Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sexy - Redefine 2013

Words can lose their meaning if overused.  Take "awesome" for example: 
[awesome |ˈôsəm|adjective
extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear : the awesome power of the atomic bomb.]

Today, everything is described as awesome and usually for things are not awesome at all.  I'm trying to figure what's better, being 'awesome' or being 'dope'.     

Another word whose meaning has become nebulous is "sexy". What does that mean exactly?  
Clarification is needed.
When someone says "You're very sexy". Does it mean:

a: You want to buy that jacket for your boyfriend. 
b: You want to mate, whether in captivity or not.
c: You want to copulate with someone you really desire.
d: You're ready to read a harlequin.
e: You want to be 'taken' now or after "So You Think You Can Dance?"
f:   All of the above
g:  None of the above

Let's clear this up...


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Has Social Media Changed The Rules?

Has social media changed the rules?  There used to be clear boundaries in social behavior. You'd only speak privately about certain things such as politics, religion, abortion, sex, family, depression, etc.  Today, it seems like there are no boundaries. People are open about things that we really don't want to know about.  On facebook we all post what we're doing, how we're feeling, who we've slept with and pictures of cats dead or alive. 

In the musician / artist realm, we're all being humbled with low audience turn out and almost zero sales in our music.  There was a time when it seemed counterproductive, if not tacky to let people know that you're doing badly instead of great.   I find that I no longer feel the need to hide the disappointment of yet another low to no turnout or anticipating such.  The clubs don't hide it from me.   "Your band is excellent and you should be famous but…  you'll have to share the night with six other bands if we have you back." 

Now do you drift back to a network such as facebook and pretend that you're unaffected by this. Nope. We do what we always do. Type away and press post, with typos and all.
Again, I used to try to keep this all to myself, but it's getting unimaginably ridiculous to be quiet about it all.  No, this is not personal, but that doesn't make it feel any better.
So what do I do? I make fun of it.  What else is there to do? 
But I do wonder, what are the rules now? Where are the boundaries? 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What's Killing Live Performing?

Is technology killing live performing. I just watched the "Dave Chapelle in Hartford, CT" video. Respect? What respect? 
True, all comedians have experienced a tough, noisy crowd, but usually not super stars.  Not to mention a super star that just came out of 'hiding'. No doubt, everyone in the audience was probably on their cell phones texting, filming, everything else but giving the entertainer their undivided attention.   

When I was playing a lot of coffee houses, I was getting a bit frustrated. You'd be in the corner playing and people would sit right in front of you, staring at their laptops and ipods with their ear buds plugged in.  You're standing there singing asking yourself, "Why am I here?"  After a while, if I was playing a coffee house which might pay only a cup of coffee and people were ignoring me while plugged into their ipods, I'd just leave after a set.  It wasn't worth the time or tips. I got tired of giving it "my all" in vain.  I didn't care about the repercussions. What was the owner going to do, not give me coffee? It's different if you're paid to do a show, you're professionally obligated to tolerate the crap.   

These days most people live by their cellphones. They carry around their friends, their music, their videos.  You can't pull them away from it.  
If no one is buying music, if no one is coming out to shows, if those who come out are still tapped into their 'world in a pocket' while you're performing, what are the incentives for artist to give you all they've got? Love?   Most musicians love what they do, but musicians are not loving what the audience is doing these days.    

PS. Obviously Dave Chappelle is a REAL pro.  He handled himself with comedic class.

Here's a monologue about some of my coffee house experiences. It's from my CD "Cafe Vignettes"

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Conspiracy Theory #1

You Better Stop! The Tom You Claim May Be Your Own:

The "Man" no longer has to work hard to hold blacks down. Blacks do it all for him. It's built right into black culture.  Violence and more violence. The calling each other nigger in their music and profiting from it. Thugs are Heroes, etc.
The KKK and other such groups are quite satisfied with this cultural shift into African-American chaos. You won't hear them talk about it. The media doesn't report about it, instead the media is quick to report about blacks being sympathetic victims of racism. Why is that? 

