Exultant Leap Day!

 

What do we do with an extra day?  What does an “extra day” actually mean?  Do we even notice that it’s here?  It doesn’t feel any different to me.  Music doesn’t sound any better.  I’m satill watching the snow create its cold white sheet on top of the greenish brownish lawn.  My hands are still freezing.  I still have to take the dog out for a walk so she can do her thing.  Still, it is kinda cool right?

We should celebrate!  Leap Day should be a national holiday.  We get drunk and dress like leprechauns for St. Patrick’s Day.  We hunt for painted hard boiled eggs and buy up all the rabbits in the pet shops for Easter.  We have all these fancy holidays for other interesting reasons, so it would stand to reason that we get to party on our extra day.  Am I right or am I right?

Everyone comes together in the center of town.  We form a gigantic circle holding hands around a green pile of one thousand frogs.  We press play on the i’sPod (at the properly synchronized moment of course) and everyone sings along to Van Halen’s “Jump”.  Every time Diamond Dave says the word, we all leap into the air as high as we can!  Whoever lands last has to take a shot of Goldschlager and French kiss the nearest toad.

I dunno.  Sounds like a grand ol’ time to me anyway.

Most holidays are weird.  We take days off work in remembrance of dead presidents or the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives to keep this country free.  How do we pay tribute to them?  We barbeque meats and drink alcohol.  Makes their memories so proud I bet.  Or we enjoy festivities in tribute to people who skipped around town enchanting all the snakes with his palpably pleasant floutistry.  We commemorate wars, ghosts and even a zombie.  Yeah, I said it.  A zombie.

If we can observe those, why can’t we take a day off to rejoice in the extra twenty-four hours that comes once every four years?  I don’t think the economy will collapse from that.  Maybe we just haven’t found the proper way to market it yet.  I mean Hallmark and Jared have the whole Valentine’s Day thing cornered.  What if Nike or Addidas took on Leap Day?

Imagine this:  You see a picture of a small boy flying high in the air.  Ball in hand, ready to slam the sphere into the hoop.  On his feet there is a pair of untied, bright fluorescent purple high top sneakers floating above the outstretched hands of a court of kangaroos.  At the bottom of the photograph in bold lettering are the words, “Lift Off on Leap Day With Nike.”  Could work.

Trampoline and pogo stick sales would go through the roof!  Bungee jump companies would make their yearly nut in one day.  Skydiving, Jump Ropes, Base Jumping, Pole Vaulting, Diving Boards…we could end the recession today!  Just a thought.

And how should we address each other on Leap Day?  We say “Merry Christmas” in America, but the British use the phrase “Happy Christmas”.  We can’t use “Lucky Leap Day” because that would be too confusing with St. Patrick’s Day.  “Happy” is over used for this rare an occasion if you ask me.  We need something that Jumps out in the greeting.  Something that embraces the fantastical feeling of being in flight.  Here it is… wait for it… Bounding Leap Day!  No.  That just plain sucks.  Bouncing?  Rise Up?  Nah.  That sounds too Rage Against The Machine-ish even for me.    How about Exultant Leap Day?  That’s kinda nice.  I like it.  Have an Exultant Leap Day George!  Works for me.

Have An Exultant Leap Day Everyone!

So what are you doing to Exult in this fine Leap Day?  Me, I’m gonna go do some Jumping Jacks!

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think i’ll go eat some worms…

Winter brake is over.  Kids are back to school.  No more excuses.  Get back to work.  Turn on the computer.  Open a new blank page.  Stare at the screen.

Make a phone call.

Check email.  Go on Facebook.  Look at Twitter.  Skim Pinterest.  Answer a phone call.

Go back to blank page.  Stare.  Smack keys.  Gibberish.

Play piano.  That sounds pretty.  Open Cubase and record it.  Listen back.  Add some more notes here and there.

Check email again.  Answer another phone call.  Scroll around Facebook while talking on the phone.  Drink a glass of water.

Stare at blank page some more.  Lift up keyboard and drop it back down hoping inspiration drops out.

Look at news websites.  Skim stories about famous people receiving awards from other famous people for being famously famous.  Wish I was famous.

Open iTunes library.  Look for music to inspire me.  Play some Olafur Arnalds.  Makes my piano recording sound stoopid.

