reel tape deck.  Anthony listened to the track, and wrote a funky rhythm guitar progression.  He then doubled back and plugged his Music Man guitar into a Fender Blues Jr. tube amp with a vintage speaker, and played the beautiful Greg-Howe style lead over it for the first guitar solo you hear, capturing his dynamic and outgoing personality on tape.

  Brian came back next week, after the studio power was back on, and used my Strat, running through an Ibanez TS9 into a custom-made low-wattage tube amp his dad built, which was powering another custom 2x12 celestion-loaded cab that his dad had also crafted.  Listen to the second guitar solo here to get a sense of Brian's mellow, thoughtful vibe, as he follows his train of thought across the fretboard.

  It was perfect, but...the dance track had ended, and I wanted to put a guitar solo on record, along with these guys!  So, the idea was hatched.  I tried to track a conga drum line, and Anthony heard notes from the hand drums in the first take.  He picked up a bass, and we retracked the groove live, me on congas, Anthony on bass, and Brian on bongos.  The mic didn't pick up enough of Brian, though, so he added a second bongo track over it, and went to town!  It's panned off to the left side, so check it out.  I picked up a spare tire that I couldn't throw out (the garbage  man couldn't take it), and we all took turns wailing on it for the cowbell sound you hear.  Finally, I picked up my strat, plugged the custom tube amp into another custom cab loaded with a vintage 12" and vintage 15" speaker, turned on the TS9, and put a funky lead down for the last guitar solo on the track.

Ladies and gents, in collaboration with Anthony and Brian R., I give you...Fenwick!  (So named by Anthony, glancing around the studio and seeing a street sign my brothers gave me.)

https://soundcloud.com/joshurban/fenwick-feat-anthony-and-brian-r

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Curious Case of Doris Payne

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  "Ask any officer - have ever I been arrested and lied?"  So said Doris Payne, notorious jewel thief, speaking to WGCL in Atlanta in 2015, after she had been arrested - again, for stealing.  She claims she's always honest about it if she's caught...and also says she's really, really good at stealing.

  Ms. Payne has been caught again, stealing from Wal-mart with eighty bucks of stuff in her purse.  She's 86!  She first thought of supporting herself with this skill set in her 20's, and has made quite a reputation for herself ever since.

  And here's a fascinating thing:  if the opening statement is indicative, she views herself as an honest  thief, further proving Dale Carnegie's maxim that "no man thinks himself wrong."  In fact, it seems like most people think themselves superior in some way or another, elevating themselves among their fellows by some small merit, completely ignoring the dire situation that everyone is in.  What good is a fancy suite if it's on the Titanic?

  The things we do to ourselves!  WOW!  We all know someone like Doris Payne, although perhaps not as dramatic.  I run into it all of the time!  But after I smugly shake my head at how people like her fabricate their realities, and  am glad that I don't, the smile fades from my face...but what if I do?  Ahhh!  Off to do work!


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Division vs. Polarization

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning, and happy Tuesday!  If you stop by to visit, you'll immediately notice that I've gone overboard with the vinyl record collection.  Wait a few minutes, and at the top of the hour, your eyes might widen a bit at the menagerie of sounds of the assorted clocks.  And now there's the newspapers.  I should probably cancel a subscription, but I am having a blast!  There's paper EVERYWHERE.  And it's really not that  bad - just a daily subscription to the Wall Street Journal, and a Sunday Washington Post.  It's been illuminating to read the two simultaneously, and to try to extract my own conclusions from the rustling print. It's also a bit frustrating. Here's a thought for today:  Are differences a problem, and if so, how are they best solved?

  Case in point...The right headline on the Sunday post stated Trump's approval rating takes hit.  Examining the story further, there's a graph outlining the percent who approve of the way Trump is handling his job.  Between April and now, the percentage has dropped from 13% to 11% among democrats, 38% to 32% among independents, and 84% to 82% among republicans....with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This is from the Washington Post-ABC News poll July 10-13, among 1,001 adults.  So.....yeah...Not exactly a shocker.

  At first glance, I was struck by the polarization of views.  82% to 11% is a pretty big gap.  But thinking further, is this a bad thing?  If you poll the people who like the Orioles vs the Yankees, you're going to get numbers like this.  And back to governance, complicated problems require many ideas.  But - when we believe that the people who entertain opposing ideas are divided from us, are the enemy...I'd assert that's a bad thing.  Generalizing schools of thought, globbing ideas together and then making it into a pinata...MAN it's bumming me out!  I find it not only intellectually lazy, self-righteous, and annoying, but also harmful.  And, it makes a lot more work for the rest of us, trying to figure out where we stand in the world, sorting through the hysteria at the Post or the wasteland of empathy that is the Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

  I'd suspect that those polling numbers would be different if we listened to each other a bit more.  At least, mine have been, and I've been learning a lot from you all.

  SO, what to do?  I don't know...But I'm thinking that, for me, the poll numbers tell me more than ever it's important to have friends from all sides.  I want to be a part of a crew that is a pollster's nightmare, making squiggly lines.  I don't want to try to reach a consensus -  that would destroy many worthy schools of thought.  But I want everyone to be welcome at my table, and boy we'd have some good discussions, and hopefully few agreements.  So, let's start today!  The polarization can be eased with a return to civility, restoring ideas to the ideas shelf, and realizing that it's our fellow citizens that think them. But BOO YANKEES!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Street Views

The Signalman show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey there, and happy Monday!  Wow, what a time in Richmond, VA!  Embarked on my monthly trek to The River City to DJ for the retired soldiers at the VA home, host a broom guitar-building clinic at Sam Ash music, and of course to play some street music in Carytown, the art district of the city.  Here's a little vignette for ya:


"I want somebody to tell me, what is the soul of a man?"  A dollar for each of us sat in the pot, our voices gathering in the fading day, the alley behind me adding a streetlife symphony echo.  Blind Willie Johnson songs sound best at dusk when there's only an indifferent audience shuffling on down the street, away, away, tepid.  His "real kazoo", not a plastic one like the kids use, added to his harmonica and cigar box guitar as we both strained to pay tribute to the long-gone bluesman, dead like the noon long passed.

  The song ended.  Time passed as it always does.  I sat next to my friend who left his legs in Fallujah, as the people walked by above us on the dirty sidewalk.  We talked about war and life and PTSD and helping family and target practice and fear and girls and a system that failed.  His girlfriend showed up, he went on down the line, and I headed back north, haunted.  There is no moral to the story...no tidy lesson found in the confusion of the cigarette butts we sat among.  And that's the point.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Weekend Challenge: Look 'em in the eye

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning, and HAPPY FRIDAY!  Whew, it's gonna be a scorcher today, and hey, that's a good way to kick off the weekend.  So, are you ready for the WEEKEND CHALLENGE?  This one is simple, cheap, and might change your perspective.

  It's called..."Look 'em in the eye."

