Friday, September 23, 2005

Been Busy...

Sorry for the long delay, but I've been busy with stuff. Work's been crazy. Also, two guys from my church have gone through recent tragedies. One had his 37-year-old son die suddenly in his home in the Midwest, and the other just lost his son-in-law to a long battle with brain cancer. Also, my brother-in-law just went through gall bladder removal surgery late last month. And, less than two weeks ago, his own daughter (mt niece) went through the same procedure. As you can see, it's been a bit nuts lately.

I've been meaning to post a couple movie reviews, and I hope to have them up here soon. A DVD review on "Sin City" and how its strengths and weaknesses mirror "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", and a review of Bill Murray's new flick "Broken Flowers" (currently in theaters).

Tomorrow, I'm goin' guitar shoppin' with a fellow colleague from work. I've been around music for much of my life (stage manager, lighting operator, promotion, etc.), and I was an active lyricist/songwriter for a long period of time. I briefly took piano lessons a couple times, but never really thoroughly learned how to play an instrument. If I don't do it now, I never will.

So I'm looking for a low-end electric guitar (probably a Squier or an Epiphone), and a TASCAM CD-Trainer device. It's a combined belated-Birthday-gift / early-Christmas-gift to myself. Nothing fancy. No visions of Johnny Rockstar in my eyes. Just something for me to pluck at to my heart's content, and also to get back into non-collaborative songwriting again.

'Til next time...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The date was September 6th, 1994...

It was 11 years ago yesterday that I arrived in California, effectively making this state my new home. I was born and raised in the western section of Philadelphia, with family and friends scattered throughout that whole region. But the Golden State enticed me (especially after vacationing out here in ’89 and ’93). So, I boxed up a ton of my stuff and shipped it all ahead of me via UPS. The remains of my belongings I jammed into my car. And with my itinerary in hand, off I went on a one-week journey across the country.

I spent the first full day just getting mileage under my tires until I finally arrived at the western edge of Indiana. From that point forward, I followed parts of the old Route 66 for a lot of sightseeing. The first place I felt compelled to visit was the tomb & monument of President Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL. From there I drove down Illinois, across the Mississippi River, and under the famous Arch of St. Louis. I then spent some time at the Meramec Caverns in Missouri (the one time hideout of Jesse James and his gang), with its labyrinthine underground passageways filled with massive, intricate stalactites and stalagmites formations.

From there was a serene drive through the Ozarks until I reached the tiniest sliver of a forgotten piece of Route 66 that sliced across the southeastern corner of Kansas. Oklahoma, with it’s endless rolling hills and naturally greenery was a soothing stretch before I finally reached the Texas Panhandle.

As Tom Snyder writes in his handy Route 66 Traveler’s Guide and Roadside Companion, “Without a river or some continental rift, border crossings between states usually pass without notice. But not here. Almost immediately after entering Texas, the land changes. It’s almost as if someone looked carefully at this place and decided, without regard for political interests, that the state line just naturally belonged right here.”

Flatter. Drier. Much less green and a lot more beige and brown. Countless crevices and crags and miniature canyons litter the entire stretch of the upper panhandle of Texas. I can’t fathom how anyone with nothing but rickety covered wagons ever managed to cross this unforgiving landscape. I spent a day near Amarillo, hiking through Palo Duro Canyon and the Lighthouse Trail.

The following day lead me into New Mexico, a pastel portrait of the American southwest. Although it was raining when I finally reached Albuquerque and Santa Fe (incredibly wicked thunderstorms, I might add), this region of the U.S. is so naturally gorgeous. I took time to visit the Acoma Pueblo, the naturally formed Ice Cave and lava flow at the base of Bandera volcano crater, and a post-sunset drive across a ghostly stretch of Route 66 to Canyon Diablo.