For the conspiracy minded, the plan could be simple. Stay mum. 'Let them destroy themselves, it's not our problem if they're too blind or ignorant to see it.'   

Blacks are quick to accuse other blacks of being uncle toms, even if it's just for having an objective opinion. 
Today the term is overused and misused.
It's use only seems to be an effective way of saying "Shut Up!"

The term "uncle tom" has many definitions, here's a couple:

1. A black man who will do anything to stay in good standing with "the white man" including betray his own people.

2. An epithet for a person who is slavish and excessively subservient to perceived authority figures, particularly a black person who behaves in a subservient manner to white people; or any person perceived to be a participant in the oppression of their own group.

- Who does this sound like?

You Better Stop! The Tom You Claim May Be Your Own.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Woke Up From A Dream:

Why would it be expected that MLK would be alarmed at the state of 'black on black' crime and the decline of family values? No one else seems to be.  The only leaders that can help the black community today is mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, the aunt, the uncle, the brother, the sister, the neighbor, the friend, and yes, even that sell out, if you care about objectivity.  
One must be able to acknowledge the truth, handle the truth and tell the truth.  MLK Boulevards in urban areas has done NOTHING significant in the growing development of the black populace.  MLK has become less than a dream, less than a thought or perhaps only a thought.  If that's not true, how could things possibly be the way they are today? 

It was a beautiful dream. It's time to wake up and get busy. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

An Inquisition

• Son, you know that prisons are overcrowded with black young men like yourself, why would you commit a crime? 

• Son, you know that drugs ruin lives and destroys families, why would you take them?

• Son, seeing the devastation of drugs and incarceration, why would you sell them?

• Son, is being poor a sin?

• Son, is the quest for not being poor, worth selling your soul? 

• Son, do you remember what you were proud about? 

• Son, you know that people have fought and died for you to have the things you weren't allowed to have, not that long ago.  Do you not want these things now?

• Son, if I were alive, would you show me the respect I showed my father?

• Son, the gun you possess could be the gun that took my life. 

• Son, the "man" is impotent.  He's afraid to speak, he's given you more than you'd probably give someone else.  He's on the ropes. You gain nothing in dropping him.

• Son, the white man you hate and blame has not the power you think.  He can't help you.  Neither can I.   

• Son, helping yourself will give you all the help you need. You're as free as you live it.   So Live it.      Love you.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Doctor My Eyes

Lately, I've been concerned that my perspective on race is unfounded. How could I possibly think I'm seeing the things that are before me? 

On the issue of race today, it seems a huge majority of blacks and a good number of whites are seeing something else compared to what I'm seeing.  In the Zimmerman case, people see a man playing judge and executioner on an innocent teenager because of his color.  I see a tragedy within a tragedy.  I see the result of a culture that's extremely out of control with crime and violence and THAT should be addressed with high priority. It appears that if you acknowledge that as a problem, you're a racist, or if you're black, a Tom.

So I concede to being a "Tom".  I should point out that I don't find the title offensive anymore.  Seriously, what does it take to be a 'Tom' these days anyway?  The same thing it takes to be a racist these days, absolutely very very very very little.  
• "You don't agree with the rest of us? You're a Tom."  
• "You think blacks need to get their house in order? You're a racist." 

I'm trying to understand a race that has established some exclusive, yet questionable standards for itself.  
For example:  

- "Nigger" is supposed to be a despicable word. No other race can use this word, but WE can. Oh, and there's a difference between "Nigger" and "Niggaz".  
This is a lame rationalization at best, don't you think?
Only children can get away with this. 
"Cool. Let's address ourselves as such and put in it our music too.  That's right, we're a PROUD people."

- I'm also trying to understand yet another questionable standard:
 No other race can kill us without the scope and scrutiny of the nation and the attention of a raging populace, but we can. We can murder our own, in massive numbers if we want. And guess what? We do.