  Here's what's up:  As a creative fella, I play music in a lot of different ways, one of them being street music.  It's the most colorful gig I've ever had.  Sometimes, I'll do little street music tours, traveling by train.  It is a blast, and also decidedly unconventional. Last year, I was traveling around, and since I was carrying an amp, had my suitcase with me the whole day, leading to the misconception that I was homeless.  Before you say "Oh, the NERVE of the privileged", the lady who made the assumption was homeless herself.  So there I was, a foot in both worlds by perception, not by economic situation.  And boy, was it illuminating.  Traveling from Charlotte, NC, to Richmond, VA, I took an uber from the train station to...the grocery store.  It was right by my next street music spot, and I was gonna get lunch. And still rattled by this perception people seemed to have of a traveler with a suitcase, I quickly regretted my decision.  I've never felt so invisible as walking through the store, trying to avoid knocking over any of the wine bottles with my luggage, my guitar on my back and a gulf between me and my fellow man all around.

  Perhaps I was tired from traveling, and perhaps I was being a drama queen.  But, the street music has given me a new perspective on how we tune out that which we're confused by, saddened by, threatened by, and obviously don't fully understand.  And it takes a real toll to be ignored on the street and in the store.  And I'm only out there for a few hours at a time! So, this weekend - engage with someone who might feel isolated like that.  Look them in the eye, ask their name, never pity them, talk music or movies, and commiserate about the summer heat.  Build a bridge...and have a rockin' weekend!


Friday, July 14, 2017

The Power of the Question

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey there, and good morning!  I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time planning.  I sat on my porch the other evening, planning the next phase of my musical endeavors as part of an occasional check in.  Entrepreneurial waters require frequent scans of charts, philosophies, and thoughts.

  And man, it's easy to get confused as to the proper order of the thought processes.  Do market conditions dictate artistic direction, is it the other way 'round, what's available, what should be available, what should be created, and so on until the thinker's brain...or at least mine...ends up in a knot.  So, I corralled my thoughts into a series of questions, and then distilled them further to a single sentence that is scrawled on a yellow posty note stuck to my bathroom mirror.

"What is the real deal?"

It's just stuck to the glass, hanging out.  I'm letting it marinate, enjoying the space this question-based planning is giving my thought process.  When I answer that, I will know what the next step is.  Give it a shot - it's cool!

As Rage Against The Machine would say..."I won't stop, 'cause I know the power of the question!"

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Inky Lines

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Yo!  Happy Tuesday!  It's 7-11!  Get yo' slushie or whatever it's called at 7-11!

  Isn't ordering things online the coolest?  With a few taps, it shows up.  Well, if you like THAT...you should try getting the paper.  WOW it's like Santa every single day!  I found a slammin' Groupon deal for home delivery of The Washington Post, and after a few weeks of enjoying that, have added a daily trial of The Wall Street Journal to balance things out.  It was Garrison Keilor's essay on why a print paper is superior that got me interested in the experience, and it's dope!  In addition to enjoying the hipster vibe of actually reading the paper, walking out to the driveway and getting the paper, and having newspaper around the house to smirk at saying "oh yeah, I was reading that the other day", it's reminded me of something interesting:

  What's the line between seriousness of a subject, and seriousness of oneself?  Both publications seem to erase that line, and perhaps I draw it too harshly, not crediting myself when I should, hiding behind a mask of joviality.  I'm guessing that, like anything else, it's a balancing act.  Food for thought!  Now go away, I'm being a big boy and reading the paper.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Your World Improvement Fund

The Signalman Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Happy Monday, and happy Duran Duran appreciation day!  Gonna be spinnin' a few of their albums later fo' sho!

  SO, anyone do the weekend challenge?  This week's was to give something away to someone worthy.  My dad had given me twenty bucks recently for this purpose, so I set out to give it away.   I spent the twenty by giving a few bucks to a homeless lady who's sign mentioned cancer treatment, another fellow at a light that just asked, and the rest on buying pizza for a dad and his three sons that came to buy my shed from Craigslist.  Hard work, even if paid for, deserves pizza!

 I found that with a mission, and a small budget, it opened up a new genre for me...it's not home improvement, when you go to the store to spend money to make your house just a little bit better...it's world improvement, when you go just a bit out of your way to spruce up mankind.

  Yes, to be sure, it's a simplified look at a nuanced topic.  But, I've been reading a lot of opinions about the healthcare debate recently, with big words like "GDP" and "percentages."  So, if I can increase my world improvement fund  to just a fraction of my home improvement fund...why, if nothing else, I'll be better off.  It's nice to help each other. And that's worth something.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Weekend Challenge

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Hey there, and HAPPY FRIDAY!  I'm gonna pop some taaags, only got twenty dollas in my pocket...

  No, seriously, I have a twenty burning a hole in my conscience.  My dad gave it to me with the instructions to give it away in a good deed of my choice.  I haven't yet.  But this weekend, I'm gonna try!  And, I'd like to invite you to join me in the first Signalman Show WEEKEND CHALLENGE!  This weekend's challenge:  Give at least a dollar away to a worthy cause or person.  Tweet me @DontJoshMe or hit me up on Instagram @JoshUrban and let me know what you did.  Now, off to see what I can do about this twenty...I'm thinking I might get some extra fun out of this if I break the bill.  I get to be Oprah twenty times in a row.  "EVERYONE GETS A DOLLAR!"

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Operation Rinse Cycle

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Hey there, and Happy Thursday!  You know I deal in metaphors, notice inspiration in daily life, and seek conflicting points of view to make us all think...BUT, don't want to get too Dr. Phil 'round here!

  SO, we have a practical episode, a down to earth broadcast...my brother was right, you can go on a pressure-washing spree.  The fellas lent me their pressure washer, and MAN, my house is a different color.  The sidewalk has transformed.  The gutters are as white as the dancers at a Republican convention, and almost as awkward.  It feels good to take care of stuff!  I drove to the gas station for more fuel, bedraggled, damp, and covered with paint chips.  The dusk set in, and I got a tactical flashlight for a tactical special forces pressure washing operation...we could call it "Rinse Cycle."  It was quite dramatic.  Try it!  You'll love it!  And those neighbor kids will stay off your lawn for good as they nurse water burn and remember a lesson learned.  It's operation rinse cycle, and we don't fool around!

Happy 4th!

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning, welcome to the show, and HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!  If you're listening, and don't happen to live in America (cue the James Brown song), today's the day to blow stuff up and eat lots, celebrating our independence from Britain.  Or, as my buddy Skip would put it, the first Brexit.  I'm ready to rock, and wearing my "support your right to arm bears" shirt, too.  It's got a bear with a shotgun on it.

