Blogga Blogga...

Welcome to Semyon's blog page, which has the best of his bloggage over the past couple of years.  Make sure to read about whatever is new and happening to Celloboy7 and the fan-favorite epic 12-part blog about the trip to Japan in May and June 2008.  Or if you are feeling really adventurous, you can scroll to the bottom of this page and read the blogs in chronological order.  There is quite a bit of rambling on this page, so don't forget to use the search function (control+F) to locate specific topics and dates you are looking for.  Enjoy!

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American Classics Is Out Now! - 4/11/13

Blogga blogga.  I haven't done one of these in ages.  To be honest, I think my ability to blog has been cut short by life, which has a funny way of carrying you along without much time to stop and catch your breath. They never tell you as a kid that time speeds up as you get older, but I'll be damned if the days don't fly by now.

So I haven't blogged, the "Static Tour" project came to a grinding halt (mainly because I took a video of myself and realized that I am not meant for TV or video.  I'm a musician, not an actor), and it's been over a year since I played a solo show anywhere.  I have, however, been keeping myself quite busy playing music - it's just been more studio recording work than public performance.

The result of those labors, however, is an album that I'm very pleased with - "American Classics-Parlour Music Revisted" on LiSem Records.  That's something I whipped up with my old man, Daniel Kobialka, who plays violin on the album.  My dad approached me about recording an album together a couple years ago and after tossing around some ideas, we decided to try interpreting the amazing songs and melodies from the Civil War era some 150 years ago.  These are some magnificent pieces of music and some truly great melodies.  Oh Shenandoah, Black Is The Color, The Yellow Rose of Texas, Aura Lee, etc.  My personal favorite might be a toss up between Black Is The Color and The Minstrel Boy (I am the minstrel boy himself!!).

I'm really happy with the album and now I'm back to square one again, wondering what I'm going to do next.  I have some ideas, and if I plan things right for once, then hopefully I'll be adding more content to this website on a regular basis... just no videos.

But if you want to see a new video that I was involved in, my good friend Amyn Kaderali put together one for the American Classics album - www.youtube.com/watch or www.youtube.com/watch

For now, I bid you farewell, but not goodbye... I'm not done yet, so I'll be back with more soon.

New Year, New Direction - 1/3/12

Blogga blogga,

O.k., so it has been almost TWO YEARS since I have blogged.  Wow.  Not only that, I managed to completely avoid doing my proposed "Static Tour" during that time.  Talk about broken promises, but I have my reasons.  Oh yes, there are always reasons, right?  Otherwise known as "explanations", or "excuses".  Well, here they are...

To begin with, things changed!  Actually, several things changed, but the biggest one was the fact that I injured my hearing a bit during a live show and it's given me pause when it comes to setting up gigs.  In general, the ethic for a singer-songwriter dude like myself is that you take each and every gig opportunity offered to you.  It doesn't matter what it is - just take the gig and try to make something happen.  That's the ethic, and I usually follow it as much as possible.  However, one night almost 2 years ago, I agreed to sit in on a gig for a friend having a birthday show, and we rocked out in a small bar where I was situated next to the drums.  Small bars and loud drummers are nothing new to me, and I have special ear plugs that I use and everything... and yet, after this particular show, I found that my hearing had dropped a good bit.  The next day, my ears were still messed up, and they haven't recovered 100% since.  That was a new experience for me, and I guess the years of attending loud concerts and playing loud music myself have finally caught up to me.

It totally sucks because one of the joys of playing music is listening to it as it happens.  Now I find that my ears are really sensitive to loud sounds, even to the point where sometimes I wear ear plugs in the movies.  THE MOVIES!!  I'm someone who attended heavy metal concerts several times a week thoughout high school, and now my ears are sensitive to the volume level in movies.  Not cool, and it definitely makes it hard for me to envision booking shows in the usual small, loud LA bar on a regular basis.  If I want to retain my hearing, I need to pick and choose those opportunities more carefully so I avoid going deaf before I'm 40.  That would REALLY suck.

So that's one important change that derailed the Static Tour - it's hard to promote live shows when you are worrying about losing your hearing via playing live shows.  The other change is the economy, which has been derailed and made it difficult for me to hire the excellent musicians I have been working with.  Getting into my car and touring around is also an economic impossibility right now because my car is old and it will probably blow up if I try to take it on an extended road trip.

That's all bad stuff, but there has been a silver lining to these changes.  You see, in the absence of being able to play live, I'm experimenting more with recorded music and I've got a ProTools rig set up at home that I've been working with.  It's a very different discipline to work on recorded music, but it also opens up entirely new ways of writing and performing music.  Instead of writing songs that I can play live by myself, I can now layer cello tracks one on top of the other until I get massive orchestral arrangements.  Where I used to be one solitary cellist strumming away on the cello, I can now sound like a full symphony and be complex in the composition and arrangement in a way that wasn't possible outside of recording.  It's a brand new world, sort of like how the Beatles ditched playing concerts in the second half of their career and just recorded albums.... or at least that's how I'd like to think about what I'm doing now.  Yeah... just like the Beatles.  That's me!

Anyway, I've got two major recording projects that I'm working on, and I'm really excited about them.  The first project is an album of music from the Civil War era that I'm working on with my dad.  I've recorded a track or two of cello on a couple of his albums, but this is basically a violin/cello album going through some of the most famous songs from the Civil War.  Some of the melodies are fantastic, and I'm having a great time exploring the songs and trying to find a new way of interpreting them.  Hopefully that album will be done by the end of 2012 and it will be released on my Dad's label, LiSem Records.

The other project is Echo Lake Acoustics, aka "ELA", which is a collaboration with Brian Irwin (produced and engineered "The Miracle Mile") and Bernard Yin (guitarist for many bands, including The Astra Heights).  We're three veteran musicians who decided to pool our talents in order to create original music to be licensed for movies, t.v., commercials, whatever.  Basically we want to follow in Ennio Morricone's footsteps and make really good score music, and so far we're discovering that the three of us are pretty good at coming up with musical ideas and arranging them.  It's a lot of fun and you can hear the 15+ clips we've done so far on our website, which is www.echolakeacoustics.com.

Well, that's what happened.  Things change and life goes on, but the good news is that the changing and going on can lead to new and exciting possibilities.  So maybe the Static Tour was never meant to be, but so be it.  I'm not that great on camera anyway, and the new music is some of the best stuff I've come up with so far.  Can't keep looking at the past when the future is calling to you, right?

So here's to 2012 and may you find new and exciting things in your future as well!  Happy New Year!

I'm Late To My Own Party - 2/22/10

Blogga blogga -

O.k., I'll admit it - I'm about 2 weeks behind on the whole Static Tour project. I said I'd have a brand new video posted on my fancy new website before Valentines Day and I still haven't posted a new video yet. I know, I know. Very tardy. What a typical musician, blowing off a deadline like a slacker, right? All those rumors about musicians being flakey are being proven true because I can't even live up to a random deadline I imposed upon myself. Shame on me! You can refer to me as "Celloboy6" until my punctuality improves a bit.

But I have a lot of excuses! Hooray for excuses! Excuses can be fun, especially when they attempt to explain something that probably could be summed up by saying "my bad" or "sorry". And I think issuing a simple "I'm sorry, I screwed up" would be the most boring way of explaining/apologizing/excusing my inability to post a video on time, so I'm going to give you the best kind of excuse - some wonderful half-truths which are partially true and partially hyperbolic b.s. constructed to save one's ass. You may have encountered this technique when listening to politicians and athletes hold press conferences in order to "come clean" on their latest scandal(s). So some of what I'm about to say is 100% true and the rest of it is done in the style of James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" (you know, the book that pissed off Oprah because a lot of the autobiographical parts are made up). You can decide what's real and what's told with a forked tongue. Either way, it doesn't change the fact that I'm behind schedule. Here's what I'm testifying slowed down the Static Tour project -

First off, I've been constructing a new website from scratch and trying to make it as interesting as possible. I dumped as much content as I could onto the site and it just takes a lot of time. A lot of time, like almost 30 hours so far and counting. I even included all of my blog entries from Myspace in the site and amazingly enough, I have about 200 pages worth of bloggage that's piled up over the past 2+ years. That's no exaggeration - I cut and pasted everything into MS Word and I ended up with over 200 pages of single spaced typing. That's a lot of gabbing for someone who has held the nickname "the quiet cello boy" since high school.

Anyway, as I was slowly re-posting all 200+ pages of bloggage into the new website, one blog at a time, my computer was apparently hacked by Chinese Intelligence operatives working out of an island in the Black Sea. I kid you not. I realized this when my iTunes program on my Mac at home started streaming some of the communications between the Chinese hackers and someone addressed as "The Yangtzee Tiger" in Beijing. I was just sitting there, working on the new website when suddenly I heard someone speaking Cantonese in the background behind the music I was playing on iTunes (curiously enough, I was listening to Yo Yo Ma and I thought maybe he decided to recite Chinese poetry during his performance of the Dvorak Concerto - Yo Yo stretches the limits of what a classical musician does these days, so why not?). My Cantonese isn't as good as my Mandarin so I whipped out the Cantonese-English dictionary I always carry with me and started flipping through it to catch as much of the conversation as possible. I wasn't fast enough to translate everything but I did come up with this:

"... reporting to Yangtzee Tiger. What's up? Current surveillance ... [unable to translate] ... positive confirmation of extreme danger from agent code-named 'cello-boy-7'... [unable to translate] ... ties to Japanese and Tibetan government not obvious but believe that coded messages are transmitted through audio files masquerading as music... [inaudible] ... cannot be serious music as it features a cello instead of guitar... [unable to translate] ... will wipe out rice crops... [garbled] ... shrink Yao Ming to eliminate Chinese threat to American/European basketball dominance and... [unable to translate] ... flood of McDonalds restaurants... [inaudible]... send Jackie Chan immediately."

Jackie and I go way back and I know he doesn't want another beat down at my hands, so I wasn't too worried about that. I was more curious how the Chinese government managed to hack into my iTunes account to use it as a two-way radio. But that was something I'd have to investigate another day because I HAD TO MEET MY DEADLINE TO POST A NEW VIDEO FOR THE STATIC TOUR. I would not be deterred... but I wanted a snack first and I hopped into my car to go to the grocery store.

As I was leaving the store armed with snack foods, I witnessed a woman get hit by a car zipping out of the parking lot and I ran over to help her. Little did I know that the woman was pregnant and the shock of the accident had induced early labor - in addition to the imminent arrival of her baby, the woman had also broken both legs and I could not move her in time to get her to a hospital where she could deliver her baby. I had to act and I began creating make-shift splints for her legs to immobilize them as I directed traffic around the delivery scene with one hand. Pretty soon the woman's contractions began and I had to apply everything I learned from watching ER in order to save her baby. ER is a pretty good show, and before I knew it, the baby was out and the baby was delivered just in time for the paramedics to arrive and whisk away the woman. She cried out "thank you, nameless hero!!" as she was being taken away and her baby began to cry and reach out for me.

I went home, washed off the placenta and dove right back into working on my website. I had a deadline to keep! That's when my lost twin brother showed up and tried to kill me so he could assume my life. So annoying. I pointed out that the website was still incomplete and he decided that my life really wasn't worth stealing anyway. As he was leaving my place, he was attacked by Jackie Chan and that was the last I saw of him. But that's probably for the best anyway because it's freaky to look at someone who looks exactly like you.

I kept on plugging away at the website, waiting patiently as pictures were slowly uploaded one by one, ocassionally fighting the ninja assassins who have hunted me since the summer of 98' (a long story for another day) and fielding calls from President Obama as he asked for my advice on how to give the Democrats in Congress a backbone. In the end, the many distractions slowed me down to the point where I only finished with the new website last night. I did save the world several times over like Jack Bauer on steriods, so I guess the distractions weren't a complete waste of time... but I really wanted to stick to my schedule. Finish the website... save the world... finish the website... save the world. Tough choice indeed.

And so I hope you'll accept my apology for not completing the website on time and getting the Static Tour project off the ground. A thousand pardons. I swear I'll have a new video recorded soon, hopefully in a day or two,

The Static Tour Mission Statement - 2/4/10

Blogga blogga -

Hey, all you lovely people. I've been away from the blog for a while - what can I say, life has been strange recently and I've been preoccupied. But I'm ready to jump right back into the thick of the music thing and I think I've even got a master plan that should keep things interesting. THE STATIC TOUR! Here's the idea:

I love live music. I love the challenge of doing something in one take with no chance of a do-over. A musical performance with no editing, no studio magic to tidy up loose ends. I love the spontaneity of it and the way a live performance pushes the musician to do something spectacular and interesting in the moment because the moment is all you've got. At its best, a good live show will rivet you, make you afraid to turn away because you may miss something that will never happen again. It's one of the best challenges a musician can find, and the immediacy of the moment distinguishes it from the kinds of polished, highly edited recordings people are putting out in this era of ProTools and digital editing. I mean, people think Brittney Spears can sing, right?

My point is that musicians from all genres and walks of life seek out opportunities to perform live in front of an audience. Getting out there and trying to expose audiences to your music is just a part of the job, and maybe the best part of the job for a lot of people. That hour or so when you have a chance to take the stage is what keeps a lot of musicians dreaming of a time when they can do nothing but travel around and play music for a living.

But like anything, there is a lot of crap that goes along with "the job" of being a musician that isn't obvious to the outside world. To begin with, it costs a lot of money to hit the road a tour. You need transportation, lodging and food, and the more people involved in the band, the more expenses you ring up. And 95% of a tour is spent traveling and sitting around, waiting for that hour on stage (24 hours in a day, 1 hour on stage = less than 5% of your time spent doing what you want to do). How many people would enjoy a nice long 6-10 hour drive in a crowded car/van/bus every day for a month? Now imagine logging 30-40 hours a week in a cramped car with people who are tired, hungry, probably hung over and who rarely have access to a shower. Add in the fact that it takes a while to build up a fanbase in different areas, even to the point where you need to go to a club/city/whatever several times over a couple of years before you can assure yourself of even a meager amount of local recognition, and you are looking at a multi-year process where you will generate little to no income while spending a lot of money living on the road.

For as long as I've been a musician in bands, I've never been able to understand exactly how a musician without an established name and/or tour support can make any money for themselves. When you are a teenager or in your early twenties with little to no responsibility strapped to you, it's a romantic concept to "hit the road" and go from one town to the next trying to win over people one fan at a time. You sleep in the crappy van you are traveling in (usually the drummer has the biggest vehicle), you find people's houses where you can crash, or sneak as many people as possible into a single-bed motel room while living off of free ketchup packets when you can't afford a side of fries at the fast food restaurants that await at every highway rest stop. Maybe you meet some pretty ladies and play the role of the traveling musician - "don't you cuties want to hang out with the band? Uh, do you mind if the entire band crashes in your living room? Do you have any extra food?" Glamorous stuff. Or maybe you are unlucky enough to have the unthinkable happen to you and someone steals your van/truck/bus with all of your equipment in it. That’s happened to a ton of touring bands I know.

Sure, touring is a great way to improve the music and it can be a fun experience, especially if you have great friends as bandmates, but unless you are playing for packed audiences and actually making a little money here and there, it's a process that generally takes years before it pays for itself. And there are no guarantees of a payoff even if you put in the time and effort. In fact, usually it's a process that simply leads to the band giving up in frustration and moving on to a more stable, predictable career path because there is so little return on that investment of time, energy, and money, And if you want to start a family, life on the road is a huge complication.

So here I am with two albums to my name and a desire to get out there and promote them, but as I contemplate putting together a tour to do just that, I'm balking at the prospect. I'm no spring chicken any more. I don't have any tour support. I'm not even in a band anymore. It's just me now - I have great musicians I play shows with in Los Angeles and who record on the albums, but they are all free agents who play in as many projects as possible to pay the bills (more power to them. If you are looking for good professional musicians to back you up, give them a call). And because I personally believe musicians are often underpaid (or not paid at all) for their services, it's very important to me that I give my people the respect of payment for their time, even if what I can offer hardly seems commensurate with their skill and talent. I'm not in a situation like the bands I used to be in where everyone played for free in the hopes of equally splitting any money the music may or may not generate - the people I work with now will get paid for their time whether or not I make any money because I hire them to do professional work. I'm not going to change that - I know what it's like to be a sideman myself and I value the people who back me up and make me sound good. That's just how I roll.

In the end, a tour for me would mean paying for gas, food, lodging, and if I want to improve the music by adding additional musicians to the mix, that costs even more money. These are all expenses out of my own pockets, pockets which will not be getting refilled because I won't be working a day job while I'm on the road. And I'd essentially be starting at square one in most places, showing up at clubs for the first time and hoping to make a good first impression on complete strangers.

I'm too old for that shit now. Sorry to sound like a grouchy old man, but my days of being the prodigal son ended a while ago. Even though I've avoided it as much as possible, I have responsibilities that I can't easily ignore. My dog can't feed himself (if only he could play an instrument and join the band! Maybe he can drive...). I can't take off for a couple of weeks and then scramble to try to make up for the sizeable amount of money I lost, money that I don't have in my bank account to begin with. And, frankly, how many clubs are there out there that would be great venues for a singer-songwriter cellist to perform? I don't exactly fit a lot of venues, even if I'm game to perform anywhere.

Problems, problems everywhere. Bitch bitch bitch. But I'm too damn stubborn to quit and I feel like I'm just starting to get good at the whole singer-songwriter cello thing. So what's a cello-boy to do? Play the lottery and hope to win enough $$ to purchase a tour bus and a couple years' worth of gas and Cup O' Noodles?

Well, I think I've found a touring solution that works and I don't even have to leave my living room to make it happen. How? Simple. I'll use the internet and bring the music to anyone and everyone through my "Static Tour". Here's the plan - I will make a minimum of one video of a live performance a week which will be posted on youtube, myspace and my new website, www.celloboy7.com (currently under construction). Each video will showcase an uncut, unedited performance of a song or two that tries to capture the immediacy and improvisation of a live performance - think about how Saturday Night Live is pre-recorded before a live audience. It's a recording, but it's still a "live" performance you are watching. And you, the audience, will be in control of everything. You can watch/hear these videos any time of day without paying anything. You won't have to travel to a club, pay the cover charge, and then stand around waiting for the show to start (live music shows always run behind schedule). You won't be paying $5-$10 for watered down beer - you can just sit in front of your computer naked and drink cheap bourbon straight from the bottle (my target audience). And if you are thinking that you will miss out on meeting attractive members of the opposite sex by not going to the club, I'll tell you right now that your chances of meeting someone are much greater if you simultaneously log onto Match.com while watching the videos in your living room than if you get dressed up and go to a club.

For me, I get a chance to produce music, "live" music, under my own power without worrying about traveling and money and all the crap I detailed above. I really want to just play music and see if people like it - this Static Tour idea allows me to do that without succumbing to economic pressures that are paralyzing me. I can make as much music as I want and give it to people for free. My only caveat is that I won't be doing full hour-long shows. That would be too big a video clip on most sites, so I'm going to chop things up into little appetizers and send them out one at a time. Like hors d'oeuvres or tapas. If you want the full meal, you'll have to either purchase an album or physically catch one of the live shows I will continue to play around town. Hopefully the video clips will entice you to attend a real show because it's still the best way to experience music.

And that's the plan for The Static Tour. It's static because no one has to go anywhere to experience the music. And also because the tour will be carried to you electronically. I'm still figuring out how to use the video camera to get decent sound in the videos, but I plan to put up the first videos in early February before Valentine's Day. I'll blog about the whole process as it happens and hopefully even unveil a new website that will house all of the videos, the blog, etc. I'm really excited to give this idea a try because I'd love to present my songs in a "live" format. I hope you'll stay tuned!

Duet Challenge to Stephen Colbert - 10/30/09

Blogga blogga -

Been neglecting the blog for quite some time. A thousand pardons. But now I have something fun to post today!

I am sending out letters to Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, etc. inviting them to have me on their shows to sing a duet of "Goodbye Gitmo". I have to admit that I had a lot of fun writing individual letter to each correspondent, slightly tailoring each one to the specific personality of the intended recipient. I had the most fun writing to Stephen Colbert, though, and I hope that the letter somehow ends up in his hands. Probably I'm just wasting stamps, but screw it - fortune favors the bold and I would really really like to sing a duet with Stephen Colbert. I just think that would be brilliant.

Anyway, for your viewing pleasure, here is my letter to Colbert. -
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Dear Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.,

Greetings and salutations, Sir. My name is Semyon Kobialka and I am a singer-songwriter cellist living in the heathen city of Los Angeles. I play the cello in a non-traditional way, basically as if it were a cross between a guitar and a bass, strumming and plucking it as the instrumental basis of songs I sing. It’s a bit strange, but it’s what I do.

I’m a longtime viewer of your program and an ardent fan of your work – I’m writing today because I have recently completed a new album that contains a track I was hoping would reach your most august personage for your listening pleasure. The song is entitled “Goodbye Gitmo”, and it is a little waltz I wrote to help usher Guantanamo Bay out the door of American history.

Seeing how you are a staunch supporter of Conservative political ideology, I know you may wish to immediately burn/mutilate/discard the CD knowing it contains such a song, but I beseech you to at least give it a quick listen. I wrote the song with an acknowledgement of the fact that a great many good-hearted Americans truly believe that Guantanamo Bay serves American interests effectively and honestly. Perhaps it will resonate with you and allow you to happily recollect the legacy of overseas incarceration and human rights abuses synonymous with Gitmo – I know I get a tear in the corners of my eyes every time I sing the song.

And speaking of singing, I am well aware that you are quite an accomplished singer and musical talent, so I would like to invite you… nay, CHALLENGE you, to sing this song as a duet with me. Honestly, I cannot think of anything I would rather do than have the opportunity to sing this song with you. I have sent similar duet challenges to Jon Stewart, Papa Bear Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, but I know none of them would be capable of matching the Voice of Colbert. Plus, if we sang together, I believe it would make musical history as the first collaboration between a singing cellist and the preeminent political correspondent in the known universe. Yo Yo Ma will be so jealous.

Thank you very much for your time and attention. If you have any interest in taking me up on my duet challenge, please feel free to contact me any time. I will be holding my breath until I hear from you.

Very truly yours,

Semyon Kobialka

My Bucket List - 3/10/09

Blogga blogga -

I've been busy recording solo cello-boy album #2 and it's been going fantastic so far. I swear, this is some of the best music I've ever been associated with and I'm very excited to see if everything stays awesome through the whole process. The Rule of Spinal Tap, however, says that at some point something will go horribly wrong, possibly in a very humorous way (although it is rarely funny at the actual time when something Spinal Tap is happening to you). But so far no one as spontaneously combusted, we've had no problems with deli meats, etc. There was some Mexican radio coming out of an amp we were using, but that's tame compared to some of the crap that happens to working musicians on a regular basis.

So the album is coming together and when I'm not dealing with that, I'm pondering the failing state of the world economy and my current state of under-employment. These are strange days, indeed. I'm fully committed now to doing whatever I have to do to keep myself in the identity of a musician -- I spent a ton of years responsibly working in a variety of office jobs to pay the bills and, being the stubborn idiot that I am, I'm trying to break free of that pattern during a time when everyone is scrambling to make ends meet. My timing is horrendous, but the moment has come for me to let my normal insanity guide me; being sane and responsible doesn't really pay off for me personally.

And as I contemplate those kind of larger life issues, asking myself "what the hell are you doing with your life", "are you living up to your personal goals", "what's for dinner". . . the usual mid-life crisis stuff that I think about every other year. . . I'm thinking about the fact that life is a crazy, uncertain ride and it always seems like the best moments in my life happen when I follow my crazy impulses and push ahead in a positive way, regardless of what consequences my rational mind tells me might happen. Nothing good seems to happen when you act out of fear. You know what I mean? For me, every time I take a conservative approach to life, where I try to play it safe or smart, the end results are never as good as when I just let my normal crazy guide me. If I have a stupid idea pop into my head, I always enjoy it so much more when I follow that impulse than when I try to play it safe. I've gotta listen to my crazy or I'm basically not really living life. It doesn't have to manifest itself as anything big. For example, right now, at a time when I have no money or job, I feel like tipping folks more than than usual if I get a cup of coffee or something like that. I don't know why, but that just seems like the right thing to do even though my rational mind tells me that I'm being a dummy. Yes, money is tight and I should be saving pennies right and left. . . but that just doesn't jibe with my crazy so I'll drop a dollar tip for a two dollar cup of coffee. A 50% tip. Totally stupid,right? But when I act from that impulse, the world seems to shift into a better place than if I pocket the dollar and stiff the kid in the Starbucks uniform. I'm not saying it's karma or anything like that; maybe the simple explanation is that I'm just acting the way I want to and that makes me happy, which in turn makes the world seem like a happier place in my own perception. I don't know; I just know that it's better to follow my crazy than to ignore it.

So with all that big-picture, life stuff floating around my head, I've realized that I've never written a bucket list. I know, it's probably not normal for someone in their thirties to write a list of the things they want to do before dying, but my crazy is telling me that I've got some things to try out before I kick the proverbial bucket. Here's my first attempt at a bucket list -

1) Swim with the dolphins, of course. But I also want to learn their language and crack jokes about silly land-bound humans in dolphinese while we zip around the ocean. Stupid humans.

2) Punch a hippy. But I'm referring not to the folks who actually grew up in the 60's. I'm cool with real hippies. Got no problem there. I'm talking about the pseudo-hippies, the people who are under the age of 30 who act like hippies in this day and age. Like the 20 year old kid in a tie-dye shirt with the blonde dreadlocks who was twirling in a circle, high as a kite, at the Les Claypool show I was at this past Saturday. He fell on me 3 times in a row, smacked me in the face once or twice as he was flailing in the packed club, and every time he did that he flashed me a peace sign and called me "bro"; my crazy told me to punch him every time he did that. And I'm an advocate of non-violence and the kind of person who will carefully remove a spider from my apartment, consciously putting the little arachnid in a place where he/she can live a better existence in the backyard. . . but my crazy demands that I punch a pseudo-hippy. Go figure.

3) Buy the Knicks and set my beloved basketball franchise on the path to occasionally winning a game or two.

4) Blow up a grand piano while listening to "Ride of the Valkries".

5) Write the Great American novel in a foreign language. T'would be appropriate, yes?

6) Have a friendly boxing match with a kangaroo and try to avoid humiliating defeat at the hands of a marsupial.

7) Take a hooker bowling.

8) Start a minor religious cult. The Church of Semyon. We'll all wear white track suits or some kind of uniform to identify ourselves as "The Selected Ones".

9) Buy cubicle walls and set them up. Then grab different dense, heavy objects (sledge hammer, crow bar, etc.) and smash the cubicle until only individual molecules remain.

10) Learn how to fly (without mechanical assistance) and migrate north with a flock of geese one winter. I always wanted to be at the point of one of those "V" shaped flight patterns. Follow me, pillow stuffers!!!

11) Play a concert as part of Stevie Wonder's band. . . I can't top that one, so my bucket list will stop at 11 for now.

I Never Had a Chia Pet - 2/4/09

Blogga blogga --

Is it really February 4th? The last time I wrote in this blog was Dec. 1st? Wow. Holy Rip Van Winkle wow. Oh, Blog, have I neglected you so?

I guess I write this blog thing because occasionally I like to kvetch about stuff, but I'm too unfinished, "in the midst" of stuff at the moment, so to speak, that I can't properly kvetch. You have to be grounded somewhere to kvetch responsibly. You have to be opinionated to kvetch. I'm not sure of much about anything at the moment, so I have no kvetch to offer. I keep thinking that Taoists don't kvetch, and I'm sort of in a Taoist state of mind (sorry, I was a religion major in college, so I frame things this way). I am the uncarved block. Uncarved block doesn't kvetch. See what I mean?

But I do not mean to let my blog go flabby. I shall kvetch again!!

For today, I'll just share with you an interesting fact I discovered -- your individual hairs all grow at different speeds. It's true. I know this because my head is living, empirical proof of the fact.

You see, I normally shave my head as a preemptive strike against the northernmost continent of my body. That's the land mass where the remaining hair follicles on my head congregate in dwindling numbers and plan to defect, never to return. Traitors. My scalp is basically taking over the top of my head, taking out one follicle at a time. But I am an American, so I respond quickly and violently. I adopt a scorched earth policy where it looks like the lack of hair is intentional. If my head doesn't want to have full coverage any more, then no sector will be spared!!! (bald guys everywhere nod in agreement - WE'RE in control of the situation, dammit!) Every week, I normally pull out the clippers and teach my head a lesson.

But over the holidays I was traveling and started the personal chia pet experiment. I left the clippers at home and simply ignored my head, let the rebellion begin, let it ferment for weeks. . . for a month. . . two months. I wanted to see what would happen and I have no reason to groom myself at the moment. I could shave a dollar sign into the side of my head and it wouldn't mess with my life at all right now.

Right now, I have hair that makes people furrow their brows when they see it. If I go buy something at the store and talk to the cashier, the whole time they talk to me, they are staring at the top of my head and talking to my hair. When I pass people on the sidewalk, they stare at my hair using peripheral vision. Even if I'm wearing a hilarious t-shirt! Bees follow me around looking for nectar. Small children cry when I walk by.

I'm just kidding. It doesn't look scary. It just looks stupid, that's all. I guess I have super asian hair as the dominant hair gene from my Japanese side because it just sticks straight up in all directions. Like the fuzz on a newborn baby chic. Like my head was consumed by an mutant dandelion. I've heard of Jew-fros, but is there an equivalent for asian hair? Asia-fro? Nip-fro? Nippy-curl (which would be ironic due to the lack of curls)? It just looks bad and ratty and a bit freaky because THE HAIR IS NOT ALL THE SAME LENGTH! That sort of surprised me, I'll admit. I just thought the hair would come out the same length because it was all shaved down to the same length to begin with. But I discovered that not all follicles are created equal! Or, at least that's what I'm claiming is happening on my head.

I saw a chia pet in someone's garden the other day and I wanted to plant a couple of my hair follicles on one of those things (I like the rabbit one) as a lab experiment. You know, a controlled environment from which data may be gleaned. Take some of the more tenacious guys from the back of my head and plant them next to the wimps from my receding hair line, see what happens over time. What if they don't get along? Maybe the back of my head is somehow responsible for the dwindling numbers on the top front of my head. . . slowly exacting revenge against them for being elitist assholes living on top all the time. Diabolical! I must find out.

And finally, don't ask for pictures. That shit always comes back to haunt you. And you know you can't handle the truth. I'll post pictures if I shave a dollar sign in my head, though, cuz' that can only enhance your rep.
 

YouTube Video Ideas - 12/1/08

Blogga blogga -

I'm back to writing music and the half-dozen song sketches I am working on aren't clicking for me. I have no idea what the songs are about; I just have melody and chord progression ideas, but no lyrics. I've spent the past 2 hours pacing around trying to come up with something, but nothing is sticking. . . so I ended up checking out some of the videos on YouTube and the ones posted on Myspace. You know, procrastinating because I'm repeatedly running into a brick wall and that can get annoying after a couple hours.

It really seems like there are a lot of people out there filming the same kind of stuff over and over. For example, there are a lot of videos about people doing dangerous things in assorted vehicles. If you own an RV, then apparently you have to get drunk and do donuts in a parking lot in it and film that. It's mandatory -- I think it's even written in the owner's manual.

Then there is the pet trick category, which is always fun. You can waste a couple hours watching furry mammals doing funny things -- I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, so I'm down with the animal videos.

Then you have random people talking to their computer screen about politics or Brittney or whatever -- basically, if the person is attractive or making a fool of themselves, then people will watch the video. These videos remind me of the guys who go to bars looking for women but who give off such an air of desperation, no woman wants to be around them (but they sure do enjoy talking about the guy and his air of desperation to their friends).

Then you have destruction videos where people blow something up or show what a bomb will do to a house or something. It's like watching a Michael Bay movie except it has a better plot progression.

There's a ton of cool stuff out there and a whole lot of crap, but I've noticed that the crazy vehicle category seems to be what Myspace always features on their home page. "360 flip wheelie on a tricycle!" and stuff like that. Why is that? There's ALWAYS a vehicular video featured when I log onto myspace.

Well, I have a couple videos I'd like to make that I'd need some extremely brave individuals to help with. But I think they could end up being the featured videos on Myspace and Youtube. So if you are interested in making one of these videos, please contact me and I'll send you an insurance waiver --

1) The do it yourself video = Man performs surgery on himself using a KFC spork and the top of an opened can of tuna fish. I think removing a body part with a funny name, like a "spleen", would have the best results. This would be an educational film and should be quite riveting.

2) Imagine a video where someone on a skateboard does a 780 twist inside of a bus that is sent off a ramp that jumps over a dog nursing a litter of kittens. . . and all of this takes place on the deck of a huge cruise ship that gets destroyed by a Sidewinder missile shot from an F16 at the end. How do you like them apples, eh? I'll need help locating a dog nursing a litter of kittens -- I can find everything else on eBay and Craigslist.

3) Two middle aged guitarists with bad hairdo's battle it out side by side, playing as fast as possible in a shred competition. They will only stop playing in order to say "I can do that too. You are a wanker and you suck. Check this out." In the end, one of the guys' mother will come into the room and tell them to turn down the music and that dinner is ready. I'm not sure if I can pull this one off because it will be hard to get the guitarists to stop playing long enough to deliver their lines. It's sort of like a real version of Wayne's World.

4) A video of three beautiful women in bikinis discussing Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'm pretty sure that will get over a million hits faster than you can shave a Wookie. In the end, the women will reenact the battle scenes from those movies -- these videos will probably run 2-3 hours in length and will be a huge hit at the next comic book convention. In fact, they may be worthy of their own convention.

5) Last but not least, I need some sort of video about kicking people in their genitalia. I'd like to combine this with the furry animal video concept and I keep thinking that having a chihuahua kick someone in the nuts would be the best way to go. But chihuahuas have small feet, so they would have to wear oversized shoes if they are going to make the kick look painful. Think about it. . . wouldn't you laugh if you saw a chihuahua wearing big shoes with steel toes walk up to someone and suddenly kick them in the nuts? Oh, man, I'm laughing just thinking about it. Then the video can end with the chihuahua saying "don't mess with me or I'll kick you in the chalupa, holmes". Why hasn't someone made this video yet? It's such an obvious concept.

I've got more great ideas, but I think that will be a good start. After I get these guys made, I'll move on to ass-cheek puppetry and some of the more avant garde ideas I've been mulling over. The bottom line, folks, is that you don't have to leave your entertainment up to professionals when all you need is a vehicular disaster involving beautiful people being vain in front of a camera getting kicked in privates by a furry mammal and you've got pure internet gold on your hand.

O.k., back to writing music. Maybe I'll make the next song about a ball busting chihuahua.

Jack Grapes is Awesome - 12/1/08

Blogga blogga -

Turkey day is done and I think I am now sporting multiple chins. . . on my ass. It's tragic, but my solution is to sit on my ass until things iron themselves out down there. Maybe they will become laugh lines instead.

I also finished my writing class with Los Angeles' one and only poet emeritus maximus kickassicus, Jack Grapes. I took his class partly to learn how to write better lyrics and also to see how and why Jack is such a successful teacher -- I ended up learning a lot more than that and I have a tremendous amount of respect for how Jack does his thing.