Don't even think about talking about it.  Don't protest about it. Don't be enraged. Don't cancel your gigs because of it. Don't report it.  
Just let the media dictate or manipulate what your concerns should be, the outcome of which is clearly to THEIR benefit. 

I am concerned that I must be deadly wrong about all of this.  
What I'm I missing here?  What's wrong with my eyes? 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Off To The Races

It's sad that it seems almost pointless to speak candidly, preach or pontificate about anything of significance these days, because no one is listening.  Initially, one of my concerns about the whole rap/hip-hop thing was, everybody is talking and everybody has something to say, but nobody is listening or looking beyond themselves. The only thing being listened to and looked at is the dollar. 
It's puzzling to me that courtesy the Zimmerman trial, everybody is talking about race problems, but not about the ingredients in the  complication.  Blacks and whites are screaming "injustice" and now everyone is talking about the Stand Your Ground Laws.  I'm not saying that these things are unimportant, but in my eyes, all of this is avoiding the real issue. Yes, racism as we know it, is going to be hanging around for too many years to come.  But today, triggered by this trial, we're dealing with something that's a little different.  Racism vs. "Hey, I'm not blind."  It's one thing to hate someone because of their color, it's another thing to be afraid, to be cautious of a 'people' because of the same reasons that that race is afraid, cautious and concerned of it's own. 

 No one should pull a trigger on anyone, but chaos breeds more chaos and fear. What are folks to do? Pretend they don't read and watch news reports? Yes, profiling is wrong, but black or white, would you feel comfortable walking in a black neighborhood at night? Why not? If you're approached by someone wearing a hoodie, would you say "hey nice color, where'd you get that?" You wouldn't be afraid, right? Not everyone wearing a hoodie is a thug. There are many exceptions, but not enough. The exceptions are not the problem. 
 So here we are. Post Zimmerman trial. How's life in the inner city, better? Is life back to normal? Has there been any murders? Has only one life been taken? How old? How young? Were whites involved? Drugs? Guns?  Will Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton disappear until the next tragedy that makes the headlines?

I don't know what it will take for something or someone, what used to be called a leader, to speak out about what's really going on and the cause and effect of a our civil problems. 

On the subject of personal and or societal growth, some of the more profound questions one could be asked might be :
"What are you contributing to your inability to succeed?" 
"What are you contributing to your problems?"

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Gospel Truth

Music was all around me when I was growing up.  There were several bands on my block.  I learned a lot just by sitting outside of a house where a band was rehearsing, listening and trying to look through the window.  In my West Philly neighborhood, we heard a variety of sounds. 

At the "Cruise's" house there was an RnB band called "Projection 101."  They played the hits of the day (circa 1970's) -Frankie Beverly's Raw Soul, Kool and the Gang, Mandrill, Black Heat, etc.  Projection 101 played everything except the songs made popular by singing groups (Motown,The Delphonics, Blue Magic, etc.)  It wasn't considered cool by us young bloods to be in a back-up band for singers. We liked bands that were bold, brash and loud. These were the kind of bands we aspired to. Projection 101 also had cool equipment - big plush amplifiers and a PA system (Shure Vocal Master.)  We were impressed and, yes, the band was great.  When they played a tune, they would play all the changes in the song just like the record.  My own band, "Supernatural," would just play the hook/motif over and over again.   

On the other side of the street was Mr. Blake's band.  Mr Blake was from the Islands.  Trinidad?  Haiti?  We had no idea.  His music was strange to us, but it had a great groove.  Although we couldn't see a thing through the grated covered windows, it always sounded like they were having a good time. It was Calypso music for sure.

Then there was Sunday.  Gospel music was not a part of my own family life, but it was a part of life in the neighborhood.  Every Sunday morning, on into late afternoon, 
Ms. Scarbrough would blast Gospel music for the whole community to hear.  She would also cook a HUGE social breakfast. It was your lucky day if you were invited for any reason. Stacks of pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, scrapple, bacon, biscuits, rolls, grits, along with weird things such as tripe, were set out to share.  This was an event.  If I got invited, it was due to my buddy and band mate, John.  Ms. Scarbrough was his grandmother, and John lived with her.