  Seriously speaking, though, it was this day in 1776 when they delivered one of the best mission statements ever, looking at it as an entrepreneur.  The idea was so good, that 241 years later, we're still here, and we're still observing the anniversary of that bold move.  Makes me want to think bigger.  My current concern:  will the fridge leak onto the new floor I just put in?  Hmm...gotta aim higher!  Have a great 4th of July, everyone!  I'm gonna go DJ for some old people and have a dance party with them.  Seems like a good start.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Road metaphors

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Such a metaphor, man!  They are EVERYWHERE!  So, been working on this kitchen floor over the weekend, and as you know, any project requires endless trips to Home Depot.  I hopped in the car...again...and being my father's son, took the scenic route.  I found myself on a shaded road, a relief from the nuclear July sun, but stuck between someone going moderately fast, and someone who wanted to go really fast.  It was totally like Life!  I hurtled along the winding pavement, glancing in my rearview mirror, and realized that we all have these things that drive us, just like a mental tailgater, and are even more dangerous...but they usually aren't obvious in any mirror at first glance.  Seems worth it to keep looking, though!

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning, and Happy Friday...and thank you for a great month, June!  Got a big podcasting project over the weekend...that is, putting in a new kitchen floor.  I'm sure I'll have some metaphors about cutting three times and measuring once and building a platform to stand on.  Some things are just made for examples it seems!

  And already it's started.  I went into the crawlspace today.  I've been raised to be a handy dude, but man, given the fact that gigantic spiders have been finding their way into my house, how warm and humid it is, and that the snake that lives under my porch seems to have a back parlor with the motto "we put the crawl in crawlspace", well...I wasn't too keen on checking out the shape of the kitchen floor from underneath.  I almost called my brother to ask if he thought the floor would be in good shape.  He doesn't even live here!  The things we do to avoid direct confrontation with scary places and things that unsettle us.  I remember my grandfather asking my opinion of the safety of aluminum wiring in his house.  I was 11 years old.  

  So, donning some old mud clothes, I lowered myself in to the subconscious of my house.  Interestingly, there were less spiders than I had imagined.  Make of that what you will.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 30, 2017

National Handshake Day

The Morning Show is the blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey!  OK, taking a break from the deep life thoughts today, and here's something fun for you:  It's National Handshake Day!  I googled this to look into it a bit.  The instructions on how to observe are:  Shake the hand of at least one person you normally wouldn't.

  SWEET!  Who's with me?  Let's shake on it!

  Gonna be like a politician, and shake everyone's hand today.  What a fun thing!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Room Full of Mirrors

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

 Here's some Hendrix read as overly dramatic poetry: "I used to live in a room full of mirrors, all I could see was me.  Well I take my spirit and smash my mirrors, now the whole world is there for me to see."  WOW MAN, that's DEEP!

  We were talking last week about how many great teachers are running around the world.  It can be difficult to see them, though, especially if you're like me, and spend a lot of time in a room full of mirrors.  I work hard at being good at several things:  music, teaching, and speaking.  These things have become part of who I am, sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.  The mind is an absurd neighborhood sometimes, houses of thought standing haphazardly around cul-de-sacs that should be throughways of logic.  For some reason, until recently, my "musician" label was a mirror that prevented me from seeing who I was talking to.  I'd hold it up, measuring my skill against theirs, often completely unrelated.  I know it sounds silly, but as I gradually realized that their talent at say, art, didn't diminish my particular skill, I was able to put down the mirror, and see them...and WOW there are a lot of seriously talented people walking around, experts in so many fields, and often willing to share their knowledge and love of what they do.  The more I look, the more I find, and the more excited I get.  So long, room full of mirrors!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Mechanical Mindset

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey there, and welcome to The Signalman show!  I hope you're having a great week so far!  OMG...that stupid mower.  I'm working on fixing this cool old 1971 John Deere mower, and I think it should be called a "Dear John" instead.  I broke it again.  It's yet to mow the whole yard.  However, by the time it's all said and done, it will mow the lawn, and get me material for an entire book on philosophy and patience.

  If I had to pick a breed of dog that accurately reflects my personality, unfortunately, my mother was right...it's not a boxer, or a pug...but a poodle.  "You're fussy like a poodle" she retorted when I insisted I wasn't akin to that fancy dog.  I've turned a lot of wrenches in my life, and have learned that there's a balance to the poodle side, and that is what I call The Mechanical Mindset.  It asks "what is the solution?" instead of "OH NO OH NO IT'S BROKEN CAN IT EVER BE FIXED IN A MILLION YEARS I SHOULD BUY A NEW ONE."  Shifting from "can it be fixed?" to "how can it be fixed?" is empowering indeed!

 For example:  I'm painting around the house, and one of the doorknobs fell apart.  It obviously went back together, but how was a bit puzzling.  I sat there and like the Grinch, puzzled until my puzzler was sore.  Now it's working, and I'm entirely too smug about it.  My students should expect a show and tell of the doorknob..."Now, let me tell you about something called "The Mechanical Mindset".  Hopefully a squirrel doesn't show up.  I am a poodle, after all.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Business and Heart

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio


  Hey there, and welcome to the Signalman show!  Well, today was the day.  I gathered the tarps, packed up the final odds 'n ends, chased all the guitar picks down, looked out the window one last time, and dropped the keys to my office off in the deposit box.  I drove north, and turned off Old Washington Road for good.  

  I've recently moved my guitar teaching practice to my home studio, closing out 13 years in Waldorf, MD.  It's taught me a lot about running a business, and, the thought of the day - business and heart need not be unrelated.  We usually think "professional" means dressing boring and never having a long knife too far away.  "It's nothing personal, it's just business."  I've acted like that at times, and been on the receiving end of it as well.  And sometimes we all carry it farther, making the business actions personal in a bad way.  That's a doozy of a bad hop to field, and often counterproductive in addition to being mean.  But today, there was one final affirmation of a good business lesson from Old Washington Road.  My room was painted.  There was another renter lined up.  All the business was taken care of.  I had said thank you and goodbye, and started to walk down the hall. My kind landlady called out that she was going to miss me.  This small gesture of friendship and appreciation was a fitting final lesson that we can make the bucks, run empires...and to quote Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol...make mankind our business.  

Thank you, Waldorf!  And thank you, A.  

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Awards Show

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning, and Happy Friday!  Seems like I say that a lot...man, the weeks sure go by fast!
Welcome to the show.  I was in Wal-mart yesterday...more returns.  The mower battery wasn't right.  I tried not to be "that guy", but I was, in my weird obscure T-shirt, plunking a dirty lawnmower battery down on the counter, and wondering why I couldn't get a full refund.  The lady took care of it, but took a minute to get through my thick skull.  I got the new one, walked back, and wanted to say something nice to her.  "How's your day?" is so lame, and suddenly I remembered a Dale Carnegie bit about compliments.  "You must be really good at logistics" I said.  "Oh, well...I try."  "Funny you should say that" a guy in line chimed in, dressed in only what could be described as High Walmart Fashion. (It was pretty epic.)  "She's really good."  The lady had an earned smile on her face for a legitimate recognition of a talent, and suddenly, the trenches of the return department seemed a bit more human.  It was awesome!