Stand up and stretch muscles.  Look out the window and watch the neighborhood cat prowl outside my window.  He’s a cute, bright orange tabby with darker orange stripes wrapping around his body.  He’s very friendly too.  Tap on the window.  He stops in place.  Tap again.  He looks right at me and relaxes.  His tail flicks back and forth.  Sadie barks and the cat jumps.  He runs off out of view of my window.  I pet the dog making sure she knows she’s my girl.  She bounds back into the living room to resume her daily nap on the couch.

Go to the kitchen.  Make something for lunch.  Check my blood glucose.  Higher than it should be.  Take medicine.  Ouch.  Read a book while I eat. Words words words.  So fantastical mystical wondrous.

Why do I bother?  Stare at the blank page.  I sit and I stare.

Put my new fingerless gloves on that Melissa bought for me to write in when it’s cold.

Stare some more.  Watch my fingers drift above the keys waiting to pounce as soon as an idea shoots down the nerves from my brain into the muscles of my hands.

Wonder what it’s like to meditate with monks in Tibet?  How did he get that incredible piano sound on this recording?  Maybe we should practice more baseball when the boys get home from school tonight.  Does Cormac McCarthy ever doubt his genius?

Focus man.  FOCUS!  The screen is too bright.  Can’t think.

Blank.

Blank blank blankity blankblank.

This sucks.

Come on brain.  You’ve done this before.  You can do it again.  Right?  Open old ideas to see if anything pops to the surface.  What was I thinking here?  Don’t know what I meant with that one.  If this one was written on paper I’d burn it.

Wait a minute… here…this has some possibilities.  Nope.  Not today anyhow.

There has to be something drifting through the ephemera in my head I can pull out that’s worthwhile.

Check email again.  Oh!  Rachel Yamagata is playing on Daytrotter today.  That would be cool.  Too bad they charge for membership now.  No other messages.

Nobody likes me.  Everybody hates me.  Think I’ll go eat some worms.  La de dah de dah.

Nothing new on Facebook.  I should get Sadie a treat and take her outside for a few minutes.  Better get my coat.  It’s forty degrees out there.  Small two inch high mountains of un-melted white sit on the ground after the snow a few days ago.  We’re supposed to get more but the weatherman’s always wrong.  Doesn’t matter where you live.  They never get it right.

Try some stream of consciousness:  Can’t spell too smelly fantabulous smorgasbord yummy dictionary lights and sounds please forget to buckle your seatbelt driving too fast curvy road race crashes in the rain make for unspecial holiday presents unwrapped paper under the tree burnt in the fireplace no more kindling for the wet logs sitting there puffing out clouds of useless smoke all over the living room.  Brilliant genius.

Listen to myself breathing.

Belt is too tight.  Haven’t exercised in too long.  Gotta get back on the train.

Stare at the blank page.  I sit and I stare.  Pile of books on my desk.  Maybe I should replace them with books I don’t like.  Won’t be so intimidating.  No.  Get inspired.

Find it.  It’s there.  It’s here.

It’s here now.

Dig deeper.

Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full count.  Here comes the pitch, it’s a curve ball.

I sit and I stare.

I sit and I stare.

T.O.A.J.D.A.S.A.H.D.I.R.I.

So I went to see my Neurologist yesterday.  I’ve had twelve infusions of my M.S. medicine and he wanted to look in on my progress.  So far, so good!  I do have one new legion in my brain, but it’s “small and unremarkable” according to my latest nap in the giant magnet sandwich bun (better known as the Open MRI).

I have to say, as reluctant as I was to start this course of treatment, it does help some.  I still experience many symptoms, but they haven’t grown much worse.  Can’t really ask for more since most M.S. therapy is like wearing a blindfold, spinning around in circles and releasing an arrow hoping you’ll hit somewhere… anywhere near the target.

I have been feeling pretty good lately.  That is until I shaved yesterday.  I don’t use a razor anymore because my hands shouldn’t really be entrusted with anything that sharp close so my neck.  I use an electric shaver to clean up what little actually grows on top of my head and once I finish that, I adjust the guide and trim my face.  During the colder months (like Beardvember and Decembeard) I grow facial hair to stay a bit warmer.  While I trimmed my moustache area, my hand spasmed, pushed the guide in too close and removed all the hair above the right half of my upper lip.

I looked in the mirror and (obviously) uttered a number of expletives that you could probably still hear were you to travel to the greater North Western corridor of Rhode Island.  Fortunately the boys were preoccupied watching a movie and didn’t react.  I thought about leaving my face alone, but half a moustache just wasn’t the look I was truly going for.  So with much frustration, I shaved the left half off too.

Now I look Amish.