You see, Jack has been teaching poetry and writing without the support of any institution for a long time now and he's had literally thousands of students cycle through his classes. He's been published a ton of times (ONTHEBUS Magazine is Jack's creation and he has a dozen or so poetry books published) but I don't think his success in that area has anything to do with his amazing success as a private writing teacher -- Jack has had thousands of people take his class because he kicks ass when it comes to word of mouth. In short, he's been doing something right in his classes to the point where everyone goes out and tells other people to take his class. That's impressive as hell to me and I was curious about what he was doing that could inspire that kind of positive word of mouth.

So I took the 8 week beginner course and I've been writing a lot in a journal, which is why my blog was hibernating for a while. And I've been studying Jack's teaching style along with his writing methodology he teaches. This past Tuesday, the entire class had to make a "chapbook" (just a little self-published book with some writing entries) and everyone put together some of their favorite journal entries, bound it together and handed them out to the rest of the class. I cheated a bit and added a free CD at the end to make my chapbook stand out -- it turns out that was wise because everyone in the class attacked the project with gusto and everyone ended up with a unique, personalized chapbook to hand out. Even the fact that everyone took the extra time and effort to make their chapbooks unique was an impressive indication that Jack had his students fully engaged in the class. Everyone stepped up to the plate and you could tell how proud people were being able to hold onto something that was the culmination of 8 weeks of non-stop writing.

Here's what I figured out that I find really interesting -- anyone and everyone can write in an interesting and compelling way. Some folks had more talent or innate ability than others, but that's actually a potential impediment to writing something really really great. As Jack puts it, talent makes you good, but it often prevents you from being great -- so to avoid relying on talent alone, he made us do all these exercises that made us stretch ourselves, do things that seemed counter-intuitive, and really work hard to try to uncover a personal, "deep" voice that everyone has. If you have a personal point of view/a brain in your head paying attention to the world, you've got a deep voice, and when people talk/write from that voice, it's ALWAYS riveting. Always. And you can spot it from a mile away when people don't dig that deep.

It's like comparing someone who overacts to watching a great actor when they are completely immersed in a role -- you forget who they are really and it doesn't matter if they are doing something exciting or just sitting there staring at a wall. The character is riveting and you want to know more and more about them. And if you compare that to people who have a tendency to overact, or try to do too much, gesticulating wildly and hamming it up, the audience gets pushed back immediately and you spend your time focusing on the acting and not the character the actor is trying to convey.

Trying to write from the deep voice is like trying to be the good actor who can truly transform into someone else -- the end result is something that is connected and real and powerful. It's also when humor hits home the hardest, so it's not just about weepy or dramatic stuff. And like I said, everyone has it and can get there. I was in a class of some 35 people of varying abilities as writers and by the time the class ended, everyone had at least one piece written in the deep voice that would make the entire room would go silent when they read it. Everyone would shut up, sit absolutely still and take it all in. It's amazing when that happens. I like to try to go into loud noisy bars and see if I can get people to stop talking and just listen to the music I'm playing; that's not an easy thing to accomplish but there are a couple songs that often do the trick. It's not a surprise that those couple of songs happen to be the ones that are most personal to me, that come from the deepest voice. Same thing happens in writing -- it's not the flashy stuff or the crazy plotlines that accomplish that. It's the level of depth of meaning, the basic humanity that is conveyed that seems to stop people in their tracks.

Well, I'm not sure where I'm going with this and I'm kind of writing out loud, but I feel compelled to give Jack props for helping everyone become a drastically better writer in such a short amount of time. His methodology is great, but being in the class and going through the process of reading your work to people and trying out these exercises in public with Jack there to help guide and/or push you is what makes his class so special. He creates a community and a safe space for people to take risks and explore what they can do with words -- the end result was that everyone in his class could write a compelling story or poem or whatever by the time we all finished. . . and almost all of the class enrolled for the next level of writing class that Jack offers.

I'm thinking a lot about music education these days and I don't think I could find a better example to pattern myself after than Jack Grapes. If you are interested in writing at all, check him out. www.jackgrapes.com

Sarah Palin is Hilarious - 11/25/08

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I said I wouldn't do politics any more, but I don't consider Sarah Palin to be a legitimate politician -- she's some sort of tragic celebrity figure like Brittney or Lindsey Lohan now. She is fodder for TMZ and People magazine and I don't think we'll see her face on Time or Newsweek any time soon -- so I'm not actually breaking my pledge to cease blogging about politics. I'm just celebrity bashing a bit.

I watched that bit of video on Youtube that shows Sarah Palin doing a little publicity spot at the place where she picks up her Thanksgiving turkey in Alaska. Have you seen it? Just search for "Palin Turkey" and you'll find it. It's bizarre and hilarious.

Basically, it's a photo op at a slaughterhouse. Strange choice of backgrounds. Perhaps she couldn't find an open mass grave to pose in front of. But just in case you thought the choice of a slaughterhouse wasn't a strange place to hold an interview where you talk about topics like your family, Palin's handlers/PR folks or whoever is masterminding the attempt to keep her political career alive let this random dude -- I'll just call him The Turkey Reaper -- into the shot in the background as Palin is gabbing away spouting her usual meaningless pablum. And what is The Turkey Reaper doing in the background as Palin is talking? He's stuffing live turkeys headfirst into some sort of giant metal funnel and killing them in some manner that I'm sure most people don't want to think about when they sit down to eat on Thanksgiving day. Maybe the thing cuts the head off or sucks out the brains for Palin's kids to play with later -- I don't know. I'm just a city slicker and I've never owned an anti-turkeyhead metal funnel of death. That technology is beyond my knowledge. I think it runs on Windows Vista.

So The Turkey Reaper is in the background holding the turkey by its legs and he's looking over his shoulder at the camera like one of those idiots at a televised football game who is standing behind an announcer and has to jump up and down and say "I'm on t.v., I'm on t.v." I love that stuff. It proves to me that people never really grow up from that age when they are playing in the playground and demanding that their parents watch them go down the slide for the 1000th time. "Look at me! Look at me!" Ah, we are all eternally young! There's no need for a fountain of youth -- just put me in the background behind Bob Costas or Marv Albert, turn on a camera and poof! I'm 5 years old again! Oh, and while I'm on t.v., let me pull out my cell phone and call people so they can see me in my moment of youthful glory! Bonus!

But I digress. The Turkey Reaper starts out in mid-turkey killing when the interview picks up, looking over his shoulder and staring at the camera at Palin like he's waiting for her to flash her tits or something. Will she? She'll do anything for a vote. . . but alas, there is no wardrobe malfunction and ultimately the Turkey Reaper realizes the bird is long dead (I think you know that the are dead when they stop kicking their feet in the air). He goes off camera and I thought for sure one of Palin's handlers would tell the Reaper not to get into the view of the camera again. Any sensible PR person would know that -- you are supposed to be sending out a controlled message and all that basic PR stuff, so I figured the Turkey Reaper's cameo was over after the first dead bird. Maybe he was in the first shot by accident and they would make sure he stayed out of the background as soon as he walked off camera. If nothing else, having some random dude staring at the camera in the background is just plain distracting, so someone should tell him to stay out of sight until the interview is done, right?

But no! That's not the Palin way! She's either keeping it very very real (too real for most people) or she's completely inept at this sort of thing -- but regardless of the reason, The Turkey Reaper appears a moment later with A NEW TURKEY, this one still alive and kicking, and he shoves the bird's head into the funnel of death while the cameras are rolling and the turkey's legs are sticking out still kicking and The Turkey Reaper has his head turned around the whole time so he can keep staring at the Palin interview like he's witnessing the image of Jesus appearing on Sarah Palin's ass. Maybe her ass looks like one of those turkey funnels of death and he's confused about where to shove the turkey? (o.k., that joke may have gone too far. . . maybe).

That's when I started laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. It was almost as funny as Brittney and Kevin Federline insulting Brittney's fans and calling them "Mother Chuckers". It's so bizarre and stupid and the effect was so much the exact opposite of what I suspect they wanted. . . I mean, wow, that was horribly inept PR work. Hilarious, indeed, but really crappy PR work.

I'm just glad that Palin didn't choose a Turducken farm for her interview because then we would have seen someone like the Turkey Reaper ramming a chicken inside of a duck and then shoving that up the backside of a turkey. I wonder if they use a funnel for that too. I hope I never find out.

[Note to Palin PR people -- the turkducken farm interview is NOT a good idea. NOT. That is a joke, and not even a good one at that. That means you shouldn't do it, you idiots.]

I'm Good Today - 11/5/08

Blogga blogga –

It's Nov. 5th and it's different today. I swear the past week has been rainy and cold and last night the wind was blowing so hard the entire house was rattling. . . but today, it's calm and quiet, the sun is shining, the air is cool and crisp and even the Los Angeles smog has been cleared away, revealing what a paradise Los Angeles can be at times. It's surreal, like the weather is reflecting the world at large in the same way it does in Shakespeare's plays.

I'm good today. I don't want to write about the election or the historical importance of the moment or anything like the thousands of other bloggers relating that stuff. Today, I'm just tripping out on the fact that I feel satisfied, and that's a really rare sensation in life. I mean that I'm feeling a very real, deep contentment. And this comes after a lifetime of dissatisfaction and pessimism towards politics. I think this is how I'd feel if I heard that LeBron James had become a NY Knick, or that I'd just been given a lifetime grant to just explore music and share that with people. I don't know what the future will hold, but I'm looking forward to it with calm expectation.

I even want to thank that sad, high-functioning moron W and all his evil henchmen for creating the conditions where something like this is possible. I'd even like to thank Sarah Palin for being such a lying, opportunistic, winking, worthless piece of crap who exemplifies the hollow facade that is the GOP political machine right now. Thank you Charlie Black and all you former lobbyists working to define the GOP message. Thank you evil babyhead Karl Rove for your ability to take decency and intelligence out of campaigning. Thank you, Joe the Plumber, for acting like a bald Paris Hilton and tying to soak up celebrity and public attention you don't merit. You all sucked so much America was finally moved out of complacency and moved into a new paradigm. Wow. You have to REALLY REALLY suck to do that. By definition, you have to suck on a historical level to move history in the opposite direction. That level of suckitude is almost awe inspiring. It's sucktastic!

And all those ass-people with their petty ideas and whisper campaigns and bullshit politics even did something for McCain in the end -- it was nice to see the old honorable John McCain return last night. He was a very big man to say what he did in his concession speech. In a way, I guess losing the election allows McCain to go back to being himself instead of some twisted mockery of what he has represented over his career, and that makes me happy for him. It was really sad to see the man turn into the things he fought against for so long.

So I'm good today. I feel like planting a tree or getting a puppy. I've got no job, my retirement savings have gone to shit because of the market, my music equipment is in need of repair and I've got a ton of work to do to fix my life and move it in a direction I can't even see yet. . . but today it's all good.

Squirrels Are Funny... Right? - 10/16/08

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I've been taking a writing class with the one and only Jack Grapes and on Tuesday evening, everyone had to read a page of what they wrote for the rest of the class. The assignment was to write like you talk, an exercise in making sure that the folks in the class weren't just adopting a different way of speaking, a heavy handed literary way of communicating, when we are "writing". Don't overuse adverbs and adjectives because people don't talk that way -- that kind of thing. Everything is geared towards getting to a deep, personal voice in your writing, so this is one of the exercises that Jack uses to get people there. I don't want to give away his methodology, but a lot of what makes Jack's class so interesting and successful is Jack himself, the environment he creates and the personalized attention he gives to everyone analyzing their writing -- so even though I'm telling you what the writing exercise was, it's only a very small portion of what makes Jack's class special. I could tell you everything that goes on in the class, but it's not the same as being there and reading in front of people and having Jack and the class discuss things -- that interaction is where the learning happens. I just needed to explain the general assignment in order to get to the rest of this blog.

So everyone started reading their stuff and across the board, everyone did what I think of as "journal entries". Sort of like diary entries. All of them centered on the fact that no one knew what to write about. They'd start with that problem and then take off on some tangent. And everyone did a good job with the assignment and wrote in a flowing conversational manner instead of a stuffier, post-literate kind of writing. It's an engaging, unpretentious way of writing that gets the point across simply and effectively -- just like normal conversation.

But I'm a jackass and as soon as I heard everyone else reading "journal entries", I had to stick out and do something different -- I'd written 90% journal entry type stuff just like everyone else, but on the final day before class, I ended up writing a story instead of a personal journal entry. I wanted to see if what I wrote would fit the conversational style even though I was telling a story, or reporting something rather than expressing something. You know what I mean? So I ended up telling a little story about squirrels that made me chuckle a bit when I wrote it. I kinda thought it was funny in some spots, so I thought it'd be fun to break up parade of journal entries that all started "I am staring at a blank page." Plus it has squirrels in it, and Hollywood has proven that adding small animals to any narrative makes the story better -- Ewoks, the ground hogs at the beginning of the latest Indiana Jones, that Clint Eastwood movie with the orangutang, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and of course Wolf Blitzer, the were-chipmunk.

You know what? I read the thing and no one laughed. I could hear crickets outside. Damn. So maybe it wasn't a funny story. Or maybe the fact that I'm the youngest guy in the class means my stuff is just too infantile for that audience. I don't know. Well, you never know until you try. But I'll share what I wrote with you now and let you decide if I should keep writing about squirrels or not. Here's what no one laughed at --

------
It's Tuesday and this is my last chance to write like I talk before I go to class this evening. It's a beautiful day out, the air is pretty clear for Los Angeles, and the big fat squirrel that lives in the neighborhood is out doing his thing. I've always like squirrels for some reason. Maybe it's because some of them can fly. That's pretty damn cool. It's not like there is a species of dog or cat that can glide like that. I wonder what it was like when the first ancestor to the flying squirrel jumped off of a branch and glided to another tree. I bet it freaked out the other squirrels for a while – y'know, because the flying squirrel was being all elitist and that's scary.

Anyway, I can also talk to squirrels, so that raises their stock in my book. Don't believe me? I'm actually not kidding. I've had telepathic communication with a squirrel. It was one sided with me doing all the talking, but the squirrel knew what I was saying. Seriously. O.k., here's what happened. I was at a summer music camp held on the campus of Bowdoin College in Maine, just hanging out after lunch by myself under a tree in a grassy clearing. It was a rare moment of sobriety – yes, classical musicians drink like crazy in music camp. How else can you make practicing scales for hours interesting? That. Shit. Is. Boring.

But I digress. My point is that I was not in an altered state of any kind when I talked with a squirrel. Really. I wasn't even sleep deprived or dehydrated or anything. I didn't wake up afterwards and say "thank god, it was all a dream". This really happened.

So the tree I was sitting under happened to be the home of a squirrel. I think this squirrel was used to all the college kids on campus because he wasn't afraid of me at all. He scampered up and said "sup', dude! Yo, you carrying? Got any weed, bro?"

. . . o.k., o.k., so that didn't happen. I'm just having a little fun with the crazy talk. Everyone knows squirrels are afraid of fire, so smoking stuff is out of the question. They hog it all anyway, or they bury your stash and forget where they put it. So uncool. Squirrels will try anything they can put into a syringe, though. And they straight up fiend over meth amphetamines.

So anyway, the squirrel scampered up to me and turned his head sideways to give me the eye. You know what I mean, when a squirrel or a bird turns its head sideways, fixes one eye on you as they go completely still, testing to see if you are friend or foe. This little furry squirrel dude was looking at me just like that, maybe 3 feet away from where I was sitting, and in my mind I said "hey, squirrel guy! Nice day, right?" And just as I finished thinking that thought, the squirrel bobbed its head in affirmation. No joke. Little furry head went up, down, up, down. So I added "if you understand me, then nod again." Up. Down. Up. Down. He nodded and then turned his head so he could look at me with his other eye. I was on a roll so I mentally asked the squirrel to stand up. He did just that. I noticed that he was breathing really quickly and I thought, "wow, his heart must be beating crazy fast with his metabolism". As soon as I had that thought, the squired put his right hand over the left side of his body, like he was checking his heartbeat. That's right about the time when my jaw dropped and I shat a brick. The brick scared off the squirrel, of course – it surprised the hell out of me, too.

And that's the story about my telepathic communication with a squirrel. True story. I've tried to do this with other animals, but without success. But that's probably for the best because I'd just abuse my power if I could.

O.k., time for class now.

I'm Back - 10/13/08

Blogga blogga -

Howdy, y'all. I would love to write this entire blog entry in the style of Sarah Palin, but whenever I listen to her speak, my mind goes kind of mushy in order to try to decipher her ramblings. The message is so hazy and filled with misinformation, I haven't been able to analyze her speaking style because I'm too busy trying to understand what's her point is (and it takes time to constantly reference the lies against Factcheck). It all boils down to "maverick", "reformer", "Obama is bad", and crap about hockey moms. Speaking of which, if hockey moms are so prevalent in the U.S., then how come Palin is the first one I've ever come across? Hockey is Canada's sport anyway -- if we are going to play reality t.v. with the presidency and put an "every-woman" out there who is reflective of the average Jane Six-Pack, why can't we have a mom who proudly carts their kids to the real American pastime? Y'know, baseball? Americans also came up with football, the 1 sport in the nation right now, and my personal favorite, basketball. Those are the big three sports in this country -- hockey probably rates below tennis, golf, NASCAR, and the mixed martial arts. Folks don't run home from work on a Monday to see Monday Night Hockey. I mean, seriously, in a strange way, identifying with hockey is kinda un-American by the GOP's own dogmatic standards of patriotism. Ah, whatever. Those guys are the living definition of hypocrisy and twisted ideology anyway, so what's new? If a mean, nasty tactic worked in a second grade school yard, then the GOP will adopt it. "Obama eats boogers. Ew!! Cooties!" Next up, they will tell us that the penguin is the national bird if that suits their purposes.

But I'm not doing politics in this blog any more. It's over, anyway, and McCain is just shuffling towards his inevitable defeat. That was apparent to me when I read that more people watched Obama's speech at the DNC than tuned in to watch the finale of American Idol. If you can beat American Idol at the ratings game, you're doing better than everyone in Hollywood desperately trying to compete with that ratings monstrosity. It may not seem impressive, but I challenge anyone to top those ratings numbers -- it's not easy to get that much attention from that many people at once.

So enough about all that important stuff. I'm going to talk about me. About the bizarre state my life is in currently. Me me me, blah blah blah.

I've been in a "cave", so to speak, for a couple of weeks now. As you may already know, I'm unemployed with no day job to provide any income. I tried The Secret (if you don't know what it is, you haven't been watching Oprah) for a while and I even tried the technique to see if I could create my own reality by wanting it bad enough and focusing on it. So I followed the instructions and even drew a picture of a million dollar bill on my ceiling. I stared at it and visualized that it was real. Did that for a lot of hours. A lot. Then I drew a flying car next to the million dollar bill and added that to my visualization exercise. And then I put a puppy in the car because I don't want to be lonely zipping around in my flying car with my million dollar bill in my pocket. And I think a puppy would like to ride in a flying car. My puppy will be named Cujo, but he'll be a really sweet, well-trained dog and I will never, ever put lipstick on him just so I can call him "Sarah Palin".

I know The Secret sells a lot of books, but I must be doing something wrong because I followed the directions and I am still driving my dirty little 95' Honda Civic, the million dollar bill to my knowledge has not even been printed yet, and I am puppy-less. I gave the secret three chances, and I got nothing. Nada. Bubkiss (is that the right word?). I visualized for a while that the book would burst into flames -- just more failure. Actually applying lighter fluid and a match did the trick just fine, though.

Instead of all that Secret stuff, I've created some semblance of a schedule to work through during the day instead of the day job. I'm hopefully moving towards a moment of clarity when I'll suddenly know how to apply myself in life. I know whatever it is I should be doing probably has to do with music and I've got my own bizarre personal ethics to factor into my choice. . . but no matter how wild I let my imagination go, I still have trouble scrying my probable future. The good news is that I'm o.k. on money for a while and food and shelter are not pressing concerns -- I'm lucky, I know. Really lucky to be in this place as financial institutions collapse . . . actually, the fact that I have no money invested in the stock market probably means I've avoided losing money.

So in my attempt at avoiding becoming a lazy unemployed musician living like a parasite in Los Angeles, I've got my daily schedule of stuff to give me structure and I even signed up for a writing class. The class, taught by Los Angeles' very own Jack Grapes, is called Method Writing. It's actually the reason I haven't done any blogging recently because I've been doing journal writing and assignments instead. I don't want to give away the stuff that Jack's teaching, but it's a really interesting way of approaching writing somewhat based on similar principles to Stanislavsky's (sp?) method acting. I'm hoping it helps me write better lyrics. . . and blog better as well so that I don't bore anyone who is, well, bored enough to read my blog. I'd like to be less boring than the boredom that drives people to write or read blogs - does that make sense?

I've also been doing more music than ever and that's the best part of all. I really like music. And I like those strange people who call themselves musicians. You have to be a little weird or fucked up to embrace the life of a musician -- seriously, if you want to make money and find a little comfort in life, don't be a musician. Unless you like being judged by folks who don't understand what you are doing, constant rejection, bizarre personalities taken to extremes, drug addiction, hearing loss, repetitive practicing and performance, and long journeys on the road to play in little bars for a short amount of time, go be an accountant or an doctor or lawyer or lion tamer. Those aren't easy paths to travel either, but they are filled with fewer Spinal Tap moments.

Don't believe me? Then go watch an episode of "Behind the Music". Pick a band, any band, and $20 (let's make that an imaginary $20 while I'm unemployed) says that their storyline follows a predictable course. The band meets. The play in a garage or some other such humble beginnings. Maybe one of the original members leaves or dies in a tragic drum accident (shit seems to happen to drummers for some reason). Maybe the main songwriter experiences of tragedy or something. And then some catalyst will happen and the narrative will shift to where the band is skyrocketing to success. Maybe someone famous takes a liking to them and invites the band to open up on a tour. A couple shows lead up to a big show where the band is riding high. . . until one of the members has a tragic drum accident or a bus accident or falls to addiction. Or maybe they find religion after years of rock star debauchery. Rehab happens and the narrative gets somber as the talk turns to soul searching and recover. The band members experience a taste of the real world, maybe pump some gas or pick up new addictions. And then another catalyst will happen where someone breaks their addiction, or the members of the band stop feuding about who stole that groupie in Fort Lauderdale with the tattoo of the band name across her ass from another band member. The band reforms and heads into the studio, but this time they are older and wiser. The have learned from their mistakes. Maybe they work with a new Producer who inspires them. The album brings them all together and after it is released, they go on a triumphant tour followed by the filming of their own "Behind the Music" segment.

Sound familiar? It's not just Behind the Music -- it's the same narrative line most of those types of shows follow regardless of whether it's about music or a certain celebrity or writer or actor or whatever. Hell, that kind of journey even happens on shows like "The Dog Whisperer". Or take Robert Downey Jr. as an example -- he is experiencing the happy end part of that narrative where he's cleaned up, out of rehab, doing kung fu instead of drugs, and popping out some really enjoyable movies.

Hmm, how did I end up talking about that stuff? It sounds like I'm trying to discourage folks from trying to be a musician, but I'm really not. Well, if you are a hack, I may be inclined to discourage you because we've got enough hacks on the radio these days. . . but fuggit, people should be able to chase after their bliss in life. I guess I'm just warning folks that, if you are in it for fame and fortune, there are easier ways to get that stuff than trying to make it in music (especially in the post-record company/record store collapse that we are in now. I love the internet and iTunes, but I really miss Tower Records). Do it if you love doing it -- if you have that kind of attachment to music, it can help you through the rough spots that send most people running.

O.k., gotta go and get to the next item on my list of things to do, but I didn't want to let another day go by without getting my bloggage on. I'm going to try to integrate my writing for the class with the blog so that I can see if the class is working; if the blog ends up getting published and wins a Pulitzer, then I guess we'll know that Jack Grapes really knows his stuff. Well, he definitely knows his stuff -- I guess it will just show whether or not I am learning anything.

P.S. - don't miss out on the Daily Show and Colbert Show as they cover the final weeks of the election. Those guys are on fire right now. . . and Tina Fey too. Some of their segments are downright brilliant.
 

Exploring the Stereotype - 9/11/08

Blogga blogga -

So I quit my job. Over the phone. To a message machine. Which is strange, but that's just how circumstances arranged themselves this time around. I mean, when you are calling in to quit and no one answers, do you just hang up and try again 20 minutes later? How many times do you do that? And the whole time you're trying to be patient waiting to catch someone on the line, pushing down your feelings of anxiety in between so you can say you're outta there?

I just left a message as soon as I got voicemail the first time around. And as simply as that, I am now back to wondering what the hell I'm doing in life. What direction do I go in? Gotta make money, but also desire a sense of satisfaction in life (why, oh why, do the two things so often seem at odds with each other?). Must think long term, but act quickly before money runs out. Want time to finally get more focused on music, but there's that money thing again. Always the damn money thing.

Maybe I'll take up a new hobby. Better myself somehow. Like I'll learn how to be a ventriloquist. Maybe I could even learn how to throw my voice -- that could be fun. I could go to the park and hide behind a tree and wait for someone to come by. And if, for example, a parent was walking by with their baby in a stroller and saying something to them in baby-talk, like "are you enjoying your widdle walk in the parkie-park, Mikey?", I would project my voice so that it sounded like it came from little Mikey himself, going as low as my vocal range can allow and say "hey, moms, let's bail on this lame parkie-park crap and go to Hollywood Park. You know, knock a couple back and put some down on the ponies, eh?!"

I could spend a couple of afternoons like that, sure. But that doesn't make money.

Maybe it's true what they say, that you need money in order to make money. Or are you supposed to spend money in order to make money? Or is it that you are supposed to spend money and then borrow some more and then magically you make money? Or is that just how the GOP runs things and I'm getting the proper way of being financially responsible all mixed up.

Does anyone know where I can sign up to be a professional ninja? Entry level positions? That provide the uniform and stuff? Excellent health benefits are probably a must. Cuz' that's something else I could try out. Semyon, Professional Ninja. I could do that.

I have heard that it is hard to be a pimp, but I wonder if that's really true. Is it harder than, say, being a doctor? Or an accountant? A scientist? A community organizer? Because it doesn't sound like a very difficult job. Sounds to me like the hookers are working a hell of a lot harder than upper management. Ah, that's how it goes in most industries anyway, but knowing that, I think I'd rather go for the pimp job than the hooker job -- much nicer uniform if nothing else.

Maybe I'll take up knitting, but I'll only knit things for small animals. Cats, dogs, rats, Wolf Blitzer's beard. . . they shall all have knitted outfits courtesy of me. I will end the animal nudity epidemic.

Speaking of animals, I'd also like to train a team of flying squirrels. If I trained them really well and we could work as a team, maybe they could help me with the money problem by aiding me as I pull off a series of ingenious crimes. We'd strike quickly and quietly, leaving no valuable or nut product behind. The masked ninja burglar and his wily team of flying squirrels!!

O.k., so being unemployed is sounding a little more interesting. I'll take a nap and ponder it some more when I get up.

I Love The Olympics - 8/11/08

Blogga blogga,

O.k., so last time I expressed some reservations about watching the Olympics this year. I still have problems with the Chinese government calling the Dalai Lama a terrorist (yeah, and Mother Teresa was an axe murderer) and all the totalitarianism and pollution and human rights violations -- but I've come to realize that embracing China into the modern world may be the better way to get them to clean up those issues than by ostracizing them. Or maybe that's just me rationalizing away my guilty conscience over the fact that I really enjoy watching the Olympics. Hee hee. It's been fun to watch so far.

Let's just start with the Opening Ceremony. Have you seen it? They had a 300 million dollar budget and 15,000 performers, none of whom were repeated in the ceremony. Apparently China got together 15,000 young Chinese performers roughly the same age and build and physical skills and then used some sort of insect pheromone or cybernetic implants to make them all synchronize perfectly. Seriously, the human aspect of the Opening Ceremony was awe inspiring, seeing what people working flawlessly as a team can accomplish. And the artistic vision of the ceremony was brilliant -- even the relatively simplistic spectacle of fireworks exploding in a choreographed display that created giant footsteps over Beijing "walking" to the Bird's Nest stadium kicked ass on a level that all the Superbowl halftime shows combined could not match. This was not your usual parade of children in costumes and dancers with twirly ribbon things and glow rods blah blah seen-it-a-hundred-times-before type of spectacle -- this was an amazing vision brilliantly executed on a scale that was flat out awesome. If you haven't seen the Opening Ceremony, it's really worth digging up and watching because it was a once in a century type of performance.

So the Opening Ceremonies made me think that China really does want to join the modern world; I got the sense that they have tasted a little of the riches and luxuries capitalism offers and maybe all of their talk about harmony is a genuine attempt at taking some of the edge off of the totalitarianism (I don't think you can have a truly harmonious society when it is enforced at gunpoint, but that's just me). I don't know, but I won't begrudge the Chinese people the desire to be a part of the modern world just because their government is made up by a bunch of military-minded authoritarians. I mean, it's not like Bush and Cheney represent the American people, so I would like to believe that it's just a matter of time before China gets a taste at real freedom. I walked away from watching the Opening Ceremonies hoping that the success of these Olympic Games would be the start of something new for China -- maybe someday they will think of relying on diplomacy instead of soldiers to settle disputes.

Even after the Opening Ceremonies had ended, this Olympics has been pretty spectacular. There are amazing storylines everywhere, but the focus on T.V. is obviously geared towards the U.S. so that's what I've seen the most. The Men's 4x4 freestyle relay was probably the most exciting swimming event I've ever witnessed; you gotta love that the U.S. Team came from behind to beat the French team that was talking smack. I don't know why, but it's a fun American pastime to mess with the French. And hey, they were talking smack and that's something only Americans are supposed to do -- have a plate of Freedom Fries, Frenchies!! Ah, I only jest. C'est une blague, you snail eaters.

And then you have Michael Phelps dominating his sport, attempting to win more gold medals in one Olympics than Mark Spitz. Wow. And you have other Americans winning all over the place at swimming, shattering records everywhere. And what about the Women's U.S. Beach Volley Ball team that is so dominant, they haven't lost once in more than 100 matches?

But last night, I was glued to the T.V. watching the little buffed dudes in the gymnastics events do their thing. The U.S. had another great storyline there. The background is that the U.S. lost its top two veterans on the team at the last minute (the Hamm brothers) and had an unproven team out there with two alternates. Meanwhile, China had this juggernaut team doing stuff that no one else even attempts and the reigning champs Japan were supposed to be the only team capable of hanging with China. . . but as the competition started, all the various teams had mistakes in their routines while only the U.S. guys were rock solid and riding this wave of confidence and belief. It was a trip to see them one by one go out and hit it -- not that their routines were as spectacular as what the Chinese guys were doing, but the U.S. was just rock solid. They were sticking landings and giving the best performances of their lives on the biggest stage -- I can only imagine how good that felt.

But you can't have a good story without some tension and drama, and that came when one of the Americans got hit with a brain fart and screwed up a floor exercise routine. Then another guy had a slip on the pommel horse and it looked like maybe the U.S. wouldn't make it to the medal stand. There was one guy left, Alexander Artemev, an alternate who missed out on being a full team member because, get this, he had screwed up 3 out of the 4 times he had last competed on the pommel horse. Ouch! Injuries cleared a spot for him on the team, but now his moment arrived and all the pressure was on him. Talk about having to face your demons! If he nailed the routine and overcame his slump on the event that was his specialty, then the U.S. stood a chance; if not, then all of those solid routines at the beginning of the competition, all of that rush of good feeling and confidence, would have no tangible reward. Seriously, this is the only kind of reality T.V. I can truly get excited about. This is where the Olympics stand out as some of the most compelling drama around.

When Artemev went through his routine without a hitch and stuck his landing, you could see the pride and joy on his face for pulling through and successfully facing down his demons. His teammates were ecstatic for him. His performance in the clutch sealed the deal for the U.S. and brought that scrappy team of unknowns and alternates to the medal stand. It was inspiring and amazing to witness.

So I'm not getting much sleep because the best events are shown from 10:00 pm to 1:00 am and I can't turn off the damn T.V. But I don't care -- you only get to see the absolute best in the world compete like this during the Olympics and I get a tremendous charge out of watching this kind of excellence on display. Right now I'm awake because I'm feeding off of adrenaline (and pumping myself full of coffee), but it's Olympic adrenaline, dammit! And I feel national pride and a great deal of happiness for those guys on the U.S. Men's gymnastics team who rose to the occasion last night and did their very best when it mattered the most. They might not be near the level of the Chinese team, but they showed tremendous heart and determination last night and they truly earned their medals.

The only thing missing from their march to the podium was a trash-talking Frenchman.

The Olympics - 8/8/08

Blogga blogga -

So the Olympics are coming with China as the host nation. Normally, I really enjoy the Olympics, but I'm a little put off by this year's version. That whole issue about Tibet and human rights and the fact that Beijing is so polluted, the athletes are having trouble breathing the air. . . it's like someone cleaned up their house by stuffing everything into a closet and the closet is overflowing and won't shut but the host keeps saying "welcome to our beautiful, orderly and clean house. It is immaculate, is it not? I hope you aren't feeling envious! Ha ha ha. . .what's that? Closet? What closet? I have no idea what you are talking about. We only have the finest furs and silk garments in our closets -- let's move along to the dining room where we can enjoy drinks and hookers without worrying about some silly closet."

I guess I'm just sick of people boldly, blatantly lying about stuff and then getting angry when no one accepts their lies. For the record, the Dalai Lama is not a terrorist and he is and always has been very committed to non-violence. And I mean Gandhi-style complete and utter non-violence. The guy doesn't even condone violent thinking, let alone violent action. And they don't exactly hand out the Nobel Peace Prize to power hungry warlords. This is a guy who has publicly thanked the Chinese government for attempting to systematically destroy his ancient culture because it has prompted Tibet to join in international dialogue with the modern world and, get this, because the horrible situation put upon his people (burning temples and ancient landmarks, books, preventing people from speaking their own language, engaging in Tibetan cultural practices, people being "disappeared", soldiers literally pissing on monks as they pray, etc.) makes the practice of being compassionate and non-violent more powerful and necessary. He basically said "thanks for being so horrible because that allows me to practice compassion and patience of a very deep level." Talk about turning the other cheek!! That's not really how America would respond, is it? And it's surely not how terrorists have chosen to interact with the world.

So I get a bit pissed off when the Chinese government accuses him of being a terrorist bent on the destruction of the noble Chinese government. That's like saying 2+2=5, and I'm sick of that tactic where people demand that something is true regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 2+2=4. Period. Most kids in second grade know that. So what can you do when you have someone screaming that 2+2=5 and they won't accept any other answer? Is it o.k. to kick them in the groin 2+2 times and see if they like it better when that means 4 or 5 kicks?

If I was ruler of the world (I'm not - if I was, things would be much much better right now. Really. Trust me), I think I'd propose this solution -- whether or not the U.S. athletes come in first, they should always go to the top of the medal stand and demand that the gold medal be put on them. Cue up the Star Spangled Banner and fork over the gold medal because the U.S. of mother freakin' A is Number 1, period. It doesn't matter who "wins". U.S.A. = Number 1. You can argue about petty details, video tape evidence to the contrary, the presence of judges giving out scores, etc. but that's just crazy talk. U.S.A. = Number 1. We win. It will be the first sweep of the entire Olympic games by just one country. The Number 1 country in the Universe. We rock!

