Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Unprofessional Bio

Rick Daley is known in the contact center industry for taking names and kicking ass, although not necessarily in that order.  His qualifications as a certified Call Center Ninja have nothing to do with his skills with weaponry, such as the katana and the throwing star (a proficiency that is best described as “lethal”), but rather with his uncanny ability to understand the problems that lesser people create, and to implement solutions to those problems with an efficiency that makes Seal Team Six look like a bunch of pussies.  While his genius is too intense to fully train an underling in the full breadth and scope of his expertise, his minions get smarter just by standing near him. 

Daley once created a multi-billion dollar global corporation in a single day, using nothing but a toothpick and duct tape.  He gave the money to charity and cured world hunger.  While this may have just been a dream, it is important to Daley because he believes in it, and therefore so should you.

His motto, “Buy from me or else,” should not be taken as a threat, even though that’s exactly what it is.  Even though he seems mild-mannered, the last person who pissed him off is still unaccounted for, and is likely to remain as such.  That being said, you should always provide Daley with up-to-date and accurate information, no matter how bad the tidings; not once has he killed the messenger (at least not that he will publicly admit).

His education stems from a life much more interesting and complex than your own, or than that of any author of any book ever, so there is no degree available that supersedes his experience.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Zappa

Frank Zappa is a unique musician.  Many only know of his song "Valley Girl," but there's so much more to his catalog.  His instrumental work was great, and he demanded the ultimate precision from his backing bands.  Listen to Peaches en Regalia, for example, great melodies, and a lot of layering in the instrumentation. (NOTE: Link goes to a recording of him Live at Montreaux, which is a famous show where "some fool with a flare gun" set fire to the place and burned it down.  Deep Purple wrote "Smoke on the Water" in recollection of the event).

He has some odd material, though.  Some downright perverted stuff, too.  I think "Briefcase Boogie" from Thingfish earns first place in that regard.  He went over the top on purpose, though, in the war against censorship.  And battles must be fought to preserve our freedom, and sometimes the arsenal requires use of a copious amount of Very Dirty Words and Ideas.

Frank had a sharp sense of humor, too.  One of my favorite songs is "Cosmic Debris," a story of Frank matching wits with a snake-oil guru (my words, in the song he's The Mystery Man).

Then there's "I'm The Slime."  It's more relevant now than when he wrote it 40 years ago:

I am gross and perverted.
I'm obsessed 'n deranged.
I have existed for years,
but very little had changed.
I am the tool of the Government,
and industry too,
for I am destined to rule
and regulate you.

I may be vile and pernicious, but you can't look away.
I make you think I'm delicious, with the stuff that I say.
I am the best you can get. Have you guessed me yet?

I'm the slime oozing out of your TV set.

You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don't need you
Don't go for help . . . no one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mold
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold

Challenge complete.  Thanks for reading!

A-Z Challenge: X, YYZ

Yeah, I'm doing it again.  Consolidating letters and bands.  For the last time, though, I promise.

X if for Xanadu.  Not the disco version, the Rush version.  It's not their greatest work, and I didn't even know about it until a few weeks ago when I sat in a frenzy, furiously Googling X-bands and X-songs.  Really not much to work with.  Last year's movie theme was so much easier.

Now YYZ, on the other hand....That I'm more familiar with.  YYZ is a fast jamming, tight instrumental groove.  Musically, it starts off with Morse code rhythm for the letters Y-Y-Z (hence the name), bouncing between two notes in an augmented fourth (or diminished fifth, depending on your perspective), a rarely-used musical interval between the perfect fourth and perfect fifth. 

As a bassist, I am required to like Rush.  I took an oath when I first started playing.  Geddy Lee's chops are awesome, and the respect-o-meter goes off the charts given the fact that he also sings while playing bass.  Now some people may not like his voice, but I do.  It's another one of those unique tones that you can identify immediately. 

Neal Peart is a legendary drummer.  Not many have the clout behind the set that he has earned.  Speed and precision, off-time signatures, and he also writes all the band's lyrics.  Yeah, you could say he's talented.

Alex Lifeson rounds out the power trio on guitar.  He adds harmony yo the rhythms and melodies created by his counter-parts. 

So here's YYZ for you.  Turn it up!


Friday, April 26, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Victor Wooten

I'd like to say a few short words about Victor Wooten: I am much taller than he is.  (NOTE: Ha!  Get it?  Short, words...I'm taller...That's funny.)

I mentioned Victor once before in this series, but he's worth bringing up again.  The first time I had heard of him, my old roommate Matt the Cat had seen a Bela Fleck concert and came back with their CD and said, "You have to listen to this band.  Their bassist is incredible.  He's their secret weapon!"

Later, I went on a road trip with my friend Mark, and saw that Bela Fleck did literally introduce Victor as the band's secret weapon.  And he was right.  Victor can do amazing things on the bass, even playing two at the same time, Stanley Jordan-style.

I may have mentioned before that I also play bass, so he's an incredible influence.  Victor plays a 4-string, which I think is cool because he can get more sound out of it than most bassists can get from a 6-stringed instrument.  He crosses and blends styles, from funk to jazz to classical, and pushed himself to further his own learning.  He holds workshops (I recently saw him for free at guitar center here in Columbus) and helps other musicians learn to grow their own talents.   