The Only Amish Jew Drummer Author Stay At Home Dad in Rhode Island.  Not too many folks can claim that mouthful of a title!  I may even have to change my Facebook profile (NOT!)  Though the top of my head remains barren as the surface of the moon, I do have the ability to grow facial hair relatively quickly.  In a few days the follicles should bloom, popping forth like leaves in springtime.

So make fun while you can.  Take a stab at my expense.  Swing away with no fear of retaliation!  I’d love to hear what you all think of my recent predicament.

Enjoy!

cliche condition

I was going to be on the cover of Modern Drummer by the time I turned eighteen.  I was going to sell millions of records, win Grammy’s and write a song that won an Oscar.  People everywhere would know my name even though I was just a drummer.  I would be on the proverbial “Cover of the Rolling Stone”.

Now I’m 41 and none of that’s happened.  I did everything right.  At least I thought I did.  I attended a performing arts high-school, I received my Bachelors’ Degree in music from a prestigious college.  I played in bands, did session work, made records and did some touring.  I wrote songs, started my own band, mailed out demo tapes, played more gigs.  I scored some films, got some music placed in other movies.  Nobody but my friends and family knows any of this.

Then I got sick.  My hands started acting with minds of their own making it difficult to type let alone play instruments.  I felt sorry for myself for a long time.  Then my wife put a figurative boot up my ass and sparked me back into creativity.  All I needed was to find other outlets.

So I started writing.  And writing.  And writing some more.  Of course I thought each and every word sucked and would become yet another hobby I’d enjoy but not make me any kind of a living.  I tried to stop feeling sorry for myself as a “failed musician” or even as a “failed artiste”.  Those old clichés needed to be shoved in a drawer or better yet thrown out with the trash.  Of course I still have those moments, but introduce me to one creative person who doesn’t and I’ll bow down at their feet begging for enlightenment.

I see a lot of articles on line about “writer’s block” and how difficult it is to be creative.  It’s so “solitary” and “depressing”.  Yes it is a lonely business.  Here I am sitting at my desk in a quiet, empty house with no sound other than the ringing tinnitus in my ears and the clicking of keys under slow moving fingers.  Do I always have good ideas?  Nope.  Does everything I put on the screen stay undeleted?  Nope.  Will each sentence I write be displayed to other people?  Of course not.  But I make myself type them out anyway.

It’s hard.  No, it’s FUCKING HARD!  “Nothing worth doing is easy”.  That’s the old saying anyway and it’s possibly one of the most truthful statements in the history of mankind.  Being a parent is the most challenging thing I have ever attempted in my life.  It’s also the most rewarding and most wonderful thing I could possibly imagine.  Making art is much like being a parent.  You give birth to an idea/song/painting/story/whatever, you shape it, you polish it until it shines.  You mold it and refine it.  You give it room to breathe and become its own being.  Eventually you get out of the way and let someone else experience what it is.  Sometimes it even resonates with them.

More often than that unfortunately, it wont.  When it does, one thing it will never, ever do though is mean the same thing to them as it does to you.  They may get a glimpse of the intent you originally had, but they’ll never experience the same things you did when you were creating it.  It may end up being just as important and have long lasting impact, but never the same.

I digress… here I am now at 41 years old.  I have all this experience and energy expended on becoming a famous musician and not much to show for it (in the way of finance or fame anyway).  My wife never allowed me the opportunity to give up.  She nudged me in the direction of writing and I found that I love doing it.  The thing that’s really surprising is I actually finished a novel.  Me.  A Novel!  It’s not super long, but the story is there.  Complete from start to finish.  Hell, “The Great Gatsby” is only about two hundred pages long so how lengthy does it really need to be?

I look at a blank page every day and try to mark it with words that say something, anything that makes me feel.  Fear, anger, pain, happiness, love, hate…anything.  There are days when I delete every single syllable.  I stand up from my desk livid and unfulfilled.  There are other days, much fewer and far between mind you, when the words flow easily.  Waves of thoughts crash into the keyboard faster than I’m able to type.  I finish a thought in love with the idea of this new story coming to life.

I leave it alone to breathe for a while and try to forget.  Bring myself back into the real world for an hour or so.  Then I read it.  I won’t lie, most of the time I think it sucks.  I resist the urge of pressing the delete button if I can.  I rework it, chisel here and add some color there.  I try to make it into something.  If it works, I keep at it.  If not then I put it away for a later time when I might be able to find some salvaging in the idea.