Also, for those who were wondering, in my 2+2=5 world, the Knicks have won the NBA Finals every year over the past decade. The term "dominant" has been replaced with the term "Knick-ish", and I occasionally play point guard for them when they need help beating some of the better teams.

Hmm, now I'm starting to like this 2+2=5 thing.

No More Politics - 8/6/08

Blogga blogga -

You know what? I'm done blogging anything political -- my tolerance for stupidity has been flat-out overwhelmed and besides, every time I try to crack jokes about how stupid this political race has become (sometimes it seems like the GOP revels in being retarded, like Jessica Simpson enjoying being considered a dumb blonde who uses her boobs more than her brains), I'll watch the Daily Show or Colbert Report and they just tell the jokes better than I ever could. The graphics they come up with alone are 50 times funnier than any joke I can think of, so I'll leave the satire to the professionals.

That being said, I'll just remark one last time that John McCain is acting pitifully. I guess his own mother and daughter are pissed at him for gleefully ditching his moral center and engaging in the stupidest kind of politics available -- that's got to feel nice. The remarkable thing -- the behavior of his campaign seems to have absolutely no effect on his supporters. Amazing. Just like I think W could wipe his ass with the American flag and that 25% loyal to him would still think he's awesome, I don't think any display of incompetence will dissuade McCain supporters from voting for him. Wow. He could forget his own name, call Cindy McCain ass in public again, strangle a bald eagle, punch a dolphin, sodomize a puppy, shoot an old man in the face with a shotgun, make yet another vote in favor of segregation (for that alone, the guy is unworthy of voting for), waterboard his own mother, stick Joe Lieberman's head up his ass and call it an important fact finding mission in the War on Terror, and no one would care. The voting won't change. For all the non-stop media coverage we have, no one is really listening to anything they don't want to hear. The concept of free thinking is not an American virtue any more -- that just straight up sucks.

Well, here's my final farewell to talking about those fucktards. Goodbye. Farewell. Sayonara, suckers. If you need some prescription drugs to help you sleep at night after you discover that you sold your soul for nothing, I hear Rush Limbaugh is the guy to talk to -- he has the best stash because he gets his stuff cheap from Canada.

Green Card, How Much? - 8/5/08

Blogga blogga -

So I finished up with the Latino Theater Company last weekend doing another workshop of their latest play, "Solitude". We did two performances of the play over the weekend and after the play is re-written one more time, we'll probably do an actual run of performances for real in 2009, maybe make a movie out of it too. It was a lot of work but I really enjoy working with those folks. It was a good challenge trying to come up with music and then have to improvise through it during the live performances -- in some ways, it has brought my playing to a new level. I even made up some stuff during the last performance just for the hell of it, adding music to a section of the play on a whim. Fun stuff.

Plus I love the LA Theater Center and what they are trying to do there. It reminds me a lot of institutions I've had access to in the past, like the San Francisco Conservatory of Music or Davies Symphony Hall; there's just a lot of energy focused in one place and the LA Theater Center offers a home for a lot of people. What can I say, I'm drawn to places where they let weirdos congregate and I'm happy to help a place like that any way I can.

The Latino Theater Company really operate like a family and they kind of adopted me into the fold. The coolest part of that is the fact that I got a lot of exposure to Latino culture. I mean, it's not like I never came across people from various Latino backgrounds in the past while I was living in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles -- but there's a difference between knowing people on a surface level and then getting to know them when they are in their own environment, acting without any social filter. You know, actually sitting down and breaking bread with people, getting to know them for real, meeting their kids and hearing culturally specific jokes -- stuff that you never deal with when you are just acquaintances, co-workers, or even neighbors.

The funny thing is that I don't speak Spanish and a lot of the jokes involved spanish insults. Seriously, I have no idea what some of the words mean, aside from the fact that I know that they are swear words that make Latino folks laugh when I misapply them. It almost makes it more fun to pop them out, kinda like a Mad Lib. My favorite now is to say "don't get your chi chi's in a bunch" -- I'm not really sure what that means, but it always gets a laugh.

But one thing I keep thinking about is a discussion I had with one of the Company members about how you can get fake immigration papers at this local park I pass by all the time. It made me wonder if I could maybe have some fake papers done for myself. I'm not sure if I could even pull it off because whoever is selling fake papers would probably assume I'm a gringo undercover cop or something, but it's one of those silly ideas I get that makes me chuckle when I think about it. What can I say, I get a kick out of doing pointless stuff like that. It's probably costs way more money than it's worth for the couple of laughs I'd get if I could actually pull it off, but still. . .

First off, my illegal immigrant name would have to be something really cool. Like "McLuvin" from Superbad. Maybe "Jesus Con Carne", or "Chelo Suave Manolo Garcia Loco Burrito Lopez" (aka C-Lo). And then I'd want to create a backstory for myself. Like some sort of epic adventure where I came to the U.S. on the back of a burro I trained to swim in the ocean -- my burro (named Pepe, of course) would learn how to use scuba equipment and we'd avoid all the Minutemen and border patrols by heading up the coastline underwater. The world's first underwater burro, like an equine submarine. Pepe and I would fight off sharks and rabid seals and mutant sea urchins until we surfaced on the beaches of Los Angeles in the dead of night and slink off into the urban sprawl called L.A. We'd start a gang, called Los Huevos Diablos, and Pepe and I would be the scourge of the Los Angeles underworld. I'd be the brains of the operation and Pepe would be the muscle -- no one would mess with him and the sound of his hooves coming down the street would install terror in the hearts of everyone who know of him. Clip, clop, clip clop. . . look out, it's Pepe!!! You don't want to mess with him. He's loco, compadre!!

We'd start up a dog kidnapping business and steal all the Hollywood stars' tiny little toy dogs that they tote around like accessories, reaping in millions in ransome money. Then we'd organize the taco vendors into a street army under Pepe's control, consolidating our base of power. With all that muscle, we'd be properly intimidating enough that we could start a record label that records a new kind of music -- like reggaeton mixed with indian raga, called "ragaton". It would be a huge success in discotechs and dance halls around the world with its infectious rhythms and international appeal. With all that money, Pepe would of course want to go legit so that he could legally purchase some fine looking ponies for his harem stable -- and I can't say no to Pepe, so that's why we'll end up going to the park to get phony immigration papers.

Pretty awesome, right? I think so, too.

Actors Are Strange- 7/28/08

Blogga blogga -

I. Am. So. Freakin'. Tired.

Freak. N. Tired.

I'm back in the world of the LA Theater Center and the Latino Theater Company and we've got exactly 5 days left before the play workshop goes up again. So that means we are cramming in rehearsals trying to beat the clock so we can put on a semi-coherent play this weekend -- we were working all weekend and it's an exhausting schedule.

Right now, the new script is still being written so that's adding a little extra spice to the situation. However, that means that my character is actually getting developed -- I even have a story arc, now! Originally, my character (Conseulo Kobialka, aka "Chelo") was the cousin of one of the main characters, just kinda there to play cello at a funeral and then I followed my cousin around while playing an improvised musical score to what was happening on stage. But now my charcter has an actual backstory. I even have a love interest, albeit a fictional one that no one ever sees -- you see, I am pining for Juana, the virtuous and beautiful young maid of the wealthy main character who has taken the day off and therefore is not present when I show up to meet her. I was to be introduced to her but she is not there, and because of this. . . I lament. Oh, how I lament. Oh Juana, whereforth art thou? Juana!!!!!!!!

Anyway, I've managed to avoid having to deliver any verbal lines, so I now have to figure out how to make my face convey emotion without saying things to the audience like "I am sad because Juana is not here. I am so very sad. Oh, Juana. I think my heart has been broken." The pitiful part is that I actually have difficulty doing that. I think to myself, "o.k., Chelo -- you are very very sad. Show everyone how sad you are" and I start cracking up. I can play something on the cello that will convey to everyone "oh, listen to how sad Chelo is. Surely his heart has been torn asunder by the absence of the beautiful servant-girl, Juana," but I can't act worth diddly. My acting is worth less than diddly, whatever the hell a diddly is.

But meanwhile, the other company members are able to change stuff up with no problem. They can change the delivery of their lines immediately -- if the director tells them to be sad, their shoulders droop and their eyes tear up and they drip with sadness. If the director changes his mind and wants comedy, they zip out the lines rapid fire to make the timing faster and change their body language to make themselves look goofy. And then there is this extra aspect to live acting where you have to adjust to the logistics of live theater -- in the absence of multiple camera angles like you have in t.v. and film, you always have to project your voice, move in an exaggerated way, and show your face to the audience so that even the folks in the nosebleed seats can tell what's going on. For me, that's a little strange because even if you are supposed to be feeling isolated or depressed or pensive, you still have to project those feelings out in a big way -- you can't whisper or pull in your energy even if that's exactly what you would do in reality if you are depressed or pensive. Damn those people in the nosebleed seats!

But the strangest thing for me, as a musician, has to be the bizarre exercises actors do to warm up. Seriously, some of the things actors do are like events in a Japanese gameshow (if you haven't seen a Japanese gameshow, look them up on YouTube. I guarantee you'll laugh at the bizarreness). The other day, the director, Jose Luis, had us walking in random grid patterns; everyone was supposed to walk in a straight line and only take 90 degree turns every once in a while, all of us criss-crossing the stage randomly. Then every once in a while, Jose Luis would shout out a word, like "joy" and we'd have to walk in a way that expressed joy. Then he'd say something like "dementia" or "sadness" and we'd have to show that in our movement. We did this for about 30 minutes and I've got to admit, I had a hard time with it. I think I basically looked like some guy cracking up while walking in a square pattern; maybe I dragged my feet or made my shoulders droop a little when I was supposed to be sad or depressed, but I really didn't know how to convey any of those emotions physically. I'm a musician, and a classically trained musician who was taught early on to prize the way things sound over the way they look -- in fact, I used to make fun of the other kids who would mug for the crowd and swoon this way and that so that they appeared to be emotionally into the music as they played. In other genres of music, movement and performance are often as important as the music itself, but in classical music, you should be able to close your eyes and tell the good players from the hacks. And besides that, the main lure behind doing the whole singer-songwriter thing I'm doing now is that you get to sing your own songs and do the music that reflects your life rather than being contracted to play music that you may not relate to -- so this whole exercise of faking emotions and stuff is pretty weird to me and antithetical to the drive towards being genuinely myself, which is what I chase after in music.

However, whenever I looked around during the grid exercise and saw what the other actors were doing, I understood what was supposed to happen -- you see, the other folks would be climbing the walls or doing jumping jacks or whatever during the exercises, truly throwing themselves into the moment and going for it. At one point during the exercise, while we were showing "sadness", I saw one of the actors literally on their back with all four limbs thrust in the air, quivering as he silently mouthed profanity (I think he was saying "fuck you" over and over, if I was reading his lips correctly) -- I'm not sure if that conveys sadness or not, but it sure was more interesting than me walking in a square pattern while smirking. I think it was around that time that I knew for certain that I'm not an actor and I probably never will be one.

Anyway, I can only guess what we'll do tonight as a warm up. There are so many strange actor rituals. Maybe we can just take those 30 minutes as naptime instead, practice appearing like we are in a deep, restful sleep. That, I think I could pull off. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . .

Walking my Blog - Random Crap - 7/25/08

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Wow, it's been almost a month since I've posted a blog. A lot has happened since then. I'm back in Part II of my attempt at "acting" with the Latino Theater Company at the LA Theater Center. They tore apart the script we did a workshop for last month and put it back together as a surrealist version of the script. Now we are literally navigating a labyrinth on stage as we go from scene to scene. . . I'm not sure what's going on, but it's fun to work with those folks again and the challenge of scoring this stuff live as it changes around is pushing me to get better at writing music under duress. I figure we'll have the basic idea of what we are doing by the end of this week and then I'll have less than a week to re-score the thing; I can't do anything just yet because I honestly don't know if certain lines will be delivered as comedy or drama or what. All I know is that I'll be going from 7 A.M. to midnight every day until we finish the workshops next week. I should get an endorsement deal from Starbucks with all the coffee I'm drinking.

But I did manage to catch the Dark Knight movie before the rehearsal schedule kicked in. If you haven't seen it yet, I won't spoil it for you. . . except to say that Batman is in it. I know, I know -- I was surprised too!! Seriously, all I'm going to say is that it's a revolutionary movie in the genre and probably the best example of the super-sized over-priced blockbuster movie ever made. It just operates on a different level than the usual Hollywood action extravaganza and the script was really. . . I can't believe I'm going to say this. . . thought provoking. Yup, a comic book movie that had the audience talking about FISA and the psychology of fear instead of the special effects. Oh, and there was plenty of talk about Heath Ledger, who gave a performance that was brilliant. I remember when people were applauding Jack Nicholson for his version of the Joker -- those folks must have exploded when they saw the version Ledger put on display. My inner comic book geek jumped for joy at his version of Batman's sociopathic opposite. I think I'm going to be saying "why so serious?" for quite some time.

The NBA season also came to a close and Kobe Bryant once again wasn't the best player on the court when his team needed him the most. Paul Pierce, a guy who rarely jumps and who I think I might be able to outpace in a foot race, pretty much outplayed the MVP. Man, I didn't even know Paul Pierce could play defense because I never saw that side of his game before this year. And I surely didn't know that Rajon Rondo could play that well; that kid has some incredibly fast reflexes and his reaction to the ball was twice as fast as anyone else in the games I saw. He can play for my beloved New York Knicks any time.

Speaking of the Knicks, they are actually doing some good things lately! It's amazing! I only hope that the U.S. can enjoy the feeling that Knicks fans are feeling when W gets shown the door the way Isiah Thomas was booted from the Knicks. Wow. More than anything, I'm happy with Donnie Walsh and his steady-handed strategy of not acting like a hyperbolic fucktard (that would be Isiah Thomas). Donnie is just looking for guys with character who can help put foward a team-based concept -- he's crazy, isn't he?! Basketball as a team sport? And his selection of Danillo Gallinari, the 19 year old Italian kid, has me really excited. Not only is Danillo talented 6'10" small forward with a variety of skills and already 3 years of experience being the best player on a pro team in Europe; the kid appears unafraid of playing physically, he works his ass off, and I think he can handle the stupidity that is the New York sports scene. He is already handling the New York sports media and speaks excellent English, he's got some charisma going for him, he's not a bad looking kid at all. . . I bet by December New York will be in love with him and Jessica Simpson or Paris Hilton will be trying to become his celebrity mate. Sorry, A-Rod, but New York may have a new charismatic sports hero to over-analyze.

Blah blah blah. Too many things to talk about. I haven't even touched politics, which is a whole other story. Can I just say that Barack Obama hitting the 3 pointer in front of the troops this week had me on the floor laughing? Do you remember when John Kerry tried to pull the whole duck hunting thing in 2004 to prove that he's a manly man? Or all the crap about Obama not being able to bowl, or that he's a wussy elitist? Well, if those are the kinds of things that are important in determining who should hold the job of President of the U.S., then what does it mean when Obama calmly steps up and drains a 23 foot shot in front of an audience composed of our troops who are currently deployed abroad? Does that qualify him for an extra term as president? Or did he have to hit nothing but net for the extra term? When our troops cheer him and show outright adoration of the guy, does that mean they WON'T follow him as Commander in Chief? And the shots of Obama walking around holding his flak jacket in hand instead of wearing it were priceless as well, especially when you think back to McCain in multiple layers of body armor surrounded by troops and armored vehicles and helicopters as he got a cup of coffee in Iraq. Man, you just can't put Obama and McCain side by side without thinking McCain is there for comedic relief. It's ready-made satire. Oh, and to those who think John McCain has any chance whatsoever against Obama. . . are you kidding me? Really. Are you joking? I'm serious. I mean, c'mon, McCain doesn't have the arm strength to hit a shot past 15 feet any more. He lost that back in his 60's. MAYBE he can hit a college 3 pointer. . . maybe. If he takes steroids. Although that would just exacerbate his rage problems and hasten the onset of dementia.

And no, I feel no shame for having fun at McCain's expense. War hero or not, he is screwing up left and right and changing his positions on things that reveal a total lack of center. I don't care if your policy changes and evolves as situations change and evolve, but I do think there are certain things that define who you are that you CANNOT throw away without losing your soul, so to speak. How can that guy, who was subjected to torture, ratify torture in the U.S.? It's like he's taken the war hero/free thinking maverick persona he used to be and chucked it out the window because in the political world the Bush Administration/Rove/et al. have created, you have to be a ginormous douche bag in order to win. I guess in that world, the previous version of John McCain simply wasn't douchey enough to win Republican votes. Jebus. Well, he sure is acting like a douche now, which may explain why Bush and Sean Hannity and those idiots have embraced him. In a strange way, I miss that weasel Guiliani and that moron Romney because with them, at least you never had to witness someone rip out their soul and betray their own honor for votes. Granted, that's because they had no honor to begin with, but at least I never pitied them like I pity McCain.

Oh, and don't get me started on the media. Oh, man, do they suck. Everything from the "terrorist fist bump" to CBS selectively editing a McCain interview in order to hide one of his almost daily gaffes about a subject he really should know a lot more about (even I know that Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border, and I am horrible with geography. . . and I am not in a job that would require me to know that information anyway). . . now I just saw that Fox News is switching footage of McCain rally's and substituting it for stuff from 2000, I guess so that McCain will look younger. How the hell are they getting away with this stuff? Isn't there any sort of accountability for reporters? Or are they just bloggers who get paid to spout unsupported opinions at a camera?

Well, it's all good. As Robert Frost said, everything I've learned in life can be summed up in three words -- it goes on. At least the future sure looks brighter than the past, so hopefully there are good things in store for us all once we get a leadership change. It sure seems to be helping the Knicks, and if the Knicks can get fixed. . .

Matt vs. My Ennui - 6/25/08

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How are you folks doing today? I'm in a strange mood. I'm feeling some ennui. Maybe it's because I'm in limbo waiting for the NBA Draft to happen, or I'm annoyed by politics right now (it's going to be a long, annoying path to the general election, isn't it?). Maybe it's just the hazy/smoggy/foggy weather in L.A. today, but ever since I got up this morning, I've been feeling like it would have been better to have stayed at home and slept until Thursday showed up.

Not even Shaq and Kobe feuding again amused me (and I normally would be very amused by Shaq rapping in general, and Shaq messing with Kobe Bryant in rap-form is usually pure schadenfreude joy for me). Not even Maureen O'Dowd nailing the likes of Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, and Sean Hannity for their hypocritical assessment of Obama as a pampered "elitist" broke the ennui (uh, yeah, the guy raised by a single mother who actually earned top academic marks everywhere he went is the one who had a silver spoon in his mouth at birth. Those neo conservative guys need to look up the definition of the word "projection" as it is used in psychology. Or just look in a mirror once in a while. . . if they dare!).

My ennui just kept building and it just got foggier and smoggier by the minute in L.A. My ennui threatened to take over, making me want to dress in all black complete with a black turtleneck sweater and read Sylvia Plath while listening to static on the radio. I started imagining what it would be like to have a rain cloud follow you wherever you go.

And then a friend sent me this link.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article4133668.ece

Bugs that crap petroleum! Awesome! Modern day alchemy. Granted, it would be very very bad if the bugs ever got loose and started eating things they shouldn't be eating, leaving little oil trails everywhere. . . but still. I'd rather have bug trouble than be Saudi Arabia's beeotch any longer. This lifted the ennui a bit. The clouds parted just enough to let some sun shine through. And then this link was sent to me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY&feature=channel

Matt rocks! I watched this 4 minute video with a big ol grin on my face the whole time. My ennui disappeared immediately when the segment shot in India happened. I laughed out loud at the segment in the Korean DMZ. This guy Matt is my new hero.

So if you are feeling down, maybe a little confused by Obama flipping his position on public funding or feeling sad about the Lakers choking, check out the video and let Matt show you how he gets his groove on. I hope Matt is out there right now, dancing away and enjoying the world at large.

Japan Trip - THE END!!! - 6/18/08

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I'm finally at the end of the trip. Wow, the blog journey was even longer than the trip itself. . . but I've still got to describe the trip home and fun details of that portion of the voyage.

On the final day in Japan, my schedule was still packed with lots of things to do before I finally boarded my flight home. Kosei the Cowboy, with Obachan riding shotgun in the car, was supposed to take me and my mom to the ferry station where we'd catch a boat crossing a little bay that would drop us off at the Nagoya airport. After that, my mom and I would meet up with another of her childhood friends who does her Chinese Astrology (what are friends for?) and then follow that up with a final meeting with Miss Kato, the powerbroker I was talking with about doing a concert for her Japanese space museum project.

So we got up super early again and went straight to the ferry building with plenty of time to spare. . . and discovered that the ferry wasn't running on that particular day to Nagoya airport. Kosei yelled at the ticket guy for a while and then we had to immediately pile back into the car -- Kosei zipped along the freeway as fast as he could, zig zagging through traffic and swearing at people in Japanese while my grandmother fell asleep in the passenger seat.

We managed to get to the airport on time and then began a semi-frantic search to find my mom's astrology buddy, Shizuko. We had about 4 hours before my flight was scheduled to leave, but I wasn't allowed to check in for my flight that early -- instead I lugged around my bag as we tried to find a place to eat, which was proving difficult because the airport was packed and everyone was waiting in long lines to get lunch. We finally located a tiny little hole in the wall café where we could get a seat, the only drawback being that the tiny enclosed space was a smoking section and Shizuko is something of a human chimney. I'm a former smoker myself so I'm fairly sympathetic to smokers; however, it's just not fun to be in a tiny 30 by 30 foot enclosure with no ventilation surrounded by chain smokers when you are trying to eat lunch.

To compound the situation, Shizuko began telling me what the future has in store for me in that way that only hobbyist astrologers can predict the future. It's that kind of open-ended prediction that tells you things like "oh, your future is so bright. . . but only if you work hard. . . if you don't work hard, then things will not happen for you. . . but if you work hard, they will happen. . . because Mars is entering Uranus." Ah, brilliant. I didn't know there was a causal connection between effort and results! I thought Pluto was just screwing things up for me. Damn you, Pluto! I'm more of a tea leaf diviner anyway and too immature NOT to laugh when I say "Uranus". Some day I'm going to discover a new planet and name it "Labia". Then Earth can be invaded by Labians. But I digress.

The thing to note is that Shizuko, like my mom and most of her friends, is a very strong, outspoken woman. She's not the usual image of a Japanese woman demurely placing a hand over their mouth to hide their laughter -- Shizuko was giving me my astrological reading while spewing smoke from her nostrils and jabbing a finger in my face to punctuate her message. And Miss Kato, who we were supposed to meet up with shortly, is also cut from a similar cloth -- my mom even mentioned that she wanted to avoid putting Shizuko and Miss Kato in the same room because it would be like putting two fighting fish in close proximity to each other. Like two divas fighting for the spotlight, it could get really ugly, and my mom knew both of her friends well enough to know it. . . which is why it was unfortunate that my astrology reading took so long that we were still talking to Shizuko when Miss Kato showed up for our meeting. Doh!

And so began the battle of alpha women dueling in a battle of smoke and interrupted conversation. It started graciously enough with Shizuko and Miss Kato meeting each other and lighting each other's cigarettes, but when Miss Kato tried to take center stage and talk about the museum project (which involved much name dropping and showing me pamphlets with pictures of astronauts and Japanese cabinet members - very serious stuff that Miss Kato wanted to impress me with), Shizuko kept interrupting with little jokes or astrological insight as to when to ideally do the concert to maximize the positive influence of the planets. About the third time she did that, Miss Kato snapped at her and told her to shut up because she was interrupting a serious discussion. Ouch! I just sat there smiling uncomfortably, inhaling second hand smoke and wondering if I could just run away and hop on my plane without anyone noticing. I REALLY wanted to get home and it felt like the universe was making me earn the right to return to the good ol' U.S. by putting me through a gauntlet of strong, opinionated Japanese women.

I finally had to interrupt everyone because I had one hour left before my flight was supposed to leave and I still had to check in my bags. We left the smoky café and, of course, there was a huge line at the United Airlines terminal for my flight. I just said "screw it" and hopped into the business class line, figuring that paying for an upgrade was not a luxury item any more; I needed to get on that plane as soon as possible and get back home or I'd die in Japan waiting in line to check in. A couple hundred bucks for an upgrade seat that might guarantee my getting on the flight and even getting a little sleep seemed well worth it at that point.

Everyone in line was pissed off and I soon discovered why -- our flight was one of the ones that was cancelled because of all the issues with planes having old equipment not checked out by the FAA. Remember when all of those cancelled flights were in the news cycle? I got to experience it firsthand. So just like my flight going to Japan, United had cancelled on me last minute without any warning and I started fearing that I actually would be stuck in Japan forever. Why didn't Shizuko foresee this? I would have totally believed in astrology if, two hours ago, she said "OMG, Venus is moving against Saturn so we need to transfer you to a different flight immediately!!" That would have made me a true believer and I would never laugh at Uranus again.

Instead, both Shizuko and Miss Kato stood in line with me and tried to convince me that I should be the "ugly American" when I got to the check-in counter. They told me to be angry and demand that I immediately get placed in first class on the first available flight; business class would not suffice anymore because I was a very important angry American!! Fear my wrath!! They even gave me examples of how I should swear in English at the shy young woman trying to deal with everyone standing in line, pissed off that the one and only flight from Nagoya to the West Coast had been cancelled. I can't even begin to describe how enjoyable it was to hear these two women with thick Japanese accents using language that would make a sailor blush while everyone in line listened. "Mother Fucker" is apparently a word that sounds the same even when spoken with a Japanese accent. Go figure.

But I never even had a chance to act like an asshole because Miss Kato told Shizuko to stand back as she walked up to the counter with me and launched into rapid fire Japanese telling the poor lady at the counter how to do her job. I just stood there, trying my best to understand what was going on and assert a little control over what was happening. I completely failed in that respect and before I knew it, Miss Kato was telling me to grab my bag because I had a train to catch heading to Tokyo. Toyko!! As in, the big city in Japan on the OTHER side of the country. I was trying to read my plane ticket (most of the info was in Japanese, which I have trouble reading) while trying to keep up with Miss Kato and my mom -- I pieced together that I was scheduled to catch a flight leaving from Tokyo the following day, but that was it. I didn't know if I had a hotel lined up, how long it would take to get to Tokyo, etc. Oi vey. I just wanted to get home and suddenly I had 24 more hours of raw food and eccentric Japanese folks ahead of me.

We got into Miss Kato's car and headed into the main part of Nagoya where the train station is located. . . but first, Miss Kato wanted to show me where the city administration building is where all of her politician friends work. And then she was feeling hungry, so we stopped off at her favorite sushi place for a nosh. The whole time I was clicking my heels together saying "there's no place like home, there's no place like home". Finally, I got my mom to help translate enough so that Miss Kato understood that I was a bit preoccupied with my travel arrangements and that it would be neat if I could get an explanation of what was going on. I was informed that Miss Kato would help put me on the right train and also deal with the hotel because she was a member of some hotel in Tokyo. The hotel had a "limo bus" service that would pick me up from the hotel and take me to the airport where I would catch a flight from the vastly superior Tokyo airport. Apparently Nagoya is constantly plagued with flight problems so Miss Kato decided that Tokyo would be a better departure point. "O.k.," I thought, "so the adventure continues."

Eventually we got to the train station and Miss Kato helped me get tickets -- first class tickets, of course, because Miss Kato wouldn't dream of me traveling with the rabble! I guess she probably doesn't hang out with a lot of musicians because we are the frickin' definition of "rabble". I got on board, leaving behind Miss Kato and my mom as I ventured off on my own, hoping that somehow I'd manage to end up in the right place as I tried in vain to read my ticket (completely written in Japanese characters again, so I couldn't tell if I was looking at numbers signifying a seat number or train number or platform or arrival time, etc.). But I did figure out what time the train was supposed to arrive in Tokyo from the ticket and based on that, I managed to get off at the correct train station. I am a modern day Lewis and Clark.

I've never been to Tokyo and it's quite different from any other city in Japan. While Kyoto might have a lot in common with mid-sized cities like San Francisco or Seattle (but with a lot of ancient buildings and temples still standing amidst the newer buildings), Tokyo looked to me like some Star Trek version of New York built out of huge panels of glass and polished steel. I emerged from the underground train station around 9pm and was met with a dazzling display of lights and cars and people packing the streets. It's a pretty spectacular city, especially at night with all of the lights reflecting off of the futuristic buildings. Most of the people walking around were salary men and women in their "uniform" -- conservative black suits with black neckties for the guys and that flight attendant-style of black and white skirt/vest/neck scarf for the women. Everyone was striding along at a pace that a New Yorker would feel comfortable with and, being someone who adopted New York as a second home, I really got into the energy and the pace of the city.

I snagged the first cab I could find and showed the cabbie the hotel info that Miss Kato had written down for me in Japanese characters. He zipped into traffic and took me literally 50 yards down the block to this massive, European-style hotel overlooking a park called the Imperial Hotel. Still not sure why Miss Kato told me to grab a cab to travel that short a distance, but at least I didn't get lost trying to find the hotel. Before I even finished paying the cabbie, a small team of men and women streamed out of the hotel and opened the door for me, grabbed my bag, and escorted me into the hotel. Everyone knew my name already and treated me like I was a rock star or royalty (just to complete the picture, I was there unshaven wearing "travel clothing", which meant an old pair of jeans, t-shirt, and my black and orange Pumas -- classy!). When I took a look around the hotel, I started to realize that Miss Kato had done more than just book a hotel for me -- she booked me into one of the most famous, prestigious hotels in the world.

Seriously, the Imperial Hotel is insane. This is the hotel where Princess Di, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, etc. would stay when they visited Tokyo. This is where the elite businessmen mingle with royalty and celebrity, and there I was trying my best not to betray the fact that I am none of the above. What had Miss Kato gotten me into? I didn't even know how expensive a room would be, or if I had to tip the team of 6 people attending to me as I checked in. But apparently Miss Kato had made all the arrangements and had even obtained a discounted rate for me using her fancy-pants membership rights; that meant that, for the 12 hours I would be staying at the hotel before heading to the airport, I would only have to pay a meager $400. I consciously avoided doing the math and figuring out how much I was spending per hour to have the honor of staying at this hotel when I would have been perfectly fine sleeping in the airport waiting for my flight. I probably could have asked one of the porters attending to my every need to figure it out for me.

But it's not all that bad getting the royal treatment. I was taken to my room and had to stifle my laughter when I saw what I was paying for -- two king sized beds, a gigantic bathroom with both Japanese and western style amenities, a 50 inch flat screen t.v. that had "Welcome, Mister Semyon Kobialka. It is our humble honor to service you" in digital letters as a welcome screen when I turned it on, an office space in the corner, and a big book that had pictures of all the famous people who had stayed at the Imperial Hotel. I expected the mini bar to serve ambrosia and bottled water from the fountain of youth. I just started laughing and took pictures to commemorate the excess I would be enjoying for the remaining hours I had.

I called my mom to let her know I arrived in Tokyo safely and heard Kosei's reaction in the background when he heard where I was staying (sounded like "holy shit!" in Japanese). My mom informed me that Miss Kato would reimburse me for the hotel if we got this Japanese museum concert thing going, so I should enjoy myself and maybe even order some room service on her tab. Sweet!

But instead of ordering in, I changed into more appropriate attire and headed down to the swanky hotel bar to get some food and check out the rich folks who live this lifestyle normally. I'm not exactly going to be in these environments often in the future, so I figured I should do some research from the inside while I had a chance. Basically, the bar was filled with a lot of very wealthy European and Asian businessmen with women half their age sitting around smoking Cuban cigars and eating Japanese bar food. Not all that exciting, really -- contrary to what television tells us, the rich folks aren't more interesting than the rabble. I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu (besides the butter chips and raisins appetizer) which was a $20 club sandwich, and then I took advantage of the amazing single malt offerings that are usually really hard to find. If it was on Miss Kato's tab, then tasting a 20 year old scotch seemed like a smart thing to do.

Everything after that worked out pretty well -- the "limo bus", which is just a big bus that goes from hotel to hotel picking up folks heading towards the airport, got me to the airport and I got on my flight without too much hassle. After the Imperial Hotel, I was happy to get back with the familiar rabble in coach and sat through the entire flight home wanting to sleep, but unable to do so because the folks on either side of me kept elbowing me in the ribs as they slept soundly. I just read a lot (Obama's "Audacity of Hope" is a really good book and a great way to get a sense of where he wants to go with his Presidency -- check it out if you have doubts and fears about the guy. It's a very interesting analysis of different issues plaguing American politics along with multiple options addressing those problems -- a very pragmatic approach to helping this country recover from our recent decline) and tried to figure out how I could construct a concert that involves the Japanese space museum so that Miss Kato would reimburse me for the expensive hotel. I'm still working on that and the bill for the Imperial Hotel is still sitting on my credit card. . .

And that's my Japan trip. I made it back more or less in one piece and in the end, I think my grandmother (and mom) appreciated my coming on the trip which ultimately makes it a success. I'll post the couple of pictures I have (only using my iPhone camera, though, so they aren't all that great because there are no zoom or focus options on an iPhone -- but I never could find the correct kind of memory card in Japan for my camera in order to take proper pictures) soon and then you can see some of the stuff I've been writing about.

Thanks for taking the journey with me.

THE END!!!

Japan Trip - Part XI - 6/16/08

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O.k., this Japan trip blog is endless, isn't it? I think I can wrap it up in two more installments, starting with this one --

So after the monstrous super expensive meal my mom and I had with Yuri and Dr. Hara, we went back to the Hara's place and crashed, letting all that crazy food digest. In the morning, Yuri pointed out her next door neighbor, who apparently is a Yakuza Oyabun. For those who don't know what that is, the Oyabun is basically the head boss of the local division of the Yakuza, which is Japan's version of the mafia or the triads. It's like having the Don living next door to you. So I, being a curious bastard, of course spent the next 30 minutes staring at the house, wondering if the Oyabun had ninja covered in Yakuza body tattoos staked out around the place, watching me and wondering if I was a threat to the big boss. I have an active imagination, yes?

After that, Yuri and Dr. Hara dropped my mom and I off at the train station where we made our way to Kyoto where we'd meet up with Kosei the Cowboy, Obachan and the entire Kawahata clan (my grandfather's side of the family). I know the folks on the Kawahata side of the family pretty well and they are an interesting bunch. My first trip to Japan (aside from a trip I took as a baby) was to pay respects to my great grand uncle, Aiyoshi-sensei (sensei = doctor/teacher. It's just an honorific I attach to his name to signify respect). My sister, Lisa, and I both went to Japan to pay respects to him as the head of the family for Aiyoshi-sensei's 88th birthday – the 88th birthday has special significance in Japan. Aiyoshi-sensei, who has since passed away, was a fascinating guy who was very well respected in Japan as a scientist and teacher and poet and Buddhist practitioner. He even has one of his poems carved into a giant rock on top of a mountain in Japan, so you can get a sense of the kind of respect and status he enjoyed in Japan. He liked Lisa and me a lot because of what we were pursuing in our lives -- Lisa was working towards becoming the hot-shot lawyer she is today and I was studying Aiyoshi-sensei's favorite subject, Buddhism. I even got to quiz the guy one-on-one about the fact that he claimed he was "enlightened". How often do you get to ask someone a question like "so, when you became enlightened, uh. . . what was that like? How did you know it was enlightenment? And if you are enlightened, are you allowed to say you are enlightened?" Hey, I was curious and he was happy to explain it to me. His enlightenment had something to do with reading a particular book and meditating on a bird for an hour and then poof, he was enlightened -- let's just say that the whole enlightenment thing is still a mystery to me (and I'm o.k. with that).