I did have the chance to meet him once.  It was after a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones show at Cain Park in Cleveland.  That's a very small, hard-to-find amphitheater.  After the show all three members of the band hung around to chat with the fans.  There were only about a hundred people there, and not all stayed.  It was very cool to meet one of my idols and shake his hand.

And, once again, I've covered two letters in one day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A-Z Challenge: U2

Quick post today.  For more information, see yesterday's post.

Bono has a very distinct voice.  He's up there with Petere Gabriel, Eddie Vedder, and Jim Morrison for being instantly recognizable.

The Edge has a distinct style because he plays the effects alsmost like a second instrument (or a slew of other instruments).  His grooves have great hooks to them.

They also have a drummer and a bassist.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Time

Time.  I'm going to tackle this one from multiple angles.

For starters, I've been short on time lately.  Work is busy.  It's a good kind of busy, though, working for a growing company with a bunch of good people.  But the work / life balance is difficult.  You know how the old formula goes:

(work * (two kids + dog) / (wife - cost of living) = get back to work

The hours at the office limit my personal initiatives.  I'm planning to run a half-marathon, but I'm only getting out and running once a week...a long run on the weekends.  It hurts. 

This A-Z challenge has certainly lived up to its name...but it's a challenge I've needed because I haven't been writing much else lately.  I've been getting up early to make the time to post, but when you miss a weekend day, it's tough to catch up again. 

Time is relative, though.  I have a bit of jetlag today.  I flew to California on Sunday, you see, and got to bed at 10:00 pm California time, which is 1:00 am Ohio time.  Then I woke up at 7:30 am Ohio time, which is 4:45 am California time.  I got caught up on work, had a great meeting, then flew home, a destination I reached at 11:00 pm California time, which is 2:00 am Ohio time.  Then I got to work by 9:00 am Ohio time, whihc is 6:00am California time.  So you get the point.  My internal clock is a bit scrambled.

But if you do it right, you can manipulate and stretch time when you travel.  I've flown to Chicago and arrived before I took off, thanks to a 55-minute flight to a destination 60 minutes behind.

One time I flew home from Germany on my birthday.  October 10th lasted 30 hours that year. It might have been 31 hours, actually, because I touched ground in Chicago to change planes and then flew ahead to Ohio.  You see, Dusseldorf is six hours ahead of Ohio, and I flew back chasing the sun..and winning.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around, to come up behind you again
The sun is the same, in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death...
-  "Time" by Roger Waters / Pink Floyd

Dark Side of the Moon holds a Guinness World Record for being in the charts longer than any other album in history...591 consecutive weeks (a little over 11 years straight).  It's a masterpiece, best listened to in whole, and rather loud. 

"Time" stands out for it's blend of insightful lyrics, music (how many songs open with a cool drum solo?), and sound effects (thanks to Alan Parsons, who had once recorded every clock in a shop). 

Roger Waters was pushing thirty when he wrote those lyrics.  He had been playing with Pink Floyd for a decade, successful enough to make a living, but not yet a superstar. 

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run.  You missed the starting gun...


Monday, April 22, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Rolling Stones

I'm still a letter behind, so I'm bending the rules and covering R and S in one shot today with the Rolling Stones.  It may be against the rules, but it's also kind of clever, and let's be honest...the Stones are such a landmark in rock history that they deserve two letters.

I'm mostly amazed that they can still function at all, let alone put on a show and please a stadium full of people.  I mean, Keith Richards went through the full embalming process at least a decade ago and Mick Jagger is so thin he looks like he hasn't eaten since 1985.  Charlie Watts is pushing 150 years old, and Ron Wood makes Richards look healthy.

Still, they kick ass.

There's something to the Rolling Stones that is visceral and kinesthetic. (NOTE: please look those words up and make sure I used them correctly.  Thanks.)  The energy in their music is the driving force, more than the notes and chords or the lyrics.  It resonates deeply across a wide range of listeners.  Very few bands have been able to put out hit after hit that scored so strong, and even fewer (i.e. none) have been able to sustain that performance for 50+ years.

Long live rock and roll!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Queen

Sure, Queen may be a cliche band to use for the letter Q, but let's face it, our options are somewhat limited here.  Besides, they were a talented band and their songs endure.

I saw this on Facebook a while back, and it's a great representation of the difference in talent we see from true artists and manufactured hits:

Freddy Mercury had a lot going for him.  His voice, piano playing and composition, lyrics...It's been said that he had an opportunity to correct his overbite but he didn't because he thought it could put his vocal range at risk.

Freddie Mercury died of AIDS, and he hid his ailment for along time, finally admitting to it on his deathbed.  Now I'm not sure if he was hiding the affliction and the stigma associated with the disease, or just his homosexuality in general, but a few months back I watched a Queen concert on cable, and by mid-way through it Freddie had stripped down to a pair of white Daisy Duke shorts, a red scarf, and a sailor's hat, and proceeded to prance around the stage as he sang.  So if it's the latter, I am astounded at the state of denial the public (and / or Freddie) must have been in. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't have any issues with him living his life the way he's just that he could have a a rainbow with the words "I'm Gay!" written across it tattooed across his chest and it would not have made the fact any more obvious. 

