Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Weekend Challenge - Balance

The Morning Show is the blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey there, and happy Friday to ya!  Welcome to the show, and welcome to the Weekend Challenge!
This one is a music one that really applies to all of us.  The main point:  listen to the balance.  Here's what's up.  Tomorrow afternoon I'll be putting on a special T-shirt, plugging my bright orange guitar into a loud amp, and rockin' out at a reunion show.  About 8 years ago, I was in a gospel go-go band called Posse 4 Christ.  They're having a special concert again, and have asked me to play guitar for them.  I'm thrilled.  If you're not from the DC area, "go go" music is not about boots or 60's girls, quite the opposite in fact.  It's a funky blend of soul, funk, afro-Caribbean beats, rap, and in this case, gospel.  It's highly localized, a signature sound of the Capital city, and medicine for the soul.  It's also really weird for rock musicians to play.  For starters, the arrangements tend to be really big.  In this show, there will be two keyboards, a bass, a drummer, a conga player, a timbale player, four female vocals, two male vocals, and me.  This means that the sound is huge, but it's a fine line between lush and cluttered, and I'm usually the guy who would push it over the edge.  My job is like going to your girlfriend's family party.  You need to blend, compliment, accent, and every once in a while, tell a really snazzy joke in your typical rock 'n roll style, but then blend again, letting the aunts have the spotlight.  And, of course, you've gotta keep that wonderful swing beat, and stay in the pocket, as it's called.  It's easy to say too much, and step on the keyboards.  It's easy to be too timid, and get lost in the mix, a pale imitation of a cowbell.

  It's taught me to listen to the band as a whole, and see if a guitar line would improve the setting.  If so, I play it.  If not, I don't.  It's different from "oh, there's a place where I could FIT a guitar line."  It's very conversational.  So, this weekend's challenge:  Listen to the balance of the conversation as a producer or arranger would listen to the band, and see how you can make it better.  I'll be doing the same onstage in my Posse 4 Christ T-shirt, a funky little white boy rockin' out on his orange guitar...and listening.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Giving Space a Second Glance

The Morning Show is the blog companion to the podcast audio

  Shoutout to Michael.  He said what a lot of people surely are thinking..."Eh?"  This is regarding the solar eclipse.  If you're among the thousands of rightfully perplexed like Michael, this episode is for you.

 As usual, the media, myself included, has worked itself into a frenzy, but this time, it was about the Great American Eclipse.  And it left some people...underwhelmed.  Which is a bummer, 'cause space is awesome, and leave it to us media types to ruin it.  First off, there's an important distinction to make:  The partial and TOTAL solar eclipse experiences were completely different.  The partial was fascinating, a look at orbits, geometry, symmetry, interesting phenomena, shadows, and getting weird tan lines on your face.  The total eclipse found my emotional solar plexus, and hit it with a 2x4. That's the difference to me.  And unfortunately, the hype was for the total, and not the partial.  So, understandably, if you just saw the partial, you might be feeling a little bit of "HEY, there's no wolf in the sky!" ..."FAKE NEWS!"

It reminds me of a story...I was 12, and my uncle Joe was the tech guy in the family.  eBay had just become popular, and one day in January, a big box showed up at the door.  We all gathered around, and as the cardboard was ripped apart by us little hyenas, we all saw it was...A TELESCOPE!  I almost hyperventilated.  I had wanted one so badly a year prior, but a lousy visit to the optical shop nearly crushed my dreams of astronomy.  The owner was a snob, and didn't understand that an 11 year old doesn't have the budget for a fancy scope.  But here one was, ready to rock, with a colorful picture of the Helix Nebula on the box, in blues and oranges.  The sky was...cloudy.  It's a curse of new optics.

  The first clear night, I hauled the 80mm refractor out into the back yard, under a frigid evening sky, a nearly full-moon looming in the east above the oaks and the neighbor's house.  I couldn't wait to see the splendor of the heavens...those colors in the galaxies and nebulas, those endless starfields, the rings of Saturn...

  I was 12, and didn't realize that you can't see color through a backyard telescope, that the moon washes out faint objects, and that a small telescope is an exercise in exquisite subtlety, not that solar eclipse gut punch.  I was crushed.  I've rarely been so disappointed.  I remember my mom comforting me, and glumly staring at the floor mat in the car as we rode to the grocery store.  Thankfully, I gave it a second chance.  I joined a local astronomy club (and am still a member!)  I learned about how to observe "deep sky" objects on moonless nights.  I saw the rings of Saturn, the moons and bands of Jupiter, and trained my young, and powerful, eye to see ancient light from galaxies far, far away, keeping up with older guys with fancier equipment.  I learned the constellations, the mythology, the quiet of the night. I could "star hop", using a chart to navigate light years from the suburban backyard I called home.  I spent many hours at the eyepiece of the awesome little scope that Uncle Joe had sent the family, drinking in the splendor of the heavens...not the pulsing dance music I first imagined it to be, but a delicate Chopin nocturne.  And, when I thought of it, I realized this dainty tinkling of keys was the echo of a symphony greater than human comprehension, the very birth and death of stars echoing across eternity.  And, at the end of a night of stargazing, or even on an evening when my earthly troubles seems to crowd my head to distraction and I had little time for observing, sprawling out on the lawn and looking into infinity reminds me of my place in the sky, and grounds me with perspective.