Anyway, after Aiyoshi-sensei passed away, his son Aiko technically became the next in line to be the "head of the family", so to speak. However, I guess Aiko and his father had something of a falling out a decade ago and even though Aiko is now technically the head of the family, it's not as clear cut as it was with Aiyoshi-sensei where everyone treated him like the Pope. Aiko is an interesting cat in his own right, though -- he had a run as a movie star in Japan in his youth and he now owns a couple of publishing companies that put out health magazines and journals. Maybe that's not as big a deal as having the Japanese government put one of your poems on top of a mountain, but it's not like the guy hasn't had his fair share of success either. Aiko is also a heavy drinker and unfortunately the lifestyle hasn't been all that kind to him. He's got a sort of Japanese Keith Richards thing going on -- he still has a kind of rock-star charisma, but he's physically rail thin and it's obvious he's taken a beating from the hard living.

Anyway, when my mom and I got to Kyoto and met up with Kosei the Cowboy and Obachan, we got settled in for a moment at the hotel before heading to dinner to meet the entire clan. Finally slowing down for a moment, I decided to check out a little Japanese t.v. in the hotel room. Oh man, is Japanese t.v. amazing! I won't go into it in detail because you can find enough examples of it's zaniness on YouTube, but I got to watch an interesting expose on America's obesity problem on the Japanese news. Basically they had some cameraman stand on a corner in New York and film American asses in all of their chunky glory -- the amazing thing was that the camera shot about 60 uninterrupted, unedited seconds of footage spinning around in a slow circle and EVERY SINGLE ASS WAS PILING OUT OF THE PANTS VAINLY TRYING TO CONTAIN THEM! Right now, the Japanese are afraid we'll invade them and eat them! It was amazing. There wasn't a single skinny person in the shot and they showed about 40-50 asses. Someone cue up Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom", please.

After watching the chunky-ass expose (why the Japanese even care is beyond me), we met up with Aiko and the entire Kawahata clan, including two of my favorite relatives, Makoto and Lisa (named after my sister). Makoto and Lisa are the children of my cousin, Mami-chan, who is a translator working for the UN and other places. Mami-chan was the person who helped translate when my sister and I talked with Aiyoshi-sensei (thank god for that!), and her kids are ridiculously cute. Lisa in particular is this little spunky chipmunk with big eyes and a cheeky grin -- she was even wearing little boots like the rest of the Japanese women and tromping around like a little 6 year old mischief maker. Makoto is the older kid so he was a bit more contained than Lisa, watching the adults interact and hiding his mischief a little better.

I was seated on one side of Aiko and Kosei the Cowboy was seated on the other -- we were going to be Aiko's drinking partners, so we were set up to surround him with merriment. Unlike the folks on my grandmother's side of the family, the Wakahara clan, the Kawahata clan is filled with big drinkers and I knew I would have to keep up with Kosei and Aiko. Time to be a man's man and all that, y'know? So I quickly loaded up on rice and ordered a drink so I could toast with "the boys".

Like I said, Aiko is a cool cat and we had a good time talking about music, politics (seems like everyone in Japan is fascinated by soon-to-be President Obama and his abundant charisma), booze, etc. When dinner was done, everyone in the clan took off except for Kosei, Aiko and myself -- we continued on to the bar to keep drinking and being manly. Our testosterone was overwhelming! Women sprouted mustaches when we walked by! Somewhere in America, Chuck Norris felt a challenge to his Alpha male status and quaked in his cowboy boots! I got to try the Japanese attempt at a single malt whiskey -- I don't think you can really call it scotch because it doesn't come from the appropriate geographical location, but it wasn't bad at all. I don't drink much, so on the rare occasion that I do drink, I kind of like to go for the good stuff -- the world of single malt whiskeys is pretty fun to explore and even the cheap stuff is high quality booze.

Anyway, after eating bizarre Japanese bar food (something that they call "pizza", which was basically monterey jack cheese on a piece of white bread, and then the first item on the menu of bar food -- butter chips and raisins. Yes, they serve you little globules of cold butter with raisins stuck in them when you are at a bar in Japan -- not peanuts or pretzels.) and keeping up with Aiko in drinking, we all called it a night and slumped off to bed.

The next day the clan said goodbye to each other and Kosei, Obachan, my mom and I did some tourist stuff. We visited a friend of my mom who opened a sweet shop in Kyoto and then saw a live performance from a traveling geisha group. Yup, I've now seen live geishas. But you know what? It's nothing like the image most people have of them here in the west. Really, they are a bunch of women who learn the traditional music and dances and get up in traditional kimono and make up and do shows for tourists in order to show them the culture that used to exist in Japan. In short, they are more like actors/musicians/historians than they are women of the night or sex slaves (my apologies to anyone whose bubble was burst by that revelation). We saw a troupe of young and older geishas that travel around and give performances in huge auditoriums to tourists and I gotta say -- it wasn't all that interesting. But hey -- the stuff folks were doing in Europe in powdered wigs hundreds of years ago would probably bore the hell out of me, too.

After that, we hopped into Kosei's prized cowboy-mobile and headed off to one of the many bars around Japan where Kosei goes to hear. . . COUNTRY WESTERN MUSIC!! Yes!! Japanese folks singing country music!! Seriously, if you haven't experienced it, you really should. It's surreal. Probably similar to Japanese folks watching Tom Cruise or Uma Thurman swinging around a samurai sword in a way that is vaguely correct, and yet somehow not quite right. And man, the Japanese folks sure do love themselves some old time country music. We heard Kazuhiro Inaba (you can look him up on Amazon and hear tracks from his albums there) and when we walked into the club, Kosei actually knew a bunch of the folks in the audience who, like him, had traveled by car for an hour or two just to hear Inaba. We even met the head of Inaba's fan club, some guy who I think was a dentist. I want a dentist fan club president too!! That's how you know you've really made it.

But I don't mean even the slightest disrespect to Inaba and his band or his fan club. The honest truth is that, as soon as those guys started playing, it was obvious how much they just loved to play the tunes and be part of the music, share it with the audience – I can relate to that. These guys truly worshipped the music of Hank Williams and all the country singers who set down the foundation of the massive music empire country music represents today. When was the last time you heard someone passionately sing "Oh Susannah" and praise it as a work of genius? And when I talked to the band after the show (they all spoke very good English without heavy accents – which surprised me because the Japanese accent was more pronounced in their singing than their conversation), I recognized that submerged characteristic that seems to be a part of every musician's demeanor, namely a kind of commiseration over the fact that trying to make money as a musician is a hard road to travel. Even the Japanese country guys, who enjoy a kind of loyal support and following that would make some musicians blush, have a hard time making ends meet as they live on the road going from gig to gig. You end up spending all of your time doing everything EXCEPT for playing music and if you can't find pleasure in that solitary hour when you finally get to be on stage. . . well, there are tons of better ways of making a living.

We drove back to Kosei's at the end of the night and I packed up my stuff for the trip home. Home, where I could eat cooked food and finally get some sleep. That's where I'll pick up again next time.

Japan Trip - Part X - 6/12/08

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So my mom and I traveled by train to the Osaka area to meet up with her childhood friend Yuri and her husband, Dr. Hara. I've met them both in previous trips to Japan, but this was the first time I was visiting them with my mom.

We met up with them at the train station and were going to try to see some cherry blossoms (the cherry blossom season was just about to start), but it was raining so we just drove around a bit and saw a couple of trees which had started to bloom. There are a bunch of different kinds of cherry blossoms; in Japan, folks take vacations and travel to different areas just to hang out and watch the flowers bloom. There's usually lots of sake involved in those outings as well and vendors selling food/drink/souvenirs set up stands wherever people gather to see the cherry blossoms in order to cash in on the festivities. I guess there are worse reasons to party other than celebrating the changing seasons as evidenced by pretty flowers in bloom.

We went to a museum and saw an exhibit of the winners of the all-Japan art contest after that. There was some really cool stuff ranging from paintings to sculpture to calligraphy. Dr. Hara is an artist when he's not busy running his own hospital (in Japan, they don't have many massive hospitals like Kaiser or something like that -- it's usually more of a mom-and-pop organization where the individual doctors bring in their own patients based on their reputation, sort of similar to the way a dentist can set up shop on their own) so we all had fun checking out the art scene in Japan.

When we finished that, we went to a restaurant that Dr. Hara frequented and had what I think was maybe the most spectacular and expensive meal I've ever had. This was a beautifully decorated restaurant with several medium sized rooms that could be rented out for fancy meetings; Dr. Hara had held several meetings with his peers at this place and was good friends with the owners. I guess he mentioned to the owner that his wife, Yuri, wanted to do something special to celebrate the reunion with her good friend (my mom) and the owner went all out to give us a special meal. This was easily the biggest test to my pledge to eat anything and everything that was put in front of me --

To start with, we were escorted to a private room in the back set up in traditional Japanese style. Because of the time of year, there was a full display of Japanese dolls set up in honor of "Girl's Day" (I'll have pictures of that posted soon). All of the people serving us were in full kimono dress and the owner of the restaurant herself came by to talk with us and make sure that everything was going well. Like I said, we were given the super VIP treatment, so every little detail was taken care of and even the usual gold standard of excellent service the Japanese give was bumped up several notches.

I have to describe this meal as it happened to me because the way things unfolded played a big role in the experience. I was pretty hungry and, armed with my new motto that I would eat anything and everything the Japanese folks put on my plate, I was ready to eat some nice sushi or sashimi or something like that at this fancy restaurant. I was happily checking out the dolls on display when they brought the first dish, which was a special pink tofu infused with cherry blossoms. It tasted like a flower, but it was really pretty and it wasn't as scary as some of the random raw sea items I had eaten the night before in Kagoshima.

And then came Dish 2, which made me break my pledge to eat anything and everything put in front of me. You see, this waitress dressed in a full kimono shuffled in (taking very tiny tiny steps because the kimono basically binds your legs together -- I have no idea how they managed to move around in that clothing) carrying a ceramic bowl with water in one hand and another little ceramic bowl filled with ponzu sauce (basically soy sauce with citrus in it) in the other hand. She put the bowls in front of me and I found myself staring into the beady little eyes of several little fishies as they swam around the bowl. That's when the waitress handed me a net and my jaw dropped. I looked over at my mom and she had a similar reaction to having live fish put in front of her. I mean, I was ready to deal with eating raw stuff, but actual living guys that were staring up at me. . . I couldn't do it. I can eat most things as long as I don't have to kill them myself before or while I'm eating them. Meanwhile, Yuri and Dr. Hara are snagging these little guys in their nets and popping them in their ponzu sauce and slurping them up with big smiles on their faces. Frat guys swallowing goldfish are wussies compared to them because they downed a half dozen little fishies each. You see, these little guys were a special seasonal delicacy and they live in the area where the Japanese fresh water rivers meet up with the ocean -- so it was a big deal that they were serving this special food for me and my mom.

I passed on swallowing down one of those little guys, but I gave my mom a hard time joking about her being too American now to eat proper Japanese food. My poor mom succumbed to my joking peer pressure and actually popped one of the little fishies into her ponzu sauce so it could asphyxiate and shuffle off from this mortal coil (after which she said she would be able to slurp him down). Dr. Hara and Yuri assured my mom that the little guy wouldn't survive longer than a minute or two in the ponzu sauce, so my mom waited. . . and waited. . . and 10 minutes later, the guy was still swimming around in the black, salty liquid. She finally just slurped him up and put him out of his misery so we could move on to the next course.

Dish 3 was just ridiculous. Stupid ridiculous. Stupid idiotic mongoloid ridiculous. They brought out this massive dish, about the size of an SUV tire, covered in a single layer of perfectly cut thin slices of raw fish so it looked like a giant sunflower made of. . . raw fish flesh. I know, that sounds nasty, but it was quite an effect. My first thought was that the amount of raw fish on the plate must have cost a fortune; then, when they told me what kind of fish it was, my jaw dropped and I realized that there was probably a couple hundred dollars worth of food on that plate alone. Y'see, all that raw fish was the infamous fugu, or puffer fish, which is only available seasonally and requires a special license to cut because, if you cut it incorrectly, the fish's toxin can kill you. According to Wikipedia, a regular dish of fugu can cost you $100 to $200 -- this was a massive plate covered with the fish and because we were at the end of the season, it had to be special ordered. As a side dish to the fugu sashimi, we also got raw lobster or some sort of shellfish that looked like a lobster -- y'know, just a little something extra in case the fugu plate wasn't impressive enough. Talk about an expensive meal! But hey, these guys were very very dead and I was able to eat quite a bit of fugu and random shellfish without a problem, unlike the little guys in Dish 2.

Dish4 was straight out of Iron Chef -- it was Kobe beef filet mignon done in a salt oven technique. This was yet another ridiculously extravagant dish that illustrated just how hard the restaurant owner was trying to do something special for Dr. Hara. You see, the salt oven technique is where you take several pounds of salt and mix it with some egg and place your perfectly seasoned, super expensive Kobe beef filet mignon in butcher's paper and surround it with a solid layer of salt-egg mix until it is covered on all sides. Those 2 inches of salt hold in the heat when you put it in the oven and also add flavor to the beef as it cooks. And then, when you are ready to serve it, you get to crack it open in front of the guests and show them how you just wasted a small mountain of high grade sea salt. It's quite a sight and when I saw Chef Morimoto on Iron Chef do this technique in one of his battles, the judges went crazy talking about how people rarely do it any more because it is so extravagant. It was pretty cool. Very tasty, too.

Dish 5 took us back to sea food and they served a local Japanese lobster, cooked this time just to change things up. I was pretty stuffed at this point, but I figured that we would surely be coming to the end of the meal soon and I didn't want to insult the very gracious hostess -- I kept trying to eat as much as possible to show my appreciation of the amazing food.

And that's when they brought out Dish 6, which was ANOTHER salt oven creation, this time with several whole fishes and some massive crab legs cooked inside the salt. I just started giggling at this point because it was getting absurd. There were only 4 of us but we had been given enough exotic food to feed 20 people and I figured it must have cost a small fortune. The food was delicious again, and I ate everything put on my plate (except for the actual eye of the fish, which I hid so no one would notice I didn't suck it out of the fishhead. How very un-Japanese of me! Yeesh!)

Dish 7 was MORE FUGU!! This time, it was fugu tempura, and y'know what? It tasted like chicken. One thing I noticed is that most of the raw stuff I at was fairly taste-less. It's more about texture than flavor, but when you had the same stuff cooked, then the flavor really came out. Fried fugu is really awesome with one tiny caveat -- they include a lot of the fugu's bone structure because the best meaty parts of the fish as far as cooking tempura is concerned is located in the nooks and crannies of the puffer fish's boxy bone structure.

But that's not all! Dish 8 came out, which was some sort of lobster miso soup. I didn't know what I was eating at that point. My taste buds were overloaded and my belly was bursting. I just knew that I had to stop eating soon or I'd explode and mess up the doll display.

So when Dish 9 came out, which was a special seafood rice dish served in celebration of Girl's Day, I asked if we were close to the end of the meal. Everyone agreed that we had been served more than enough food and I think, if I understood it correctly, that the hostess said something like "oh! We have several more dishes, though. . . " But luckily that was the end of the meal, keeping it to a meager 9 dishes of ridiculous specialty items.

You know what they say, though? "There's always room for dessert?" Apparently that's a Japanese custom as well because we were served some fruit and sorbet. And you know what? Because it wasn't raw flesh or salty or rice based, I devoured the fruit and sorbet like it was nothing. Maybe my body needed something fruity and non-fleshy. I don't know, but it actually refreshed me at the end of the meal. Go figure.

All in all, it was a monstrous 10 course meal that must have cost a fortune. Utterly ridiculous, but quite an experience nonetheless. My last thought as we left the restaurant was to wonder what happened to the little fishies I couldn't eat. . .
(pictures will be posted soon so you can see most of the dishes)

Where’s my Tony Award? - 6/4/08

Blogga blogga -

I really should do the next chapter in the endless Japan trip bloggage, but I'm just too tired today. I feel like I've been running a marathon for the past three months, going non-stop every day. I've gotten used to going on 4-5 hours of sleep a night, but it eventually catches up to you. I really miss the days when I would sleep in until noon. . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . .

But I'm losing sleep for a good cause, namely because I've been doing a ton of rehearsal for this play workshop that will be opened to the public this weekend. We've had rehearsals every day and it's ended up being 30-40 hours a week. Yesterday we finished at midnight and I swear we could have kept going for another 10 hours easily.

When I was first asked about maybe joining the play workshop as a last minute addition to the script (which was only finished literally a couple days ago), I thought I was going to be parked someplace on stage and just allowed to play the cello. The show is about "Solitude" and I was told that all of the characters would be in separate rooms engaging in their personal solitude, which for me would be "cello-guy practicing by himself in a room". That sounded simple enough and I figured why not do it; I practice by myself in a room at home anyway, so what difference does it make if I'm doing it as part of a play or at home alone?

Jose Luis, who is the director of the play and the head of the Latino Theater Company, is a very charming guy and he convinced me to just come to a rehearsal to see if I wanted to join in the fun or not. I showed up and met the folks in the Latino Theater Company; these folks are all veteran stage/tv/movie actors and the core of the group has worked together for 23 years. 23 years! And there I was, some random, non-actor cello guy who was possibly going to be added in last minute to their latest project. I'm not even Latino.

Well, that rehearsal was the first time the actors got to see the newly finished second act of the play and listening to the actors read through the script, I had no idea how I'd fit in. I mean, the script was still in the process of being written, but there was no "cello guy" in there and I'd have to be included somehow without messing up the flow of the story or the basic plot progression. I talked with Jose Luis afterwards about maybe doing a character that has no lines of dialogue who only "speaks" through the cello, and he was into that idea (yay! No dialogue to remember!). Jose Luis turned on his casual charm and basically said "hey, if you want to try this out, let's see what happens and we'll have a little fun with it". . . and I decided to tag along and see if I could keep up with the group.

That's when I found out that the play was supposed to go up in 2 weeks and we had rehearsals every day leading up to opening night. Surprise! I'll give Jose Luis kudos for being slick enough to dodge my questions about the rehearsal schedule until I was committed; that was pretty smooth and I probably would have been scared off if I knew the amount of commitment I was walking into. I'd just gotten through preparing for my May show at the LA Theater Center and now I was right back into working feverishly to prepare for yet another show that was very different from the usual bar gig I can waltz through in my sleep at this point. We had rehearsals every night during the week from 7-10 pm (which ended up being 7-11, usually) and rehearsals from 10-6ish on the weekends, including the entire three day weekend for Memorial Day. So that level of time commitment freaked me out a bit, but I figured maybe I'd be able to ditch a rehearsal here or there because the last minute addition of random cello guy surely wouldn't need 30+ hours of rehearsal a week, right? Maybe the actors needed it, but I couldn't see how I'd need it because didn't even have a single speaking line!

When I showed up to rehearsal the next night with my cello, I was surprised to learn that the play involved dancing and every rehearsal would begin with dance warm up. We were going to do dance moves in public. On a well-lit stage. Me. Dancing. In public. Oi vey. I still have emotional scars from middle school dances and prom, so being of an age where I don't have to dance in public if I don't want to, I've managed to avoid spazzing out on the dance floor in public for a long time. It was a good run of dancing abstinence, but I had to throw that out the door because all of the actors, regardless of their personal feelings about their ability to dance, were fearlessly throwing themselves into it and learning the choreography with the same intensity that they were memorizing their lines. I've learned that you have to be pretty damn fearless to be an actor because if someone tells you that you are supposed to be a one legged chicken seducing a duck into anal intercourse, then as an actor you just have to start clucking on one leg like you mean it. I admire that fearlessness and the ability to put aside self-consciousness on cue, so I tried to emulate it by not listening to my mind as it screamed "RUN AWAY NOW!!!" and I got out there and stumbled around like a jackass. Emphasis on the "jackass" part.

Over the next couple of rehearsals, the play started to appear bit by bit and I began to see how I might fit in. I continued to avoid being assigned any speaking lines because I was already so far out of my comfort zone -- I didn't want to give myself more opportunities to screw things up. If I could avoid tripping up the other actors and maybe add something positive to the production, I'd be happy. Jose Luis wanted me to play some music in the background as the actors went through a couple of monologues and I bullshitted my way through as best I could. Musical bullshit I can do.

The tricky part with coming up with music for the play is that the performances are going to be live and the rhythm of the delivery of lines and the emotions of the actors will be changing from performance to performance -- so whatever I come up with has to be fluid and I'll have to be able to switch things up on the fly to keep in step with the actors. I also have to do the equivalent of a monologue for my own character using the cello as my voice. . . and I also have to pick out some music to play for a funeral scene. . . and then I have to learn a couple of mambo tunes and a Mexican folk tune. . . basically it became apparent that I would be doing a live, improvised score for most of the entire 120 minute play using only one instrument -- it also needed to be mapped out enough to play on stage while reacting to the actors' performances without tripping them up or altering their interpretation of the characters. . . all in less than two weeks time while memorizing cues and stage blocking. Not exactly the simple image of a guy in a room playing the cello that I thought it would be.

But you know what? It's a good challenge and a huge test of a lot of the things I work on in my own music. All of the themes and melodies I'm coming up with will probably be turned into songs down the line, so it's not necessarily like I'm wasting time I should be using to write new material. And more importantly, it's really cool to work with people who are good at what they do because you can learn a lot from observing how they go about their business; a lot of things in the theater world can translate well to music. If the only thing I get out of this experience is the knowledge that I can function on little to no sleep and/or I gain some of the fearlessness of these actors, then that would still be something to be proud of.

Anyway, we're just a couple days away from opening the show and we'll see what happens when the lights go down and the curtains open. I'm still composing music on the fly in rehearsal and because it's all improvised, I hope I can remember what works and doesn't work for the actual performances. So far I've come up with 6-8 distinct melodies/themes that are all roughly interconnected according to the connections between the characters in the play, but I still need a couple more themes before I'm done with the compositional side of the equation. One thing is for certain – I won't crack jokes about actors any more because I realize now that in the theater world, as it is in so many other pursuits in life, what the outsider (in this case, the audience) sees is only a tiny fraction of all the work and preparation that goes into the finished product. Just like it takes hours and hours to record a simple 3 minute pop song, it takes a surprisingly massive amount of time to get all the details set for a 2 hour play. Lots and lots and lots of hours. And when you put that much time and energy into something and it all comes together, especially when you are working with other people as a team, it's a beautiful thing indeed. . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . .

Japan Trip - Part IX - 5/27/08

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So I'm at Day 4 of my Japan trip and at this point in the trip my mom and I separated from everyone to catch a train to visit her childhood best friend, Yuri, who lives near Osaka. Kosei the cowboy and my grandmother, Obachan, dropped us off at the train station and my mom and I started our little mini-adventure.

Japan has an extensive train system that links up the major cities and towns in a way that made me want a bullet train between the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas (that would be pretty damn convenient). You can basically get anywhere quickly and efficiently using the trains that crisscross the country, which is roughly similar in size to the state of California. I got to do a lot of people watching on the trains and I noted a bunch of things about the native Japanese folks.

For example, most people tend to end up wearing black and white clothes and there is a certain amount of uniformity in the way people dress. You'll see a ton of standard black business suits on guys and women, particularly women in the service industry, all wear a kind of uniform dress that reminded me of what flight attendants wear -- skirt, light blouse with a dark vest over it, hair neatly pulled back and a scarf coiled at the neck. I'd say that 50% of the people I saw were in some variation of that dress. (FYI - the guys in suits are called "salaryman" in Japan, which is how they describe corporate office workers.)

But there is also a youth culture which has its own thing going on. For starters, the Japanese kids are getting bigger and bigger. I saw plenty of young Japanese women who were over 6 feet tall, which is something I hadn't noted in previous visits to Japan. Also, boots are apparently the footwear of choice in Japan. It was very common to see young women going around in very short skirts with very high boots that went up to the knee -- not exactly the traditional kimono which covers you from head to toe. And for the young guys not in suits, there was definitely a nod towards the 70's rock star image. A lot of guys had altered their jeans so that it looked like they chopped up a couple pairs of jeans (of different colors and styles) and then sewed them together. Jeans by Dr. Frankenstein. But it all reflected a new type of style in Japanese clothing that's influenced by what we wear in the U.S. and Europe, but molded a bit to fit the Japanese norms too.

In terms of hair, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on. Lots of hair dye and gel to make things colorful and spiky -- even among the salaryman-types in suits, which surprised me. If you've ever seen Japanese anime, then you know the kind of hairstyle I'm talking about for the guys, where it looks like they spent an hour cementing their slightly orange-tinted hair into little pyramids spiking out of their head in every direction -- that's pretty bizarre to see on a salaryman in a suit and tie carrying a briefcase.

The other thing is that Japanese folks all have cell phones. Everyone has one. If you are old enough to walk in Japan, you have a cell phone fully decked out with accessories, including the popular "dangle" (here's a link to my personal favorite cell phone dangle, which is a little pile of crap made of gold on a little pillow -- http://www.strapya-world.com/products/2332.html. It's so bizarre, it's awesome.). But what they don't have are touch screen multi-function cell phones, and I found that I could bring most folks to a technological orgasm by showing them my iPhone. I swear, if they work out the telephone company issues that are slowing down the Mac invasion of Japan, I'm buying stock in company because the iPhone could probably sell millions of units on the first day alone. I showed my iPhone to one of my young second-cousins and she literally started jumping up and down giggling with joy. Never thought a cell phone could get the same kind of reaction the Beatles used to get.

The other thing about Japan in general I should mention is that the service industry is amazing. I mean, A-MA-ZING. Peerless. Customer service in Japan is unmatched and makes 5 star service in the U.S. look slow and lazy and impolite. If you buy a pack of gum, a small team of neatly uniformed employees appears, bows and thanks you profusely, and then meticulously wraps your pack of gum in 4 or 5 layers of colorful paper, complete with a ribbon, which then goes into a nice little bag which is then tied with another ribbon and finally presented to you like it contains the Crown Jewels. . . then they bow over and over until you finally leave the store. It's crazy. I found myself saying "you're welcome" and bowing back to the service folks in this never-ending loop of gratitude a couple of times.

Salesperson: "Thank you so very much.

Me: Oh, thank YOU.

Salesperson: Thank you so very much.

Me: You're welcome.

Salesperson: Thank you so very much.

Me: You're welcome, really.

Salesperson: Thank you so very much.

Me: Uh, sure. Thanks again. I'm going to leave now and unwrap my gum so I can chew it.

Salesperson: How wonderful. Tanoshimi! Thank you so very much. Please allow my team of young women dressed like flight attendants to open the door for you in a carefully choreographed movement designed to show our gratitude for your patronage."

No one does customer service like the Japanese do. They truly understand that the customer is the most important person in their business plan. I'll stop here for now and get back to the visit to my mom's friend Yuri in the next installment.

Japan Trip - Part VIII - 5/23/08

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So it's the end of Day 3 in Japan and I was traveling with my grandmother (Obachan), uncle (Kosei the Cowboy), and mother (mother) to the countryside in Kagoshima. We were going to meet up with Obachan's relatives in the Wakahara clan, including two of her brothers (both in their early 80's) and 13 other relatives. My grandmother is the eldest in the clan now (a youthful 88 years old) and she was enjoying the special position of respect she was receiving as the head of the family. My mom seemed to be having a good time as well reconnecting with everyone and my cowboy uncle was enjoying listening to country music during the long drive into the countryside. I was just trying to get through the day and into bed where I needed to catch up on about 3 days' worth of sleep.

We skirted along the perimeter of Kagoshima, overlooking the ocean as we drove along the highway, and finally came to this very posh resort situated on a cliff where natural hot springs came up from the ground. Kagoshima has an active volcano on it, so there are several spots where people set up resorts to take advantage of the hot springs and places where you can bury yourself in hot sand. Japanese folks really enjoy taking super hot baths and scorching themselves any way they can, including the practice of getting buried in sand heated by a hot spring and lying there until their insides are medium rare. I'm sure it's relaxing or good for your health or something, but I've just never been interested in cooking myself.

But this is where the Wakahara clan met for their reunion and all 18 of us piled into 3 little rooms at the resort, 6 people to each room. The rooms were set up to be half Western style with western beds and chairs, and half traditional Japanese style with tatami mats (basically thin pillows you put on the floor and sleep on) in the corner and a big open space where people could sit on the floor and later use as a place to sleep. Two people got western beds and 4 people would sleep on the floor. I sat down as soon as we got into one of the 3 rooms and immediately fell asleep in a chair; I think that convinced everyone that I should get one of the western beds and my grandmother got the other one. I didn't even try to argue or be polite.

The whole clan met up for dinner that evening and I came face to face with true Japanese cuisine. You can't find this stuff in the U.S., and everything served for dinner came out of the ocean surrounding Kagoshima. I had to ask questions about half of the stuff on my plate because I couldn't even figure out how I was supposed to eat it. That's when I learned all about the joys of eating fish eyeballs. . . but I had vowed to try to eat everything put in front of me, so I tried it all. Wow. It's really just a whole other world compared to European based cuisine. I mean, for starters, the basic ingredients we use like butter, olive oil, wheat, flour, sugar, etc. really play no part in the cuisine. Dairy items are non-existent. And a lot of the food pairings are based on the concept of drastically contrasting tastes, like putting something super bitter right next to something super salty. It can be quite shocking at times if you don't know what you are about to taste.

My cowboy uncle had a bit laugh at my attempts to eat all the unfamiliar food. All the stuff he grew up eating was a curiosity to me, and he got a kick out of some of my questions. Maybe it's like trying to explain what a hot dog is to a foreigner who has never seen one. Maybe he was just laughing at the facial expressions I was making as he explained what I was chewing on.

Anyway, after we finished dinner, it was about 11:00 and I was ready to sleep. I thought I would be able to sleep and that made me really happy. Almost giddy. And so we all went back to the three rooms we were cramming into and as I was looking wistfully at my bed. . . all 18 members of the Wakahara clan came into the room I was staying in and used it as the after-party place to hang out and talk some more. I swear, I thought this was some sort of endurance test. No sleep, constant travel, no information about where we're going or what we're doing, lots of difficulty communicating, surrounded by crazy family, no food I could recognize. . . but my grandmother was having a blast and that's what this really was all about.

Some time around 1 in the morning, folks started to get tired and went to their rooms so I was finally able to sleep. I fell asleep immediately, but because of the time difference, I was up 3 hours later because my body had no idea when night and day where occurring. Awesome. I lay there thinking "I like to sleep. Sleep is good. I'm going to fall asleep. . . right. . . NOW!!" And then I'd lie awake listening to my mom, grandmother, and cowboy uncle compete to see who could snore the loudest. I SO wanted to enter that contest. I totally could have won, too.

Next up I'll talk about Japanese folks and their fashion sense and my side journey with my mom to meet up with her best friend.

Japan Trip - Part VII - 5/22/08

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O.k., so on Day 3 of the Japan trip, after getting almost no sleep, my mom, grandmother, cowboy uncle and I all got up at 4 in the morning to head to the airport. I was out of my gourd at that point and communicating using a system of grunts and whining noises. All I knew for sure was that we were traveling by airplane and car for a bit and therefore I was told to wear comfortable clothing. So I got into a t-shirt and jeans and tennis shoes with bright orange shoelaces (gotta have flair) and we took a short flight to Kagoshima, where my grandmother grew up. Kagoshima is an interesting place -- there's an active volcano on the island with a fully functioning town at its base. The folks from Kagoshima have slight differences in regional dialect and there are even some physical features that are different (bushier eyebrows, masculine features in men and women alike, etc.) from the rest of the Japanese population.

My grandmother, Obachan, was really excited to be heading back to where she grew up and when we landed and got into a rental car, she started talking about all the places she remembered. We had a little bit of time before we needed to be someplace (I had no idea where), so we decided to search for a spot to eat lunch. Obachan had a place she wanted to go and she proceeded to give directions. . . that were completely wrong. Y'see, a lot of the town had been renovated and the streets had changed and landmarks were in different places now.

So Kosei the Cowboy Uncle was busy trying to figure out the GPS navigation system in the rental van we're driving in (GPS technology is big in Japan and it seemed like every car had a GPS computer in it) while my grandmother was telling him to turn right or left at random junctures. It eventually devolved into something like this:

Obachan: "Oh, there's the sweet shop where I used to get candy as a kid. Turn right at this next corner! Quickly! Turn! Turn, turn, turn.

Kosei: That's a one-way street. You're trying to kill me.

Obachan: Oh, wait, that's not the sweet shop. It must be torn down. How sad it is that there is less sweetness in life now. . . TURN LEFT RIGHT HERE! DO IT!!

Kosei: That's a parking garage. Stop being crazy. Be quiet so I can program this GPS system. Damn piece of crap must be Korean made.

Obachan: Oh, you just missed the street!! Turn around!! Turn arou. . . oh, wait, you should turn here instead. Maybe it's over there. Turn now.

Kosei: STOP IT!! You're screwing me up! Mom! Dammit!

Obachan: (silence for 30 seconds) O.k. turn here.

Kosei: DAMMIT!! Quit it, mom!!

Obachan: (silence for 30 seconds) There it is!! You just passed it! Turn. You should turn now."

And so on, and so on for about 30 minutes. I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from laughing because, well, that kind of stuff happens everywhere in every culture, right? It's just more amusing when you are an observer and it's your 88 year old grandmother and retired uncle who are bitching at each other and driving in circles. Not quite as much fun if you are directly involved.

So Kosei finally pulled over and we got ramen noodles at a corner shop. My mom asked if she could have hers without MSG added, but the ramen guy just looked at her like she was crazy and said "you don't want that. That's what gives it flavor" and dumped the MSG in the bowl. Apparently you don't tell the ramen guy how to make ramen. I almost made a joke about wanting double the MSG in my ramen, but I figured that I shouldn't test out my Japanese in that way because I might end up asking for raw fish heads in the soup (oh, you think I'm joking? There was a picture of it on the menu. . .)

After lunch, I was in for a huge surprise because we walked back to the car and, rather than hop in to continue our journey, everyone went straight past the car and into a giant Buddhist temple. I had no idea what was going on and suddenly my relatives on my grandmother's side of the family started showing up in droves. They were all in suits and ties and dresses and looked great; I was in "traveling" clothing, complete with a t-shirt that has a picture of Godzilla's head appearing above a city skyline. Classy!

Do you know what we were supposed to be doing right then? We were about to have a special Buddhist ceremony done to honor the ancestors from the Wakahara clan (my grandmother's family), and the folks in the clan had traveled to join in to pay their respects. And there I am, looking fully like an ugly American walking into a temple in clothing appropriate for a skate park. Awesome! I was feeling like I could fall asleep standing up and I was trying desperately to remember everyone's name and their position in the family -- at least I didn't fall asleep standing up.

And for this particular ceremony, they put you in a special little side room where you have to sit still for an hour while a Buddhist monk comes in and sings/chants this very very long scripture. The room is completely enclosed with no air flow and they burn a tremendous amount of incense in that tiny space; after about 15 minutes, you can barely see through the haze of pure sandalwood and your legs are numb from sitting motionless. I swear, there were several moments where I thought for sure I would doze off and tip over, never to get up again. That idea was really appealing at that moment, but I figured I had shown enough irreverence by apparently choosing not to get dressed up for this holy ceremony.