I rolled into Arizona like the numerous tumbleweeds that blew across the highways. Spent some time at the infamous Meteor Crater (about a mile in diameter!), drove past an amazing field of marigolds near Winona, and then went up towards Little Colorado (a scenic overlook on the way towards the Grand Canyon). I remember meeting a young boy who was a member of the Navajo Nation. His name was Anthony and he was originally from east L.A. He currently was spending time with family on the reservations, learning his craft with the hope that one day he could move to Denver and become a master silversmith.

A number of Navajo were selling their wares there, and Anthony was a heck of a salesman for a young teen. I bought one of his handmade silver bracelets, with chips of turquoise and blood red coral arranged in the “Steps of Life” design. I wished him well on his own journey. He shook my hand, and with a broad smile said goodbye.

The Grand Canyon! I cannot properly describe it to you. I don’t think it’s possible to do so. The sheer vastness of the region just makes you dumbstruck. It’s God’s playground. With a chisel in one hand and a paint brush in the other, He must’ve had a blast creating this place. I only had the chance to spend the major portion of a day along the south rim, and each turn and vista you come to amazes you, thrills you, beckons you, infuses you, inspires you, calms you, quiets you. It’s one place I would definitely want to return to for an extended stay.

I headed back towards Route 66 and its parallel I-40, and tried to out-race several fierce thunderstorms as they traced their way across the north. Dense clouds of charcoal. Wide funnels of water like streaking quicksilver etching the sky and drenching the parched landscape. Lightning sparking so frequently it was a natural fireworks display traveling east while I continued west towards the California border.

My final day was a long drive through Needles, Barstow, and the Mojave Desert in the heavy summer heat. Through San Bernardino, then across the notoriously perpetual Los Angeles traffic jams. Hopped on the last portion of Sunset Boulevard toward the coast, then up the PCH with the Pacific Ocean glistening in the mid-day sun.

At 3:30 PM I arrived, finally, in my new home town. I asked a stranger to take a photo of me at the beach to mark the occasion. I’m here, I thought. I don’t know what’s ahead, but I’m here. And I’m happy. And those seven days solo across the country was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

Eleven years later. Reasons have changed. But I’ve remained. I’ve fully become a Californian, despite it’s sometimes infuriating faults. Yesterday, I had to mark the occasion with, of all things, jury duty (ugh!). I lucked out. I wasn’t picked for a trial, so I’m good for another 12 months before they can pull my name again.

And tomorrow??? Tomorrow I turn… 42 (yikes).

Monday, September 05, 2005

Reminiscing With Glenn

So, getting back to the day I was briefly in Disneyland meeting up with an old friend of mine who was in town on business. The last time I saw Glenn was back in the spring when I was visiting family back east for Easter. At that time I had met up with him and my good friend Paul (he and his twin brother, Phil, were the founding members of the first band I worked for) at the famous Pica’s Restaurant in Upper Darby (affectionately known to the regulars as “Frank’s” - one great Italian restaurant!).

So, there we were. Two guys in their 40s in Disneyland. Granted, we were in the non-amusement-park area, kinda like a large outdoor mall. But there we were. Very odd. Anyways, we just walked around before dinner and caught up on things. Reminiscing about old times. I first met up with all my old buddies when I was in college, back in the 80s. 1983 to be exact.

I remember sitting in the front row of my Western Civ II class in early January – the first day of the winter semester – when this inquisitive guy named Phil sits down beside me and asks “What’s that?” (pointing to a notebook on my desk with some of my poems and lyrics handwritten in it). Turned out that he was putting together a band and he could use a songwriting collaborator. We’ve been best friends ever since.

My finding out that he had an identical twin brother (who was also in the band, and who also attended the same college) was very surreal. Later that semester, I’m walking across campus when I see who I thought was Phil walking in the opposite direction, heading toward the Connelly Center. I yell out his name and wave. He waves back with this strange look on his face, and keeps right on walking right into the building.

“Now that was odd,” I thought.

Phil wasn’t in class that day, so I waiting until the following Monday to approach him about the incident. Come Monday, I see Phil in class and give him hell for how he acted on Friday. Phil tells me he was home sick on Friday.

I said, “Well, that’s bullshit. I saw you on campus just before class.”