  I am recognizing that most everyone I meet is worlds better at something that I'm learning, something that I appreciate, or something that I admire.  It's been fun to realize this, and point it out to them.  I need a backpack full of trophies, so I can have a traveling awards show.  We're gonna talk a little more about this idea next week, as it turns the world into not only a friendlier place, but a classroom.  For now, have a GREAT weekend, and see what talented people you meet!

Friday, June 23, 2017

100!

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning, and welcome to the 100th episode of the Signalman show!  AND, the first day of summer.  MAN, what a day!

  Wanted to say "THANK YOU" for listening to this show!   It's been fun so far, and we're just getting warmed up.  In particular, I've enjoyed the opportunity to interview such a rockin' crew, with an especially wide range of views.  The division online and in person seems to be getting worse by the day, and I see an increasing need to address it.  I should specify, though.  Difference in thought isn't a problem, but the intolerance to it is, poisoning friendships at best, and in extreme cases, condensing into actual lead, the trigger fingers as blind as their owners.

  So, we can talk, we can listen, we can disagree with respect, and we can learn. It seems like it's all we can do, but perhaps, like doing pushups, the simple, basic, everyday is the way forward.  It's not fancy, but let's see what happens.   In the next 100 episodes of the show, I'd like to host more interviews, with an even broader range of topics and views, and listen to more people.  I could use your help.  If you have any suggestions of people you'd like to hear on this podcast, be it yourself, a friend, a local political or religious leader, or anyone you admire...please let me know!  Let's get 'em by.  We all have work to do.  Let's make it a summer of listening.

  Thanks for 100 episodes!  And Happy Summer!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Triumph!

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!  The forces of mediocrity were defeated on Friday evening in Washington.  Christoph Eschenbach took the conductor's podium in front of the National Symphony Orchestra, raised a baton, and smashed the idea that enthusiasm was reserved for clowns.  He dealt a crushing blow to the smirk, the scoff, the tepid answer of "can't complain."  The people tried not to cough in the concert hall at the Kennedy Center, but only about half succeeded.  That didn't stop Eschenbach, though.  He threw thunderbolts at the timpani, winding up his hands like a relief pitcher with an strange delivery, uncorking lighting, this boss of Zeus, the CEO of Thunder, inc.  He swayed in the perfume of the strings, wafting the sound so sweet you could smell it,  his hands like a baker, and deftly conducted a hundred person choir with his fingertips as a clockmaker tunes the gears in an ancient and honored timepiece.  It was a farewell concert, and Beethoven's last symphony...how fitting.

  The rest of us just watched, our jaded wings unable risk flight.  And here this orphan of World War II, who didn't speak for a year after his father was killed until some blessed soul asked him if he wanted to play music, this slight man in a crisp suit who waved life with his hands, he...he showed us a way.  I awoke the next morning, and remembered the good news.  The forces of mediocrity were defeated, at least for 74 minutes in the humid city of Washington.  The crowd only let him offstage after every hand in the building ached with the applause of five encores.  Bravo, sir.  And now, about that way you showed us...time to think about that.

Monday, June 19, 2017

End of an Era

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Our minds are funny things.  I've been spending a disproportionate amount of time on eBay this morning.  I've got a bid on an impact wrench, and picked up a nice used MAC tools air ratchet for $23. Now that's a deal!

  I don't know about you, but when I have a choice between a big, real thing to think about, or a triviality, well, I always choose the little thing.  Gaa, I wish I'd stop doing that!  Maybe it's because it has the illusion that it would be easier to control.

  Today is a big day.  It's my last day working on Old Washington Road in Waldorf, MD.  If someday there was a group of people who decided to form the Josh Urban Historical Society, paid handsomely by my estate, of course,  their tours would surely start midway up on Old Washington Road.  They'd gather in the hot August sun, I'd imagine, their floppy hats no use against the ubiquitous asphalt that is Waldorf.  The guide, a sporting a vintage "Sup Comrade" shirt, would point to a dinky window where I studied guitar for years.  They'd move south, getting stuck in traffic that backed up at the slow light, and pull into the weedy parking lot of the now-abandoned teen hangout and strange combination of ministry and punk club called My Brother's Place.  Perhaps the little brass plaque would still hang by the door "Dress code enforced by management's discretion", incongruent with the teenage ghosts sporting tri-hawks, plaid, and fake leather.  "This is where Mr. Urban learned to mix sound, and was generally a grumpy teenager.  It took him years to realize that he hated working in the sound booth, as the crowd  had it's back to him."  Someone would inquire about the DC sounds of punk and go go, and the guide would realize he missed that aspect, masking it in a "I'm glad you asked" remark, mentioning that combined with the punk mixing at the club, there was the go go guitar stint in the gospel band, the funky sounds of the nation's capital graciously taught, along with certain handshakes so patiently instructed.

  Across the light, they'd shuffle, past the dubious TNT Fashions store, the same faded suits in the window for years, arriving at a hulking, dilapidated storefront that used to be a guitar shop.  "He put the Christmas decorations up one year, and a medivac helicopter landed in the parking lot, blowing the wreath off the front of the guitar shop" someone would point.  The porta-john trucks would still rattle out of the neighboring lot, and the daily coal train would shake the ground as it rumbled by the first tiny teaching studio wedged in the back of the music store, glass panes on the doors that bored colleagues would stand in front of and try to distract their fellow instructors in lessons.

  Finally, this imaginary group of my fabrication would arrive at The Treehouse, as it was called, the second studio, and first leap out on entrepreneurship...A nondescript office building across the street from a grocery store.  For almost ten years republicans, democrats, hippies and preachers would trudge up the stairs and sit next to the lava lamp to learn, teach, laugh, and cry.  "If it sounds good, it is good" was a motto.  Many struggled, many triumphed.  In guitar, too, but Life was the main focus.  There was a lot of learning, for everyone in the room.  One of the imaginary tourists leans in to put an ear to the drywall, seeing if she can hear the echo of the phrase "Any questions?" The cars would still roar up the road like they were stolen (and probably were), and just then, the daily coal train would announce with an ominous blast.  "I hear that train a comin', it's rollin' round the bend" someone would reference, and they'd all file out down the 13 steps of the stairs.

  So, I've also been shopping for impact wrenches on eBay, too.  I'm terribly excited to move my teaching studio to my garage and continue the fun...but I will miss Old Washington road, it's mad rush of suburbia masking the rich memories not only of an entire career, but the people who walked the path alongside me.  Thank you, Waldorf!  And Goodnight.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Next Thing

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning, and welcome to The Signalman Show!  I was record shopping the other day, and wandered into the book department.  Browsing the shelves, I discovered that I'd never read This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Five bucks is a small price to pay for at least the idea of improving one's mind, so I bought the book, and have been using it as a worthy substitute for Family Guy videos on over dinner.  Well, it's getting there, I should say.

  I read something last night that has been intriguing me.  A mentor character in the book, Monsignor Darcy, states this:  If we can do the next thing, and have an hour a day to think in, we can accomplish marvels."  A bit later, elaborating:  "I have just learned to do it myself.  I can do the one hundred things beyond the next thing, but I stub my toe on that, just as you stubbed your toe on mathematics this fall."  