But somehow I managed not to make too big of a jackass out of myself and the ceremony ended without a hitch. I even managed to pick up some of the stuff the monk talked about and asked questions about the message he delivered; turns out no one was really paying attention and I seemed to know more about what was said than everyone else. Figures, right?

As soon as we left the temple, I grilled my mom on the exact details of where we were going next, what we were doing, and what sort of clothing would be appropriate for the occasion. That's when I learned that we were about to head into the countryside to some resort to spend a little bit more time with the Wakahara clan. And that's where I'll pick up again in this now endless parade of bloggage about Japan.

What The Hell am I Doing Now? - 5/22/08

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So I'm in a pretty bizarre situation again -- don't know why, but that seems to happen a lot these days. This time, I'm suddenly finding myself included as part of a new play workshop that is being done by the LA Theater Center and the Latino Theater Company.

I know, I know, I'm not an actor and I'm not Latino. . . and yet, there I was last night with this veteran theater company that apparently has been working together for 20+ years and I was there as a last minute addition to a play they are writing and developing on the fly. Jose Luis Valenzuela, who is the head of the Latino Theater Company and the guy overseeing the LA Theater Center, asked if I would like to join his current play in development after he caught my May 10th show -- I am NOT an actor but it sounded like I'll be allowed to hide behind my cello, so I said "sure, I'll check it out."

And so there I was at rehearsal last night, listening to these very skilled actors who have 20 years of chemistry from working together read through a script (the entire second act was written the night before and this was the first time the actors were reading it) and I found myself talking to myself in the third person in an internal monologue.

Me: "Sem, what the fuck are you doing here?

Me: I don't know, Sem. But it seemed like it might be fun to check out what was going on. Fortune favors the bold and all that. . .

Me: And so you jump into this without knowing anything and now you're going to be part of some play that is going up in two weeks? You can't act, dummy! You get that deer in the headlights thing when you know a camera is watching you. A retarded deer in the headlights. That's you. So why are you here now?

Me: Does the deer have to be retarded? What does that mean, anyway? That the deer runs into the headlights? Jeez, you're a prick.

Me: Hey, you are the idiot putting yourself into an area well beyond your comfort zone. I mean, look at what's happening now -- they are practicing dance moves. Dance moves! So not only are you going to have to 'act', you're going to have to Mambo in public. Who's the retarded deer now, Bambi?"

Sometimes my internal monologue gets brutal when I play good cop/bad cop with myself. But fuggit -- I'd rather take a step forward than back down. Very little good seems to come from living life conservatively or from a defensive position -- that's all just letting fear run your life for you until you end up curled up in a little ball of unfulfilled promise in the southern corner of a dark padded room locked deep within your soul (see, being in the theater is already making me overly dramatic!). Better to go for it and fail spectacularly than limit yourself to only doing the things you already know you can do. Or, as the "good cop" me often likes to say to myself in my internal monologues, "people are like flowers and if you aren't growing, you're dying." Or is that what the bad cop says?

Anyway, this means I'll be rehearsing a lot doing some sort of as-of-yet-unwritten part and it's very possible I'll have to mambo and cha cha in public. This could be truly humiliating. Or it could be something that keeps me from becoming a retarded deer in the dark padded room locked deep within my soul. There's really only one way to find out.

One, two, cha cha cha. . .

Japan Trip - Part VI - 5/21/08

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I hadn't mentioned this yet, but in previous trips to Japan, I had always managed to avoid eating native Japanese food that I don't enjoy. What that means is that I'm not a big fan of raw sea items. The primary reason for this is that I took a marine biology class in high school and I've dissected some of the parasites that you can get from eating raw fish – suffice it to say that after that experience, I always prefer to have my food cooked, especially if it comes out of the ocean. Plus sushi was never thought of as a delicacy in my house; my grandmother, Obachan, could pop out sushi rolls any time she wanted with her eyes closed, but it was a rare event when we would have something on the menu from the grand American culinary tradition (I used have dreams about hot dogs and pizza. . . forbidden food tastes so sinfully delicious!).

So in my past visits to Japan, my Japanese relatives went through great pains to cater to my Western tastes whenever I visited them. I never had to eat the wide variety of random raw sea items that make up the bulk of Japanese cuisine. Japan is a true island society dependent upon the sea that has done an amazing job of utilizing just about every critter you can find in the ocean for some purpose – the stuff that we have in America that we call "sushi" is just the tip of the iceberg and you wouldn't believe some of the sea creatures you can find in Japan depending on the season.

Well, this time around I made it my mission to grow a pair of Japanese [rice] balls and put aside my culinary prejudices in the spirit of going with the flow. I promised myself I would eat anything and everything that was put in front of me. Sea urchin eggs with a side of fermented sea weed? O.k.! Crab genitalia served chilled with a drizzle of raw egg on top? Yummy! Sea slug lightly boiled with shavings of dried octopus suckers sprinkled on top? I'll need seconds of that!!

I was going to eat it all and prove that I can hang with my Japanese relatives. I have watched many an episode of Iron Chef (the legendary Japanese version) so I was sure that I couldn't be possibly be surprised by anything. I told my mom repeatedly during the trip planning stage that she should tell everyone in Japan that I was ready to embrace Japanese cuisine and that my American taste buds should not influence the choice of food everyone would have. I must have said this about 20 times and my mom told me she relayed the information faithfully.

And so began my adventures in eating things I wouldn't be able to identify if they bit or stung or attached their suckers to me in the ocean. At least it started out harmless enough with Cowboy Uncle Kosei bringing in a huge shipment of some sort of large crab that is only available for a couple of weeks in Japan. These puppies came via an express delivery service that dropped off two giant Styrofoam coolers filled with crab; Kosei promptly gave half of to a neighbor and began cooking the rest for dinner.

Remember how I said that the first thing Kosei said to me when I first saw him at the beginning of the trip was "you got fat, didn't you?" Well, I think he thought I was not only fat but pregnant with twins because he gave me enough crab to feed 3 people. And there I was, telling myself that I was just going to eat whatever is put in front of me, including the mounds of crab Kosei was putting on my plate. All of the crab, dammit, like it was a direct challenge to my honor.

After passing the point at which I started to hate crabs and anything that lived in a shell, Kosei gave me seconds. . . and thirds. . . and then a puff pastry for dessert. I have no idea how I managed not to puke or explode, but I ate it all and survived and went to bed feeling so full I basically couldn't sleep. So that extended the number of days I had gone without sleep and the following morning we were scheduled to get up early and, if I was translating things from Japanese correctly, "travel" someplace. I was flat out delirious so I heard every fourth word or so that was said and I just decided to blindly go wherever I was told to and deal with the circumstances until I could take a nap and snap back into reality.

Too bad reality never showed up. I'll pick up again there tomorrow. . .

Famous Quotations - 5/16/08

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You know how people often put a little quotation from someone famous after their signature, like "when I reached the fork in the road, I took it" and stuff like that. It sorta shows a bit of their personality through their choice of other people's words and all that, right?

Well, it seems like fun so I wanted to offer up some quotations of my own for people to use. Feel free. No copyrights to worry about. I think something here may be perfectly representative of who you are. Here goes:

"When life gives me lemons, I suck."

"Never hitchhike without first reading the bumper stickers on the car that stops to pick you up."

"A bird in hand is probably giving you diseases."

"Misery loves attention more than company."

"Love is like chocolate; it goes well with ice cream."

"Ice cream is like love; it goes well with chocolate."

"If everyone thought about you as much as you think they do, I would not be the center of the universe."

"If you are wrong, never admit it -- because you are right."

"That's what HE says."

"There are no small parts, just parts that are beneath your grandeur."

"God helps those who help God. Don't be such a selfish bastard."

(for the pastry lovers) "God is bread."

"A penny saved is 1/400th of a gallon of gas."

"Beans, beans, good for the heart. Beans, beans, yummy."

"Forget about seizing the day -- seize the night instead."

"I've got a tiny car -- you know what that means."

"When reading the personals in the free newspapers, assume that everyone is the opposite of what they tell you they are."

"Leave me alone. Can't you tell that I'm ignoring you?"

"You will succeed when you least expect it, so give up already."

(for a bumper sticker) "Hey, when did you learn to read?"

"We have nothing to fear besides those who fear."

"If you can't beat them, act like you never cared to begin with."

"Ask not what your country can do for you -- at least not right now because no one is listening."

"A rose by any other name is still a rose. . . so get it right, dummy."

Japan Trip - Part V - 4/22/08

Blogga blogga -

Recap - At this point, I've been in Japan for about 24 hours, I've gotten about 8 hours of sleep total over the past 3 days, and I'm supposed to have a meeting about doing some concerts in Japan with a friend of my mom, Miss Kato. I'd also like to point out at this point that Japanese folks do not consume water the way Americans do. Bottled water is not a huge industry in Japan. Nothing is super-sized; everything is served in tiny cups and plain water is replaced by tea, coffee, beer, sake, etc. So in addition to sleep deprivation, I was drinking about ¼ of the amount of water I normally drink in a day. Whatever liquid I did consume had some sort of flavoring in it and usually some amount of caffeine, which did not help me catch up on sleep. There's nothing like being dehydrated and hopped up on caffeine when you are sleep deprived and stuck in a foreign land where you cannot say "where are you hiding the really big cups?" or "do you have anything that doesn't have the brand name "Pocari Sweat" to drink?". [yup, some genius created a whole line of "Pocari Sweat" soft drinks in Japan -- talk about lost in translation]. But I digress. . .

We started the day by going to the train station to meet my mom's friend, Miss Kato. Let me take a moment describe Miss Kato because she's another interesting character. She's sort of a power broker/lobbyist who puts politicians together with businessmen who fund projects, construct museums, hand each other awards, etc. Basically, she makes a living as a middle woman linking corporate money to people with power; the people in power need the money and the people with money get some power by proximity -- whatever you call that, that's what Miss Kato does for a living. In order to work over these corporate and political elite folks, she has cultivated a persona as someone who is connected to all the important people in Japan. The Prime Minister? Yeah, she knows him and he owes her a favor for helping his son get into Tokyo University. The regional governor in charge of Tokyo's train system? She got him a hooker after his divorce, the dirty old bastard. That's the kind of stuff she talks about non-stop, just name dropping and telling stories that include the names of people in power and large sums of money.

I met Miss Kato during one of my previous trips to Japan and she took a liking to me for some reason even though I am the living definition of someone who is NOT in power -- so when she heard my album that came out last year, she decided that she would try to pull me into her latest project. What's the project she is currently working on that she thought I should get involved with? A family oriented museum/interactive space camp based on the Japanese space program. So Miss Kato wanted to talk to me because she heard my album, which features my 300 year old non-futuristic wood cello, and thought of space travel. Me and my cello = space music. Who would have guessed? So already I knew going into the meeting that I was going to have to dodge some of the bullshit that inevitably was going to be shoveled around as we discussed my doing a concert about space travel.

We met up with Miss Kato and we headed out to find a place to eat lunch and discuss her ideas about a concert in Japan. My cowboy Uncle Kosei picked out a place for us to eat and chat that he said would be perfect. We all hopped into the car and one hour later, we ended up in the countryside at an organic chicken farm called "the Chicken Nation" where Kosei gets his eggs. Yeah, we held a "business meeting" at a chicken ranch, which I'm sure was a first for Miss Kato. [note -- outside of the Chicken Nation store, they have a rooster in a special coup they call "the President" of the Chicken Nation. The first thing I thought when I saw President Rooster was that the little feathered guy is probably smarter than the guy currently in the oval office. None of the Japanese folks disagreed with me when I floated out that theory. None of them laughed either].

So we were all in this little store where they sell these truly natural chicken eggs and let me tell you, a real egg that can actually hatch into a chicken is a different thing than what we get in the States. Maybe it's what they feed these chickens in Japan, but these eggs were not runny, liquid eggs with an easily separated yolk and white parts -- when you crack one open a small squishy ball comes out and you have to hope that the chick inside hasn't developed enough yet that you are looking at something with a beak. They even had special eggs that contained "twins" inside -- two chicks in one eggshell. Pretty bizarre. . . pretty delicious.

After Kosei bought enough eggs to last him a month (I suspect that he chose the place simply because he was out of eggs), I sat down and listened to my mom try to translate as Miss Kato rapidly flung out the names of politicians and government mucky mucks and astronauts. . . basically Miss Kato was trying to explain to me that she's involved in a really big, really expensive, super important project to put a space museum in Nagoya. So I was listening and wondering how I fit into everything when she said "and then you'll play concerts in Nagoya and Tokyo with Tom Hanks." The name Tom Hanks is one I'm familiar with, so I tried to say "excuse me, can you repeat that" in Japanese; I think I said something that sounded like I was asking for more tea because they called over a waiter to refill my tiny cup of tea.

So the gist of the meeting was that Japan is space crazy now because they have one of their own astronauts up there doing cool stuff in orbit; meanwhile the U.S. space program is completely out of commission because no money is flowing into it and all of the former astronauts and NASA scientists are defecting to Japan. And Tom Hanks is apparently a popular spokesperson for the Japanese space program because he acted in Apollo 13, so that's why his name came up.

In short, I was being asked to do "space music" in a concert setting with Tom Hanks officiating. Totally not something I'd ever think of doing, but I'm not someone to turn down a gig and I sat there trying to figure out how to say "fuck yeah" in Japanese. I settled on "hai! tanoshimi!", which means "yes! I am happy!" That seemed to get the point across.

After the meeting, we parted ways with Miss Kato and headed back to Kosei's place to eat crab. . . which begins the crazy food portion of the trip. That's where I'll pick things up again tomorrow.

Japan Trip - Part IV - 4/21/08

Blogga blogga –

So last bloggage I had just arrived in Japan completely sleep deprived, travel weary and my uncle had just told me I was fat. The next thing he did was ask me if I was hungry, maybe because he thought my fat ass needed a twinkie right away or something. For some reason, I didn't feel like eating right away.

Let me describe my Uncle Kosei a bit. He's my mom's older brother and he's a pretty unusual cat. First off, he has this Fu Man Chu beard he lets grow fairly long which is an interesting facial hair choice considering the fact that he always wears blue jeans (only Levi's 501s for Kosei, because that's what he believes cowboys wear) with giant belt buckle showing a cowboy on a bucking horse or something similar -- he has a collection of oversized Americana belt buckles. He's retired now and spends all of his time playing golf, tennis, and checking out every country music show he can in Japan. Kosei absolutely ADORES country music, which in his mind is the stuff that happened before the 1960s. Anything that is called "country music" after that point is bullshit to him; anything before the 1960's, he knows backwards and forwards and he can sing it for you if you ask for a command performance. Oh yes, Kosei will just bust out in song if you show any interest whatsoever in listening to his favorite tunes. If you haven't heard a Japanese guy sing country music yet, then you are missing out -- it's a trip to hear a Johnny Cash tune sung with a Japanese accent. "Ah warku de rine. . . "

For me growing up, I always wanted to be a ninja or a samurai; Kosei always wanted to be a cowboy. Go figure. So when you walk into Kosei's house, you will literally see flags from the old Southern States hung on the walls all over the place to honor his love of the Confederate States. He wants nothing to do with "northern yankees", so he has never visited places like New York, Boston, etc. even though he has visited the US over a half dozen times or so. It's a little strange to see the Confederate flag so proudly displayed over his bed, but I don't have the heart to tell him that the central reason why the North and South fought and why the Confederate flag isn't honored as much any more is the issue of slavery -- probably similar to how I don't really want to hear about how horrible most samurai were to Japanese peasants and farmers.

In addition to his many variations of the various Confederate flags hanging around his house, Kosei is also the proud owner of a vintage Mercedez Benz with left-hand drive. That kind of an import car is rare in Japan as it costs quite a bit extra than the models marketed specifically for Japan. Plus, because Japanese cars are all built with right-hand drive, Kosei has to get out of his car and walk to the righthand side of the vehicle just to grab a parking lot ticket when he wants to park or when he has to pay at a toll booth. But Kosei is an old-school chauvinistic Japanese male (and a cowboy to boot), so he just stops the flow of traffic, pops out of the car with his giant Texan belt buckle proudly on display and a big scowl on his face, and he makes people wait while he saunters over to take care of his business. You can't rush Kosei the cowboy because he's a man who moseys at his own pace.

So that's my unusual cowboy Uncle, who is now taking care of my grandmother, aka Obachan, full time when he's not off seeking out country music. When we got to his house from the airport, Obachan was outside waiting for us (she didn't say I was fat, but I think she was just distracted). It was great to see her and I started cracking up because she immediately started zipping around trying to take care of everyone. I mean, she's going to be 88 this year, she's been through two recent bouts of fighting off cancer, she's had a vertebrae in her back collapse on her because of the cancer, and in spite of all of that she still tried to carry my big-ass suitcase up the stairs by herself (with me hanging onto it repeatedly saying that I wanted to carry the luggage, that carrying the luggage would make me very happy). Maybe she thought my fat ass was too weak to carry it? She's really something and I swear the people in my family on the Japanese side have some sort of inability to age like normal people. My older sister looks like she's still a teenager, my mom looks like she could be my sister, and my grandmother is capable of running circles around the young kids half her age.

Anyway, at this point my mom and I got settled in and spent some time catching up with Obachan and Kosei. I really don't remember any of the conversation because my mind was way too tired to translate anything f Japanese. It was freezing cold (the Japanese apparently have not discovered insulation for their houses yet) and I excused myself early to try to catch up on some sleep, huddling under a pile of blankets and wondering how cold it gets during the winter snow season in Japan when you have no insulation in the walls. Before I knew it, it was morning and I had only gotten about 3 hours of sleep. Time to get up and start talking Japanese!!

I started my morning staring dumbly at the technological marvel that is the Japanese toilet -- I'm not kidding, the thing is straight out of Star Trek. It has push buttons, environmental controls, various kinds of sprinkler systems and hot air blowers, and the seat warms up when you sit on it as a pine fresh scent is emitted from somewhere. If we had toilets like that in the Unites States, most men would spend the majority of their lives in the bathroom, pressing buttons and warming their ass cheeks.

The schedule for the day ahead was a lunch meeting I had scheduled with a friend of my mom about doing some concerts in Japan and then we were going to eat some special seasonal crab that Kosei had ordered. . . a little meeting about playing some music followed by crab sounds simple enough, right? That's where I'll pick things up again in the next chapter of the story of my little trip to Japan.

Japan Trip Part III - 4/15/08

Blogga blogga. So when I stopped blogging last time, I was about 3 hours into the trip and already I had one flight cancelled last minute on me, pissed off a ton of people for various things I couldn't control, and I was waiting for my mom to eat a Danish inside the business class red carpet room that I was denied entrance to because I was holding a cup of store-bought coffee.

My mom finally emerged from the lounge and right off the bat told me that I could stand to lose some weight and that I should grow my hair out (when I had long hair, she would constantly tell me I should cut it) – I gave her a hug and kept sipping my coffee because this is just how it goes with my mom. Her mothering techniques revolve around a careful balance of insults and affection and I'm used to it.

So we got on the plane through a special entrance for business class travelers and I got to see what goes on in that front section of the plane that is always curtained off from the rabble in economy. Basically, it's all about having twice the space and twice the buttons and crap in your chair's armrest. Instead of one light to read by, you get the overhead light AND a light on a gooseneck lamp as well. You get a little tv of your own to watch and they give you a couple channels of movies to watch instead of the one communal screen showing one horrible movie that is selected because it has the least chance of offending random people on the plane. You get socks and slippers and toothpaste and stuff with the airline logo on it. And the food is. . . well, it's still airplane food, but it comes with real silverware and cloth napkins instead of plastic utensils and a wet nap. [Note to all terrorists – don't worry about smuggling a box cutter on an airplane. Just travel business class and the flight attendants will provide you with a shiny metal knife with a serrated cutting edge if you order the steak or chicken dishes. I think they even let you fly the actual plane for a while if you pay the ridiculous fee to travel first class.]

I was tired as hell and hoping to sleep on the plane, taking advantage of the extra bit of space; we were traveling over the international date line and arriving at what was nighttime in California. . . which meant we would be arriving in the morning in Japan and it would be a long while before I could get any sleep. My plan was to get some sleep and brush up on my Japanese so I could speak a little in Japan, but instead my mom immediately began telling me all sorts of gossip about friends of hers that I have never met. She would pause occasionally and I would start to nod off. . . and then she'd remember something else that she wanted to tell me. After a while, I gave up on the concept of sleep and started reading a magazine. . . and my mom immediately went to sleep. I wasn't able to fall asleep myself so I started watching a cheesy movie and even got sucked into it a little bit. Right when the plot hit its climax and the lead actor was about to explain the reason behind everything that had happened so far, my mom woke up and tapped me on the shoulder to talk again. She told me a story about some article she read somewhere about something I didn't care about and then 20 minutes later, she fell back asleep and let me watch the end credits of the movie. The credits did not answer my plot questions. I may never know if Mr. Magorium was actually magic or not. Pondering that deep question kept me up for the rest of the flight.

11 hours later, I had managed to get about 20 minutes of sleep and we touched down in Nagoya. We grabbed our luggage (of course mine was brought out last because I was so early checking in) and went to meet up with my Uncle Kosei who would drive us to his place in a little town named Shu where he and Obachan live.

I had my Japanese all prepped ahead of time for when I saw Kosei and as soon as we met up with him, I smoothly said (translated) "Uncle Kosei! It has been quite a while, has it not? I am most pleased to see you. How is the nature of your health?" I felt really proud that I got the phrase off without a hitch because I'm not a linguistically inclined person -- if I could just grunt and get my point across, I'd do that in a heartbeat. So I had just kicked ass with my greeting, and I was standing there waiting to be complimented on my awesome command of the Japanese language. My Uncle simply replied "hey, you got fat, didn't you?"

I kid you not.

More fun will follow in the next installment of the Happy Family Super Japan Trip!

Japan Trip - Part II - 4/14/08

Blogga blogga. So if you read the last blog installment, you know that I spent a week in Japan visiting my grandmother (aka Obachan) and my extended family in different parts of Japan. Just a quick 11 hour flight over the Pacific Ocean and then a week in Japan at the start of the cherry blossom season – sounds fun, right?

Right off the bat, I hit a snag. You see, I worked it out so that I would catch a flight from Burbank to San Francisco and then meet up with my mother to take the flight to Japan together. My mom even told me that she would pay for it if I wanted to upgrade to business class so we could sit together (my mom was traveling in style) and so I planned to get to the airport 2+ hours early to see about switching my flight arrangements. I can hang with business class.

I had an 8:30am flight and I carefully packed and made sure I had everything taken care of before I went to sleep the night before departing . . I had transportation to the airport worked out and double checked my flight info and everything. . . I only got a couple hours of sleep but I was up at 5:00 and at the airport by 6:10am. Everything was going smoothly and I calmly walked up to the United check in counter to check in my suitcase before going on a search for some coffee; I was so early, I was even going to loiter in the airport bookstore and see if I could find a Japanese/English grammar book to brush up on my language skills.

As soon as the nice lady behind the United counter saw my flight information, she FREAKED out and said "omigod, we need to get you through right now!" and began typing rapidly. I was perplexed because I was over 2 hours early and, well, I hadn't had any coffee yet to get my mental gears moving yet. So I just smiled like an idiot and said "uh, is there something wrong" while the lady threw my suitcase onto the luggage chute. She chucked my passport back to me and pushed me to a special security line, moving me ahead of a small line of elderly people in wheelchairs waiting for airport security to check that they weren't a threat to national security. I think one blue haired lady called me an asshole as the United lady pushed me to the front of the line. Sorry, lady!

It turns out my flight was cancelled at some point during the night and when I checked later on, I had a message on my cell phone (left at 3:00am) from United telling me that the flight was cancelled for same reason that all the flights are being cancelled now – because none of the planes were up to basic FAA safety standards. There was a flight at 6:20am that I could catch; otherwise, the next available flight would take off from Burbank TWO DAYS LATER. Awesome, right? How nice of them to call me 3 hours in advance of the only connecting flight I could have taken. . . so considerate. But luckily I was early enough that I semi-accidentally made it to the airport just in time to catch the 6:20am flight, which would allow me to catch my connection and still take the trip. I cannot be stopped.

So have you ever been on a flight that has been delayed because there is one late asshole holding everything up and when that guy shows up, everyone on the plane gives him the evil eye? I had the joy of being that guy. Super-awesome. Of course my seat was at the very back of the plane and I had to pass everyone sitting there as they were counting the minutes and thinking about the business meeting in San Francisco they might be late to because I had delayed the flight by 10 minutes. I really know how to make an entrance.

But I made it to SF International and immediately made my way to the United counter to make sure my flight to Japan hadn't departed the night before or something. I managed to check in without a problem, even got an upgrade to business class courtesy of my mother, and got a beautiful giant cup of coffee to nurse while I waited for my mom to show up. Turns out my mom was waiting in the business class red carpet super special people lounge area – which is basically a side room with a couple of couches, a tray of stale danishes and a coffee machine. That's not that exciting to me, but my mom likes the perks and wanted me to join her. The only problem was that I had just paid $20 or whatever the airport prices are for a cup of coffee and the security agent guarding the red carpet fancy pants plaza wouldn't let me bring in my coffee. Ridiculous. Were they worried my store bought coffee would shame the swill they were serving and make their coffee look weak or something? Starbuck-aphobia?

So I waited outside for my mom because I have no patience for that elitist club mentality (blank page!!!) and I wanted to drink my own damn coffee. My mom knows I'm a stubborn asshole. . . because she's a stubborn asshole too and she stayed where she was inside the lounge for another 15 minutes, pissed that I wouldn't toss my coffee to join her in the business class clubhouse for a couple of minutes (the coffee had almost reached a decent temperature where I could drink it without boiling my insides – timing is important with these things). Hey, I said my family is insane, and I was including myself in that equation – things just multiply when you add more family members. Quite the start to the trip so far, and I was less than 3 hours into it feeling sleepy, rushed, viewed as a nuisance by my mother and strangers alike, already out of control and on someone else's schedule. The only silver lining was that I was going to fly business class for the first time and see how the people with substantial disposable income live.

I'll stop here on that cliff-hanger moment propelled by the mystique of business class travel. More later. . .

Japan Trip - Part I - 4/12/08

Blogga blogga –

So I got back from Japan a little while ago AND BOY ARE MY ARMS TIRED. Oh, ha ha ha. I'm so hilarious.

Actually, the trip itself was hilarious. . . now that I'm no longer in the middle of it. You see, as much as it may sound like a fun adventure to fly to Japan and spend a little over a week there, I wasn't exactly taking a vacation – I was mainly heading to Japan to visit my grandmother who is about to turn 88 this year and who recently moved back to the country of her birth.

My grandmother, or "Obachan" in Japanese, has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. She's an amazing woman who is tireless and constantly took care of my semi-functional family when I was growing up; she even used to go to the "old person's home" in Japantown in San Francisco to take care of the ladies there who were several years younger than her – that's just how my unstoppable Obachan rolls. However, a couple of years ago, she struggled with a bout of cancer and for the first time I could remember, she was having difficulty doing things physically. She could no longer hop on a bus or walk to the store and she went through a lot of radiation and crap battling the cancer. The good news is that she once again proved she's unstoppable and she has pulled through somehow with the cancer either fully in remission or maybe even mystically gone altogether (I can't quite understand the Japanese doctor's analysis with my limited language skills, but at least I know Obachan is more or less o.k now).

So a half a year ago, after many years living in the States, Obachan moved back to Japan to live with my uncle Kosei, otherwise known as the Kosei the Cowboy (I'll have more on Kosei later – he's quite the character). I haven't seen her in a while and my mom had plans to head to Japan; I figured I would piggy back on my mom' trip with the main focus on seeing my grandmother and checking out how her new life in Japan is progressing.

But this was a family trip, mind you, and like anything involving family, nothing is as simple as it should be. In my case, "family" is sort of like a cross between boot camp, an AA meeting, a National Lampoons Vacation movie, the book of Job, and some sort of sit-com written during the Spanish inquisition (but done in Japanese and pigeon-English). In short, my family is just as screwed up as everyone else's, except in it's own special multi-national fucked up way.

So I'm going to try to blog about this trip bit by bit and relate some of the insanity, from having what was probably a $2,000 meal of raw sea creatures placed in front of me to listening to a Japanese guy sing "Walk The Line" in a jazz club in Osaka.

More to come soon. . . it's good to be back!!

I am an inventor! - 3/11/08

Blogga blogga -

I just noticed that the Elliott Smith on myspace put out a new blog entry. . . Elliott Smith is dead, mind you. . . so that's a little creepy. I'll do a blog from beyond the grave a little later.

Anyway, the other day I was in one of those little stationary stores that has amusing items all over the place. You know, funny chopstick holders, novelty pens, bobbleheads, lunchboxes with 70's T.V. shows on them, Hello Kitty stuff, tiny incense holders from Japan, etc. And as I was looking at the bobbleheads, I was thinking about the whole thing about the pet rock. Who made the pet rock? Why? And did they make any money off of it? Are they working on something new now, or did they retire off the money they made selling pet rocks?

So I'm starting to wonder if I have a "pet rock" idea inside of me. Maybe I can be a musician-inventor, just like Leonardo Da Vinci with his visual art and inventions. I would be Semyon Da Los Angeles. My inventions will be so ahead of their time, they might not even be possible until the year 2157 (that's when my automobile that runs on bad attitude will be ready to go. The worse the traffic, the better the mileage -- how's that for a renewable energy source?).

Here are a couple of inventions I've got in the works so far. These are patent pending, folks, so don't try to steal them --

The Autoscope. This is a periscope for your car. It's a tube with a series of mirrors in it that you can attach to the side of your car. When a large SUV or Hummer with tinted windows cuts in front of you and blocks your entire field of view, you can activate the periscope and use it to look around the large vehicle in front of you. Also, the periscope can be outfitted in shiny crome that spins on its own when you aren't moving, just like pimped-out rims. That's tight.

The Mobile Phone Booth. This is a small enclosure that you can fold up so it fits in your pocket. When you are waiting in line or eating at a restaurant and want to use your cell phone, you can just pull out the mobile phone booth, unfold it around you, and it will give you that sense of privacy you should want when you are having private discussions in public. Comes with blue tooth compatibility and an optional coin slot for the traditionalists.

The TubeBrush. This would be as toothbrush with a large hollow cavity in the handle. You fill the cavity with toothpaste and when you need to brush your teeth, you just squeeze the handle and voila -- you're ready to clean those pearly whites. I'm still trying to figure out how to put a floss attachment on it without messing up the aerodynamics of the brush.

The Scholar. This is a book with the pages removed and a tiny HD TV system inserted where the pages should be. So it looks like you are reading, when in fact you are watching t.v. I'm actually surprised this doesn't exist yet.

Body Gloss, for mens. For all the metrosexuals out there. Have you ever wanted to look like one of the cast members of movies like Troy, or 300? Then try Body Gloss, for mens, a combination of vegetable oil and hair remover blended together to perfection. You slather it on and it not only burns away your body hair -- it immediately gives you a shiny body gloss that will be the envy of muscular hairless men everywhere. Side effects include loss of hearing, vomiting, mild bleeding from the ears and occasional loss of testicles.

Invisible Rope (for toddlers). This is a very strong magnet that attached to a sturdy shoulder harness made specially for toddlers. The magnet works in concert with a special electric magnet keychain that the parents will hold onto; when the child runs off, the parent can reel them in simply by activating the key chain magnet which will attract the backpack magnet strapped to their toddler; the attracting pulse pulls the toddler rapidly back to the safe area around the parent without any fuss. This product is still in the testing phase as we work out a couple of bugs, starting with the fact that the magnet can also repulse the child if they are facing the wrong direction. If you have a child age 1-4 or know anyone with a child in that age range who might be available as a test subject, please contact me to see if they can be a part of the development of this exciting new product!

Rocket Pants. The name is actually a little deceptive, because these are not pants that have rockets attached to them (I'm working on that. I just need to figure out where to put the fuel supply. . . ). These are actually pants based on the recent problems Roger Clemens had with the whole steroids misunderstanding. You know, where it came out in the congressional hearing that he has all these issues with his buttcheeks because of all the steriod shots he had injected there. And besides, how annoying is it if you are an independent person like Clemens and you are forced to have someone else around to stick you in the ass when you need your dose of human growth hormone? Well, for those steriod users who like a little privacy as well as extra comfort in the butt area, just try on Rocket Pants and their patented "sit on it" delivery system. You see, Rocket Pants have a precision delivery system built right into the back pocket that gently administers the steriod or HGH shot for you without any additional assistance needed; just select "delivery" on the giant belt buckle in the front and sit down rapidly. The correct dosage of juice will be shot directly into your ass and you'll be ready to be a sports hero without even needing someone to wipe your ass for you afterwards. And if you are feeling discomfort from the shots, just flip the belt buckle to "sooth" and Rocket Pants will pump a little aloe vera to the irritated area, allowing you to sit in court with only minimal fidgeting! The deluxe version comes complete with attorneys and party politics.

The Hat Whisperer. This is my solution to the rise in medication being prescribed for mental illnesses such as despression, anxiety, etc. Are you feeling depressed? Insecure? Worried that you'll lose your nerve when you need it the most? Then try on this stylish hat (comes in varying styles, everything from the Kangol to the cowboy hat styles are available) and let the tiny speakers near the ears pipe you a constant stream of encouragement without anyone knowing. How can you feel depressed when you are constantly hearing "you are so cool. Everyone loves you. If I wasn't a hat, I'd totally be all over you."

The PJ-A. Do you know anyone who has trouble getting out of bed on time in the morning? Do they sleep right through their alarm even though the alarm is loud enough to set off car alarms in the surrounding neighborhood? Then give them the PJ-A, otherwise know as the pajama-alarm. This is an adult-sized set of one-piece pajamas (complete with the connected feet enclosures, of course) that has a series of electrical conductors lining the seams; when it is time to get up in the morning, the amazingly accurate Swiss timekeeping machinery sewn into the PJ-A will activate, sending a series of mild to not-mild shocks through the pajamas to notify the wearer that it is time to get up. Good morning! Works like a charm every time. Military and private entertainment options available. Not to be used as swimwear.

Amendment to last blog entry - 2/22/08

Blogga blogga. My last blog entry was too froo froo, too cheezy for my taste. Too. . . nice. People might thing I'm getting soft. That I am all harmonious and happy and "let's all just get along." I reserve the right to be an asshole at any time for any reason!! So I had to immediately remedy this before some sort of halo started to appear above my head and I lost my impressive street cred. Time to cause trouble. . .

I just went outside and gave a little kid who was talking to himself and enjoying imagination-time such a dirty, mean, disapproving look that he ran to his mommy and started crying. Now he knows not to be all young and exuberant and imaginative around me. Go get a job or study for the SAT, kid!! 2nd Grade doesn't last forever, punk.

Then I put some bread out in a courtyard and when pigeons came to eat it, I ran out and chased them off. Then I repeated the process over and over until the pigeons were too tired to fly any more and they just stayed away from the bread. Stupid pigeons and their hunger. I showed them. It's my bread.

