Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #18

Lieutenant's Log #18
April 25, 2017

It's hard to believe that 9 weeks have passed with one more week to go. I'm feeling numb. Week 7 was the most difficult. I was feeling anxious for some reason.  

I've changed my eating habits. Since I wasn't all that nuts about the food anyway, I realized that I was quite happy eating salads.  Lunch (my breakfast) is the meal that I might indulge in something solid. I was also curious about my singing after eating something light before performing.  It dawned on me that I was used to singing later in the evening, having time for the food to digest...  but I'm singing earlier shows these days.   Anyway I've notice less phlegm for sure.  
So for me it's a late breakfast (today I had half a ham sandwich), a light salad and a piece of bread before the show and a bigger salad with pieces of chicken after the show.


I've been practicing my guitar in the day, much like the old days. Since I don't live on Facebook like I used to, I can focus better.   I'm increasingly inspired listening to Doru night after night. We're a great team.  It's music first. We both have the noble ability to listen, no inflated egos that's usually bigger than one's actual talent.  
You'd be surprise how many musicians don't listen to what's going on around them. They just play their part and stop when they're done.  Oh the stories...  
I'd imagine most cover bands really need an audience to draw inspiration from, because playing the same things, same solos night after night has to bore you after a while.  One might argue that a jazz band is a cover band as well. However, the
skilled players are rarely musically predictable. Every night something's different and that's the thrill.


Although I'd never say it myself, more than a few artists have described the cruise ship experience as "being in prison." It's not an easy life for an artist. As an artist you're mostly ignored and rarely treated with simply Kindergarten courtesy. As a staffer, true, it's isolated. Not having full internet is cruel.  The food is ok. (It was great on my last trip.) Making friends is almost pointless. No one has time. And the little free time one might have, would rather be spent sleeping or smoking cigarettes. Extroverts have an advantage. Introverts are doomed, especially old introverts. "Hey, someone ought to talk to that lonely old man." "No way, he looks mean."  I do think it's interesting that most of the staff work two weeks on and then two weeks off year round, however artists on the other hand, are on the ship for months at a time and there's not even a message parlor on board. How cruel is that?  Of course I've never asked. Maybe there's some fortnightly wenches on the 13th floor.  :)


Would I do it again?  This may surprise you, but yes. Providing it's financially 'sensible'.   As I've said before, it's work.  I'd consider other options. But there aren't that many, that I can see. 
Folks have mostly given up on music, they don't think they have, but they have. An artist can make a living if people buy their music.  Few people buy music these days.  An artist can make a living if people come to see 'them' perform. People don't go out to see 'them', if they do go out, it's to drink.  
Folks are happy to be in the comfort of their homes and vote for faux artists to be the next star on some TV show.   Blah blah blah.   
Yes, I'd play on a cruise ship again.    

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #17

April 14, 2017
Lieutenant's Log #17

I got up and out to go for an Oslo walk, but as soon as I exited the terminal, my body tugged at me. "Hey buddy, it's too cold and damp. I'd turn around if I's was you." 
I decided to listen to my body and headed back to the ship.


It's no surprise that each entertainment venue on the ship has it's own unique experiences.  Heading back to the ship in the terminal there was a troubadour (solo/singer songwriter) performing. Some of the artists on the ship perform at several locations in their daily routine. He was supplied with a nice PA system.  I was impressed at the relentless tips he was receiving. He probably makes a fortune playing in the terminal.  Later he'll be playing in the 'Donkey Pub.' 
The Pub has acoustic singerwriters in the afternoon, and louder acts in the evening. That's where King James (aka Alabama) does his thing along with a keyboardist. Interestingly, they don't do full bands in the pub. It's usually a duo or single artist acts with drum machines and prerecorded tracks. These acts are very good at what they do. The large bands play in the Disco Room.  No doubt about it, the 'Donkey Pub' and the 'Monkey Pub' (as it's named on the other ship) are the real money makers for the ship.  It's where the most beer and alcohol is consumed. Where there's alcohol, there's drunk women flashing their breast and other things for a willing accessory to partake in.  "Are you married big boy?"  "Yeah, well a lot of good that's doing me these days."  
Indeed, the musicians that play in the Pub and the Disco room do really well in tits and tips.

The Cosmopolitan Room or Manhattan Room where I play (as it's called on the other ship), is a different world.  An older clientele.  Occasionally folks are engaged in the music. Mostly it's where the blue-bloods gather and a few jazz buffs.  The women don't flash, but I've had plenty of them blow kisses at me.  Seems to me that the mating call in the pub is the smell of beer. In the Cosmopolitan room it's the smell of money.   No tips. No tits. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #16

April 12, 2017
Lieutenant's Log #16

It's already been a week on "Color Fantasy" with 3 more weeks to go.   The other ship is "Color Magic."  Color Fantasy is actually the older of the two cruise ships. They're practically identical. The folks on this ship seem friendlier, less stressed or something.  