  The next thing.  I could be missing the point entirely, but that's actually beside the point.  My interpretation is:  the challenge immediately at hand on our path to our goals.  It's often un-glamorous, something like paperwork, an uncomfortable phone call, sending that invoice, or the daily dedication to practice.  But now it has a name, a focus, and the title of an idea:  The Next Thing. Moreover, it takes on a Zennish simplicity, and clarity for me, as I'm always getting my head lost in the clouds and becoming overwhelmed with the complexity of big ideas.   What's your Next Thing?  I've got quite a list of them for me over here.  And speaking of taxes...business ones are due!  Gotta run!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Everyone Needs a Hug

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning and welcome to The Signalman Show!

  OK, more stories from the street.  I went to Richmond this past Saturday, and well, was a bit nervous to start up the street music again.  I'm not sure why...maybe it's just been a while.  Well, it sure was good to be back.  I'm jammin' with my broom guitar, and the religious weirdos show up down the block, set up their signs, and start a street sermon video, the hipsters are walking by, and all of the denizens of the  concrete jungle were there.  So much fun!  Well, one of the local drunks stops by.  I didn't recognize him until he took off his sunglasses.  He's been a nuisance before, and I wasn't exactly thrilled to see him at first, but this changed.  He seemed a bit somber.  I asked him how he was, and he teared up.  His daughter, who I've seen before selling faded roses from her motorized scooter, was in the ICU.  He was worried sick.  She's his everything. I spontaneously offered a hug, which he accepted, clinging to me like his world was slipping away.  We talked a bit, and he felt a lot better when he realized one of her procedures wasn't as serious as he thought it was.  He wandered off to get a beer.  People sure are complicated.  And seems like everyone needs hugs.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Tallest Man on Cary Street

Hey everyone!

  I hope you had a great weekend!  I sure did...and met a remarkable gentleman while I was playing street music in Richmond.   Let's call him "Sam."  Sam, if you're listening to this show, please let me know if you'd like to do that interview we were talking about.  It would be an honor.  We got to talking about creativity a bit, and I mentioned that writing seems to be my primary form of expression.  Sam, I wrote you something.  I know it's a tough subject, and want you to know that I write this with respect and humility.  May we all strive to your level of dignity, service, and fortitude.

Our kneecaps should at least feel a prickle of shame as we walk by the Tallest Man on Cary Street.  Some gave all, some gave almost all...but most gave none at all.  "It's been a slow day" he says as the fancy girls and hipsters walk by, towering above The Tallest Man on Cary Street.

  He had jokingly requested "Freebird", and we exchanged hellos across the street.  Guitar strings eventually break, street music stops, and conversation starts.  A few minutes in, "Are you OK talking about war?" I ask him, my peer, only 1 year older than me.  "I hear this generation of vets feels invisible."

"It's more of how I'm treated now.  I got laid off, and my disability paperwork is taking forever.  I've got to put on this stupid sign and come out here to make ends meet, otherwise I'll lose everything I have.  But, I'd do it again, no regrets."  A strange avian sound reverberates off the quaint storefronts in the summer afternoon.  He glances up, mentioning how he won't let a hawk take off with his puppy.  Rolling by a dumpster the other day, he had heard a whimpering inside.  He discovered the puppy, took some money from his dwindling supply, and got the shots and food for Rufus, as was the name chosen.  "I was gonna take him to the shelter, but he slept on my chest the first night, and that was it."  They love each other, a sight of connection to watch behind the screen of people politely ignoring his polite sign.  There's a blankness on the street, and I've only tasted the appetizer.  People seal off in their own little bubbles.  If you want to feel lonely, try asking a crowd for help.

  I shake what's left of his hand, thank him for his service, and go back to my car.  I surprise myself and start to cry.  Not like the bee sting sob of a boy, but a smarting injustice that makes your jaw clench and eyes leak.  He left his legs in Fallujah.  I can't even spell that word.  And we left him there on the ground with his sign.  What a thanks. The pretty girls and hipsters walk by.  We should all pull our fancy skirts and designer jeans to cover our kneecaps, shudder as they should to meet his friendly, dignified gaze.  After all he's done for us...How we have failed The Tallest Man on Cary Street.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Happy Birthday, Matt!

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning, crew!

  Happy birthday to Matt Hooke!  Matt is a friend, musician, radio host, and indirectly, one of the reasons for this podcast.  I met him at a show we were both playing last summer in Takoma Park, Maryland.  As gregarious as I am, sometimes I don't make a point to talk to my fellow musicians as much as I should.  I'm glad I talked with Matt, though.  We ended up jamming onstage, he later got me an interview on WOWD Takoma Park, which eventually got me thinking about podcasting.  He's guested on this show, and I've guested on his show in Cleveland on WRUW, and we continue to collaborate.  All from one "Hey man, how's it going?"  Not only would I like to wish him a happy birthday today, but thank him for yet another reminder that there are cool people walking around everywhere, and a single conversation can change a life!  I'm gonna start saying hello more!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A fun idea

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning!

  I've got a fun idea.  Bring flowers to the customer service department.  Ah, I'll explain.

  It was the day of a million errands yesterday, and an overcast sky found me lugging a big old car battery into Wal Mart.  See, I had bought a lawnmower battery there, and if you bring back the old mower batter, you avoid what's called the "core charge."  They re-manufacture the batteries, and sell them again.  Well, this wasn't a lawnmower battery, and it was covered with spiderwebs and dirt.  I thunked it on the counter of the customer service department, off to the side so the old guy with the jar of organic peanut butter that wasn't sealed right could get  his money back.  Poor Jen...the light had been knocked out of her eyes a long time ago.  She took care of the old guy, then asked her coworker about the spiderweb battery I had brought back, mechanically moving through the actions.  She didn't seem talkative, and I could totally see her point, especially as I started to look around, imagining that everyone needed to return something.  Wouldn't it be cool to go to a town where you didn't need anything from the customer service department, and bring them a snack or a treat as a keep-the-faith present?  I'm heading out to Gainesville VA in a few hours to DJ, and I'm gonna do that at their Wal-Mart.  Feel free to join in the fun!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Dragons and Lizards

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

Good morning, and Happy Monday!  I hope you had a great weekend!  I sure did.  Helped a buddy move into a beautiful new home (shoutout to Ryan!), got to dance with girls way more talented than me, AND DJ'd a wedding where the married couple was so happy they could barely stand it.  On Sunday, I took a road trip with my mom and brothers, out along a route we've been traveling for years. It was a beautiful day, and I treasure these excursions. I've grown up watching the road wind into those mountains, and have thought much along the way.  I got to thinking about subtlety.  You ever have those moments where you go "Huh, I guess this is Life!"?  There's no dragons, no epic battles of yore...just a road unwinding gently through pastures and farmland, yet so much happens over the years.  As you know, I'm a bit of a dramatic fella...but lately have been noticing how big things hinge on little things, and the little things are built on a pile of seemingly inconsequential choices.  Here's a little something I wrote about it...not sure if you'd exactly call it a poem, but here goes:

When I was a younger man,

  I heard tales of distant mountains looming in a vast sky,

with battles of old to decide fate and glory, silver clashing on silver,

Fate looking down from a white horse and saying

            "Behold, your Life."