Sometimes after the Sunday feast, John's uncle, Mr. Coboy, would rehearse at the house with his Gospel band.  We would try and hang out in the living room where they were playing. The band had our attention for a number of reasons.  First, the bass player had the biggest amp we'd ever seen.  I didn't have the ears to know if it sounded good or not, but you could FEEL it and you could hear it blocks away.  Big amps were things to dream about.  Our little band rehearsed in Ms. Scarbrough's basement. We used to tear apart trashed stereo systems to extract the speakers and then wire all the speakers together, thinking it would make us louder.  We had the speakers hanging all over the basement.  It looked cooler than it sounded, but we didn't care.  Another thing we noticed about the Gospel band was the weird "old dude" guitars they played.  For some reason, it seemed that most guitarists in Gospel groups preferred Fender Mustangs and Jaguars, and wearing sunglasses, even if they were rehearsing in a dark house.  As far as we were concerned, if we didn't see a Stratocaster or a Les Paul, it just wasn't cool.   
                                                          Jaguar                          Stratocaster                      

And there was one other thing that disturbed us about the Gospel band.  We didn't quite get the entertainment part of what this band was doing. They'd start a song with a rumble from the bass and drums, then Mr. Coboy (the singer) would start growling with a monologue: "I woke up this morning with a temperature of 105. I said 'help me Lawd, help me Jesus…"   We were stunned.  Mr. Coboy had just been sitting at the breakfast table eating a pound of scrapple. How could he stand there and lie like that?  We didn't get it.  But, then they'd have the whole house and neighborhood rocking. I had no idea what I was experiencing, but it all stayed with me.  I was very, very fortunate.

Recently I was asked to perform at a Unitarian Church. I found the church unusual because they play every kind of music, from the Jackson 5 to "They Might Be Giants". Of the seven songs I played, I had the opportunity to play a few Gospel tunes I liked. Here's one: "Just Closer Walk With Thee"

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sharing Knowledge Isn't Easy

When I started playing music, there weren't videos, tabs or the internet for that matter, just hard work and ears. Struggling to decipher a guitar part from an LP and thinking you had it right, until a more seasoned player came around.    Compared to today, the pros weren't willing to show you what they spent most of their life time learning, except MAYBE if they were paid, or if you were family. 

Now, practically everything you want to know is accessible and free. And most pros and seasoned players are all more than generous in sharing their knowledge. This is great. 
On the other hand,  there seems to be a reluctance to except the fact that it's still the students job to work and think things through.  If they don't understand what you're doing, it's always a good idea to ask questions and so forth, as opposed to not liking and criticizing something because they don't understand it.   

Private lessons is perhaps a whole different criteria because you're paying for something that hopefully you as a student have made clear to your teacher what your goals are. That aside, a teacher is just a guide to your own creativity. 
In my series, I've pointed out that I'm just sharing ideas and challenging the viewer with learning as I've learned. Thinking and listening.    It puzzles me that with the thousands of other videos out there, why someone would be … disgruntled with something shared at no cost to them. 

I thought I explained myself in the intro:
Here's the video - Lesson's from a Lefty 

On we go. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

5 Characters and Music

We musicians all have our war stories. Here are 5 tales into some of the characters I've encounters.  

The Honesty:

Twice I opened up for a major acoustic guitar veteran.  The first show was very humbling.  When I first started playing as a soloist, it was just a novel thing I did just for fun. Fun is good. I'd just get on stage and sweat through the things I was trying to do.  However, when you open up for someone who is clearly more devoted than just having some fun, you can look pretty silly up there.  I learned my lesson.  The second time I opened up for this icon it was a noted difference.  My attitude.  We got to be chatty acquaintances.  I mustered up the courage to ask him for any help he might be able to provide another striving artist.  He said flatly, "I can't offer any help to you. I'd be creating my own competition…".  Although this took me by surprise, I did appreciate his honesty.  