And for the record, that concert was awesome.  The drum solo included both the drum kit and a set of timpani, and the band cleared the stage for the operatic middle section of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and then came back on for the jam-out at the end.  Not only were Queen awesome musicians and songwriters, but they really knew how to stage a show.

And Brian May holds a Ph.D. in astro-physics.  So add wicked-smart to talented in his case.

Your move, Beyonce...

Friday, April 19, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Peter Gabriel

I've only seen Peter Gabriel in concert once (not counting the DVD of his Secret World Tour) and it ranks as one of the top 5 shows I have ever seen.  The music was spot-on perfect.  Not in a "Why didn't I just go home and listen to the CD" kind of way, but just...perfect.

Peter Gabriel is a musician and a showman.  Thankfully, he ditched the flower costume:

Not that it didn't have it's place in rock history.  It just reminds me of this:

But don't think that lessens my admiration for the man and his music. With Tony Levin as his resident bassist, and pulling in a range of other musicians and music influence from around the world, he is the consummate artist.  He also has a voice that is instantly recognizable.

It's tough singling out a song, he has so many great ones, but I'm going for this version of "Steam" from the Secret World Tour.  Check out Tony Levin's funk fingers...drumsticks that have been cut down and strapped to his fingers to give an extra percussive slap to a driving bass line:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A_Z Challenge: Ode to Joy

Do you have a desert island song?

You know...if you were stranded on a desert island and could only listen to one thing for the rest of your life, because most desert islands have iPods and chargers, but very little in the way of downloadable music options.

My desert island song is Beethoven's 9th symphony.  Technically, Ode to Joy is just the 4th movement, and technically, if I could only pick one of the four movements, I'd pick the second, but I'm pressed for time (a letter behind in this little challenge) and the whole symphony is an untouchable masterpiece.  It's got dynamics and's the rock and roll of the classical world. 

The 9th was Beethoven's last work, and he was completely deaf when he wrote it.  If you've never heard it, check this video out.  It's the second movement put to graphics that show how the melodies and harmonies come together through the many layers of instrumentation.  It blows my mind.

And in case you still have time, here's the end of the fourth movement, Ode to Joy:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Nothing As It Seems

I've covered several of my favorite bands / artists...Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Billy Joel, Eric's one more: Pearl Jam.

"Nothing As It Seems" is a great song to hear live.  It's deep blusey guitar drives it, not fast, but powerful.  There's a nice dramatic build in the middle that splashed down into the resolving verses.  It's tight music with a dynamic flow.  But there's something else that pulls me in, and it's Eddie Vedder's voice.

Eddie Vedder has a tone and a sense of pitch and flow that's very unique.  He's instantly recognizable, and one thing I really like a out Pearl Jam is that they are not afraid to genre-hop.  I'll admin that this introduces a few songs into their catalogue that I'm not as fond of, but it expands the soundscape and keeps it from being repetitive or boring.

My favorite Pearl Jam song is "Black" and I'll close this post with my favorite line: 

I know someday you'll have a beautiful life
I know you'll be a star
In somebody else's sky...
Why can't it be mine?

Monday, April 15, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Marathon

Well, I've derailed from my music theme twice now (Ebert, Legs) although half of my deviations at least contained a gratuitous mention to stay close to topic.  But since yesterday's post was about running, or at least the after-effects of running, I thought today's events warranted an extension on that topic.

There are some sick people in this world.  The trouble is, sometimes we can't spot them until it's too late.  It's tough in a situation like the Boston Marathon bombings, when we don't know where to direct our ire.  Was this terrorism?  Clearly.  Was it foreign or domestic?  Time will tell.  I cast the odds at 50 / 50.  I hope I'm just overly cynical.

It looks like it was a coordinated attack, that more than one person conspired to pull this off.  Multiple bombs being planted and detonated in a heavily guarded public anyplace safe?  Probably not, at least when it comes to the execution of an event.  There has to be video footage of the culprit(s) out there somewhere, though, so they can't get away with it.

But then again, the asshole in Colorado had his entire apartment wired to blow.  Materials are readily available to make crude bombs.  Was this some gun-rights nut trying to prove a point, that gun laws won't keep people safe?  If so, then this deft political motherf&^%er also proved that crazy is as crazy does, and you can't legislate sanity.

I'm pissed, regardless of who was behind this.  People gathered to cheer on friends and family as they competed in a very difficult event, celebrating personal achievement, endurance, and comradery.  An exercise in good spirit on so many levels, marred by a demented act of terror.

You know, there have been times in my training where I thought about throwing the towel in, not running this half-marathon on May 4.  I'm not really obligated.  But now, I am resolved to run this race. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Legs

Okay, time is short so I'll just get to the point.

My freaking legs hurt.  Feet too.  Not agonizing pain, but that dull ache that sets into 41-year-old joints after running 9 miles on them.

First, some background: there is a half-marathon coming up in May.  I've participated in this race twice before.  I've declared I will never run a half-marathon again twice before, too.  Turns out I'm not real good at keeping personal promises.