Then, in typical Phil fashion, he says, “Oh! That was probably my twin brother Paul.”

“Yeah, right! You just happen to have a twin brother who also goes to Villanova?” I snarked.

“I didn’t tell you I have a twin brother before?” he said obliviously.

“Uhhh, NO!” I exclaimed, realizing he was serious (and Phil is rarely serious. It’s not in his nature). “Well, that explains why your brother gave me that ‘who the f*ck are you?’ look when I waved at him the other day.”

“Yeah, he’s in the band,” he says with a chuckle.

“He’s in the band??? Phil! I’ve known you for two months, and only now I’m finding out that you---?”


We spent a good number of years together with the band, which started off as a cover band, but slowly changed to half cover tunes and half original music. I did some songwriting with the brothers (some good, some not so good, and a few that were really, really good), as well as promotion, stage managing, occasional stage lighting. The band went through countless band members: at least six different guitarists, four drummers, two saxophonists, and God knows how many lead and backing vocalists. Paul and Phil were on keys and bass, respectively.

The very first gig they performed (under the second of many permutations of the band) was a dance for incoming freshman at Cabrini College (a small, all-girls Catholic college at the time). Glenn was doing the sound with third rate equipment. He had two large fans going full blast trying to keep his equipment from frying out. I was handling a makeshift lighting panel which was nailed into a bunch of 2x4s.

The place was packed. Everyone was dancin’. Angelo was too afraid of making a mistake, so he’d turned his amp down and just pretended to play guitar through half the songs. The lead singer was reading song lyrics written on the palm of his hand while on stage. And the circuit breakers kept on tripping. It was my task to wad my way through the dance floor and flip the breakers back on within four beats. I had to do this at least a dozen times throughout the night. I got quite good at it, while Dan kept the drum beat going and the crowd sang accapella until the power came back on in perfect 4/4 time.

The following Monday while on campus all the guys christened me with my new nickname (“Madman”) for running around like crazy at the gig three nights earlier. Try as I might, I could never shake that nickname. But only a select few are allowed to call me that nowadays. Six years with that band. And another three or four with another band after that. Countless gigs at local joints in southeaster PA, south Jersey and northern Delaware.

We kicked ass at places like the Rusty Nail in Ardmore, PA, the Stone Balloon in Newark, DE, La Costa in Sea Isle City, NJ, and Margarita’s in West Chester, PA (our old lighting equipment is still there). Of course, there was also the countless nightclubbing, too. From the old Pulsations in Glen Mills, PA, to the Oasis in Wildwood, NJ, to Scandal’s and Samantha’s in Ocean City, Maryland. Summer rentals in Avalon, NJ and OC, MD. And more alcohol than I’m afraid to remember even if I could.

Our years in our 20s were a magical time. Yet, after awhile, that lifestyle starts to get really old. By the time I turned 30 I was pretty much done with the whole scene. While various friends started tying the knot, and others continued to cling to their fading youth, I turned a leaf of my own and headed west. And that happened exactly 11 years ago tomorrow. But that’s for another blog post.

Glenn and I started off reminiscing about the old times and the gigs, the night clubbing, the summers down the shore. And then we started talking about politics, and businesses, and families. Comparing aches and pains, medications, grey hairs and expanding waistlines. My, my how times have changed.

In two days I turn 42. Forty-two! SH*T! There are times I feel younger than that, and there are times when I feel older than that. And there are days when I feel exactly that age. Time has flown and the past has receded like Phil’s hairline (heh-heh).

Twenty years ago I graduated from Villanova and spent most of that summer with sand between my toes, embroiled in the “Great Plastic Pink Flamingo Raid of 1985” (complete with loaded water pistols and numerous pints of beer). I also spent two and a half weeks as an alternate juror on a murder trial (true story). Oddly enough, tomorrow I’m stuck with jury duty again (ugh!). Hopefully I won’t get picked for another trial.

Maybe I should stick a plastic pink flamingo on my balcony for old time’s sake. Instead of a beer, I’ll salute it with a glass of red wine.