Some guy was hitting on his hot co-worker at lunch at the Koo Koo Roo -- I walked up to him acting like I knew him and asked him why he wasn't returning my calls. He gave me a funny look. I put my hands on my hips, frowned, and said "maybe you'll recognize this" and turned around and waved my ass in his face. I artfully spun around again, grabbed a drumstick off of his plate to use as a pointer, jabbed it in his face and said "remember -- from the Temple Bar's Fabulous February Fun Fest? You and I were dancing in the cage together until you decided you wanted to go someplace private and be more festive? Does that ring your bells, sweetie?" I just walked off as he tried to compose an answer and said "what-evah!!" over his cries of protest as I sashayed off into the sunset. I took his drumstick with me.

I then got in an elevator and began hitting the "close door" button as frantically as I could as people were trying to get into the elevator. I'd let out the occassional "damn, hurry up, don't let him on. . . damn it. . . close already. . . not this guy too. . ." When I got off on my floor, I reached back into the elevator and quickly hit the Fire Alarm button before running off. I was hoping that would trigger a sprinkler system of some kind, but instead it just locked those people in the elevator and set off an ear splitting alarm. That's o.k., but I would have preferred it if there was water involved too.

I ordered 20 pizzas (all anchovy and pineapple, otherwise known as the Tropical Fish Surprise) from one pizza shop and had them delivered to a rival pizza shop. I may do that one again later this evening. Everyone likes pizza.

I called the McCain campaign headquarters and asked for a reservation at the Hotel Hanoi. King sized bed with turndown service, please. And don't forget the mint, bitch! (note - they were just happy I wasn't another reporter calling about campaign finance)

I then called up Mitt Romney, but I hung up as soon as he got on the line. I would have done something more, like say I was Brigham Young's reincarnation asking him to kiss my prophetic ass or some other bit of fun, but the guy makes me puke whenever I hear him speak his garbage nonsense. Hanging up immediately was the only safe option. I'll send him a blank letter with no return address later.

And right now I'm typing this blog with one finger because my other hand is raised in the air, giving everyone the finger. Take that, World! Suckit.

O.k., that should balance things out.

XOXOXO
Sem

Warm Fuzzies - 2/22/08

Blogga blogga. Here's a little something something to give you warm fuzzies (in lieu of an actual blog entry).

------------------------------

Too Busy for a Friend...

One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.

Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.

That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. 'Really?' she heard whispered. 'I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!' and, 'I didn't know others liked me so much,' were most of the comments.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.

Several years later, one of the students was killed in Viet Nam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.

The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.

As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. 'Were you Mark's math teacher?' he asked She nodded: 'yes.' Then he said: 'Mark talked about you a lot.'

After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher.

'We want to show you something,' his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket 'They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.'

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him.

'Thank you so much for doing that,' Mark's mother said. 'As you can see, Mark treasured it.'

All of Mark's former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, 'I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home.'

Chuck's wife said, 'Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.'

'I have mine too,' Marilyn said. 'It's in my diary'

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. 'I carry this with me at all times,' Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: 'I think we all saved our lists'

That's when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one day will be.

So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.

And One Way To Accomplish This Is: Forward this message on. If you do not send it, you will have, once again passed up the wonderful opportunity to do something nice and beautiful.

If you've received this, it is because someone cares for you and it means there is probably at least someone for whom you care.

If you're 'too busy' to take those few minutes right now to forward this message on, would this be the VERY first time you didn't do that little thing that would make a difference in your relationships?

Blank Page Pt. II - 2/12/08

Blogga blogga. I bitched about what I call "blank page" a couple of days ago and mentioned that I wanted to talk about something else I've been thinking about. No, I'm not talking about the fact that Paris Hilton has been out of the spotlight for a while (Paris, oh Paris, wherefore art thou? Cans't thou stayeth there forevereth?), although that may be a portent of what I'm talking about.

I'm talking in general terms about optimism. Hope. Faith. The stuff that fuels an underdog to push forward regardless of the odds. Yes, there is definitely a lot of talk going on about the hope stuff Obama spews with great audacity, but I'm also talking about how people have reacted to the New York Giants beating the unbeatable New England Patriots in the playoffs, about Amy Winehouse talking about cleaning up so she won't die before she hits 30, or Warren Buffett making an appearance in the news and the stock market rising simply because he gave investors faith in the market. The stock market is really strange in the way it moves with the psyche of the investors -- if we gave all the brokers happy pills, we'd probably have a booming market unlike any we've ever seen.

Well, I'm interested in this apparent mental switch because I, just like everyone who has ever existed, can slip in to a negative mindset at times. Depression, I think it's called. I know, I know, it's crazy to think that a musician might get depressed. . . but it happens. And it's a mindset that's really hard to get out of because, try as you might, you can't believe that things will get better when you are stuck there. You know what I'm talking about, right? Where you are just stuck mentally and you can't imagine any possible way things will get better. . . until they inevitably get better and you can't imagine why you possibly thought things would never get better back when you were in a depression. You dig it? You ever get stuck in that mindset where you are withdrawn, defensive, and unable to move? I hit that place for sure in 2004 when W was granted another 4 years in office. I don't think I was alone with that feeling, either.

Well, what I'm noticing these days is that a lot of underdogs seem to be winning and it seems to be giving people hope. Every time someone says "you can't do that, it's impossible" and then someone goes out and does it, a little more light gets through the cracks in the Cave of Depression (note to self -- start emo-band called Cave of Depression. Buy eyeliner first.). It reminds me of something Prof. Thurman talked about in one of his classes when he dissected "faith" and what faith really is all about. And I mean "faith" in general terms, not just religious terms. We all have faith in things, even if we don't have Faith in the religious sense. Prof. Thurman basically said that you start with "hope", which is where you put forward a positive idea that you think maybe will work out and wait to see if it happens. Hope tests reality and if it happens, you have greater hope that things will follow that pattern in the future. And if you put out hope a bunch of times and it works out every time (or appears to work out for you), then you start to have faith. On the outside, faith can appear to be dogmatic and unsupportable, but he argued that often faith is built upon hundreds of instances of hope that have come true enough for that individual to move to "faith". It's personal and unless you go on the journey with that person, you probably can't see the instances of hope that create that faith. Faith isn't such a huge concept when you think of it in increments like that. . . kind of like how new parents have to face an infinite number of fears about the safety of their newborn child and then, a couple years later, when they have had a sufficient number experiences of things working out they might say things like "you're never ready to be a parent, you can never afford it, etc. but it all works out somehow." You get to a place where you don't need to see what's around the corner to feel o.k. about the future. And I'm starting to believe that people are picking up hope and starting to have faith in the future, regardless of countless reasons not to be optimistic about it.

For me personally, this reminds me of a train of thought I had back when I was living in New York and hanging out on the roof of a tall building looking out over the city -- I had the thought that, if I truly believed it, I could fly. I mean, really take off and defy gravity without any wings or jets or anything; I could zip over Central Park and moon Donald Trump in his penthouse suite if I wanted to. I just needed to believe it and I could make it happen with my belief alone. Sort of like what they tell you in The Secret about how, if you focus hard enough on something. . . BANG! You will get a mansion and a nymphomaniac trophy wife/husband who poops out hundred dollar bills. . . or whatever it is they promise you in that book. The only problem, I realized, was that my powers of flight were totally dependent upon my belief in my ability to fly because I surely don't have jets or feathers; if I doubted my ability for a moment, I would immediately feel gravity's pull and come crashing down. And I know myself enough to know that the skeptic in me is too integral a part of my personality to have absolute belief in anything so untested, so I never tested it out. Don't have enough faith in myself and therefore, I am earthbound. . .

But I still say I can fly -- I'm just not a practicing aerialist at the moment. I don't want to mock the birds anyway with the way they need wings and feathers; I'd just be showing off.

(last thing - don't try to fly yourself. As far as I know, I'm the only flying human being in the world. But maybe you can do something else, like phase through solid objects. Just don't blame me if you lose your belief in your phasing ability as you are running at a wall full speed to test that out.)

Blank Page - 2/4/08

Blogga blogga. I've got a phrase I use from time to time where I'll say something is "blank page". What I am referring to is the way your phone bill, normally a two-sided document, sometimes has nothing on one side of the page. . . except that the phone company has to write "blank page" on the page so that you don't freak out when faced with a literal blank page in your phone bill. I see it as an example of how sometimes ideas become institutions and in doing so, the initial idea is lost in the translation. When something has gone "blank page", it's is now buying into it's own bullshit or external structure so much that it doesn't even notice when it is ass backwards. I'm sure there's some reason why "blank page" has to be written on the blank page of a phone bill. . . I'm sure there's an attorney somewhere who demanded that practice of AT&T in order to avoid a lawsuit. . . but it's still the kind of thing a kid with half a brain's worth of common sense would see and realize is stupid while adults everywhere don't bat an eye at it.

Other blank page moments - that woman on The View who was so caught up in her argument against evolution that she said that she wasn't sure if the world is really round or not = blank page. Or like that incredibly bizarre "documentary" I saw on Fox News that compares W to President Lincoln (that one is so far beyond blank page, it's ridiculous). Or like Gucci clothing for dogs.

It's a funny little trap you can fall into where you let a system of thought take over and stop using your own brain. Call it "group think" or whatever you want to; it's out there and it's not an uncommon thing to spot.

Anyway, I was watching the debates in L.A. last Thursday and Chewbacca's younger midget brother, Wolf Blitzer, just pissed me off with some of his pundit "blank page"-ness. He basically tried to put words into Hillary Clinton's mouth (regarding her past vote on Iraq and her careful avoidance of saying it was a good or bad judgment call) and I just wanted to kick him in his tiny little chipmunk nutsack. That furry bastard is supposed to be a moderator and a member of the 4th estate as a respected member of the press; he's supposed to have a sense of responsibility and be separate from the events he is witnessing so that he can watch and accurately record what is happening to the general public without influencing them -- instead, he's trying to create a damn news story out of nothing particularly shocking in a very civil debate. Oi vey. The only story there was that Senator Clinton gave a more complicated answer than "yes/no I did/didn't screw up in my vote on Iraq". So let her say what she has to say, Wolfie, even if it doesn't make good copy! Man, I'm pretty disgusted with the news as it is presented on T.V. MTV not only killed off radio -- it apparently gave CNN and the rest of the news people a bad case of the VJ's too. I await the anchor people of the future, Downtown Julie Brown and Carson Daly. . .

So I'm obviously someone who dislikes "blank page" stuff. There's a lot of hollow bullshit getting tossed around, especially now that we are in an election year, but there also seems to be something else happening in the world that I'm noticing and fascinated by that ties into some of my other bloggage. . . I'll get to that in the next installment because I have to write "garbage" on my garbage before I throw it away (don't want anyone to mistake it for something useful that got thrown in the trash by accident). Until then, may your blank pages actually be blank.

Bag o’ blog answers - 1/30/08

Blogga blogga. So I've gotten a lot of responses to my blog (thanks for reading!) in the form of direct e-mails that I haven't had a chance to respond to because of a shortage in available time (and the fact that I can't write something in less than several thousand words). I apologize for not answering back promptly and in an effort to multi-task and answer everyone's emails all at once (some questions were identical), I'm going to put my answers into today's bloggage. In an effort to preserve people's anonymousness, I'll be handing out fake names that amuse me.

To "Big Gay Al": no, I do not have the song "Fish Heads" loaded onto my iPhone, but I am familiar with the song. "Fish heads, fish heads, rolly polly fish heads". Very catchy song. It is also a song you listen to once, laugh for a moment, and then never listen to again, much like the entire catalogue of Weird Al Yankovich songs. And no, I would not like to "pet your monkey", thank you very much.

To "Hillary's Secret Boyfriend" and the other politically minded folks who asked me to explain why I'm publicly support Obama: sorry, but I'm not going to try to convince you of anything. I am not a political person normally and I only admitted the Obama stuff because it ended up in the news and on YouTube due to the caucus stuff I did. It would have seemed strange to continue to act coy about who I am supporting when it's on YouTube, y'know? Just check out the candidates and how they pitch themselves to the public (although I'd avoid the T.V. news and pundits because they spout idiocy and bogus drama – anything ranging from Wikipedia to the books the candidates have written offer more insight than the talking heads on the news) and you'll get the info you need to make a proper decision. I look forward to going back to being politically obscure and private with my opinions. Good luck to your personal favorites and may the best candidate win this time around.

To "I Like Plans" who asked me why I am not deterred by what is perceived to be a lack of specific plans or Obama's lack of experience, I offer up the following general answer: any plan that the Democrats come up with is fair game for the entire party, right? Even a Republican can use the ideas, right? Because we should be working together to make things better and all the candidates are talking about unity at the moment, right? So unless one of the presidential contenders is unwilling to share, any plan that is worthwhile should be used by whoever wins the nomination. I just don't see a plan tied to any one candidate, nor do I believe that whatever sounds like a nice plan now will still be viable in a year or two. Things change. Entropy is one of the laws of physics. I personally have never had a plan that has lasted longer than a week or two that has remained the same throughout the entire process -- have you? So whoever has the best plan will hopefully share and hopefully that plan will change and adjust to the times; what we've been given at this stage in the political process is a sales pitch to make someone appear competent, not the actual plan that will happen in a year or two from now. If you can follow that thinking, then if you take it a step further, there is something to be said for NOT being static in your planning or having a ton of experience directing you because (Taoism time!) you then can see things from unusual angles that people who are set in their ways might dismiss quickly – all you need is an active mind and imagination coupled with some pragmatism and you can probably stumble your way through anything with some success. Be the uncarved block!

To "You Write Long Blogs" and "Nameless Friend Who Likes To Insult Me": yes, I make these things way too long. So in the spirit of cooperation, I'll give you a response to your comments in the compact form of a trio of haiku verses –

Sigh, silly bitches
I am too stubborn to stop
That is how I roll.

My big blog scares you
Afraid that your mind will burst
In vain you mock me.

But do not worry
Our president is also
A big time fucktard

To "Busty Biggie": while I suspect your email was spam, I would like to request more information on how you can help me nurse the child I do not have without irritating my nipples. Will wonders never cease? Please send further information to (email address of "Nameless Friend Who Likes To Insult Me").

To "I Sing Like Tori Amos": if you say you sound like Tori Amos, then you probably shouldn't say that you have an "original" sound. Minor point. That being said, good luck with your CD release which, because it is happening in Austria, I unfortunately will not be able to attend. But thank you for the gig notice and feel free to send airfare if you really want me to attend. Austria in the wintertime is lovely and I like Tori Amos.

To "Aggressive Porn Hawker": I did not accept your invitation to be myspace friends because you have a picture of a rubber chicken placed between someone's butt cheeks as your avatar photo. Frankly, I don't think I can hang with that kind of fun. But don't let my prudish fear of rubber poultry stop you from doing your thing. However, I do believe you should contact my friend at (email address of "Nameless Friend Who Likes To Insult Me") because he would love to talk rubber farm animals with you. Make sure to ask him about the story about him and the pig in a dress from back when he was in college trying to join a fraternity – could be a bonding point for you two.

To "Frequent Flier": It's time to consider sobriety, dude. But to answer your question, I imagine that if Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson had a love child (see, that question alone is proof enough that you need to take some days off hitting that pipe), that child would probably be good looking. There was no need to ask me that same question in 15 separate emails.

And last but definitely not least, to answer several people who all asked the same question: yes, I am playing out again soon in the Los Angeles area! In fact, I just booked a show with full band for Feb. 15th at Room 5 and I'll be talking about that more very soon. Hope to see you at the show!

Obama video - 1/25/08

Blogga blogga. Why do I root for Barack Obama to win the Democratic nomination for President? Well, that would be because his name sounds like something out of a Japanese robot cartoon, of course! Gobama, go! Engage Supa-Hypa-Mega-Baracko-Beam! (you think I'm joking?)

So my buddy Amyn got a little YouTube clip together showing the caucus experience. I can't listen to the song any more (trust me, you'll end up hating Ritchie Valens for writing that 3 chord song after it sticks in your head for a week) so I just watched it without sound -- y'know, watching it reminded me of what I enjoyed the most about meeting the other Obama volunteers who travelled from all over to help out the Vegas caucus: happy optimism. Everyone showed up with a really friendly, calm, open attitude and everyone just wanted to be a part of something they believed in. There seemed to be a kind of a collective sigh of relief that there was a chance at a different type of politics without all the Karl Rove/Machiavellian tactics and folks believed Obama represented a chance at that. There was a whole lot of hope, but not the blind optimistic variety (everyone DID show up to roll up their sleeves and get to work, with quite a few people traveling cross country for this relatively minor political event) -- just a lot of positive attitudes and people enjoying a politics not based on fear and negativity. To use Obama's phrase, they were a big bunch of "hope mongers" showing up to do boring leg work for the campaign. It's cheesy, but it seemed very genuine and I liked it.

So check out Amyn's video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo4QoNfaBoU (if you can't bring it up from the link, just search for "Semyon Obama" on YouTube and you'll find it.) I'd like to thank Annabel Park and Eric Byler from DC, William from Chicago, Councilman Eric Garcetti from Silverlake/Echo Park, and the other folks I didn't get a chance to formally meet who backed me up in the chorus parts of the song. I was a bit worried that I would be the lone jackass out there crooning for Obama in the middle of Caesar's Palace, so I was very happy when people started joining in the fun.
 

OMG, what a large caucus you have! - 1/22/08

Blogga blogga. How many penis jokes can you make about the word caucus? So many. Oh so many. But today I'll try to be mature and keep my dumb humor to myself. Sort of.

So to those who missed it, Nevada had it's caucus for the Democrats last weekend and I ended up taking the 4 hours drive to Vegas to lend a hand for the candidate I like best. Now I'm really not a political person; my personal political beliefs are pretty bizarre and personal. However, the agenda of the Federalist Society that W and Co. has forced upon the American people and the world at large pretty much messed things up to the point where I feel a need to push back. In short, W's policy has gotten me fighting mad to the point where I'm now politically active and trying to make sure that the mistakes of his Administration will be properly labeled un-American bullshit and never repeated. Almost 8 years of this crap and I'm fighting mad.

So when my good buddy, film-maker Amyn Kaderali, asked me if I wanted to turn an old Richie Valens song into an ode to one of the presidential hopefuls and go to Vegas to sing and film the song, I agreed to join in the fun. Hey, it's Vegas, baby! We drove to Vegas on Friday morning and ended up helping out the volunteers who were getting caucus information out to people -- luckily I wasn't asked to knock on random doors or cold call people (I loathe that stuff and was going to refuse to bug people like that if asked -- we just hung door hangers with the address of the caucus location on people's doors. These were folks who had contacted the campaign headquarters already, so I didn't bug any strangers in the privacy of their homes). After doing a round of door hangers, we joined a rally and got to hear the candidate speak in person to a crowd that gathered at UNLV, which was pretty neato. I can honestly say that it was one of the most diverse crowds I've ever seen: kids of all ages, adults of all sizes, just about every race and creed represented, etc. And I've got to say -- I like the music that my favorite candidate plays at the rallies. Hey, that stuff matters to me! If a candidate comes out with Celine Dion playing in the background, they will lose my vote, period. That's just how I roll.

On Saturday, the day of the actual caucus, we did another round of door hangers early in the morning. It was sad to see how many foreclosure signs were on people's doors. Seemed like 1 out of every 5 doors had eviction notices and crap like that on them when I was distributing the door hangers. Bad times for folks trying to pay a mortgage in Vegas, I guess.

After that, we went to Ceasar's Palace to sing the song to people while they were going to the caucus held at the casino. The casino staff were really cool about it and we set up right by the tables where people were registering for the caucus. I started up singing and before I knew it, I had a handful of people standing next to me chiming in on the chorus of the song -- neato! Made me feel like I knew what I was doing. Amyn filmed it with along with another film maker who traveled from Washington DC to record the event; at some point they will put out a YouTube video for it and I'll let you know where to find that if you are interested.

So there were a bunch of T.V. crews filming things as well and one of them asked me to play the song again so they could get it on tape from the beginning. Turns out that crew was from a French television station, so between them and a couple of other news people who took my info, I guess I ended up in the press around the world. I feel so famous. Just call me Mr. International now. The only catch to all of this is the fact that I had to openly declare who I'm rooting for in this election -- so just to clear the air, I'm an Obama supporter (and the song was a version of Ritchie Valen's "Oh Donna" with the lyrics cleverly twisted into "Obama". Ah, such genius!). I know Oprah was the big name endorsement last month, but that's nothing compared to MY endorsement, right?

That was all the fun part of the caucus. It was cool to show up and meet volunteers who had traveled from all over just to help out the campaign. I met folks from Chicago, D.C., the midwest, and a ton of people from L.A. who came to Vegas to support Obama. All volunteers who were there because they believe in the guy.

But alas, this is politics and therefore shady shit happened as it always seems to happen in the political arena. I'll get to that in the next blog installment and dish the dirt on what really happened.

Juice is Evil - 1/8/08

Blogga blogga. Have any of you noticed that a lot of the crap you learn as a kid eventually gets overturned at some point in your life? "Be nice and share" later becomes "beware co-dependency" or some sort of talk about needing to be selfish instead of self-less in order to succeed in this big, bad world we live in. As a child, being creative and doing something like finger painting can end up with your work proudly on display like a masterpiece of visual art; wait a few years and you'll be lucky to find an art class in any school because art is considered unimportant in a different context. Or maybe you, like me, grew up thinking that Bono is a musician. . . and then many years later you learn he is actually some sort of politico Christ-figure here to save us from ourselves (may Bono bless you). And even a lot of the "science" you learn gets re-examined, re-written, etc. over the years to the point where stuff you grow up believing ends up being as incorrect as believing that the world is flat.

I bring this up because, as part of the annual New Year's re-invention of myself, I'm testing out the South Beach diet to see if it will make me skinnier. . . or smarter. . . or something I'm not at the present moment. Something will happen, probably, and that will be what the South Beach diet does to me. But it's got me reading the South Beach Diet book and I'm checking out the logic behind this diet created by a cardiologist. As I read the book, it's making a lot of sense but I'm also noticing that a good 60% of what this guy is talking about flies in the face of years and years of social programming about what is or isn't healthy.

So here's the thing that stopped me and made me wonder when some scientist is going to discover something crazy, like the fact that gravity is actually caused by tiny three-headed interdimensional globules that feed off the physical connection between different objects, and therefore they propel large masses towards each other (what, you have a problem with that? The Greeks used to believe the stars were pinholes in the curtain of night -- so what's wrong with my explanation about the real truth behind gravity? Don't make me talk to your globules so you start floating off into space, cuz' I will) . . .

I found out that juice really isn't all that healthy for you.

Yup. Frickin' fruit juice can mess you up. That glass of OJ you get with your morning Frosted Flakes, Twinkie Balls or whatever the cereal advertisements tell you is part of a balanced breakfast is actually like shooting sugar right into your bloodstream. It can start you on the path towards diabetes. Plain old orange juice. The one with all the Vitamin C you are supposed to drink when you are fighting off a cold. It's may fight off the common cold, but it can also make your ass fat and kill you in the end. I don't know about you, but I sure didn't hear about that in kindergarten.

O.k., so here's where this sort of thinking leads me as my mind wanders all over the place -- I'm listening to all of the Presidential debates and I'm thinking to myself, "all of these programs and promises the candidates are talking about are probably bullshit that sounds nice and will never happen." Barak Obama even said as much on the Daily Show, talking about how the candidates know exactly what the other candidates are going to say as well as the TRUE position they actually believe. Ain't that a bitch? It's all made up and put forth in a calculated manner and none of it may ever happen. Even if what they say appears to be absolutely true now, the situation can change drastically and you can discover that something like orange juice, which I personally used to associate with health, is actually sugary death in liquid form (see how I'm tying it all together?). I imagine that's how a lot of folks who voted for W feel right about now as the guy is trying desperately to avoid getting labeled as the worst president in recent history -- they probably really believed his b.s. during the election period and now they are faced with the fact that he's responsible for adult onset diabetes. . . and the erosion of our civil liberties and peace and status in the world and the fantastic economic strength our country enjoyed 8 years ago. . . but I'll just hold him responsible for adult onset diabetes.

I don't mean to be jaded politically -- I'm just talking about the limitations of human knowledge and the fact that we, as a species, seem to have a tendency to think of things in terms of unchanging absolutes. It's too hard to take in a world where everything is constantly changing/evolving and even the smartest, most strategically sound, learned people on the planet have been wrong, and wrong about a lot of things. There's no real true stability or security in the world and that can be a scary thing, so a lot of the time I think we overcompensate and place hope in things that are illusory just so we can feel a bit safer. So when someone tells me they like so-and-so presidential candidate because of this plan or that plan, or the voting record on this bill or that bill, I go back to my thoughts about orange juice and how wrong my preconceptions were, even though I was 100% sure of them. If something as simple as the understanding of the health benefits of juice gets flipped around, then how many of these campaign promises will get twisted around too? And I think that instead of all of these lovely plans which sound so great, maybe the best person for the job is not someone who can prepare the best sales pitch, but instead someone who you can toss in the air and wherever they land, they will land on their feet and calmly make their way back to wherever they need to go. I want THAT individual as president, even if they voted for or against lethal injection by orange juice or whatever. Because no matter what the truth ends up being at the end of the story, that person will hopefully be able to adjust and deal with it. Sometimes the ability to improvise is all you need (can you tell I'm a Taoist at heart?).

O.k., enough bullshit. Tomorrow I may find out that orange juice makes your colon sing when it is exposed to ultraviolet light (which would make me drink orange juice again and buy a UV bulb) -- my point is that I think it's probably better to be quick on your feet than have your identity caught up in static stuff that can be proven wrong at any moment. People tend to act really stupid when they try to defend things they were wrong about (yup, I'm talking about W again). Knowing that, I'd rather have a flip flopper cuz' they are the folks who can change and correct their mistakes.

Second moral of the story -- OJ is the real killer.

The Equation - 12/6/07

Blogga bloga. O.k., I said I'd give you Prof. Thurman's equation that mathematically proves that the good guys win out in the end over the bad guys. This is a little tricky and there's some religious terminology involved, so please bear with me -

Y'see, Thurman is one of the top teachers of Buddhism in the States, specifically Tibetan Buddhism (the stuff the Dalai Lama teaches), and his equation involves a bit of Buddhist cosmology before it can work. No, I'm not saying you need to convert to Buddhism in order to understand the equation; what I mean is that the equation functions under the concept that reincarnation exists. That's not a hard pill to swallow if you grew up in Asia where Buddhism or Hinduism or any religion that believes in reincarnation is the cultural norm, but I think that you can prove that that Heaven or Hell are your choices in the afterlife just as easily as you can prove reincarnation exists. In short, it's nigh impossible to prove what happens after death unless you've died and experienced it first hand (all the zombies nod), so I won't go into the argument of which religion accurately describes reality -- but I do need you to imagine for a moment that reincarnation is what happens after death in order to give you the equation. By reincarnation, I mean the phenomenon where a being gets reborn in a new form after death, sort of like the flame of a candle (representing the "spirit") being passed to a new candle (representing the new form). The candle that the flame is burning is an entirely new object compared to the previous candle, and so the flame will be slightly different. . . and yet there will be something from the old flame carried over too.

You with me so far? All you need to do to understand the equation is understand that, according to reincarnation, folks get born over and over again and the way you get reborn/what you are reborn as is reflective of your thoughts and actions and attitudes while you are alive (the things that create positive or negative karma for you). That's a very simplistic way of explaining the concept of reincarnation, but it's enough to explain the equation.

Here it is --
Infinity to the power of infinity > Infinity to the power of 1.

It looks much cooler if you use the infinity symbol, which is an 8 lying on its side. Draw the infinity symbol and then put a tiny infinity symbol to the upper right to represent that you have infinity to the power of infinity on one side of the equation. Then do the > or "greater than" symbol. Then put another infinity symbol on the right hand side of the equation and a tiny 1 to the upper right to represent that you have infinity to the power of one on the right. There's the equation in its proper mathematical representation that shows Infinity to the power of infinity is greater than Infinity to the power of 1.

What this equation means is that, if reincarnation is true, then you have a infinite number of people over an infinite amount who will be born and reborn. If that infinite number of people concentrate on making everyone happy (every.. an infinite number of people -- reincarnation, remember?), then you have the "Infinity to the power of infinity" side of the equation. You have an infinite number of people helping an infinite number of people and it's all a happy good place where everyone helps each other. This should result in fewer people in dire need (because people will help them out) and maybe even encourage some folks to be selfless themselves, thereby increasing the number of people helping out. Good times!

On the other side, you have an infinite number of people who are only thinking about themselves and doing selfish things, which is the "Infinity to the power of 1". Those are the people who are just out to get their own and saying screw everyone else. Those folks only help themselves and being around them is not a happy place. This is the world where the bad guys win and where only the most cut-throat, evil folks prosper at the expense of everyone else. It sucks.

So Thurman's equation just shows that eventually the number of people who are selfless will have a greater influence/more weight than the number of people who are selfish. Over an infinite amount of time, Infinity to the power of Infinity will beat Infinity to the power of 1. It's math, so how can it be wrong?

And that's the equation, take it or leave it. It's really simple, but that's part of what is neat about it.

Just a little something to chew on. . .

Do the good guys win? Idle thoughts - 12/5/07

Blogga blogga. Carson Daly is a fucktard. Dane Cook is too. Barry Bonds has never been accused of being a nice guy or a straight shooter. In fact, most of the mega stars in sports have some nasty skeletons (I have a friend who has done a lot of camera work for NBA shows and And-One Basketball, and based on his experiences, he swears that 99.9% of the players are cheating on their spouses. . . not just a little, but a lot). The Enron guys were rich and powerful and tried really hard to get away with destroying their employees' livelihood and retirement dreams. There's plenty of evidence to support an argument that the current folks in the white house rigged elections, lied, exposed an undercover CIA agent for political reasons, hired unworthy cronies to positions of power, destroyed incriminating documents, bullied the opposition, etc. etc. (fair play For some reason folks like Paris Hilton, Brittney, LiLo, etc. get exponentially more media time than folks who actually do good in the world.

My point is that the news is filled with people who have done things that have harmed a lot of people in the pursuit of their selfish goals, and there seems to be no end in sight to this parade of assholes. I'll go as far as to say that I bet Paris Hilton has gotten more press attention over the past 5 years than Mother Theresa did over the course of her entire life. All of these sucky people are at the top of their fields and considered "successful". It's making me wonder if you have to be a lying, cheating, do-whatever-it-takes asshole to "achieve" something. So I've got a question to pose to you all --

Do the good guys ever win? Or does it work against you to "do the right thing", meaning stuff like being honest, fair, not initiating violence, etc.?

This is a tricky question that I've heard answered in many different ways. A lot of people say you have to get your hands dirty or break a few eggs to make an omlette -- conversely, a lot of people live by the belief that you reap what you sow and so they try to make the world around them a better place so that everyone can partake of the fruits of that world. I'd like to believe that the good guys win, that there is a meritocracy at work in the world where talent and hard work and sacrifice equals success. The American dream. I'd like to believe that people who knowingly cheat or lie or push people around for selfish reasons fall short of their goals. . . but all I have to do is open a newspaper and I guarantee you that you won't find someone like Mother Theresa on the front page. Mike Vick, maybe, but no one who is up for sainthood.

I don't know the answer. I'm not even sure I believe there is a real answer one way or the other -- maybe the best you can do is choose a path and follow it. But I want to believe the good guys win.

I can go on and on about this idea, but I'll save it for tomorrow when I give you the mathematical equation that my favorite teacher in college, Robert Thurman (yup, Uma's dad), presented as proof that the good guys win in the end.
 

Support the WGA!! - 11/12/07

Blogga blogga. I'm talking about the Writer's Guild strike which is entering week 2. Do you know about this strike? I hope you all note that there is almost zero news coverage of this strike, even from the E! Entertainment news people (and is there anything bigger to report in entertainment news than a shutdown of the t.v. and film business? It's the entertainment news equivalent of Katrina hitting New Orleans, and yet there is barely any news coverage happening. . . cuz' the networks don't want you to know too much about what's going on. Screw The Man!! Power to the People!).

I'll admit that I am 100%, completely biased on this matter (hey, I'm a musician so I know that when the "creative" types deal with the "commericial" types in suits, the creative types historically have gotten screwed), but I think a rock has enough intelligence to see who the real pricks are in this situation if you know what's going on. But luckily I don't have to go on and on about the boring details of what's really going on because there is a lovely little video available so you can hear exactly what these producers are thinking.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a37uqd5vTw&eurl=http://unitedhollywood.blogs

I'll be writing more about this later, but I just wanted to share the video for now to help raise awareness of what's going on and what's at stake for the writers. So if you pass the writers picketing, be sure to make a lot of noise to show support for these folks. This is going to be very tough for everyone in the entertainment industry who gets affected by the strike. . . I think it's very important that folks stick together and fight against these greedy fat cats who make ridiculous sums of money and want to cheat the people making product for them out of a couple more pennies on the dollar. Or, as the old American saying goes, "don't tread on me."

Fight the power!

Life in a Nutshell - 10/29/07

Blogga blogga. Just got back from a quick 3-show tour in Northern California. This trip was an interesting one that's had me thinking about life and existence and purpose and generally shaking my head cuz' I just don't know what to make of any of it. It's pretty amazing, but life really never ceases to surprise me. I think I've got stuff figured out and then BAM, it all gets flipped on its head. I just don't get it, but that's o.k. Sometimes being on the road kicks you out of your routine enough that your mental patterns free up and you start to get philosophical (which happened this trip). It can be really liberating and can do wonders for your perception, but this trip spun me around without helping me arrive at any grand conclusions -- I have no idea what's going on.

First off, it's always strange to go back to the place where you grew up and I spent most of my childhood in San Francisco. I've got a lot of memories and emotions tied up in that place and stuff always resurfaces when I'm back in the Bay Area. There's a weird feeling like things have changed, that I have changed, and yet everything is the same as it always has been. But it's not. Yet it is. It's a damn paradox. I'm running around town doing things I would never have dreamed of doing when I was a kid growing up in S.F., but I can still tap into the mindset I had when I was a kid. And then, when I think it's all familiar, it flips upside down and I know that nothing is the same: not the place or the people or even myself or my memories. I mean, I remember things, but I know I've already changed so much that I'm thinking about my old memories differently -- my memories are an attempt at bringing up my perceptions and thoughts I had when I was a kid, but they aren't the same as the thoughts that I had; they are still being translated through the perspective that I have now, many years later.

Here's an example -- I'm playing a gig at the Ukiah Brewery, a cool-ass organic brewery/restaurant in beautiful Ukiah, about 110 miles north of San Francisco. It was pretty dead for a Saturday night and I ended up playing primarily for the owner and employees of the Brewery along with a handful of patrons scattered throughout the club, all of whom were really cool. Just another Saturday night gig for me -- I've been playing music all my life and I've got hundreds, maybe even thousands, of public performances under my belt; I've got tons of experience to draw upon and I try to improve on each show, so any given show should be a pretty familiar experience, right? I should be able to tell you generally what's going to happen, right? Nope! What I thought would be a pretty quiet night where I was playing to an empty bar ended up lasting late into the night with folks asking me to keep on playing and making stuff up on the spot after I had finished playing all of the songs I know. And then, in the middle of a random improvisation, I somehow stumble into playing Kol Nidre. . . if you don't know what Kol Nidre is, it is a Jewish prayer sung during Yom Kippur that is all about personal vows and absolution (forgive me for making it so two dimensional). It's a very beautiful piece of music and I always understood it as a personal conversation with God wherein you ask for forgiveness and a chance to start over again; a chance to honestly appraise yourself and your "sins", and then put aside guilt and the things that chain you to the past so that you can go forth and do better in the future.