The run itself was great.  The weather was ideal; my knees were stiff for the first couple minutes but they loosened up.  My wife ran with me and she had a great run, too.  She went a little faster than she normally runs, and I went a little slower than I normally run, and we both ran a lot closer to each other than we normally run.  It was fun.  

I feel okay right now.  I'm sitting down.  After the run I showered then lit some charcoal and cooked up some porterhouse steaks.  We had split half of a cow with my aunt and uncle; these steaks were fresh, grass-fed, all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef...for only $2.99 / lb.  I'm still lingering in food heaven, sipping on some wine and digesting.

But my future awaits.  This bliss soon will end.  For in my future: Stairs.

Stairs are my ultra arch-enemy at the moment.  They are evil.  Going up is decidedly worse than going down, but I cut them no slack in either direction.  They are hurtful, mean objects.  Soon it will be bedtime, and that means the stairs and I will have an unpleasant confrontation.

Legs.  Ouch.  And since this is a series focused on music, I feel obliged to point out that ZZ top wrote a song about legs.  It's a great song, but it approaches the subject from a much different perspective than I have presented today.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Kelly Clarkson

This letter was a struggle.  I'm not a huge KISS fan.  Kansas has a few great songs and I've seen them live twice, but I can't carry a whole post about them.  Then my wife suggested Kelly Clarkson, and I thought, "Why not?"

(NOTE: My wife also once suggested I write about Carrie Underwood. She would like me to clarify that the suggestion was in jest, and I'm assuming she'll want me to point out the Kelly Clarkson idea was, too.  Once she finds out I've written about it.)

I'll try to tell you everything I know about Kelly Clarkson:

- My wife told me she won the first season of American Idol because she copies that Mariah Carey wave-your-finger-while-you-sing motion real good.  She may have used slightly different terms, but that's the gist of it.

- It is rumored that they actually made an American Idol movie, and Kelly Clarkson starred in it, but it's a hard rumor to confirm because the only ones who have actually seen this movie are Bigfoot, the Abominable Snow Man, and the Tooth Fairy.

- I'm going out on a limb here, but I think she was big on the radio, I don't know.  I don't listen to whatever stations play her music.  I hear her name a lot, and I know she sings, so putting two and two together...

- She was in one of the funniest scenes of "The 40-Year Old Virgin": Andy (Steve Carrell) screams her name as he gets his chest waxed.  Actor Paul Rudd suggested that line.

Well, that sums it up!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Just a Little Light

I'm going to focus on one of my favorite singers and songs for "J."

Brent Mydland joined the Greteful Dead in 1979, and played with them until his death in 1990.  It wasn't sex or rock-n-roll that killed him, it was the other one.  He has a hard-drinking, hard-partying kind of guy, and he overdosed on a speedball (an injected mix of cocaine and heroin).  I don't know why it is that the most tortured souls have such a soulful sound, but he's not the only case.

His voice captivates me.  He has a scratchy growl that can't be imitated, it must be lived, but he also sang with passion and range.  "Just a Little Light" is very fitting for him, the lyrics seem personal:

Well there ain't nobody safer than someone who doesn't care
And it isn't even lonely when no one's ever there
I had a lot of dreams once, but some of them came true
The honey's sometimes bitter when fortune falls on you...
I love the imagery here:
It's even harder to be heartless when you look at me that way
You're as mighty as the flower that will grow the stones away

This video is taken from a live show I have on CD, and this version of the song is great:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Idol (Billy, not American)

I was fifteen when I saw Billy Idol in concert in Dallas.  It was the first real rock concert of my somewhat grown-up life.  I had seen concerts when I was younger, living in Akron...the most memorable being the Cleveland Philharmonic doing a performance of the 1812 Overture, in which they fired off forty or so cannons.  That was impressive.  But I was only 8 or 9 years old then.  I also saw Barry Manilow and Sha-Na-Na around that time, but those don't count, either.

My friend Chris Freezzo's brother took us.  My friend from Akron, John Shalowitz, was visiting in Texas that summer.  John taught us the secret words to yell back during, "Mony, Mony."  It felt pretty damn cool at fifteen to be at a rock concert yelling, "Hey, get laid, get f%^$ed!"

It was a great show.  This was in the old days, you know, when MTV played music videos.  Well, maybe you don't know.  Let me tell you: a long, long time ago, MTV played music videos.  All the time.  Stupid reality shows hadn't even been invented yet.  Music videos were like really short shows with one song playing in the background. 

It's a lost art these days, but back then, music videos were quite popular, and Billy Idol put out a lot of them, so I was quite familiar with his songs and the complexities that make a concert worth going to.  I mentioned the callback for "Mony, Mony" but there were more, ever so complex and subtle crowd-participation cues, that I was happy to participate in:

During "Rebel Yell" we cried, "More, More More"
During "Dancing With Myself" we sang, "Oh-oh-oh-oh"
During "Flesh for Fantasy" we yelled, "Flesh!"
And, for the most complex bit, during "White Wedding" we all screamed, "Start again!"