But what if dragons are the lizards  

  Scuttling across my suburban driveway

And the drums of war the ticking of the mantle clock

That we must be vigilant to wind


And first, to choose to wind.

          Feel the key in your hand.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Robot Thoughts

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio


Happy FRIDAY, and welcome to The Signalman show!

  So, I got to thinking about what the little fella said.  You know, about the robot and magic hot chocolate and flying to space.  Ah, a quick recap.  One of my 9 year old students went off on a tangent, and invented an incredible robot that could do almost anything, including brewing hot chocolate that could make us fly into space.  BUT - we'd have to come back to Earth, because we can't breathe in space.  I pointed out that the robot might be able to figure out a way around that, but since have been thinking:  Isn't that what we all do?

  Most of us are here by impossible odds in one way or another.  Pause a moment and reflect on this.  You probably have some miraculous story that you might have forgotten, be it past history and well, today is today.  We're so quick to accept that, yet draw from what I call selective realism, choosing a reason pretty much out of context as to why we can't do something.  In other words, don't we all have our own versions of magic robots, but "since everyone knows we can't breathe in space", we're forced earthward?  I'm still not sure what to do about this, but as they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem...Good things to ponder over the weekend!  Let me know what you come up with!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Let Your Imagination Breathe

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

There's nothing quite like the tangents a 9 year old boy will take.  I was sitting in my guitar teaching chair last night, trying to get the little fellow interested in not only holding his guitar fairly upright, but to also play a few notes, and have them sound decent.  It's literally and figuratively a balancing act - these little fellows are wiggly, and that's OK! I don't remember exactly what the cue word was, but probably something like "try it again" or "practice", and BAM, he was off on a wonderful tangent.  It started with a robot.  "We could ask him to make us hot chocolate!  And he'd be back in like five seconds with it, and it would be the best hot chocolate ever."  "This is superior hot chocolate in every way" I intoned in my best robot voice.  "And then I'd ask him to make a fleet of robots.  But then I'd let him rest."  "I need a nap now."  "But you've only been working for fifteen seconds."  "But it was very hard work."  "And he'd put something in the hot chocolate that could make us FLY!  And then we'd go to SPACE!....but then we'd have to come back to Earth, because we couldn't breathe."

  I felt it my job to point out the obvious flaw in his logic.  "But, I think if he could make magic hot chocolate and get us to space - he could figure out a way we could breathe."

  Why do we do that?  Why do we build robots that make us magical hot chocolate, and then worry about breathing in space?  It's got me thinking about self-imposed limits.  Sometimes kids say the darndest things...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Infect Them!

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

Good morning, and welcome to The Signalman Show!

  WOW what a crazy weekend!  Did the speech for the teen leadership conference called HOBY (Hugh O'Brien Youth), and then returned the next day with my brothers to DJ their dance.  It was LIT!  I also was able to confirm about leadership there that, well, I think might be of interest to you.

  But first, a story.  One day a few years ago, I was hosting my Classic Radio Hour, a program of golden oldies that I take around to local nursing homes.  I was a bit sleepy, and the room didn't seem to be diggin' Frank Sinatra the way they usually did.  At first, I thought "well, nothing I can do about it, I'm just pressing buttons."  But I perked up a little bit, and the room seemed to, as well.  Still, I wasn't quite sure.  After all, once a track is dropped, all I can do is experience it, right?  Or is there more? The question was:  would my reaction to it be contagious?  

  Back to this weekend:  We were dropping the latest hits on the kids, and they were loving it.  But, like most audiences, they really only knew what was on the radio.  My brother put on a track that was only slightly off the beaten path (but hardly.)  I think it was Phantogram's "You Don't Get Me High Anymore" The crowd seemed to be open to it, but they weren't sure.  I'm onstage in front of the booth, and I start dancing and waving my hands...and sure enough, the crowd started to mirror it.  It proved to me that yes, my attitude IS contagious. And, so is yours.  Even with something as secondary as DJing (we're not MAKING the music, only presenting it), passion and excitement can provide a clear example that others can follow.  Lead them!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Speck, just a Speck!

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

Good morning!  I spend a lot of time working to elevate my profile in the world, and maybe you do, too.  There's always branding, marketing, influence, and the like...we talk about it on this podcast, and walk it in life.  So, sometimes, after an especially busy day, it helps me to look up at the night sky, and get a perspective check.  Last night was cloudy, but found me reading "Death by Black Hole", a bestseller by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  He explained how humanity first thought the heavens rotated around the earth, but then the heliocentric universe (sun-centered) emerged.  Then we thought the solar system was the center of the universe, but we figured out that was wrong.  THEN we thought our galaxy was all their was, but THAT was wrong.  THEN we thought that the universe was expanding away from us equally, and we were the center of the origin, but THAT was wrong. He says then

"What are the lessons to be learned form this journey of the mind?  That humans are emotionally fragile, prerenialluy gullible, hopelessly ignorant masters of an insignifically small speck in the cosmos.  Have a nice day."

WOW!  That's pretty darn awesome, man.  I put the book down, and wandered over to the record player to flip the vinyl over.  I saw The Beatles albums on the wall, and thought how we're all specks on a speck.  Austin Kleon writes in "Steal like an Artist" to embrace obscurity, and all the benefits it affords...experimentation and trial and error with no judgement of an expectant audience.  I know the speck thing freaks people out.  But, I kind of like to be reminded that I'm a speck in this mad dash of marketing and branding and the wild west of the Internet and modern soceity.  It lets me chill a bit, puts things in perspective, and grounds me.  AND...how cool we get to be part of the universe, the whirling, rushing, burning, spinning, fierce beauty.  That's the exciting thing, be we specks or supernovae.  So, as Mr. Tyson would say...Have a nice day!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

For Chris

Hey there, and good morning.  Well, it's Friday, but today's show is a bit somber.

  I'm sure you've heard by now of the passing of rock legend and voice of an age Chris Cornell.  He was 52, and after a concert in Detroit on Thursday, he took his own life.  It's a sad, sad thing, and I"d like to talk about it with you.

  The sun shone through the trees this morning as I peered out my door to greet the day.  The world turns, it's another Friday, and I'm here to experience it, the humid mid-atlantic air caressing my groggy and grateful face.  Many people are not.  Some people, like Chris, friends, and a certain family member of mine, are absent for the same reason.

  The Facebook posts with the suicide hotlines are starting, and that's good to see.  Rare is the man who faces no struggle in life, although not all of us are brought to the brink.  Yet I observe with a glad heart that most of us feel a kinship with each other when a sadness like Chris' is brought to the light, and an urge to help each other back from the edge.  Sometimes things are just sad,  and sometimes life is tough.  Society tries to ignore this, deny this, numb this.  But this only makes it worse.  It's OK to be sad.  When we accept this, then we can reach out and let those who care about us know.  And trust me, there's more of us than you'd think.