So there I am, playing a Jewish prayer in an organic brewery for some 10 people or so on a quiet Saturday night when I'm supposed to be running around cementing some sort of rock star identity. Rockin' out on Kol Nidre!! Just what the kids want to hear on a Saturday night. And the strange thing is, when I slipped into Kol Nidre by accident, I got really deep into the music. I really did end up asking for absolution as I was playing, and I think the folks listening caught on that I wasn't just playing music. . . I was going someplace deeper than that. Got the most enthusiastic response of the evening. Fucking bizarre. I would never have imagined something like that happening. I would never dream of pulling out Kol Nidre like that in a bar, period. . . and I don't know if I ever played it that well before in my life (haven't played it in years, period). Don't know if I could have played it that well if I had actually practiced the piece for the show. Go figure.

I don't understand life, folks. Really don't. I don't think anyone does, but you can't live your life saying "I don't know shit", can you. . . can you? I sure don't want an airline pilot to say something like that if I'm on a plane about to take off. . . and yet that pilot knows as much about what any given flight will be like as I know how a gig will go -- and I just told you all that my last gig flipped me on my ass in surprise. In fact, there's always bizarre stuff that happens in every gig (Spinal Tap showed that there is a lot of truth in jest), no matter how much you prepare or plan ahead. Strings break, amps pick up radio signals, drummers spontaneously combust. . . We're all just making it up as we go along and doing the best we can, even if we don't admit it. But that's o.k., because those breaks in expectations often lead to new discoveries. Sometimes the best things happen by accident, or when you get your world flipped around.


But what do I know anyway?
 

Thoughts about touring - 9/27/07

Blogga blogga. Been a long time since the last blog -- I've been busy juggling way too many things recently and my web duties have suffered the most because of it. One of the things I've been up to is doing a bit of touring, just me and my cello zig zagging around the Pacific Northwest and playing shows in random little clubs. It's 17-18 hours from Los Angeles to Seattle, so I did easily over 40 hours of driving, more than 3000+ miles in a week. I am also completely familiar with the Motel 6 franchise now, including how they run their operation and what their designers decided would be the standard "Motel 6" decor for their motels.

Rule 1 - you must have some sort of synthetic bedcover in every motel featuring a smashing blue background and a random collection of images on it (here's a bear. . . and a tree. . . and a piece of pie. . . and a soccer ball. . . ). Lovely. Just like home if you were a 7 year old boy living in the 70's.

Rule 2, you must have towels made of recycled sandpaper placed next to the warning sign posted on the bathroom mirror that informs honored guests at Motel 6 that every missing towel will add an additional fee of $15 to your bill.

And Rule 3, every Motel 6 room must have walls no thicker than 1 inch so that all the guests can feel a sense of community as they listen to eachother's whispered conversations and random, bodiless sex noises.

Sometimes I'd forget what town I was in because the hotel rooms always looked the same. . . but then I would be thankful that I'm staying in hotels on this tour, rather than crashing in the car every night like a lot of people do to save cash. I was being luxurious by reserving a spot at the Motel 6 every night.

Being on the road by yourself is an unusual thing -- I can be sort of masochistic and I actually enjoy tackling the challenge of long drives (hey, if there was a windmill in front of me, I'd probably joust it while Sancho Panza watched in misery) -- but after the first couple of hours of sitting in the same position and constantly maintaining a focus on being alert for potential road dangers and cops, you begin to understand why professional truckers earn a living simply for being steer a big rig over long distances. It tiring and physically taxing, even though you really aren't moving at all. By day three of pulling long shifts of driving, your body begins to petrify in the driving position and you find your hands stuck in "kung fu grip" position from holding onto the wheel for hours at a time. I found out the hard way that playing a gig after a 10 hour drive can be difficult if you can't get rid of kung fu grip paralysis. I need to find a car that can drive itself, like KIT from Knight Rider.

Anyway, all that driving aside, I had a great time going into places where no one knew me or what I do. I had a couple goals in mind when I first started the trip -- I wanted to sell out my remaining stock of CDs that I had on me (pretty much accomplished that one), I wanted to test out my ability to do shows on my own that lasted as long as 2.5 hours (I had to talk a lot, but I got that down as well without needing to recycle any songs), and I wanted to walk out of every place with people knowing who I was. What I mean by that last goal is that I wanted random strangers to say "goodbye, Semyon, hope you come back soon" as I was leaving and to do it while pronouncing my name correctly (I figure if they can say my tricky name correctly, then I did something memorable on stage).

That last goal was the most important and accomplishing that made me feel pretty good about zipping around Oregon and Washington for a week accumulating debt. I pretty much walked into every club as a complete nobody and I walked out after playing with folks treated me like a long lost friend. It was pretty cool to be able to get a 180 from people like that, to know that I could grab random strangers' attention favorably. Communicating with the audience is what it's all about, right?

My favorite spot was the Axe and the Fiddle in Cottage Grove, Oregon. It's a little home-grown bar that opened up fairly recently in a town surrounded by trees and clean air near Eugene. They serve beer in little jars like you would put preserves in instead of using the standard pint glasses (a nice touch), and it's pretty much a relaxed little drinking hole the locals go to for music and ping pong and the little book store attached next door (booze and books! awesome!). A true small business and one worthy of support, if you ask me. The cute bartenders were really nice and the patrons and the owners and. . . well, pretty much everyone there was just looking for a drink and some good music. What a crazy concept -- wish folks in L.A. had the same ideas. I played two 1 hour sets there and met a lot of cool people, including my 1 fan I didn't even know I had. Check this out -- I, for the first time EVER, had the experience of playing my little original tunes for strangers and having someone in the crowd who knew the lyrics. A complete stranger in a town I've never been to knew my songs! Mary Hendricks, official 1 fan -- thanks for your support and for listening to my album!! I think she probably knows my lyrics better than I do. And check this out -- I have a little sing along section in one of my new songs that I wrote just kind of as an inside joke to myself making fun of the pop concert tradition of doing a sing along song. I never, ever expected anyone to actually sing along with me. Really. It was just my little joke with myself. But as I was singing the song, the folks at the Axe and the Fiddle started joining in and I literally had a sing along session going on. Wow! Nothing but love and affection for the Axe and the Fiddle, for what they are trying to do at that bar, and for the beautiful people there. Places/people like that are the reason why I like playing music in public and I wish there were as many of them as there are Starbucks in the world.

Anyway, I have a ton of stories from the trip that I'll save for a later date. It's good to be back in L.A. for a bit (sorry, Motel 6, but I like my own apartment a bit more than your lush economy accomodations) and I'll be back on the road again to do Northern California and wine country at the end of October. I'll just leave you with this final bit of information I gleaned from my travels -- if you go to Grant's Pass, Oregon, and go to their bank right now to open a home loan, you can select one of their ducks for adoption as a bonus. Really! You get a home loan AND a duck!! So what are you waiting for?

Stevie Wonder saved my life - 9/6/07

Blogga blogga. I heard Stevie Wonder play at the Greek Theater last night, and he is just. . . well, I can't think of a better word than "wonderful". He's more than "awesome" or "badass" or "brilliant" or "amazing" -- he's all of that and then he is something more that is unique and beautiful.

Let me tell you a story about why Stevie is probably my #1 musical hero -- go back in time with me to when I had just split from my first real band, Smokin' With Einstein. It was a really bad time for me. When a band really gets some time together, the relationships become almost marriage-like, if for no other reason than the fact that you plan your future with the other band members in mind. So when things break apart, they can be really horrible and confusing because your entire life can shatter with the band.

I was devastated. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to play music any more because I was sick of stupid stuff you have to put up with as a musician. I was feeling like music was becoming a "job", and the last thing I wanted to do was to reduce music to drudgery. I was at a crossroads again and was honestly wondering if I wanted to keep trying to do the music thing now that my grand plans of world domination with Smokin' With Einstein were fading. The thought of starting over again with another band didn't seem appealing -- so I was leaning towards thinking of music as a hobby. Done. Over. Quitsville.

And then I discovered Stevie Wonder's live album with the Tokyo Symphony, "Natural Wonder". Wow. With Nathan Watts on bass helping Stevie with some of the best orchestrations of popular music I've come across. If you don't own this amazing double album (I'm surprised at how many Stevie fans don't even know it exists), then stop reading this blog and go get a copy.

Go.

Do it now.

I'll wait.

. . . got it?

Cool. You are now in possession of the album that pulled me back from the abyss. You now have a collection of some of Stevie's greatest hits (he has so many, even a double album can't cover them all) performed live with his usual band of amazing musicians plus an orchestra of Japanese cats who are on fire trying to keep up with Stevie. Listen to "Overjoyed" or "Superstitious" with that orchestra in the background. And then check out "Ribbon in the Sky" and make sure to listen to the special ending Stevie tacks on. Wow wow wow! It's that combination of Stevie's unique voice that cuts through all of the instruments, his great songs, the way he works with the other musicians, and. . . that other thing I'm trying to get at that makes him "wonderful".

I can remember sitting there, listening to "I Just Called To Say I Love You", which is possibly one of the cheesiest songs ever written. Right up there with "Don't Worry, Be Happy" or "Hip To Be Square". It's super cheese. Cheese on steroids. It's the kind of song you may turn down on the radio in your car if you think someone can hear you listening (and singing along) to it because you don't want to look like a cheeseball. And there I am, listening to Stevie sing the super cheese song and MEAN it. I really do think he calls people occasionally and says "I love you" right off the bat. I really do think Stevie values love and light and happiness and joy, real joy, above all else. And it hit me that not a lot of people do that. Without ignoring his immense musical gifts, it is that quality which makes him unique and. . . wonderful.

Sometimes the simplest phrases, like "I love you" get twisted around, filled with complexity and double meaning. Sometimes it's said as a reflex and the meaning is lost. But there's Stevie, singing for his audience and I think he really is just filled with joy and love -- love for the audience, for his fellow musicians, for the moment, for the world. He seems to believe in it and he makes it real for people.

So I'm listening to him and suddenly the sense of weight of the obstacles I face, of my fate in life, become lighter, less important. Does Stevie care that he's being so cheesy that every jaded MTV kid out there laughs at those lyrics while they listen to the fake emotional turmoil of an emo-band or some watered down meaningless pop crap? Nope. Those kids are just missing out and being silly because who doesn't want real joy and love? You go emo because you are afraid of the real thing, but Stevie's not afraid. He's the opposite. He's not hiding behind anything. And what can I say. . . it gave me courage and hope that maybe I could do things in my own way too. I knew for sure that if I dropped out of the music game, then I would never even sniff at the chance of experiencing something like what Stevie and those musicians experienced making that album. And I wanted that experience. Wanted it enough to hop back in and give the idea of being a professional musician another try. I wanted to feel and sing super cheese too, dammit!

This happened around the time when I started playing the cello a lot again (I was playing electric bass in Smokin' With Einstein. . . because that's a normal instrument for a band and the cello in a rock band seemed silly back then). I was also listening to Michael Hedges and started ripping off the way he played guitar, which became the basis for how I strum/pluck/abuse the cello now. Hedges got me started and opened my mind to different ways of playing a musical instrument, but Stevie is the one who showed me the Emerald City that has been my desired destination ever since. I don't know if I would have continued with playing music if not for Stevie -- so that's why I say that he "saved" me.

Who else in the world of popular music is capable of that? Of inspiring an arrogant young musician to try for beauty and the simple joy of playing music in a career that is dominated by concern of money, numbers and superficial cult of personality crap? Do you think Madonna is going to give me hope? Bono? Tupac? Shakira? Dave Matthews? Am I going to believe he means it if John Mayer sings "Isn't She Lovely"? Is the joy going to be obvious in his voice like it is with Stevie?

I could go on and on about Stevie -- his songwriting is brilliant. His singing is unique and his phrasing is unlike anything I'd try, but it works perfectly. His lyrics range from simple songs a kid could memorize to epic prose like Conversation Peace. His musical ability with his voice, harmonica, keyboards, drums, etc. are legendary, and deservedly so. His ability to lead his band (who are true pros who sound like they have been playing together for centuries) is an example every leader in any field should follow (Stevie for President!!). His warm, easy going, funny persona on stage (Stevie's got jokes!!) made everyone in the audience feel connected to him as if he were just playing songs for fun in his living room. And running through all of it is that "wonderful" thing, that amazing openness of spirit and heart that's evidenced in every action. Every note.

O.k. Time to stop babbling like a fan and to get back to focusing on the mini-tour I'm about to take heading towards the Pacific Northwest. I've got to get my head in the right place so I can try to do my version of what Stevie has inspired in me. I just had to take a moment, process the concert I just heard, and give praise to Stevie for standing so comfortably on that towering pedestal I have placed him on. He's still the only hero I've ever had who has never once wobbled on his pedestal -- another reason why he is so special.

Thanks, Stevie.

Jury Duty - 7/20/07

Blogga blogga. Wednesday I reported to jury duty – it's always an enlightening experience to witness the U.S. legal system up close and I thought I lucked out by getting pulled into the Beverly Hills Courthouse for my jury duty. In my imagination, the Beverly Hills Courthouse is where the kids from 90210 are now working in various capacities – Andrea would be the judge (of course), Dylan would either be on trial himself or he'd be the bailiff battling alcoholism, Kelly would be some sort of legally-blonde-style defense attorney facing off against Steve (misguided overaggressive prosecutor). Brandon would be there as the district attorney with political aspirations, Donna as the leggy court reporter who is secretly screwing the judge (gasp! Yes, I just made a lesbian reference!). . . it's not Perry Mason, but it would be sexy stuff.

In reality, the Beverly Hills Courthouse is just a dumpy little building with tiny courtrooms that look like they were designed by the folks who created the sets for the Brady Bunch. Don't get me wrong – when you see the judge on his/her elevated platform wearing the black robe with the State Seal flanked by flags, you immediately know that whoever is on the bench is in a position that demands respect; it's just the cheesy faux wood paneling and the rickety seats pulled out of an old movie theater 20 years ago that made me realize that the government doesn't give the courts a huge budget to work with – not even in Beverly Hills. Even the elevator (there is only one working elevator and the stairs are closed because they do not have enough security personnel to monitor the stairs) was an antique and it wouldn't accept more than a handful of people at a time. There I was expecting a big fountain shooting Dom Perignon into the air in the middle of a palatial foyer; instead there was a bunch of pissed off jurors crammed in line waiting to get into the elevator 6 at a time while two overworked security guards tried to direct everyone around.

If you've ever been through the jury selection process, then you know your happiness is completely in the hands of the presiding judge. I lucked out because my jury pool had a funny judge who cracked jokes right and left. As people inevitably tried to worm their way out of serving on the jury, the judge zinged one liners at them. I loved it. One woman claimed to have extreme low blood sugar levels that only hit her in official places like a courthouse – the judge pulled out a candy bar and tossed it at the woman while singing "who can make the sun shine. . ."

Here's the thing about jury duty – you just aren't going to trick the judge with some half-assed excuse about why you can't be a good juror because (a) the judge has heard it all a million times and has a million ways of testing your conviction that you would be a sucky juror and (b) all a juror needs to do is be a reasonable person who can look at objective evidence and agree on stuff like "2+2=4". If you are telling him that, because of some personal issue/bias, you cannot accept that "2+2=4", then yes, you will probably be excused. . . but trust me, the judge will make sure you look like an unreasonable, prejudiced piece of crap in the process. The only guy I really believed could not be an objective member of a jury was a guy who had his arm broken by the cops when he was arrested for possession of narcotics – I believe he honestly hated cops to the point where he wouldn't believe their testimony no matter what. But everyone else? Full of it. Grasping at straws in order to get out of one day of jury service. The judge pretty much nailed all of them and got them to admit that they could probably think clearly for one day and make a fair judgment about whether or not someone did or did not commit a crime. It's not THAT hard to be reasonable for a short amount of time.

I didn't get selected (never even had a chance to go up there and answer any questions – I feel so spurned), but it reaffirmed that, as flawed as any legal system can be, we have a pretty damn good one in the U.S. -- as long as you don't get labeled as an "enemy combatant", which I can't find a solid definition for anywhere. Maybe that definition falls under "executive privilege". . . but I digress. At the core of it, being given a fair trial, with guaranteed representation before a jury of randomly selected people who are continually instructed to be as fair and impartial as possible by the judge (who is charged with explaining what the exact laws are that are in question), is really quite a good deal. I have a lot of problems with politics and zealous nationalism and all of that, but I'm happy to say that jury duty helped revived a bit of American pride.

Now let's see how the system deals with this whole Michael Vick situation. . .

My process still sucks - 7/12/07

Blogga blogga. O.k., so I wrote earlier about song writing and how long it takes me to get a song done. Sometimes it's really quick and simple. And other times I waste hours and hours and just toss out the idea in frustration.

This past month I wanted to finish 3 songs. That was the goal. I managed to get one done and I have the musical component of one song 100% figured out -- except my lyrics right now are "laaa laaa day deee day deee day, laaaa dadee laa." I've got vowel sounds and lyrics and an idea of what I'm writing about, but I've wasted about 10 hours total on trying to figure out lyrics with nothing to show for it. I am dumbfounded by this.

Usually, I get one piece of the puzzle going and it helps some other stuff fall into place -- in the case of this particular song, I had a concept in my mind that I really liked where the song was a conversation between myself and my now-16 year old god-brother; the kid is maturing at a rapid place and in the process he's getting his heart broken right and left, so I've had a couple conversations with him about the fairer sex and unrequited love and that sort of stuff. He's a really bright kid and a born romantic who can ramble off love poetry in Latin to the object of his affections, but he's also a wild, creative kid (he made a board game based on Kafka's Metamorphosis when he was 9 -- you win when you reach the end of the game and become a cockroach) who is just learning how to interact with people in a calm manner. Someday he'll get the cool composure of James Dean down, but in the meantime he's maybe a bit closer to Jim Carey than James Dean.

Anyway, I've got the basic song concept down, even got a little twist to it, and it helped me to get a melody down pretty quickly. In pop music, you don't really need a melody (in fact, most people don't even write vocal lines as melodies. Just listen to any song by Third Eye Blind -- switch any two notes in the vocal line at any time and it will make absolutely no difference. I hate that crap) but I love melodies. In fact, one of my criteria for figuring out if a vocal melody is any good is if I still like it when I play it on the cello using the bow and ignoring the lyrics.

So I've got the overall concept and the melody and I figured out some chord patterns. . . then a rhythmic feel that seemed to work. . . then I recorded all of that at a dozen different tempos to see what felt best. . . picked my favorite one. . . made sure I could sing over the instrumental chord pattern (I can't always play what I write, unfortunately). . . tried to figure out what general vowel sounds work best with the tune (you don't sing consonants, you sing the vowel sounds, and sometimes the "aa" sound works better than the "ee" sound in a tune. It's just an aesthetic feel thing I mess around with). . . and now I'm sitting here stuck on the damn lyrics that for some reason are eluding me. This shouldn't be that hard because I've already had these conversations in real life with my god-brother, but I'm just not getting anything that says what I want it to or that fits well.

Got one song done and another one in the bag except for the lyrics. I have a third one rattling around my brain but I'm so stuck on the lyrics for song 2, I can't work on song 3 in my brain without getting pulled back to 2. Obsessive compulsive tendencies, maybe. Can you be a mellow person and obsessive compulsive at the same time? Have I mentioned that my process is crap? And to think that I wrote Love Blows in just a couple hours. . . wish that happened more often.

Well, enough distraction. Time to go back to my vowel sounds and try to turn it into something that makes sense. One of these days, I'm going to write a tune with a vocal melody that just does vowel sounds and ignores the lyrics altogether; looking at some of the crappy lyric ideas I've thrown out so far today, that may be a good thing.

Several nuts short of a full pouch - 7/9/07

Blogga blogga. I'm hitting that ol' existential crossroads again. Happens from time to time. Maybe it's because I'm reading Bukowski again and the guy makes me think in existential terms. Maybe it's because I've been feeling a bit "off" recently -- for example, I was at a party this weekend and joined a group conversation. I kind of lobbed out some weak jokes and tried to join the conversation, but I distinctly felt like I was subtracting from it rather than adding to it. Who wants to be a "minus" sign, a buzz kill, around happy drunk folks? Especially when you are trying to be funny.

So today I was sitting at the Water Court in downtown Los Angeles eating lunch, feeling pensive or melancholy or brooding -- something other than "chipper" -- reading the words of the great Bukowski and thinking about all of the people he describes in brutal detail in his fiction. ". . . a woman with an ass like the underside of heaven." What a line. Brilliant, brutal, beautiful, bold, and butt-ugly crude at the same time. I love the guy because I can't define him, but his words can knock me on my ass as much as any other writer.

I'm looking around at the corporate lunch crowd at the Water Court, half in a Bukowski state of mind (I don't think you can say you are fully in a Bukowski state of mind if you are sober) and I start wondering about the characters on display -- what's the deal with that guy over there holding court at that table full of suits? Guy looks like a snooty asshole. Bet he bought a BMW and expects it to help mask his bland, nebbish looks and help him get laid. Look at the way he is talking too loud about himself. . . oh, he's broadcasting his conversation to everyone around him because there's a table of women next to him he's trying to impress. Damn, it looks like it's working, too.

And why are all of those women wearing those huge, bug-eye sunglasses? All 4 of them look like they were popped out of the same cookie cutter mold that just screams Paris Hilton to me. Every time I see a Los Angelelino wearing those oversized, Audrey-Hepburn-from-Breakfast-at-Tiffany's glasses, I think Paris Hilton. At least Audrey wore them for her role as the paradigm of Holly Golightly, that wild, beautiful, tragic creature Capote brought to life. I'll be happy when a new village-idiot-slut-girl takes over and Paris oozes back into obscurity. Our youth have it tough enough as it is and having her as a role model makes me very afraid for the future. . . speaking of our precious youth, check out the 4 year old kid playing in the fountain screaming at the top of his lungs. Wow. He's just wading through duck shit and drinking it and screaming like someone is beating him. Is that his mom over there? The one he's screaming at who is staring at the wall and ignoring him? Back hunched over. . . worn down slipper shoes partly falling off. . . she looks like she just went 10 rounds with a young, un-medicated Mike Tyson. What is she thinking about? What does she want out of life? Maybe she's hoping Mike Tyson will eat her kid.

How about the table over there filled with young summer associates? So young. So shiny. It's like prom night all over again. They are all huddled together, beaming at the possibility of being accepted by a law firm so they can spruce up the ol' resume, get a job at Somebody, Somebody & That Other Guy, LLC, and start paying off the student loans. Listen to that one young lady who can't stop fidgeting with her hair -- she's got the stupid bug eye sunglasses on too. "Omigod, I was, like, glaring at that guy during the deposition and just thinking, 'old man, some day I'LL be the one cross examining and taking you, like, totally down in court in front of a, um, like, jury.'" How quickly they grow up to become competitive assholes -- this one is already dreaming of the day she can dance on someone's grave. She probably has dreams where she thrusts an accusing finger in someone's face in court and says "you can't handle the truth!" Maybe someone will eventually counsel her on the fact that the use of the word "like" in a profession where every word is scrutinized for meaning like the legal profession is perhaps not, like, a good thing. It's not "like" something in that context. It IS or ISN'T. Why do we have to back off from being definitive in our communication? Why do I give a shit what she says? If anything, maybe I should befriend her so she doesn't, like, totally take me down. She must be a ton of fun on dates.

And here come the white haired, distinguished gentlemen -- the tailored suit crowd strolling out of the steakhouse. How was the rib eye today, gentlemen? Did you remember to have a couple of vegetables as well so the wife doesn't tut tut you when you get home? What is it you guys worry about at this point in your lives? Do you still worry about money and job security? Is it true that it's lonely at the top? Or is it just exclusive up there? I'll say one thing -- the dudes look sharp in their tailored suits. If the suit makes the man, then I need to find out where these guys go for their threads.

And here comes the secretarial pool filled with laughing, happy ladies. By far the most diverse clique out there in terms of race and age. The eldest of the group is laughing so hard she's crying and her mascara is starting to run. They are cool; I envy how much fun they are having and how comfortable they seem to be with each other and their day to day existence. It works for them. You go, ladies.

And here's an interesting contrast standing in line at the salad place; two women, about the same age, both attracting a lot of male attention. One of them is a bottled blonde with the latest hair cut, wearing the bug eyed sunglasses, make up caked on, stiletto heels, wonderbra proudly displayed through her tight, see-through blouse -- the other one has vibrant, untamable Amazonian hair, flat shoes for comfort, probably would laugh at the idea of wearing a g-string, and her smile is her make-up. I wonder if the guys at the table of suits would prefer one or the other. . . and I would love to know the reasons for their preferences. Probably comes down to some Oedipal "I want to screw my mom" type of thing. Maybe they'd be insulted at the concept that they'd have to choose one or the other.

What are all these people thinking? Are they happy? Are they sad? Do they like what they are doing in life? Are they struggling to be who they want to be, or have they already arrived? Are their best days in front of them or behind them? Do they worry about what tomorrow will bring? Or is tomorrow just another chance to take someone down and joyfully make them rue the day they met you? Do they believe in love? In God? Do they have a blog?

I don't know. It's fun to imagine someone else's inner monologue, but I bet if you could get them to tell you the naked truth, most people would admit that they really don't know what they are doing. Life is a big ol' mess like that. Or at least it seems that way to me.

Now the kid screaming in the fountain is talking to a young woman reading at a table by the fountain. He's quieting down because he can't hear what she's saying if he is screaming. I don't think his mom even notices he's talking to a stranger. The young lady is feeding the ducks. Now she's feeding the damn kid too and smiling from ear to ear. One tortilla chip for the duck. One for the kid. At least he's stopped screaming so I can listen in on the big time conversation happening at the table of suits. . . guy is bragging about his BMW. Nailed that one. I bet he wishes he could just wear a t-shirt displaying his diploma and the current amount of money in his bank account. It's cheaper to wash the t-shirt than it is to keep the B-mer shiny anyway.

I don't know, I don't know. It's all good and I wish everyone happiness, even the people getting style tips from Paris Hilton. I have my own questions and style issues, my own stuff going on. Maybe it's exactly the same crap everyone is chewing on, but just taking on a slightly different flavor that fits my particular existence. I don't know. But I'm starting to think that there are a couple ways I can go about living life while I am unclear about the point of it all -- I can worry about the uncertain future, about the craziness of life and it's lack of true security and the way no one is guaranteed a happy ending. . . or I can acknowledge all of that stuff while working to keep a sense of humor about things, remember to laugh while I'm on the roller coaster ride, maybe even put ting both arms in the air while zipping through a 360 loop. . . there are other choices, but they all seem like variations on a theme. Try to control it or just roll with it . . .

I think I gotta roll with it and keep the sense of humor going. Living with fear and worry bogs me down too much. Limits choices and freedom. Makes you conservative in all sorts of ways. And I have no shortage of reasons to laugh at myself, so it won't be hard to pull off that kind of thing.

As Bukowski said, there are many ways a man can go mad. I just want to choose my own path to the nuthouse. Guess it's time to embrace that, toss my hands in the air and enjoy the ride.

Race ya! True story - 7/3/07

Blogga blogga. Living in Los Angeles, you need a car to get around this big, sprawling town. Public transportation is also available, but it's not exactly set up like it is in New York; plus I'm a musician carting around equipment so I rely on my car a lot. I happen to live in the Miracle Mile section of L.A., right near Korean Town, and I zip through Korea Town regularly.

Now before I get into my story, let me just say this and get it out of the way -- the stereotype about asian drivers being bad drivers is closer to the truth than a lot of stereotypes. What's that, you say? Gasp!! Shock!! What sort of racism is this? Actually, I base this statement on empirical data culled from a game I play called "guess who that bad driver is". The essense of the game is that I make sure to get a good look at anyone who drives poorly or blatantly disregards the laws of the road. If someone makes a lefthand turn across 3 lanes from the far righthand lane, then I will make an effort to try to see who that person is who is driving so poorly. I then take note of that persons' gender, nationality, and anything else that stands out. I do this in the name of science and I use the data to help me avoid being surprised when someone decides to drive like an idiot.

Here's what I've learned -- asian women drivers in giant SUV's are the grim reaper in disguise. Don't believe me? Then go loiter around my mom's car when she's driving it and we'll see how long it takes before she accidentally takes out your knee caps with her car. My mom is actually an unusual case even though she fits the asian female profile to a T; you see, my mom has never been in an actual car accident, but they happen all around her all the time. One time, my mom's car was parked on a hill and the parking brake on another car parked further up the hill gave up the ghost -- the empty car swerved past all the other parked cars, past pedestrians and cars going both ways in the street, and it swerved just at the right angle to smash right into my mom's parked car. The car had to avoid a lot of objects to hit my mom's car and I think the probability of it happening like that is negative something or other, but that's just the sort of stuff that happens to my mom and her automobile. I don't know why, but bad things just happen in the vicinity of my mom's car. She also has trouble seeing when it is dark out, which affects her driving just a wee bit. . . just not enough to prevent her from getting behind the wheel anyway.

My point is that, based on rigorous scientific examination, I find it prudent to be 100% alert when I drive through Korea town. Because of my alertness, I can honestly say that I have dodged about 20 potential accidents in this year alone so far. Just yesterday I managed to dodge someone going the wrong way down Wilshire Blvd -- seriously, there was this asian woman (yes, I checked) going the wrong way down the street yapping away on her cell phone, totally oblivious to the fact that she was driving like a suicidal idiot. And yes, she was driving a shiny gold Lexus SUV, proving my point that asian woman drivers in large cars = death on wheels if you aren't careful. Thank god my mom wasn't anywhere near that woman because somehow, some way, their cars would have collided and destroyed all of Los Angeles.

Anyway, as I was zipping through Korea town, constantly scanning for bad drivers headed my way, some asshole kid in a suped-up Honda decided to tail me. O.k., no biggie. Then he turned on his high beams because apparently traffic wasn't moving quickly enough for him. O.k., that's annoying, but that's just city living for you. But then he started honking. Non-stop. Beep beeep beep beeeep beep beeeep. Like a moron who just learned morse code and wanted to show off. Beep Beeeeeeeeeeeep. Beep bee beep bee beeeeeeep. Screw that.

So you know how people sometimes put flyers under your windshield wiper telling you about lube jobs for cheap or fortune tellers or some other sort of advertisement? I have a stack of that crap on the floor in the back of my car from when I would grab the stuff off the windshield before getting into my car -- I don't want to litter, so I end up with a pile of the stuff in the back until I get around to cleaning out my car every couple of weeks or so. I grabbed a giant stack of that stuff, put my car into park (traffic was going nowhere and we had just hit a red light) and I hopped out of my car. I walked over to the car behind me where the guy was still honking his horn; he saw me coming and the beeping immediately stopped. He started fiddling with the radio but I kept on coming. I pulled up his windshield wiper. I put the advertisements under the wiper blade. I eased the wiper blade back down on top of the ads. I smiled at his shocked face, turned around, and got back into my car.

Man, did that piss him off. It was ON after that. The light hit green and he aggressively pulled into the lane next to me and tried to pass me. Fuck that, I said to no one. This guy is going down. I pulled forward a couple of feet (that's all the room I had -- traffic was pretty bad). He pulled forward a couple of feet. I nudged an inch ahead of him so the nose of my car was ahead of his. He nudged his car an inch forward as well. The whole time he's swearing and gesticulating at all of the ads I left stuck on his windshield.

One more inch forward for him. I matched that and raised him a half an inch. He gunned the engine and met my raise. I put the car in reverse and inched backwards a bit just to throw him off. He pulled backwards as well. Oh yeah, this guy had it out for me all right.

We did this over the course of a city block in full-on rush hour traffic. It took about 10 minutes to go the full block, but at the end of it, he and I were both staring at a red light at an intersection with no other cars in front of us. THIS time we'd be able to actually get a little speed going and maybe get a full city block of racing in before we caught up to the traffic ahead of us. I watched as the green light for the other drivers in the intersection adjacent to us turned to yellow and started revving the engine while holding down the break pedal. As soon as that light turned green, I was going to shoot forward and the kid eat exhaust. I was fully absorbed in kicking this kid's ass and judging from the way he had turned dark red in the face, he really wanted to kick mine. Oh yea, baby. It was go time.

A split second before the light turned green for us, the kid jumped the gun and took off. Dammit! He got the jump on me! I was about to chase after him when my spider sense went off and told me to hold off for a second. . . and I avoided getting plowed into by an asian lady making an illegal turn through the intersection in her giant BMW SUV. The ads went flying everywhere and the kid's car was totalled. The asian lady in the BMW didn't even notice; I think she was was watching a DVD while she was driving. I was about to stop to help the kid, feeling a little guilty, but he had already hopped out of his car and was screaming away at everyone as he was dialing into his cell phone -- apparently the car accident hadn't injured him or calmed him down so I just cruised away and kept on scanning for more bad drivers.

Moral of the story? Well, maybe it's "don't be a jackass" or "don't engage jackasses in their stupidity". Or maybe it's just not smart to try to race in L.A. rush hour traffic in Korea town.

More than meets the eye! - 7/3/07

Blogga blogga.

OooooEeeeeeeAaaaaaOooooooEeeeeee. You know what that is, right? Just say it out loud and put a little stress on the capital letters. Now speed it up. Does it sound familiar now?

If it doesn't, then you didn't grow up with the Transformers like I did because that's the sound a giant robot makes when it changes from a car or a plane or a ghetto blaster (remember that guy?) into a ginorous butt-kicking robot. Oh yes, giant robots. My japanese half loves that crap.

So tonight I have tickets to catch Michael Bay's take on my favorite childhood toy. Michael Bay is kind of a jackass movie maker. . . not really the best story teller in the world, y'know? But the trailers look like he has really brought the giant robots to life in a way that hasn't been done before. The last time I saw a movie with giant robots, it had Ultraman in it -- this looks a touch more exciting than that.

First Jackson brought us hobbit sized people and a really impressive looking digital King Kong. . . now Bay brings giant robots to life on the big screen as well. I gotta say -- I actually have hope that maybe this movie won't suck. It probably will suck seeing how a big budget special-effects based movie without plot/characters/basic storytelling is just a expensive, shiny piece of crap (sorry, but storytelling is what makes movies great, not the special effects. I've tried to find the exception to that rule, but I haven't found it yet), but I'm harboring a little hope that maybe this movie will make my inner child happy.

So if you see me standing in line murmuring "OoooooEeeeeeeeAaaaaaaOoooooEeeeee" to myself. . . don't laugh too hard.

Chop sockey! - 6/27/07

Blogga blogga. B rated films are a guilty pleasure of mine. Cheaply made action films, revenge stories, grindhouse flicks, etc. In particular, I've always liked martial arts films. Growing up, I wanted to be a ninja so I could sneak up on the school bullies and scare them with my black pajamas and ninja ways. Instead of ninjutsu, which isn't really taught in the U.S., I ended up studying Karate and the art of bludgeoning folks using all 4 limbs (not exactly mystical ninja stuff, but it works for me). . . but I've always had a soft spot for stories where guns were non-existent and a person's physical prowess and wits could save the day. I wanted to be Bruce Lee and climb my own pagoda of death (remember Game of Death? With Kareem Abdul Jabaar as a bad guy who kicks Bruce in the chest and leaves a giant footprint on the front of his shirt?), defeating each level's champion one by one until everyone lay dead or unconscious in the face of my peerless pugilism. I wanted to he Jackie Chan drinking rice wine from clay pots in order to make my Drunken Boxing more dangerous as I got more and more intoxicated. I wanted to roam the earth like Kwai Chang Caine and right wrongs with my Shaolin kung fu and wisdom.