There were also lights and fire, which took the awesomness up to eleven.  And at fifteen, there were no sex or drugs (although I did have a pack of cigarettes...but I was too scared to smoke one in front of Mark Frezzo, because I didn't know if he would tell on me).  It was just pure rock and roll.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A-Z Challenge- Heart

Heart spent a long time trying before they made it big.  Their roots go back to 1963-64, the same time many other giants of classic rock were forming.  They didn't have the advantage of a TV show where young people could karaoke their ways to instant stardom, which is kind of ironic because their songs are picked by female vocalists on all the singing shows.  Their decade of starving artistry before their album Dreamboat Annie, with the songs "Magic Man" and "Crazy on You," carved them a spot in rock and roll history.

I was going to say Anne and Nancy Wilson are at the heart of the band, but I couldn't bring myself to go there.  They are the core of the group, through.  Other session musicians have played with them, but it's Nancy's guitar and, most especially, Anne's vocals that drive their music.

Anne Wilson's voice is amazing.  Her range is vast, and she makes it sounds effortless.  The range is what draws so many young Idol-wannabes to try and cover her, and the effort they have to throw behind the singing is what brings many of them down.  Very few can do it.

I used to play in a band with a singer who could, though.  We covered "Barracuda," which is a tricky song, musically.  The odd time signatures and tight changes elevate this from a jamming groove to a tight-knight ride, and guitar / bass / drums must be in sync to pull it off...and even then, without a good singer, there is no song.  When we played with Catherine, she could just step to the mic, open her mouth, and her voice went there, no different than regular breathing.  Those were some great gigs.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Grateful Dead

I have some really fond memories of the Grateful Dead, and of going to shows during my college years, when I was indulging in many of the indulgences for which Deadheads are known. Only I can’t really remember the shows themselves.  I just know I went there.  That’s probably why Deadheads would bring pen and paper to the shows, and write down each song as it began, and compare set lists in the parking lot after the show.  They also indulged, and had little hopes of remembering the little details, like which songs they heard ten minutes ago.

I jest, a little.  I do know the first song I heard the Dead play live was “Jack Straw,” and that first show also included, “Touch of Gray.”  And I remember that they played Drums and Space at every show I saw, but that’s a cop-out, because they played Drums and Space at every show, period.

I had some great times at the shows, even when I didn’t get in.  The parking lot parties, with the drum circles, guitars, and wares being sold on Shakedown Street; the smell of incense and herbs;  and the giant PSHHHT! sound of punching balloons being filled with laughing gas (Nitrous Oxide, of just Nitrus, or “Hippie Crack”).  Good times.

My favorite period of the Grateful Dead ended before my first show, with the passing of Brent Mydland.  Brent was their third keyboard player, and a great singer / songwriter.  I’ll talk about him more in a few letters.  Their first keyboard player, Pigpen, died in the early 70s from stomach complications brought on by excessive drinking.  Pigpen was Janis Joplin’s main squeeze.  She also died from alcoholism. 

Their second keyboard player was Keith Godchaux, who preferred piano (Pigpena and Mydland played the Hammond Organ, primarily), and whose wife Donna sang backup.  I really don’t like Donna’s backing vocals, so I rate her tenure during the latter 70s as my least favorite Dead era.  Don't get me wrong, I still like the music from that time, I just like it less.

By the time I attended shows, they were rotating between Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick on keys.  Both very suitable players, but neither had Mydland’s soulful voice.

And, in case you didn’t know but were curious, the name comes from a phrase in a folklore dictionary, and Grateful Dead means, "the soul of a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial."

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Flecktone

Ever heard of a Flecktone?

Well, you should.  Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are an incredible group of musicians.  They are almost beyond description, at least in simple terms.  They are jazzy, but not a jazz band.  They are classically influence, but not classical.  They are funky, but not funkadelic.

They are awesome.

Bela Fleck is an banjo virtuoso, who can fire off the Beverly Hillbillies theme (he did the theme in the movie version, which is the only decent part) and then transition to Bach...and make it seem natural.

The Flecktones are Victor and Roy Wooten, and other musicians join them.  Victor plays bass, and is an absolute master (NOTE: I also play bass.  Not as good as Victor, but I don't suck.)  His brother Roy plays the synth-axe drumitar.  Basically, it's a drum machine that is somewhat, but not completely, shaped like a guitar.

I imagine many of you readers (NOTE: Ha!  There's only like 6 of you...) have not heard of, or more importantly, heard Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.  I implore you, because implore sounds like a very important word, to click the video below and treat yourself to some sonic wonder.  I'm listening to it right now...

Or jump right to Part II, which begins with the Victor Wooten bass solo:

Friday, April 5, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Ebert

I first started reading Roger Ebert's reviews back in 1997. I was working as a trainer at an outsourced call center company, on the CompuServe program.  One of the perks was a free CompuServe account, including access to all the forums.  My favorite was Ebert's movie forum.  I started reading his reviews regularly...I doubt I missed more than a handful of weeks in the past decade and a half.

I didn't always agree with him, but that was usually a trashy movie I liked but he didn't.  If he liked a movie, I was apt to like it, too.  That's not really the point, though...I didn't read his reviews because I needed a gut-check before shelling out cash for a ticket.  I read reviews of many movies I had no intention of ever seeing, simply because I enjoyed his writing and his wit.