  I didn't know Chris, although I'm a fan of his work.  His high-profile tragedy is one that I will not understand, not being in his head, and I'd like to let him and his family sort that out in peace.  I have no place to even try to understand.  But his sadness is a reminder of my duties as your fellow man.  Know that you matter, know that I care, and know that you need not suffer in silence.  I'm always around on Twitter @DontJoshMe, and of course, the national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.  As aggravating and divisive as the world can appear, there's lots and lots of people in your corner.  If you're having a hard time, reach out.  Do it for me.  Do it for Chris.  Do it for you.

  1-800-273-8255

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tinkering

The Morning Show is a blog companion to yesterday's Podcast Audio

Good morning, and happy #ThrowbackThursday!  It's one of my favorite days of the week, hipster that I am.  Check THIS:  My brothers gave me an old 1970 John Deere riding mower.  It is OLD SCHOOL, BABY, and like many old school things, doesn't exactly work.  I put a new carburetor on it, a new battery, new fuel line, had to grab the rusty blades and get them spinning again, and now I've ordered a new tire to replace the flat.  It runs, smokes like a BBQ, sort of cuts, and my lawn is half-hacked to bits.  The new battery died, so when it stalls out, which is often, I drive my SUV over the lawn to where it's stuck, and give it a jump start.  It's a work in progress, but it's GETTING THERE!

  With all the things I like to tinker on...the 7 antique clocks, the camaro, all of these guitars...I'm working on enjoying the process.  It's so easy to say "I just want it to work!"  I mean, sure, it would be nice if the lawn looked good, but hey, it's getting there!  With machines, people, and careers, things are a process.  If we solve one problem, and get to the end of our to-do list, you know what we do?  Go out, and buy a jigsaw puzzle.  TO SOLVE.  So, note to myself:  enjoy the process!  Gonna go make some friends at the tire shop tomorrow.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Three Friends

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

  Good morning!  Man, what a beautiful day.  I was practicing my guitar for a bit out on the back porch today, and I heard a rustling.  I looked over, and there was my buddy the snake.  He lives under the house.  He's pretty intimidating looking, but he's not poisonous, and he's got a special spot that he hangs out to sun himself.  I value friendships with people that are very different than me, and I guess that extends to animals, too.  We tend to agree on two points:  that's his space, and that we limit our dealings to friendly waves in the distance.  Cool with me!  He keeps the mice away, and is darn cool to watch.  As I worked on my Bach, I saw a little lizard sunning himself on the porch.  He seemed to want a similar arrangement as the snake.

  So there we were, three beings living our day, side by side, worlds apart.  And nobody felt the need to throw a snarky Facebook meme at the other one.  And nobody was offended.  I'm gonna be thinking about how this might relate to the rest of my life.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mom!

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

(Note - this show aired YESTERDAY - I didn't forget my mom's birthday!)

Good morning, and welcome to The Morning Show!

  I'd like to wish my mom a very happy birthday today!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!  Got my party hat on...seriously!  Check out Instagram @JoshUrban to see a video of this show.
Now, some people know how to party, but my mother has the distinction of knowing how to celebrate.  Her birthday, our birthdays, other people's birthdays, life events, small victories, major accomplishments...And in doing that, in choosing to make a festive big deal out of things we could easily overlook, she consistently chooses to summon the magic of the occasion.

  It's so easy to stop doing that as the years go by.  Life can be gray, and we compound the dreariness with little choices.  Mom's celebration isn't because the lack of hardship, or the ease of the occasion, often quite to the contrary.  Sharing joy doesn't have to wait till the sun comes out - indeed, it often precedes it, and coaxes the rays to break through the clouds.

  Happy Birthday, Mom!  Toasting you today, and looking forward to celebrating with you!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

#MusicMonday

This is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio


Hey there, and Happy #MusicMonday!  It's been 72 episodes, and it's time for a music Monday one!  So, bringing you a story, and of course, a metaphor.  

  I'd like to introduce you to one of my guitars.  This is an old Harmony acoustic.  My buddy Bernie gave it to me.  It's kind of a junky guitar, and one of my favorites.  One of my students was looking at it today.  "It looks nice."  "It's really not" I replied.  "Look, the strings are all hard to play, you can't adjust the neck, it's warped, it sounds clunky...But if you use it for a gritty slide sound, it's killin'."  

  In most respects, it's not even worthy of a practice guitar.  But for the right application, it's magic.  Take another listen.  

  I've spent so much time and money searching for the "perfect" guitar.  But what is ideal, really?  Out of context, there isn't.  That's one of the things I love about art and music - a "nasty" sound is just the ticket for certain tracks, while other songs require that high-dollar acoustic tone.  But it's application specific.  

  Maybe anything and everything has a beautiful song within, and it's our job to find it.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Morning Show: The Complexities of Mother's Day

The Morning Show is the blog companion to the Podcast Audio

I keep yelling at my students and pointing fiercely, demanding "DO YOU KNOW WHAT SUNDAY IS?"  Why, it's Mother's Day.  Like anything else, it's a complicated day.  I'm incredibly lucky to have a living mother that I'm close to, but many of my friends aren't in the same boat, for a variety of reasons.  With the flood of mom pictures flooding the Facebook news feeds this weekend, comes a complexity of feeling for many people.

  So, be it that you're planning on taking great selfies with your mom like I am, or will be grieving yours like many of my friends, or feeling the lack of a strong female influence in your life like others, I propose a cool idea.

  This Sunday is a perfect opportunity to honor those feminine role models in our lives - those who nurture, those who listen, those who guide, those who love.  Let's take a moment out to honor them, and to let them know how much they mean to us.  And if you're one of these women, take a moment to appreciate yourself.  Children come in many forms, not just offspring. I challenge you to drop a note, send a card, or pick up the phone to tell an important woman in your life other than your mom that she makes a difference.  (And, of course, if you're close to your mom, let her know, too!)  And I say, to all you ladies out there...Happy Mother's Day!  Thanks for doing what you do!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Attacking the Corners


The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Hey there, and yay for Thursday!  It's the Morning Show!  I have this cool book called Zen Guitar, and there's a great quote in it.  "The Samurai say:  Attack the Corners."  I've been doing this with a Bach piece.  There's a delightful flute spotlight in the Orchestral Suite #2 in B minor, and while I've learned half of it years ago, I never tackled the rest.  For the past week, I've been chipping away at it for 15 minutes a day, attacking the corners.  It's not perfect, but it's GETTING THERE!