My room is even smaller than the previous room, but I got creative with arrranging my clothes and being able to put my large suit case on one side of the clothes closet to allow for more floor space.  Unlike my other rooom, I don't have access to using the space under the bed because it's blocked by a desk. However, I'm satisfied. 


One day of voice rest helped a lot. However, the dry heat in my current room is giving me other voice issues. A humidifier would be a good idea, but it's pointless to buy one, except if there's money to burn and there isn't.  I don't have the space to take it home with me. I'd have to throw it away or give it away. And sadly, the heating vent in my room doesn't allow me the ole wet towel trick. Regarding phlegm, I guess I should try vinegar.   Blehhhh...


Since the climate is warming up, I've been taking daily walks in both Kiel and Oslo. It was always too chilly in Oslo.  I recall my British friend Simon, who played in the pub on this ship a few years ago, preferred the Oslo walks. "They're more peaceful."  He's right.  They're very peaceful.


Yesterday was a day to remember.  I had noticed that after six weeks, "Alabama's" hair was as nicely groomed as it was when I first met him.  I asked, "Do you cut your own hair?" "No man, these Turkish dudes take care of me. Next time we're in Kiel, I'll take you around and show you some things. A walk on the wild side. We'll have a drink."   

So about Alabama's hair...    Imagine a tall black dude with a natural grey Mohawk with pineapple sides, sporting white eye glasses. An artist for sure.  Alabama is professionally known as "King James." Soul, Rnb, Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.  (He's long ago given up the hard stuff.)  
We met on the other other ship.  I heard someone shout out, "Hey NY!" He was referring to me. There was also another black guy, a classical pianist from New Orleans.  We were since referred to as Alabama, NY and Nawlins.   
Alabama is an ENORMOUSLY talented vocalist, guitarist.  He started out on the "Chitlin Circuit" when he was twelve.  He's lived and still plays all over the world.

Alabama's personality is almost as big as he is.  In his presence, one has to default to either straight-man or sidekick.  I was straddling both roles.  He took me to this one little bar. The place felt like we had no business being there. But again, everyone defaulted to being straight-men and sidekicks. I didn't mention that I'm not a beer drinker, but sidekicks don't complain. I had a beer and listened to one outrageous story after another. It wasn't like he was trying to be discreet, I'm sure the whole bar could hear our conversation.  Doing gigs for and befriending a grand wizard of the KKK was particularly high on the, "You're Kidding Me" list. I really wish I could share the details of our day and the stories, but dear Alabama is not dead yet.  You'll have to wait. :) 

Then he took me a barbershop to get a haircut. I had no idea that was part of his plan. "Take care of my friend here."  The owner of the shop is a 15 year friend of his and the only one in the shop who could speak English.  He translated, "Even it and take a little off."
I must say, the guy cutting my hair was a real artist.  I could see a scimitar hanging on the wall, so I wasn't going to complain about anything. :)   Seriously, it's the best haircut I've ever had.  Alabama's treat.  COOL!
We had to rush back to the ship. It was a great day. 


Friday, March 31, 2017

Lieutenant's Log # 15

I recall raving about the food on my first cruise trip. Which can be a problem, because if you're not careful, eating is the only thing to do when not playing. 24/7.  Not the case this time. At first I thought it was me, but Doru agreed. I don't recall throwing away as much food as I am these days. The good news is I'm eating less. Must be a new chef. 


Speaking of eating, there's this one guy I come across in the mess. A black guy. I'm not sure where he's from. He has the physique of actor Yaphet Kotto.  This is the most unwelcoming foreign black dude I've ever encountered.  Which is strange for a black guy, because black males generally have this kinship when it comes to greeting one another, particularly when there's few blacks around a predominately white environment. There's the nod. Complex handshake. High five. MC Hammer trading cards. Perhaps this is only a Black American thing. 
Though I'm not gregarious, I frequently will say "hello" to strangers I encounter. This guy never responds. I thought perhaps he doesn't hear me.  I try looking in his face as I speak, he avoids my glance. Several times I've spoken to him, getting no response.  Surprisingly, I witnessed him greeting a woman with a kiss to both cheeks and small talk.  No, she didn't have an Afro. So apparently he can be friendly when he wants to. Yesterday I stood right next to him as he was going for the some desert thing, so I sprung into friendly action. "Is that cheese cake?" I got a cold "yeah." Nothing more.  Today, I said hello and nothing.   This really pisses me off.  'Miche, maybe you should say something...'  Yeah sure. All I need is some big black baldheaded jackass giving me a hard time for giving him a hard time.  I wonder if black logic is universal? I have no idea what his problem is.
Maybe I'll throw on a weave and dump my face in some pancake batter. 
There. Now I feel better. Ah...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #14