The Brotherly Love:

On the other hand, some artists are not so honest or forth coming.  Years ago, I reached out to a performer that I admired and was excited with the possibility that we might work together.  I wrote him several times about my enthusiasm.  Perhaps it was naive of me to think that because we were both African Americans in a field where there aren't too many, that he'd at least want to connect with me on some level.  I'm talking about acoustic song / songwriters btw.  Anyway, it never happened.  He never responded. I thought, maybe he never received my emails.  I ran into him at a conference in an elevator. He knew who I was, which surprised me.  So I guess he had received my messages. He wouldn't have known who I was otherwise.  Anyway, while in the elevator, he never mentioned anything about it. Neither did I.   Oh well.  I let it go.

The Elitist or Eccentric:

I did a show with a famous concert pianist.  I was struggling to find an accompanist.  Getting desperate, I called him.  
I never expected that he'd say yes.  It was getting close to show time.  I was sweating bullets thinking that maybe I had given him the wrong date.
Finally he showed up. What a relief. I asked if he needed help to bring his gear in.  "There's no piano? You didn't mention that I needed to bring a piano".  Of course he hadn't asked either, and he didn't have a 'portable' one at home.   
Most musicians I've ever played with, have always brought their own gear. What if he hated the piano?

I did the first set with just bass and voice, while we waited for a piano delivery (thanks to one of my friends).   I guess when you're working with the elite you have to be mindful of their requirements. :)
I should point out that this pianist was absolutely worth the wait.

The Ego or Tired Artist:

At a conference I ran into one of the events featured artist.  He and I, along with a few other artists were sitting together and someone said,  "You should let Miche sit in with you".  YES!  He was up for it.  I had to perform earlier that evening at a different location.  I busted my butt to get back to the conference in time just so I could play with this amazing musician.   As his set was coming to a close, I was a little disappointed that he had forgotten about me. These things happen. He was about to play an encore, when someone from the audience shouted "You should bring up Miche…!"  How cool was that?  Too Cool?

This turned out to be one of the most unfun things I've ever done. He never connected with me on stage. No looking at me. No smiling. This was more like work.  After we got through one jam, the audience wanted another song.   Again he never connected, it was stiff and cold.   Afterwards he never said a word to me. The next day at the conference he ignored me.  I fumed about this for hours.  As far as I was concerned there was no reason to be that rude.  Even if he thought I sucked, he could still at least be polite. I have no idea what that was all about.  Maybe he was just tired.

The Good Musicians:

I was in DC for a few days. I reconnected with a woman I used to date in high school (another embarrassing story).
We were walking around Georgetown and came upon a club that was having entertainment that night.  We decided to hang around. When the band showed up, I asked the drummer if they let people sit in.   "Ask Tony."  "Sure man you can sit in."  They brought me up for a song.  What a fun night.  I eventually played most of the evening with them.  At the end of the night, Tony came up to me and handed me some cash.  I was floored.  To pay someone who walked in off the street was beyond the call.  Most musicians who play for a living would never care to be so generous.   To this day, the thought warms me up every time I think of it. These were some very "good" musicians.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Looking Up From The Bottom

They say "You have to hit the bottom before you can rise up…  ".   I've been living with depression all of my life.  I never called it that. In fact, I never thought much about it.  I just excepted an existential perspective on life and events.  Besides, I was much too consumed with playing music to pay attention to such things as the state of my soul, or if I had one, among other things.  

My life as I lived it had exhausted me.  Having distanced myself from music in the last few years, I felt I had no place to go and no place I wanted to go.  I finally broke.  I was in a dark and empty place.   "You have major depression."  I was very uncomfortable, annoyed actually at the suggestion that this was a medical issue.   "Look, it's not like I don't have a ton of reasons to feel the way I do. It's all overly depressing wouldn't you say?!!!".  There's silence and there's silence.   However, it was clear that I needed help… 

Interestingly, it's amazing the things you can see in a dark place.   So I'm now looking up from the bottom.
And as always, I'll do my best to climb out of here.