  We were talking about impossibilities yesterday, traits of our lives that we consider intractable.  For example, I'm a clumsy guy who's terrible at sight reading musical pieces.  With 15 minutes a day of attacking the corners of a Bach piece, I'm changing the sight reading impossibility.  And what about the clumsy part?  Did I mention the Latin Dance practice?  It's even sillier than you'd think...me, a clumsy white boy, trying to move to a beat.  But hey man, with a little bit of consistency, it's getting there.  Not only is it fun, but transformational to think "Hey, one day I might be able to consider myself...graceful."  That day is a long way off, but the fact that the journey has even been started is a fact that has changed my perception of myself.  So, what will you do today to attack the corners of an impossibility?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sneaky identities

The Morning Show is the blog companion to the podcast audio 

Hey there, and welcome to the Morning Show!

  Speaking at schools, I see how early we start to develop identities, and how blinding they can be.  We start with such a limited range, but if we're a little better or slightly worse than our buddy at say, throwing a ball, or solving a math problem, we start to build reasons why.  "Oh, I'm better at writing", or more dangerous still, after one or two failures of athletics, "I'm better at writing than playing basketball."  (This was me.)  One or two failures!  And we build a life identity around this, our prophecy self-fulfilling, because yeah, if you don't practice a skill, you will be bad at it.

  Looking at the kids doing this, I can trace it all the way to present-day me.  Part of my identity is a clumsy, goofy guy, but that's changing.  I'll get into how I'm doing that in tomorrow's episode, and hopefully you can join me in this process of reinvention.  For today, see if you can spot any of these "Impossibilities" that you've told yourself.  See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Morning Show - Creativity and Limits

The Morning Show is an blog companion to the podcast audio

Hey there, and welcome to the morning show!  Wanted to share an idea about creativity that will hopefully help you, regardless of your field of expertise.  As you may know, I'm a musician, and musicians like to buy gear.  We often make the mistake of thinking that we need more gear to create new things.  I was searching for a good keyboard sound the other day.  My first thought was "MORE SOFTWARE!"  I almost dropped $350 on an upgrade.  I wisely decided to think about it.  Sometimes having a limited budget is the best thing for creativity.  Rummaging around in my studio, I hooked up a weird guitar effect that sounds like a keyboard, and recorded that onto an old reel-to-reel tape recorder a friend had given men.  I sampled THAT into my software, and boom, had the coolest old school sound you'd ever want to hear.  Not only did I have it already, and not only did I save myself $350, but I created a custom sound that nobody else has, and learned more about sampling and recording in the process.  Bottom line:  I was able to use limitations to create something unique. PLEASE remind me of this next time I start whining that I need more gear.  And let me know what you cook up!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Free Market Entertaining

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio


Good morning, and welcome to the Signalman show!  MAN what a blast at career day last week!  I had the honor of speaking with three 4th grade classes at Berry Elementary in Waldorf, MD.  We had FUN!  As a matter of fact, I'd like to dedicate this week's podcast series to some of the themes illustrated from this event.

  We've heard of Free Market Economics, but when it comes to speakers and entertainers, most of us are communists.  We demand attention, and make the "government" (the teachers in this case) corral the market (the students) into giving it to us.  I heard guys saying sternly to 9 year olds "Hey, voices off."  Dude, you're lucky they didn't throw things at you.  Here's the thing about that:  sure, they'll be quiet, but man, they'll hate you.  As a musician, I see this happen when artists bemoan the fact that people "just don't appreciate good music anymore" or "the room is too noisy."  Man, we've gotta EARN this!  I went up to some poor kid, got right up in his face, and started yelling drill-sergeant style "WHO'S THE BOSS HERE?  WHO'S THE BOSS HERE?"  Startled, he kept saying back "YOU ARE!  YOU ARE"  "No" I said in a normal voice.  "you are!  Tricked ya!"

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Morning Show - Bizarro Metaphors

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio.

Happy FRIIIIDAY!  Yo, let's check out some bizarro chords, so you too can be driving north on I-95 saying "well, this strikes me more as a sharp eleven chord."  Argue my metaphors, man!  If you're just tuning in, we've been looking at music for non-musicians this week, and how certain scenes in life can be related to with the color of music.  Hopefully this will not only help you add a dimension to your poetic outlook, but also give you a closer look at the music you love.

  We learned that if we take 7 of the 12 notes and play a scale, we get this sound.  Then, if we take certain notes of that scale, and play them all at once, we get a chord.  Selecting different notes, or modifying them, alters the chord.  Yesterday we looked at three note chords, or triads.  But, what if we play more than three notes?  If we start off with the first note of a scale, the third, the fifth...what if we add the seventh?  Sounds like this!  How about the ninth?  Like this!  By the way, when I say the ninth, I mean nine scale tones, or degrees, above where I started.  You'll notice that the triads are akin to primary colors, and the more sonic information we add, the more subtlety we invoke, and more dissonance we involve.  We can really start to mess with things and play these big fancy jazz chords like so...And here, ladies and gentleman, is that chord I was referring to driving north out of Richmond on that beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon last week.  The thirteenth chord in all it's glory.

Have a great weekend!  And see what chords you see!

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Morning Show - Pugs not Drugs

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio.

Good morning, and welcome to the Signalman show!  It's 420...but pugs not drugs, bro! OK, so yesterday, in our quest to understand music for non-musicians, we looked at notes, and a major scale.  Now, let's build some chords - combinations of notes- from that scale.  On it's own, a note doesn't really tell us much.  It's just sitting there, minding it's own business.  But when we put it in a context of other notes, then we start getting these beautiful colors.  I'm going to take the do-re-mi scale I did yesterday (plays scale) and then select certain notes to combine.  The most common is the first, or root note, the third note, and the fifth note.  This gives me a major chord.  Note how it sounds happy or warm.  If I slide the third back one notch, listen to how it's suddenly sad, as if a cloud has gone over the sun at the picnic.  If I slide the fifth back one notch too, now it's raining at the picnic.  If I put the notes back, but raise the fifth one notch, now it's a flashback to a picnic in 1979.  Technically speaking, these are major, minor, diminished, and augmented triads, or three note chords.  Now we're getting some color, and a few new ways to relate to the world.  Tomorrow we'll look at those weird chords.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Morning Show - Building metaphors (and scales)

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio.

Yesterday I was going on about some nonsense about how a northbound road trip on a beautiful spring afternoon felt like I was driving through a thirteenth chord.  What does that even mean?  Musicians might nod knowingly, but I'd like to introduce the rest of you to the beautiful language of chords...and to give you a new way of seeing the world!  To understand chords, we have to understand scales, but don't worry, it's easy.  Western music is based on a system called the even tempered tuning system, which breaks sound up into 12 blocks.  I can start with this note, A, and play up 12 blocks, and then it repeats again as a multiple.  So, if A is ringing at 110 cycles per second, or Hertz, once I play through all 12, I arrive again at A, ringing at 220 cycles per second.  From A to A is called an octave.  If I take 7 of these 12 notes, and arrange them in a particular recipe or formula, I arrive at a major scale.  This is the do-re-mi we've heard about.  FYI, the formula is WWHWWWH, with a whole step being two "blocks", frets on the guitar, or keys on the piano, and a half step being one.  So, there you have it.  One step closer to understanding a metaphor, and using it yourself!