March 27, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #14

It was 55 degrees in Kiel. That's the warmest day yet, but I didn't get out today. My voice needed me to sleep in.  It's hard to believe that it's been 5 weeks already. 5 more to go. I really could use a few days of not singing, but that's not going to happen for a while. 
I might spend an extra week here in Europe gigging in Sweden with Doru. We're waiting to hear from the agent. The last two nights have been more of a concert environment. Folks returning to enjoy the music, totally engaged. It couldn't be more clear that returning to the states is a pointless consideration for me, regarding work. Here, even the agents think I'm... special. When I'm home I can't even get a 'pay me little to nothing gig' at the local Big Tree Inn. I don't even want to talk about Rochester. Yes, I know, the ole '... in your hometown'  schpiel, well it's not like they're not hiring other hometown folks. Anyway, if I could figure out how to stay in Europe, I would, but it's a hard consideration at this chapter of my life, that is, not without key components such as a dedicated agent or manager. 


Since stepping away from Facebook, it's been interesting and refreshing, reacquainting myself with no illusions of having a social life or real friends.  The post election revealed things in people that I found disappointing to disgusting. It reminded me of why I kept my distance from people in the first place.  I now only post my blog or music. There's a few special folks out there, but music is my one dependable friend. We're spending more time together. 


Last night, yet another Norwegian guy, offered his wife or girlfriend to me.  He kept asking me to give her a kiss and she was clearly welcoming the idea.  Indeed another tall attractive woman. I just couldn't do it. Then he decided that he would kiss me instead. He grabbed me and planted one... Actually, it wouldn't have been so bad if he had shaved. The stubble felt like there was a scrub brush digging into my face.  To think that some women some don't mind this at all.
Guys, if you want to kiss me, shave. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #13

 March 21, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #13

I've certainly spent a lot of time complaining about the internet here on the ship and it's absolutely the worst. You can't watch YouTube videos. You can't excess iTunes for downloads, etc. 
As I've learned from the experienced, we have to get off the ship and find a cafe in Kiel that has wifi. (We're in Kiel every other day.) Today I did just that. I found a cafe in the shopping center and downloaded a video converter from the Apple Store so I can upload videos to instagram, only to get to my room and discover that the app requires the internet to compress a file. So the app is useless on the ship. I'm using an iPad btw.
I've also wondered why we musicians have such lame rooms. The passenger cabins are quite nice. It turns out that this wasn't always the case.  The musicians and artists at one time were treated like regular passengers. However, it's the musicians themselves who are responsible for the downgrading of privileges and access. 

It reminds me of the days when I was playing the hotel / motel circuit.  There were designated "band rooms",  rooms with the banged up walls and other problems. For some reason, most bands lived up to their reputation of tearing things up. Not all hotels and motels had ransacked rooms for the band, but a lot of them did. Thanks a lot fellas.

Chatting with a fellow cruise ship musician veteran, he informed me that years ago, musicians slept in passenger cabins, among passengers, could drink alcohol, were allowed in the casino and disco room.  However, wee hour rowdy parties were just too much for most neighboring patrons. Alcohol induced brawls in the disco room was a cause for alarm. And regarding the internet, one talented musician/hacker, hacked into the ships main system, causing all kinds of problems. Changes were made and now it feels like we're all incarcerated because of some knuckle heads.    

As the fellow cruise ship musician veteran put it, "The ____'s fucked it up for everybody."  He attributed all the fiascos to a particular group. No, I won't name the group. Some of my best friends are _____'s.   
Speaking of groups,  the ship reminds me of what it must be like on the Starship Enterprise. Particularly in the mess.   The Norwegians, Germans, Africans, Bulgarians, Asians, Brazilians etc, generally sit among themselves. I'm sure it's not solely as it appears, that is, that no one mingles. However, it literally does look that way.  Getting back to the veteran's comment, it's awkward hearing pointed remarks targeted at a group.  The fact and or truth of the particular matter is beside the point. Some of us take offense. It's a knee jerk reaction.  I could only imagine the veteran saying to me:
Veteran: Do you know why the crime rate is so low in Denmark?
Me: No. Why?
Veteran: Because they don't have a lot of black people.
Me: ???????
Veteran: ..........
Me: Uhhhh...   So what do the hot dogs taste like in Denmark?