  So, if you're feeling "eh" about the eclipse, I totally get it.  The hype can be exhausting.  To cure yourself of these blues, give it a second glance. Find a buddy with a scope, or a local "star party", as they call them.  Go see the rings of Saturn, and the craters on the moon.  Go out to the country, and gaze in wonder at the countless stars sprinkled across the velvet.  But, most important of all, as one of my friends and mentors always says..."Keep looking up."  There's a stillness in the vastness, and a peace in the infinite.  And, start planning for 2024.  I'll be in Texas, watching the next total solar eclipse.  Gotta have that shadow time, man!  I'm hooked!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Weekend Challenge - Good News

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning, and HAPPY FRIDAY!  Man oh man, this is going to be quite a weekend. Hitting the road for the final leg of the summer tour, heading to Richmond, VA, to DJ, host a radio show (tune in from 3-5 pm est on Saturday at, play street music, drive to Asheville, NC, play some more street music, and on Monday, drive to Clemson, SC, to watch the total solar eclipse.  WOO!

  And speaking of tour, have got a magnificent story from NYC that I haven't told you yet, and it brings us to the Weekend Challenge - make some good news.  Here's how some remarkable people brightened my world the other week.

   I was playing my broom near Times Square.  A weird guy drifted by.  "if I give you fifty cents, can I use your phone?"  "'s broken..uh, nah."  Not many people were on the side street.  I moved north, setting up on Broadway, right across from the Winter Garden theater, advertising the School of Rock musicial.  The parade of humanity kept trudging by, and there were a few fun broom jams here and there...a little girl with a magical smile, and her dad joined in with the Taylor Swift song.  Some teenagers...I was fading, and I needed lunch.  I gave myself fifteen more minutes before break.  Idly playing some blues on the broom, I look up to see a surfer dude and his girl run right up to me.  "Do you" they started.  This usually doesn't end well on the street when random people ask me things.  I'm a sober non-smoker and apparently, a disappointment to many people.  "Do you want to go see School of Rock?"  "Excuse me?"  "Yes!  We have an extra ticket to the show, and we're trying to give it away.  You seem like a cool guy, and we'd love to take you to see it."  "ALRIGHT THEN!"  I packed up my broom, my guitar, my backpack, my stomp fiddle..."Hang on, we've gotta tell our mates!" in a wonderful British accent. They bounded across Broadway, returning with even more exuberant friends.  "YAYY!  JOSH!"  There were hugs, and hurried introductions to Oskar and Megan and Joanne and Tom and Michael and Ekaterina, a charming crew of Brits, Swedes, and Russians, some now living in Mexico.  There was a brief line, security saying "unzip that guitar case, boss", and...entry!  The front of house lady said "Woah woah woah, are you going fishing?"  Had I been faster on my feet, I would have said "FOR ADVENTURE!", but I just mumbled about street music and the kindness of strangers.  She pointed me to the coat check, and then there I was, sitting in row L, about to see not on my first  Broadway show, but one based on a movie that I've based my career on.  It was stunning.  It was inspiring.  I was pumping my fist in the air by the end, yelling "STICK IT TO THE MAN!" as the music thundered through the room.  We enthused together during intermission and after the show.  Their graciousness, joy of kindness, and welcoming was incredible.  Did I mention they even gave me the best seat?  There were a block of decent seats, and then one really good one on it's own.  They wouldn't even switch halfway through.  WOW!

  And here was this thing of talent and beauty, given to me by kind strangers, who now of course are friends.  We met up later in Washington Square park, played broom guitar together, and even did a podcast interview.  Stay tuned for Tommy's park conversation.  Michael even tried to throw a twenty in my hat.  I got right up in his kind face, and pushed him away.  His generosity floored me.

  They eventually wandered off into the crackling dusk that is the closest thing that New York ever gets to a night, but thank goodness for Facebook so we can keep in touch.

  I thank them not only for the broadway show - that was incredibly cool - but even more for their kindness to a random stranger.  I can't say that random acts of kindness always find their mark, or always matter...but this one did.  Thank you for brightening the world, Michael and Oskar and Joanne and Megan and Tom and Ekaterina.

And that, folks, is your weekend challenge.  Go make some good news, too!  I know I've got a lot to pay forward myself.

Friday, August 18, 2017


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


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


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!