The main thing is that I write.  If I want to do this, I need to approach it with as much dedication and patience as I applied to playing my instrument.  I practiced drums for five to eight hours a day for years.  I didn’t just sit down at the kit and magically know what I was doing.  I don’t think I could do the same here at the computer screen.

I’m not expecting to write “The Great American Novel”.  I’m just happy that I wrote a novel at all.  I want to write more.  Of course I do want my work to be considered “Great” in some way.  What creative person doesn’t?  I’m no expert.  I don’t pretend to know more about this than anybody else.  I only know what works for me.

I hope that people who are exposed to my book enjoy it.  I hope they tell others about it and they read it too.  If my adventure getting to this point inspires someone to pick up a pen, guitar or paintbrush then I couldn’t be happier.  For now I’m going to keep on working.  Expect to see updates to the website soon and info on the release of my book.

the silent world

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Some music can be difficult to write to.  I get too caught up in the lyrics or the melody to think of anything else.  My hands and feet drum along and I am completely lost.  If the sound is something new and unfamiliar it makes it a little bit easier for me to have it on in the background to inspire me.  But if something plays that I know extremely well, there’s no use.

I’m not trying to say that I have to write to music I don’t enjoy.  That’s not what I mean at all.  If the music is bad, I can’t turn it off fast enough.  You put on most pop stuff like Bieber or Rhianna and I’ll go screaming bloody murder out into the streets.

I’ve always been this way.  My sister could crank up the volume on her old turntable and study along with Madonna or Van Halen back in the day.  Not me.  I closed the door, pulled the shades down and stuffed tissues in my ears.  My college roommates hated me.  I needed to work in silence.  If there was too much noise in the dorm I might even go out and work in my truck.  Pretty odd for a music major yeah? 

I don’t think it’s that strange at all.  Music is too important for me to relegate it to background status most of the time.  If there’s good music on in the room while I’m in the middle of a conversation, I can easily be pulled away into the sound.  I’ve been known to completely lose all connection to topic and social skill.  That’s just who I am.

Often time’s silence can be the loudest inspiration.  Quiet leaves room for the emptiness of the page to pull ideas out that would otherwise drown in sound.  For instance, right this very moment I needed to turn the music off in order to finish that last sentence.  I couldn’t get my head unlatched from Trespasser’s William.  Her beautiful voice can be soothing and transporting at times but today she sucked me in and dragged me away from the words.  Ironically proving my point.

I’ve been collecting music avidly ever since I can remember.  I bought records, stole them from my sister and my father, checked them out from the library.  I borrowed from friends and taped albums on clear plastic cassettes.  When cd’s came out I replaced them all and traded them in and out at used record stores.  I joined fan clubs to get limited releases and I bought tour only cd’s at concerts.  I used to have hundreds and hundreds of cd’s all over my walls and on bookshelves.

Now that the age of Digital is in full swing, I have a120 Gig iPod that my family gave me a few years back.  It’s loaded with more music than I could listen to letting it play straight through for a month.  But now that I can take so much music with me, I don’t know what I’d do without it! 

Here in my studio, I pull up iTunes and scroll through the artists on my one and a half terabyte hard drive of music until I find something that I think I can work with.  I’ll hit play and start typing.  On a usual day I’ll have to go back into iTunes, stop my first choice and pick something else.  Then I’ll repeat the process three or four times before I find the right music for my mood that day. 

If I look out the window to my left I watch the trees.  The local family of wild turkeys might wander across my neighbor’s lawn again.  If I’m lucky I’ll see the bright glowing crimson breast of another cardinal on one of the branches.  If that’s not enough inspiration I may get up, stretch my legs and play with the dog for a few minutes.  When I get back there may be something on the blank page that shifts my perspective.

Lungfish, Fugazi, Olafur Arnalds, Brian Eno, Peter Broderick, Husker Du, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, M83, Daniel Lanois, City and Colour, El Ten Eleven, Talk Talk, Motohiro Nakashima, Nils Frahm, Philip Glass, Harold Budd, Sigur Ros, Mooncake, Steve Reich, David Sylvian and The Damnwells.  These are straight off the top of my head.  There are too many more to list.  All of them set amazing moods in my life.  Different sounds, distinct colors for my ear’s palate. 

There’s so much music out there to listen to.  So much more that I want to hear.  Part of me wishes that I could leave it on in the background all the time and leave it there like wallpaper.  I wish I could read Shakespeare while playing the drums at the same time.  I just can’t.  I love words and I love sounds.  Sometimes I can combine the two and it makes me feel like I’m flying.  But then there are moments when the silent world is the most beautiful music I could ever imagine.