Speaking of Brats, I'm hungry.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #12

March 12, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #12

If you enjoy what you do, whatever it may be, it hardly seems like 'work.'  The last few nights have reminded me that playing music can indeed be hard work. There you are, putting your heart into a song, and it doesn't matter. No one's listening and they sit right in front of you, speaking and laughing loudly as if you're not there. It wouldn't seem so bad if the most obnoxious ones weren't so close. Last night, folks were sitting at the piano, literally right next to you, chatting loudly as if we weren't there. This really annoyed me.  I'd give less to the performance if I knew how.   
These are the times that separate inflated egos from maturity. These are times that define what a professional is. 
It's taken me years to understand one's place as a paid musician. Unless it's a concert, the folks aren't there to see 'said act.' They're in the room to socialize and drink while a live band is playing.  Premium Ambience. 
Getting back to our venue the"Manhatten Room", unless you're sitting upon us, you can hardly hear the music. Of course if the room isn't noisy you can hear the band.  The folks who want to hear the music, usually wants the band to be louder, so they can hear us over the crowd noise.  However, we can't risk offending the rest of the patrons who are more interested in 'anything else but the band', for fear of getting a pink slip.  Fortunately, the house PA system has a great monitor system. So usually, we can hear ourselves just fine. Usually.  Occasionally, there are evenings when the night feels like a concert performance. Occasionally.
Sometimes it takes everything I have to remind myself of the mental focus it takes to ignore all the chaos. It's an exercise to say the least. I was a little out of shape last night. It felt like a battle to see who would be the first to shout "SHUT UP!", someone in the band or someone in the audience.  
Given a choice, I'd rather do this, than work at McDonald's.  


Considering that I've been very good at taking care of myself, getting rest and pampering my voice, it's still very difficult for one singer to sing 4 sets a night, 7 days a week. Particularly if you're not used to it. I'm starting to feel it. There's a total of 5 sets, but I play guitar during the 1st set which is instrumental. 
I didn't sing nearly as much 2 years ago.  In addition to the instrumental set, the band then, would play a few instrumentals before every preceding set. I'll have to suggest that we might continue with that idea, before I have real problems. Again, it's "work".
Oh, there's only one break for the contracted 10 week gig. And only because we have to change ships.  


Monday, March 6, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #11

March 6, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #11


I finally met "N'awlins", the classical pianist from New Orleans. "I wouldn't say I'm a classical pianist, I just play music." Whatever the case, he's very good. Of course he is, he's from N'awlins.   Like Choko, Alabama, N'awlins and myself, a lot of the ship musicians are surprisingly older players.  It's as if we've been sentenced to do time on cruise ships while the young guys are having fun in the real world. :) Seriously, I don't know if it's intentional or not, but given the vast clientele, it's not a bad idea to have musicians that have almost encyclopedic music knowledge and references.  The older guys have it by default. The young guys, good as they may be, probably couldn't pull a Michel LeGrand tune out of their musical hat. "Who's that?" I'm not saying that there aren't any young musicians aboard, I'm saying that there are lot of older players. 


Meat and potatoes. Particularly potatoes. Mashed, baked, boiled with skins, without skins, not eaten potatoes from the day before, thrown in a white sauce. Always potatoes.  And meat. Hunks of beasts, rare to medium rare. I haven't eaten this much meat since that the last time I was on the ship. Now that I think of it, we don't see chicken much.

I'm not a picky carnivore. I tolerate what's in front of me in small proportions. 
If I don't like the taste, I leave it. I specify 'taste' because some of us are against the idea of eating any animal that's not a pig, cow or chicken. 
I never cared to ask, "What's today's beast?"  Alabama on the other hand won't touch anything without asking, "What's that?" "I don't eat no deer."  Deer? Bulgarian Moose? Norwegian Yeti? I had no idea I'd been consuming these animals.   I'll start asking from now on.  

It's been an interesting couple of days on the ship.  Cowboys and Cowgals everywhere. 
I was pretty certain that the cowboys were from the states. Wrong. They were all Norwegians.  Apparently, if you take a fresh looking Norwegian, toss him down a flight of stairs, they make great looking cowboys. Some of the passengers weren't too pleased, as their family weekend had to be shared with drunkards with hats. "We've been on this cruise many times. If we had known about these rowdy cowboys we never would have..." "My young girls have never seen a drunk..."  
I found this very amusing. I thought that all Norwegians did was drink and eat Yeti.


 I suppose it's odd that at night, when I'm undressing for bed, I close the curtains. I'm in the middle of the ocean and I close the curtains as if there's a band of Amazon pirates spying in my window.  "Look at him lassie. Just the way I like em. Bone thin." "Oooo let me see?"