And Ebert did have a sharp wit; he could trash a movie better than anyone else.  The best example is the battle he had with Rob Schneider over the "Deuce Bigalow" movies.  A critic (well, many critics, actually) had panned the film, and Schneider made a statement to the effect of, "Your opinion doesn't count because you haven't earned any awards yourself."

Ebert replied, "But Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain...As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

When Roger Ebert fought cancer he won the first round, although the battle left him missing his lower jaw and it robbed him of the ability to speak (and eat).  His lost voice never impacted me...I was not accustomed to hearing it.  I never watched his TV show, and aside from a few interviews with Howard Stern, I had never really listened to him speak.  To me his voice was the same: it was his written voice, his general way with words.

I will miss that voice.  May he rest in peace.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Dogs

I think Pink Floyd’s Animals is a great work of art, even if George Orwell did it first.  My favorite song on the Album is “Dogs,” a 16-minute ballad of a back-stabbing, greedy middle-manager.  Used by the Pigs to keep the Sheep in line, the Dogs will do anything to get ahead.

You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in…  

The guitar solo that follows those lines is punctuated by cymbal crashes, and the cymbals sound like whip-lashes.  I love how Pink Floyd uses sound to help paint a visual picture.  They layer in synthesized dogs barking, the whip…it all reinforces the words and the theme. 
Then there’s the guitar work.  Dogs is about 90% of side A, and it’s essentially all David Gilmour doing sonic magic with his strat.
This was a good period for Pink Floyd.  They were riding high on the success of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, but still ahead of the tempers that flared up during The Wall.  In fact, it was during the Animals tour that Roger Waters came up with the concept of The Wall.  Roger Waters got sick of people lighting off fireworks and doing everything under the sun other than listen to the music. At a concert in Montreal, one particularly drunk and unruly fan rushed the stage and Roger lost it and spit on him, then cussed out the whole crowd.  After that he started to imagine a wall between him and the audience…

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Cream

I almost used Conundrum, which is no band or song I ever heard, but rather a cry of distress because I have too many C-options.  My first pick was Comfortably Numb, one of my favorite songs by my favorite band.  But I have plenty of other opportunities to talk about Pink Floyd, so I’ll give that a pass for now.

Next, I thought Credence Clearwater Revival, because not only are they a seminal part of rock history, complete with a case study in how to get screwed over by a record company, but there are two C-words in their name.

My wife suggested Carrie Underwood, and I could go on for days about her song “Jesus Take the Wheel” and how, in my opinion, Jesus would really want her to try to steer.

But then my wife suggested Eric Clapton and Cream.  Jackpot.  Not only can I bundle in two C-words out of that, I can get two C-Words out of it.

Cream broke records (NOTE: Not literally) and are credited for being the world’s first supergroup.  It’s really a storybook situation: Ginger Baker (NOTE: He even has a storybook character name, you know?) really liked Eric Clapton’s guitar playing, and Eric liked Ginger’s drumming, so they decided to start a band.  Eric really liked Jack Bruce’s bass playing and singing, and he suggested to Ginger they add him.  Jack Bruce and Ginger baker hated each other and in prior bands had gotten into fistfights and altercations involving knives, so naturally the dynamics of rock and roll brought them back together.

Despite the raging inferno of egotistical hatred that was the rhythm section, Cream wrote some phenomenal music, and their liver performances paved the way for the likes of Led Zeppelin and Rush.  From re-arrangements of classic blues tunes such as “Spoonful” and “Crossroads” to “White room and “Sunshine of Your Love” they pulled their talents together to build out a new wing in the annals of rock history.

And my personal connection to Eric Clapton:  His wife is from Columbus, and his daughter was born here, at Riverside hospital, delivered by the same doctor who helped bring my first son into the world a month later.  So we're pretty much related.  That's way cool.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Billy Joel

Many times, songwriting is the work of a team of musicians and producers.  Sometimes, though, all that songwriting talent condenses in an individual, and you get someone who can play an instrument (or many instruments), and sing, and write music, and write great lyrics.  Billy Joel is a fine example of that kind of talent.  The guy can do everything.

His songs are both simple and complex.  His chords patterns are not your typical I, IV, V turn-arounds that make up most rock and roll.  Nuanced movements from major to minor, and accents like 7ths and 9ths find their way easily into his melodies. 

What I like most about Bill Joel’s songs are the lyrics.  He is a fantastic story-teller, and his music has rich characters.  Think of the patrons at the Piano Man’s bar…from the waitress and her politics to the bartender, John, they have feelings and ambitions; they are real.

And his social commentary is not without is sharp edges.  In “Only the Good Die Young” he asks Virginia (fitting, symbolic name, don’t you think?):

Your mother never cared for me
But did she ever say a prayer for me?

A little biting sarcasm to the religious establishment, but a valid point. 

In “The Stranger” we join him in confronting our darker sides. 

Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and come are leather
They’re the faces of a stranger
But we love to try them on

And when his lover’s stranger kicks him right between the eyes, he has the self-awareness to ask

Did you ever let your lover
See the stranger in yourself?

And then there’s the old fashioned fun of “Still Rock and Roll to Me.”  The determination to live as he pleases in “My Life” (Go ahead with your own life / Leave me alone).  The rock and roll excesses found in “Big Shot.”  The simple expression of love in “Just the Way You Are.” 