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #10

March 3, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #10

(The Day Room)

Though it was a brisk day in Kiel, the sun was out, and there was a vibrancy about town. I took a longer walk than usual.  I must have walked past three accordion players. They were all very good. I'm impressed that they are able to move their fingers in chilly weather. I couldn't help but wonder if the accordion players on the street, made more money than the beggars who simply sit on the bridge and ask for money as folks walk to and from the ship. The bridge beggers are almost always with a dog. From what I could see, the beggers aren't doing too bad. I think it would be a good idea for the accordion players to have a dog. People won't feed a starving musician, but they'll feed a dog. Hmmm, I think I should get a dog.


Regarding shopping, you won't get a bag unless you ask for one. And of course there's a fee. I had already been to one store, so I had one coat pocket filled with items.  My last stop was the pharmacy. Usually the bags are in front of the line or at the  end of the line.  The clerk just puts your items on the counter, leaving you to figure it out. I didn't see any bags.  So there I am, both pockets visually filled with stuff and merrily strolling out of the store. This could never happen in Philadelphia without a chase scene.


With me included, there are now four black men on the ship. A happy Kenyan that works in the mess (I'll call him Kenny) and three American musicians.  Kenny is the only outwardly cheerful person I've encountered in kitchen staff. It usually feels like the DMV in there.  Kenny chats easily.  No one ever makes conversation from kitchen staff and he seems very sincere. He was telling me about a black musician who's going to be playing in the pub. "I'll introduce you."  Sure enough, the next day there he was. Somebody shouted, "Hey New York!" I turned around and WHOA, the guy looks just like Morgan Freeman, taller than Choko, sporting a bold, "I'm an artist" haircut.  His voice is as deep as Morgan Freeman. I'd say deeper.  A gutsy, funny, extrovert.  The kind of guy I would have befriended in school to scare away bullies.  The 'Monkey Pub' musicians have to be bold and extroverted. That can be a rowdy room. "I'm from Alabama and there's a black classical pianist from N'awlins. Have you met him?"   So courtesy Mr. Freeman,  we black American musicians all know our names now. "New York" "Alabama" and "N'awlins" .      "Nice to meet you Alabama."    


Choko is thrilled and determined to get me to perform in the Bulgarian Jazz Festival this summer. Everyday he updates me with the details.  I can't understand a word he's saying, so I have no idea what I'm agreeing to.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #9

My plans today have been thwarted. I was looking forward to a stroll in Kiel, making a stop at the pharmacy for glucose tablets and GeloRevoice voice tablets...   Apparently I got mixed up. We're not in Kiel today, we're in Oslo.  So what's so great about Kiel? As it relates to the ship, in Kiel, the shopping center is in close proximity. You step off the ship and it's straight ahead. It's not so convient in Oslo. Shopping in Oslo requires a bit of a walk and hoping you don't get lost.  Oslo is a very attractive city. However, it's unbelievably expensive. Since the ship travels back and forth from Kiel to Oslo, Kiel is where the money is spent.   


Poor Doru (pianist) is very sick with the flu. It's getting around the ship.  As Doru puts it, he's now talking like Louis Armstrong. 
I've been taking measures to pamper my voice, getting plenty of rest, throat messages, etc. What would the establishment do if I lost my voice? I don't want to find out.
I took a short nap. My room was cooler than I like, but instead of turning up the thermostat I just braved through it and plopped on the bed.

After our second set, I was struck with feeling cold and shivering. I couldn't stop shivering. I was hoping no one would notice. I felt like something was going on. Though it wasn't flu related (in my observation), it was something. I found myself wanting to ask someone to feel my forehead for a fever. This was not as easy as you'd think.. For reasons I can't explain, I refused to ask either of the male band mates to feel my head, preferring instead to ask a female, any female. But there was a risk that asking a woman, "Can you feel my head to see if it's warm?"may have been misunderstood.  Then I'd be thrown in the ship jail for lewd behavior. Fortunately, I was able to ask a lady while Doru was present. He was able to explain what I was asking.  
This was the longest night yet. I got to my room and went to straight to bed. Shivering. 


On the musical front, I couldn't be more thrilled. Playing with Doru is a major honor.  I'm learning so much. The thing I love about Doru is, he's not simply a great jazz musician, he's also a classical pianist. He brings both elements to his improv skills. It dawned on me while listen to him that I had left out classical components of the nylon string guitar. What I mean is, there are certain simple voicing's that don't sound good at all on electric or jazz guitars but work very nicely on the nylon string.  I'll demonstrate this in a video one of these days.