Yeah, this guy’s got it all.  Except the business sense.  He let his brother-in-law manage his finances, and that idiot lost tens of millions of dollars of poor Billy’s money.  I guess you can’t have everything.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A-Z Challenge: Abbey Road

Last year I used movies for my A-Z Theme.  This year it's music, and to kick off the letter A, I'm focusing on The Beatles (specifically their final studio album, Abbey Road, for you letter police).

You can’t deny that The Beatles had a strong influence on rock and roll.  Well, you could, but you’d be waaay wrong.  So don’t go there. 

The Beatles covered such a vast range of styles it’s difficult to find genres they didn’t touch.  The Gregorian chant, maybe, but even that is probably backwards-masked onto The White Album.

Abbey Road was their final studio effort (even though Let It Be was released later), and it’s one of the finest albums ever produced.  From their roots in German bars to being “bigger than Jesus,” The Beatles grew as musicians, even as they grew apart as bandmates.  No one was expecting another record, but they plunged the depths of their talent for one final go, putting down the boxing gloves and collaborating the way they used to, with George Martin (the 5th Beatle).

Even Abbey Road’s cover is iconic and enigmatic, perpetuating the “Paul is Dead” mythos that started with Sgt. Pepper and a whole lot of weed, or something stronger.  John is dressed all in white, looking very Jesus-like and leading the procession across the street.  Paul—the dead man—is barefoot and out of step with the others.  Ringo follows as a pallbearer, and George is dressed in denim as the gravedigger.  Or so goes the conspiracy theory, at least.  The band denies starting the whole “Paul is Dead” legacy, but it’s not hard to imagine them playing along and poking fun at it. 

The track list on Abbey Road is eclectic, and it plays well to the A-Side / B-Side groupings that are absent from today’s world of CDs and a la carte song downloads.  “Come Together” opens the album with a good rock groove, and “I Want You” rounds out Side A with an extended prog rock jam.  The B-Side montage that closes the album flows with symphonic grace and poetic meaning.  It’s really deep shit.

Abbey Road also contains some great contributions from George Harrison, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.”  It even has a Ringo song, “Octopus’s Garden.”  Like I said, The Beatles all worked together to bring their tenure as a band to a fitting close.

“And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Next Big Thing

The bundle of verbal awesome that is Sue Quinn tagged me in a blog meme.  If you follow this blog, you know it has been neglected worse than a toothbrush at a hillbilly hoedown, so I guilted myself into accepting the honor in order to inspire an actual New Post.

Brace yourselves.

What is the title of your next book?
Smart Alec
And it’s written by a smart ass.  Fitting.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My son and I thought it up together.  He wanted to write a book with me, and we brainstormed the character (a boy who can read minds) and the core of the plot (cool  / dangerous stuff happens to him). 

He typed up the outline, and we didn’t do anything with it for about a year.  Then I hit a wall on a different WIP, and I took a swipe at Smart Alec one day.  I didn’t tell my son I had started without him until I had about 10,000 words down.  He. Was. Pissed.

I let him read the beginning and he liked it, so it’s cool now. 

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a YA thriller.  It’s tell you more, but why waste the time when there’s a one-sentence description coming  after two more questions…

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
My preference would be for the book to be such a huge phenomenon before it was optioned that it could propel newcomers to stardom, rather than rely on big star names for box office draw.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Alec can read the mind of anyone he’s looking at and takes advantage of it, but when he gets kidnapped and blindfolded he has to escape using something he’s neglected since he discovered his power: his own wits.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Time will tell.  If my other books start to fly off the shelf, I’ll probably stay Indie, but I may get back into the world of querying just for fun. (NOTE: Right. Who the f%#@ queries for fun?)

So to spare me the indignity of querying, please recommend my books to people:

The Man in the Cinder Clouds, the real story of how Kris Kringle came to be known as Santa Claus.  It wasn’t easy.

Rudy Toot-Toot, a little boy whose special power will blow you away.  Literally.  It’s a real gas.  I’d tell you more but I don’t want to spill the beans.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The clock is still ticking, so I can’t say yet.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s tough.  Alec is the only one who can read minds and it takes place in the present, so it’s on a different level from Sue Quinn’s awesome Mindjack Trilogy, but it still has mind reading, so it's in league.

Alec also goes up against a nasty antagonist…a teacher who has a dangerous obsession for a girl that Alec likes.  It’s not going to be Kiss the Girls creepy, but it will have an edge.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
When my son and I plotted it out, we were working with a middle grade Alec.  About 30,000 words in, he grew to adolescence, and I upped the ante to young adult.  There’s more complexity to the story and emotions that way, and it’s more fun to write.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Alec knows what you are thinking.  Literally…as long as he can see you, he can read your mind.  It’s a great way to ace tests, and football rocks when you know the other team’s plays, but when Alec discovers a teacher’s dangerous obsession for a classmate, he stops being selfish with his ability and uses it to protect Emma Whitaker from Mr. Schmidt.  As Alec spends more time with Emma, his new relationship puts an old relationship with his best friend at risk…but it also brings out the over-protective-psycho in his history teacher.  When Mr. Schmidt kidnaps Alec and blindfolds him, Alec is rendered powerless.  Now he has to escape using something he has neglected for a long time: his own wits.

And now for the obligatory tagging!  Here are some writers whose works I am interested in reading (or reading more of).  Let's see if they are as easy to goad into participation as I was:
Scott G.F. Bailey
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Belinda Nichol
Travis Erwin
Anne Gallagher

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Give-Away!

No, not here...Over at Sheryl Hart's blog!

She's hosting an interview with yours truly and I'm giving away a signed copy of Rudy Toot-Toot to a random commentor (on that blog, not this one...).  Head on over, leave a comment, and cross your fingers!

Reflections on the A-Z Challenge

Back in the spring I participated in the A-Z blogfest challenge, posting almost every day for a month and writing about my favorite movies.

Today Alex Cavanaugh, one of the A-Z sponsors and blogging ninja extraordinaire, posted an interview with me about that experience.  I gave him my typical smart-ass answers.  Hop on over to the A-Z challenge blog to check it out!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Potty Humor!

Ever wonder why kids are so fascinated with potty humor?

Me too, and luckily for me, awesome YA Author Sue Quinn let me pontificate on the subject on her blog!  Check it out, click here.

And while you're there, poke around to around to learn more about Sue and her books, the Mindjack series is a lot of fun!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sand Art- The Reader

Thanks to D.G. Hudson for the inspiration / suggestion.  An open book, indeed...along with a reader absorbed in its pages.

What book its it?  Why, it's Rudy Toot-Toot, by yours truly!  The sand version slightly thicker than the print or Kindle versions

The sculpture is slightly incomplete (about 95%)...a thunderstorm popped up and I had to abandon my efforts in the final details in order to not get hit by lightning.  I guess I'm not the world's most dedicated sand artists, but at least I survived to sculpt again.  It may be a while, since we are leaving first thing in the morning.

Here's a play by play on how I created the reader:

Step 1- Make a rough outline.
Step 2- Make a huge pile of sand.  This took 15 minutes.
Step 3- Add water.  I dumped about 8 buckets full of water on the pile.  The water makes the sand stick together better.
Step 4- Make a rough shape.  Basically, remove sand until I have the shape I want.  It's rare that I add more on to the pile.
Step 4- Front view.  The head is exaggerated, because I will whittle it away.  Start big and refine the sculpture as detail is added.
Step 5- Detail.  I have a paint scraper to make cuts and fine lines.  Making angled cuts at the bottom where the sculpture meets the beach creates shadows, which add depth to the work and keep it from getting washed out in the pictures.
Front view.

Head-on.  This was bigger, so I could put more detail in the face than my mermaid had.
Side view.
Reading over his shoulder- Rudy Toot-Toot by Rick Daley!
Angled view, I like the way the shadows fall on this one.  My son Vic is in the background.
The total effort = 1 hour 15 minutes.  The hardest part was taking the pictures...I couldn't see my phone screen at all in the beach sunlight, so I could only hope a few of them turned out!  Then, I almost wiped them all off my phone, which was giving low data warnings.  Luckily they survived...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sand Art- Mermaid Edition

Many pictures of one sculpture today.  This sand mermaid is probably the most intricate sculpture I've attempted to date.  It took about an hour and twenty minutes from start (piling up a bunch of sand) to finish (the cross-hatch lines on her tail and fins).  Now I'm brainstorming for the next sculpture...I think I have one more in me before we head home.  Any suggestions?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sand Art- 2012 Edition

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know I love to make sand sculptures at the beach.  I'm no professional sand artist, but I know how to have fun with it.  My past works range from Bugs Bunny, the Sphinx, and alligators, to Kris Kringle napping under an evergreen tree and sand swimmers.

So here we are in Hilton Head for our annual vacation, and this is what the tide brought in...

This frog was my first creation...
Then I made a dragonfly for him to snack on...
...while a hungry cobra eyes the Frog!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Breaking News!

This just in...

WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 8, 2012) – Political discourse in the US took a highly anticipated turn and devolved into a childish name-calling contest.

It all started when the Obama camp slammed Mitt Romney, calling him a “Doodyhead.”  The Romney campaign, in retaliation, accused the president of having cooties since the third grade.  Fact-checking sources were not able to confirm or deny the latter accusation, as Obama’s elementary school records are sealed.

“I think Obama should release his grade-school files to prove that the accusation is false,” said Rush Limbaugh.  “Until he does that, we’ll all just have to assume that he has the cooties, and anyone whose hand he shakes on the campaign trail will get them, too.”

David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, condemned the allegations in the strongest possible terms, saying, “It’s f&*%ing bull*&^#.”  He went further to explain the Romney’s mother is so fat that when she sits around the house, she sits around the house.  He ended his statement with, “Neener, neener!”

Sarah Palin, professional Attention Whore, fired back, accusing the president of actually being born with cooties, and again calling for a release of Obama’s birth records.  Harry Reid retaliated, quoting a secret source who confirms that on Romney’s past tax returns, he did in fact list his occupation as “Doodyhead.”

Regardless of the president’s health or the actual size of Romney’s mother, this election is certainly shaping up to be a game-changer in American politics.