And more than anything else, I wanted to be one of the Seven Samurai in Akira Kurosawa's classic movie. Man, that is one hell of a good story about honor and responsibility and the way choices and actions define a person. The Magnificent Seven is also a fantastic story as well, and I take it as a tribute to the strength of the tale that it translated so well from samurai to cowboys in the wild west. The UK has King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table -- we have Yul Brynner teaming up with Charlie Bronson, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, etc. I'm cool with that.

So for fun, I'm going to list a couple classic martial arts flicks that are great but which never grossed even a percentage of what the upcoming Die Hard movie will make over this weekend. If you like stupid violence done with style in obscure movies, try these out for fun --

Drunken Master II -- Brilliant work by Jackie Chan and there is a great kung fu master, Lau Kar Leung, who also makes an appearance (it's also his choreography). The scenes with Jackie doing drunken style are phenomenal and the legend of Master Wong is great stuff. One of my all time favorite movies, period.

Operation Scorpion -- another Lau Kar Leung masterpiece of choreography that is downright bizarre at times. Ever seen "scorpion style" before? This one can be tricky to find, but it's a fun one.

My Lucky Stars and Meals on Wheels and Dragons Forever -- Jackie Chan with Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. Amazing physical stuff happening in all three movies and some incredible slapstick stuff. Plus Benny the Jet Urquidez squares off with Jackie in some of the best fight scenes ever filmed -- it really makes a difference when the actors allow the other guy to smack them around and both Benny and Jackie take a beating when they go at eachother.

Kung Fu Hustle -- Stephen Chow's masterpiece mixing martial arts with comedy. There are so many imaginative ideas in this movie, it's ridiculous. In general, I love Stephen Chow's movies, but this one is the best of the bunch. A lot of fun.

Once Upon a Time In China (Pts. I and II) - The Legend of Master Wong again with Jet Li doing the No-Shadow Kick. Great period piece with gorgeous sets and all the wire work you can ask for. Donnie Yen is great as well.

Samurai Pts. I-III - Toshiro Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi is a big time hero of mine and every bit the legend in Japan that Master Wong Fei Hung is in China. Toshiro Mifune is to samurai flicks what Clint Eastwood is to westerns and tough guy films = unmatched. I can't help but love watching Mifune bring Mushashi to life.

Fist of Legend -- the original Hong Kong version and not the dubbed version they sell in the U.S. The U.S. version changed the story considerably and cut out a lot of the martial arts philosophy stuff (a big part of the story line). I hate the U.S. version because you miss out on the amazing dialogue between Jet Li and the Japanese karate master, which is brilliant. It's as if the project manager in charge of repackaging the movie for the U.S. decided that Americans are too stupid to understand martial arts philosophy = get the original and enjoy Jet Li in the best movie he ever made (Hero is pretty damn good as well, but it was a huge budget movie compared to Fist of Legend and therefore doesn't qualify as a B rated film). It's Yuen Woo Ping's best choreography to date as well.

Anything by Bruce Lee -- I mean it. Bruce Lee's worst movie still has Bruce Lee in it with his well thought out choreography and camera placement. You can't beat that. There have been countless imitators, but there is only one Bruce. The Michael Jordan of martial arts in movies. And if you can get any footage of his interviews where he's in his Hollywood superstar mode with the funky clothes and big sunglasses, check him out -- Bruce is one of a kind.

Anything with Tony Jaa (The Protector and Ong Bak) -- this guy is the next generation and Thailand is pumping out impressive B movies right now. Seriously, Tony Jaa is THE SHIT. I have no idea how he does half of the things he does and he does everything for real (check out his YouTube footage where he does a flip kick that hits targets 20 feet in the air -- how does he do that?). You want crazy physical stunts and acrobatics like Jackie Chan? Tony Jaa started out as a stunt guy and does all the stuff Jackie can do. You want stylized fighting like Jet Li? Tony Jaa can fight using a huge vocabulary of moves taken from a ton of styles and he knows what looks spectacular. You want brutal, "realistic" pugilism like Bruce Lee? Hope you like Muay Thai and its focus on smacking people with knees and elbows.

I could go on and on, but those are some good ones from Hong Kong and Japan and Thailand. Korea is starting to pop out some interesting B films as well, but I'll wrap this up before I end up getting too obscure. I mean, I haven't even touched anime yet. . .

Kissing Cousins - GO SEE IT!! - 6/22/07

Blogga blogga.

Are you ready? Because it's coming out soon. . . my good friend Amyn's movie, Kissing Cousins, is complete and on its way to film festivals. I've seen it and I'll tell you something -- it's good.

O.k., I'll admit that I have been friends with Amyn since high school and that I know a lot of the fine people he collaborated with to make the movie. And yes, I did play cello in spots here and there for Timo Chen's soundtrack for the movie. . . and yes, I spent an afternoon at the Entertainium (basically a large building divided into many smaller rooms that each have a theme, like a locker room or a classroom or a western saloon, etc. It's dirt cheap to film there, which is why Amyn and a lot of porn directors use the place) painting walls. . . and yes, the final song playing during the end credits is "Love Blows", which I wrote for the movie. . . but trust me, it's a good movie. In fact, it's so good, I don't know how Amyn and his crew pulled it off. Really.

Let me explain briefly to give this some context so you understand why I am amazed that the film exists -- in order to make an album, you have to gather together musicians (maybe 5-10 in order to get a good mix of instruments and skills), an engineer, a producer (or you can eliminate the middle man and self-produce), someone to mix the recording, someone to master it, and then 2-3 people to deal with artwork and the design of the album cover = maybe 15-20 people, maximum. If you are smart and efficient, you can make a good, professional quality recording for the price of a used Honda. Seriously, I know people who have made albums for as little as 3 grand that are comparable to albums put out by major artists on major labels. So let's say that 10K and 20 people will be enough to make a record that would be good enough to be sold in a record store (assuming there are any record stores left).

Do you know how much money and manpower you need in order to make a full length feature film? Think about how many different people will appear on screen throughout a 90 minute film. . . that's WAY more than 20 people right there. And then you have the camera crew. Lighting folks. Sound people. The make up folks. Producers of all shapes and sizes. Then all the people who edit and fix the sound and image in post. . . and you have to feed everyone too. . . suffice it to say that making a feature film involves several times the amount of time, money, resources, etc. that you need to make an album. It's like the difference between learning how to ride a bike and learning how to fly a jet. In fact, I don't even know why I'm bothering comparing the two.

So my buddy Amyn, who has had a lot of past success (was the Martin Scorcese Scholar at NYU, won the Slam Dance Film Festival for Best Short, and a bunch of other stuff) but has never had the stars align correctly so that he could take a shot at making a full length feature film, decided a couple years back to make the movie he wanted to make and to do it all on his own. What that means is that he went around himself and asked people to invest in his movie, he gathered up what investment he could, got all the legal stuff squared away (insurance and clearance to film in a location and all that crap -- not something musicans have to deal with at all), found people to handle all the various jobs, waded through many many actors in order to find his cast. . . let's just say that the guy had to do everything from scratch and on a very minimal budget. It took a ton of effort and a lot of herding cats, but he and his collaborators (because it truly is a team effort) pulled it off and now have a 90 minute film ready for viewing.

And so I went to a cast/crew screening last weekend not knowing much about the movie -- I purposely avoided learning too much about the story, never read a script, etc. because I wanted a real first impression of the movie. I went there knowing that the movie was called Kissing Cousins and that it is a romantic comedy made by Amyn Kaderali. That's all I knew and that's how I wanted it.

90 minutes later, my jaw was tired from laughing and I was still wiping tears out of the corner of my eyes from laughing hard. No joke, no b.s. I hadn't laughed that hard for a movie since I saw 40 Year Old Virgin. I mean it. The movie really had me cracking up. And the characters pulled me into the story as well -- I was sucked into the characters' lives really quickly and had no idea how things would turn out in the end. Timo's score worked great, especially the parts with cello, and the actors did a fantastic job (you will recognize quite a few of them because he did get some well known folks -- anyone remember Jaleel White, aka Urkel?). And the cinematography is top notch (bravo, Alison!) -- keep an eye out for the pornographic fishbowl scene.

I could go on and on. I'm so damn proud of Amyn and everyone who worked on the movie -- I really don't know how they pulled it off in such a short time and on such a limited budget. It took ginormous balls, a ton of energy and focus, and a lot of faith for them to get to the finish line and I hope you will keep an eye out for the movie when it gets picked up by a major distributor and starts showing in theaters. I won't even tell you to see the movie just to support these talented filmmakers (although you should do that anyway) -- if you like romantic comedies and are looking for another film to see after Knocked Up, then go check out Kissing Cousins. You'll like it. And make sure to stick around through the credits so you can hear Love Blows!

Dana Gioia's Speech - 6/20/07

The following is Dana Gioia's commencement speech given at Stanford University this year.

It crystalizes ideas I've had bouncing around my head for a while about our culture here in the United States and I'm thrilled to see this speech circulating on the internet.

Hope you enjoy.

-----------------------------------------------------

Good morning.

Thank you, President Hennessy.

It is a great honor to be asked to give the Commencement address at my alma mater. Although I have two degrees from Stanford, I still feel a bit like an interloper on this exquisitely beautiful campus. A person never really escapes his or her childhood.

At heart I'm still a working-class kid—half Italian, half Mexican—from L.A., or more precisely from Hawthorne, a city that most of this audience knows only as the setting of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown—two films that capture the ineffable charm of my hometown.

Today is Father's Day, so I hope you will indulge me for beginning on a personal note. I am the first person in my family ever to attend college, and I owe my education to my father, who sacrificed nearly everything to give his four children the best education possible.

My dad had a fairly hard life. He never spoke English until he went to school. He barely survived a plane crash in World War II. He worked hard, but never had much success, except with his family.

When I was about 12, my dad told me that he hoped I would go to Stanford, a place I had never heard of. For him, Stanford represented every success he had missed yet wanted for his children. He would be proud of me today—no matter how dull my speech.

On the other hand, I may be fortunate that my mother isn't here. It isn't Mother's Day, so I can be honest. I loved her dearly, but she could be a challenge. For example, when she learned I had been nominated to be chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, she phoned and said, "Don't think I'm impressed."

I know that there was a bit of controversy when my name was announced as the graduation speaker. A few students were especially concerned that I lacked celebrity status. It seemed I wasn't famous enough. I couldn't agree more. As I have often told my wife and children, "I'm simply not famous enough."

And that—in a more general and less personal sense—is the subject I want to address today, the fact that we live in a culture that barely acknowledges and rarely celebrates the arts or artists.

There is an experiment I'd love to conduct. I'd like to survey a cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players, Major League Baseball players, and American Idol finalists they can name.

Then I'd ask them how many living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors, and composers they can name.

I'd even like to ask how many living American scientists or social thinkers they can name.

Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O'Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk, Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead, and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a broad range of human achievement.

I grew up mostly among immigrants, many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show or the Perry Como Music Hall, I saw—along with comedians, popular singers, and movie stars—classical musicians like Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong captivate an audience of millions with their art.

The same was even true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman, and James Baldwin on general interest TV shows. All of these people were famous to the average American—because the culture considered them important.

Today no working-class or immigrant kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.

The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers, and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one. When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young.

There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.

Of course, I'm not forgetting that politicians can also be famous, but it is interesting how our political process grows more like the entertainment industry each year. When a successful guest appearance on the Colbert Report becomes more important than passing legislation, democracy gets scary. No wonder Hollywood considers politics "show business for ugly people."

Everything now is entertainment. And the purpose of this omnipresent commercial entertainment is to sell us something. American culture has mostly become one vast infomercial.

I have a reccurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo's incomparable fresco of the "Creation of Man." I see God stretching out his arm to touch the reclining Adam's finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is holding a Diet Pepsi.

When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David Letterman or Jay Leno who isn't trying to sell you something? A new movie, a new TV show, a new book, or a new vote?

Don't get me wrong. I love entertainment, and I love the free market. I have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity.

But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing—it puts a price on everything.

The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.

There is only one social force in America potentially large and strong enough to counterbalance this profit-driven commercialization of cultural values, our educational system, especially public education. Traditionally, education has been one thing that our nation has agreed cannot be left entirely to the marketplace—but made mandatory and freely available to everyone.

At 56, I am just old enough to remember a time when every public high school in this country had a music program with choir and band, usually a jazz band, too, sometimes even orchestra. And every high school offered a drama program, sometimes with dance instruction. And there were writing opportunities in the school paper and literary magazine, as well as studio art training.

I am sorry to say that these programs are no longer widely available to the new generation of Americans. This once visionary and democratic system has been almost entirely dismantled by well-meaning but myopic school boards, county commissioners, and state officials, with the federal government largely indifferent to the issue. Art became an expendable luxury, and 50 million students have paid the price. Today a child's access to arts education is largely a function of his or her parents' income.

In a time of social progress and economic prosperity, why have we experienced this colossal cultural and political decline? There are several reasons, but I must risk offending many friends and colleagues by saying that surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame. Most American artists, intellectuals, and academics have lost their ability to converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and inaudible in the general culture.

This mutual estrangement has had enormous cultural, social, and political consequences. America needs its artists and intellectuals, and they need to reestablish their rightful place in the general culture. If we could reopen the conversation between our best minds and the broader public, the results would not only transform society but also artistic and intellectual life.

There is no better place to start this rapprochement than in arts education. How do we explain to the larger society the benefits of this civic investment when they have been convinced that the purpose of arts education is mostly to produce more artists—hardly a compelling argument to either the average taxpayer or financially strapped school board?

We need to create a new national consensus. The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.

This is not happening now in American schools. Even if you forget the larger catastrophe that only 70 percent of American kids now graduate from high school, what are we to make of a public education system whose highest goal seems to be producing minimally competent entry-level workers?

The situation is a cultural and educational disaster, but it also has huge and alarming economic consequences. If the United States is to compete effectively with the rest of the world in the new global marketplace, it is not going to succeed through cheap labor or cheap raw materials, nor even the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base. To compete successfully, this country needs continued creativity, ingenuity, and innovation.

It is hard to see those qualities thriving in a nation whose educational system ranks at the bottom of the developed world and has mostly eliminated the arts from the curriculum.

I have seen firsthand the enormous transformative power of the arts—in the lives of individuals, in communities, and even society at large.

Marcus Aurelius believed that the course of wisdom consisted of learning to trade easy pleasures for more complex and challenging ones. I worry about a culture that bit by bit trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment. And that is exactly what is happening—not just in the media, but in our schools and civic life.

Entertainment promises us a predictable pleasure—humor, thrills, emotional titillation, or even the odd delight of being vicariously terrified. It exploits and manipulates who we are rather than challenges us with a vision of who we might become. A child who spends a month mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox has not been awakened and transformed the way that child would be spending the time rehearsing a play or learning to draw.

If you don't believe me, you should read the statistical studies that are now coming out about American civic participation. Our country is dividing into two distinct behavioral groups. One group spends most of its free time sitting at home as passive consumers of electronic entertainment. Even family communication is breaking down as members increasingly spend their time alone, staring at their individual screens.

The other group also uses and enjoys the new technology, but these individuals balance it with a broader range of activities. They go out—to exercise, play sports, volunteer and do charity work at about three times the level of the first group. By every measure they are vastly more active and socially engaged than the first group.

What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn't income, geography, or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.

Why do these issues matter to you? This is the culture you are about to enter. For the last few years you have had the privilege of being at one of the world's greatest universities—not only studying, but being a part of a community that takes arts and ideas seriously. Even if you spent most of your free time watching Grey's Anatomy, playing Guitar Hero, or Facebooking your friends, those important endeavors were balanced by courses and conversations about literature, politics, technology, and ideas.

Distinguished graduates, your support system is about to end. And you now face the choice of whether you want to be a passive consumer or an active citizen. Do you want to watch the world on a screen or live in it so meaningfully that you change it?

That's no easy task, so don't forget what the arts provide.

Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world—equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being—simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory, and physical senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images.

Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. And it remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, "It is a way of remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget." Art awakens, enlarges, refines, and restores our humanity. You don't outgrow art. The same work can mean something different at each stage of your life. A good book changes as you change.

My own art is poetry, though my current daily life sometimes makes me forget that. So let me end my remarks with a short poem appropriate to the occasion.


[Part III of Gioia's poem "Autumn Inaugural"]


Praise to the rituals that celebrate change,

old robes worn for new beginnings,

solemn protocol where the mutable soul,

surrounded by ancient experience, grows

young in the imagination's white dress.

Because it is not the rituals we honor

but our trust in what they signify, these rites

that honor us as witnesses—whether to watch

lovers swear loyalty in a careless world

or a newborn washed with water and oil.


So praise to innocence—impulsive and evergreen—

and let the old be touched by youth's

wayward astonishment at learning something new,

and dream of a future so fitting and so just

that our desire will bring it into being.


Congratulations to the Class of 2007.

How many cellists does it take - 6/6/07

How many cellists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Blogga blogga.

As I am gigging around town and exposing myself (musically) to random strangers, a lot of people are asking me if I'm aware of so-and-so-classically-trained-string-player who is doing this or that. In fact, I've even been informed of one or two other cellists who are ditching the bow and playing the cello by plucking or strumming, etc., like I am. And I recently became aware of the New Directions Cello Festival where they are even giving master classes on how to improvise and use the cello in non-classical ways. In short, the idea has become institution and with all of these people asking me if I know who else is out there doing similar stuff to what I do, I have to answer that I am pretty damn ignorant of what other people are doing.

Sorry about that, fellow non-classical string players, but you know what? I'm kinda o.k. with my current lack of awareness and I don't mean it as disrespect to anyone else. That's just how things played out and I'm now enjoying the fact that I'm blissfully ignorant. Let me explain a bit --

You see, I was born into a family of classical musicians. My first memory in life is listening to my parents play Porgy & Bess by Gershwin arranged for violin and piano -- I was napping under the piano as a baby while my folks were practicing. And my folks are damn good players -- my dad is such a hot shot violinist that in his youth he was hand picked by Leonard Bernstein to be the concert master at the premiere of Bernstein's Mass; my mom is a pianist gifted enough to be awarded a Fullbright Scholarship to come from Japan to the U.S. to go to grad school. Considering how competitive the classical music world is, those kind of distinctions are rather impressive. I have good genes for music, I guess.

So I grew up surrounded by music and musicians and a ton of musical opportunities. That may sound idealistic now, but man, I hated it and took it for granted because music seemed to follow me everywhere. My environment was music non-stop. At school, I was the quiet cello boy. When I came home from school, my mom or dad would be teaching and I'd hear the same damn pieces of music being played over and over. Every day. I could tell you in advance when certain students would mess up while playing the Gollywog's Cake Walk or the Sibelius Concerto because I heard them screw up in the same spots every week for months on end. And then on the weekends, I was at the Conservatory and the Youth Symphony instead of playing on a baseball team like I wanted to. I swear I'd be the guy challenging Hank Aaron's home run record right now if I didn't have Youth Symphony every Saturday. . . and it would help if I took as many steroids as Barry Bonds, but alas, I was immersed in music with no way out and therefore I hated it.

So I was a musical brat who had some talent because of genetics and environment and I could play decently even without practicing. My mother, being Japanese and tending to me as her only male child (Asian culture has that bent to it), would enter me into music competitions and I'd hack through a concerto and win without trying. . . and hating every minute of it. I know, I know -- poor little Semyon, how horrible it must have been, winning competitions and not working hard. But for a kid, that kind of non-stop jumping through hoops and parental smothering can be hell -- I just wanted to play baseball or daydream that I was Spiderman zipping around the Manhattan skyline.

Then, one day in high school (I know the exact moment it happened, but that's a story for another day) I "got it" and suddenly gained an appreciation for music. Just like that. Bam! I fall in love with music and how it interacts with people. How it pulls people together. How it communicates and draws out emotion -- how it can tell a story without saying a word. And then shortly thereafter I started learning how to play jazz a bit, picked up the electric bass and began jamming with guys from the jazz band. And I started thinking differently about classical music as well, getting a deeper appreciation for the great players in history and the things that made them "great". I started to pay attention when famous classical musicians would stop by at my house for dinner with my folks, who seemed to know most of the big name performers/conductors/composers passing through town -- I am lucky enough to have listened in while great musicians like Kurt Masur and Mischa Maisky talked about music with my folks (that was a hell of a dinner conversation that night). I started to learn about what I still refer to as the "old school" tradition of classical music and quasi-mystical tricks of the trade; try this one out for size as an example -- according to the folks who adhere to the "old school" tradition, a great player (I'll make them a cellist in this example) should be able to pick up a cello of any quality, even a crappy student instrument, and be able to play it beautifully after a quick minute of adjustment (meaning it's about the player, and not the instrument). Even more than that, a great player should be able to play an open string (just putting the bow on a string and pulling the bow across the string to get it to vibrate -- step one in making a sound using a cello) and do it with such connection to the instrument and attention to the quality of the sound produced that the simple sound of an open string alone is enough to make an audience member cry (it's not about what notes you play, it's how you play them). So if a great player can make an open string sound beautiful enough to make you cry, imagine what they can do to you if they are using the full vocabulary of sounds at their disposal? Now THAT is what I mean when I talk about the old school quasi-mystical stuff. If you've ever gotten goosebumps from listening to something, you are getting a taste of what I'm talking about.

The only problem with getting into that world was the fact that, well, it's a lot of quasi-mystical stuff that ends up sounding like a zen koen. So I would chase after that elusive old school stuff on my own but I'd rarely talk about it with anyone. I got pretty self-reliant on my own sense of what's good or bad in music, which I was partly just born with and which developed further as I listened to music more and more -- and that has pretty much been the case ever since then. Not that I can't learn or change my opinion; I do that all the time and I figure I'll be spending the rest of my life continually inspecting and re-evaluating what I think I "know" about music. My point is simply that, for most of my life, I've had my own sense of how music should be and I've been trying to live up to my own internal standards -- I listen to my own internal critic more than anything else because it best reflects the combination of ideas and beliefs I've picked up over the years.

In college, when I was dabbling in songwriting and working with guitarists and other non-classically trained musicians (all that means is that they learned how to read chord charts and tablature instead of the classical forms of writing music), I had to figure out a way to convey musical ideas without writing them down. . . so I started figuring out a couple chords on the cello so I could play things for folks and they could hear what I was trying to say. And as I started getting into that style of playing more and more, I even took a moment to look around for a cello teacher. . . but I didn't find the "old school" master with knowledge of non-classical music technique that I was looking for. You know, someone walking out of the Shaolin Temple in a monk's robe with a cello strapped to their back, ready to teach the esoteric tradition of Shaolin Triple Lotus Cello Fist or whatever. That guy didn't exist and probably still doesn't exist. It would be cool if he did, though. . .

Anyways, I just taught myself bit by bit through listening critically and lots of experimentation. I'd play patterns over and over until they became simple and automatic. I'd mumble a bit on top to try to provide a melody over chord structures. And slowly but surely, after hundreds or thousands of hours over many years chipping away at the idea, I began to develop the ability to sing and play at the same time on the cello. What originally I thought was impossible started to be realistic. I didn't talk much about it at the time. I was playing in bands and doing fun stuff playing standing up or testing out new tricks with the bow -- but the whole strumming and singing thing was just me alone in a room trying to. . . I don't know what I was trying to do, but I was chasing after it and I'm still chasing after it. Some people meditate -- I would just lose myself to the sound and the physical feel/connection of playing the instrument with my hands. No one, not even my bandmates who I spent most of my time with, knew about it. It was just me on my own with my cello in my practice cave chipping away at a mountain for no real reason.

So now I'm poking my head out of my little cave and I'm looking around again for the first time since I initially tried to find a teacher for non-classical playing. And lo and behold, there are TONS of people out there ditching the orchestra or the dream of being a soloist in the classical world for the pop world. Before now, I had only run across one guy who was playing the cello without using a bow -- Matt Brubeck (the son of Dave Brubeck, of "Take 5" fame) who played in a group with Joe Gore (great guitarist who worked with PJ Harvey and Tom Waits) and a bunch of unconventional musicians in the S.F. Bay Area. Matt and I are similar in the sense that we both play cello and bass and grew up immersed in musical families -- but he has a jazz background and I have a classical background, both styles which have influenced our individual playing styles. Anyway, Matt would, in his group, put down the cello bow at points and strum/pick chords so that the Joe Gore or the guy playing many woodwind instruments could do solos on top. Very similar to how a guitar will comp in jazz while the solo instrumentalists strut their stuff. I do more of a rock/pop thing, but it was cool to hear Matt's jazz version of the same technique. But besides Matt, I hadn't come across anyone else foolish/crazy enough to use the cello as a chordal instrument.

So now I'm looking around and it turns out I have many peers. They are all over the globe, in fact. All different approaches and genres. . . some that I really like (Cello Trio Melo-M from Latvia!!!) and some that make me want to grab the cheap electric violins out of fools' hands and smack them in their bloated egos (stop thinking you are automatically better than non-classical musicians if you attended a Conservatory!! Your diploma doesn't mean you can suddely hop into a rock band and play that style of music!!).

But you know what? I wish them all well and I'm headed back to my cave without spending more than a minute or two checking out what they are doing. I always figured there would be other people out there just like me, abusing the cello or whatever and wondering if anyone else is doing the same thing; it's nice to know they are out there. . . but I'm going to let them keep on doing their thing and stay focused on my own little world. For starters, I don't want to steal anything from anyone, even on a subconscious level. Everything I can do right now is a result of me sitting in a room alone with the cello and challenging myself -- it's worked o.k. so far and I supplement that with ideas I get from watching how my friends in other fields, like writing or painting or movie making, navigate their process.

So to any other non-conventional, formerly classical players out there, I am rooting for you to have great success but I must apologize that I'm not paying close attention to you or what you are doing. It's not because I don't like you (unless you are one of the pompous jackass types) -- I am just a solitary individual when it comes to my connection with music. That's just where my musical path has taken me. It works for me. It's that individual, personal connection that gives me the greatest satisfaction -- so that's where my focus and my pleasure in music lies.

And that's why I embrace a bit of ignorance in this one area. Best of luck to you all, whoever you are doing whatever you are doing. The only advice I can offer you is to set your own standards, set them high, and believe in them -- it feels great if you can live up to your own standards and surpass your own limitations.

And call me if you can make someone cry by playing nothing more than an open string. . .

Conjugal Visitations - 6/5/07

Blogga blogga.

Tragic news, kind readers -- I think the tabloids are on to me, so in a pre-emptive strike, I am hereby revealing to you blog readers my darkest secret --

You see, being a musician can be a difficult way to make a living. Job security = none. Benefits like medical or dental insurance = none of that either. Occasional drink tickets at a club = this is something every musician gigging in clubs looks forward to (even those who don't drink booze. It's all about getting free stuff). Getting paid in amounts larger than triple digits = luckily most musicians can't count that high are remain blissfully unaware of any sum of money above $999.

So side jobs are often necessary in order to keep a musical habit alive. And as an addict, I can get pretty desperate for a source of income to keep me from getting cello withdrawal, which leads me to where I was a short while back reading the want ads in the L.A. paper. One entry in particular caught my eye. It went something like this --

"WANTED: Male willing to do manual labor, short hours, high pay, must be discrete, people skills a must. Higher education not needed. Applicants should contact (213) 945-2*** for details and instructions on where to send blood sample."

Intriguing, right? I even had a blood sample on hand, so I call the number and am directed to a private investigation agency located here in L.A. The guy I spoke with told me to come to his office to discuss the job and offered $500 in compensation for the visit whether or not I got the job. Getting paid just to interview? Oh, hell yeah. I was all over that.

So I go to the private eye's address in the Bevery Hills Adjacent area and get directed to a dimly lit office room where a guy smoking a cigar is reclining in a chair and reading the racing forum. I sit. He continues to read. So I keep sitting there waiting for him to finish. I wasn't raised to be rude and I respect a man's right to read the damn racing forum uninterrupted.

Minutes pass. I smile and sit patiently. 10 full minutes pass. I refuse to budge with $500 on the line. I try to convey that staring at the back of the racing forum is truly the most enjoyable thing I could be doing at that moment. 20 minutes go by. I'm still smiling but I have to shift in my seat a bit because my legs have fallen asleep. . . the private eye keeps on reading undisturbed. 30 minutes pass and he suddenly looks up at me and says "so did that bother you?" I smile and reply no, I'm fine with it as long as I walk out of his office with the money he promised. He smiles back and says "good, good. You gotta be like a rock to handle this gig. Not for the squeemish, I tell ya. Hey, kiddo, how about this? Whaddaya say to it if I double what I owes ya if you can handle another 30 minutes of waiting and looking like ya enjoy it? Eh? For a cool G in cash, no questions asked, eh?" Of course I continued to smile and said "yes, sir, thank you."

He then got up, grabbed the blood sample I brought with me and a remote control from his desk, and walked past where I was seated to the door leading out of his office. He stopped when he reached the threshold of the door, hit a button on the remote, and closed the door behind him. I thought I heard the lock click into place, but before I could dwell on whether or not I had just been locked into the office of some strange Los Angeles private eye, music started coming out of speakers attached to the computer on his desk. The music was fairly standard pop tune stuff, not that bad at all. . . and then a whispering, half-singing shadow of a voice came on. The voice was a little off and I could hear the auto tune program working hard to shove certain notes into the appropriate pitches. . . but I was fully aware that "a cool G" was on the line and sat perfectly still with my hands on my lap, a relaxed smile pasted on my face. The music played on and the more I listened, I had the curious feeling like something was being taken from me. Sort of draining out of me, like how delivery food from the local chinese place seems to drain out of the take out containers into the plastic bags. I wasn't sure what it was that I was losing, but as I was feeling this sense of loss, I was also getting into the music more and more. The next song was a kind of reggae house-mix dance song with the same faux vocals. . . and then a slick, Disney-esque ballad with the same etherial vocals. . . still felt like I was losing something, but I was having a hard time focusing on that as the repetitive chorus of the next tune kicked in. It was repeating the same thing over and over so I could even sing along from the very first time listening! What fun!

Finally, after about 6 songs, the private eye came back into the room and sat down. He lit up a new cigar, looked me over, nodded and said "ya done good, kiddo. Real good. That's the longest anybody's lasted, that for sure. Ya got y'self an iron constitutional." He handed me a tissue and indicated that I had a trail of drool hanging from my lower lip. I nodded numbly and tried to say something back, but all that came out was "gaaah." He smiled, handed me 10 crisp $100 bills and told me that a tailor or something would come by tomorrow morning and get me outfitted so I could head to my new job later that afternoon.

And so it was that at 9:00 a.m. the following morning three fashion experts from Abercrombie, Banana Republic, and Lucky Jeans showed up at my humble abode armed with their anorexic overworked assistants and a ton of trendy clothing. I tried on t-shirts and pre-ripped jeans and all sorts of items that looked like they came out of a second hand store. All brand new items looking like they were just pulled out of an archeological dig. I was given an outfit that all three fashionistas agreed made me look "hot" and was guided out to a limo with diplomatic license plates to head to my new job.

It was a long drive to get to work, but when I did get there, I was in for a surprise -- my "office" was actually a prison. Watchtowers, high fences with barbed wire on top, large guards with crewcuts and dogs. . . y'know, a prison. I was taken to a room where I was frisked and asked a bunch of questions. I was then taken out back to a trailer located within the prison fences, but a little bit away from the common yard area. A guard opens up a trailer for me and I got in feeling extremely apprehensive about what or who I'll find inside -- there's a t.v. and a mini fridge stocked with water and a little bed to rest on.

So at this point I'm a bit freaked out. I mean, what the hell have I gotten myself into? I eye the bed and try to remember whether or not I've read anything recently about Mike Tyson being sent to prison again. . . I remember that he's on display at Vegas just like Zigfried and Roy's exotic animals, and I feel slightly better about the situation.

Just then, the door to the trailer opens and I see the silhouette of a tall, gangly boy with long hair climb into the trailer against the backdrop of the setting sun. I think to myself, "oh, man, is that one of the guys from that band Hanson?" The figure pulled the door shut and as my eyes adjusted, I saw a familiar face. . . for a second it looked like a drag queen I knew back in New York that did go-go dancing for the Limelight. . . and then the figure spoke; "are you, like, the guy they hired?"

Not a boy's voice. . . in fact, the voice was familiar. "Hel-loooo? Anybody home? Are you the guy they hired to put it in me? Cuz' if you are, then you need to start telling me how, like, hot I am. Like, right now." And then it hit me and I knew all at once whose voice it was and what the job was about. PARIS MOTHER FUCKING HILTON! I WAS ON A CONJUGAL VISIT WITH PARIS HILTON! She was the voice that was lightly drizzled over the pop music that was playing in the private eye's office. The one. The only. America's Richest Village-Idiot Slut-girl herself.

As I was pushing past Paris, screaming bloody murder and picking up as much speed as possible so I could hopefully hurl myself through the fence and make a break for freedom, the guards tackled me and a small team of them wrestled me to the ground. I was about to bite the nearest guard and make another break for it when he said "hey, calm down, buddy. It's not that bad, really. We've seen other guys do this and if you can survive it once or twice, you'll be set for retirement, man. Just hang in there, gut it out." I bit him and headbutted him as soon as he said this, but he and his army of prison guard buddies still pulled me back into the trailer and handcuffed me to the mini-fridge. They also taped my mouth shut so I couldn't gnaw off my arm at the wrist and slip out of the cuffs -- apparently I wasn't the first person to have that idea while sitting in Paris' trailer.

I won't go into the details of the rest of what happened because I'm sure you already know all about it, but you know what's really the strangest thing out of all of this mess? I think Paris is technically still a virgin. Really. I mean it. I don't think she has lost her virginity yet. I know, I know -- she's been sexually active for decades and has starred in her own homemade porno movie, but I think she really doesn't know the birds from the bees regardless of that. For all of her posturing and posing as a sex symbol, apparently no one has ever really explained to Paris how sex works.

Why do I say this? I think it became obvious to me when Paris shouted "put it in my baby hole, you bitch" and presenting me with her asshole. When I asked her about her "pooper" (aka, her vagina), she said she uses it as a place to store her cell phone when she's dancing. Otherwise, she has no use for it. Plus she's a proper Catholic girl who doesn't let anyone near that thing because "the Bible says nothing should go into your pooper that isn't electronical."

I won't even tell you what she thinks "french kissing" is all about.

Anyway, it's a living. You'd be surprised at how often celebrity conjugal visits are set up. In fact, there is a whole underground network in place that caters to the rich and powerful and incarcerated. I have a buddy who worked under Martha Stewart -- he's never been quite the same after that experience and he'll still shit a brick if show him a tea cozy. And I have a friend who just got tapped to be the guy that Libby will be spending quality time with when he gets thrown in the slammer . . . he got that job because of a recommendation by the Enron guys. It's really becoming all about who you know in this town if you want to work.

So don't be surprised when you see pictures of me in the tabloids. Those dirty unethical bastards are willing to do anything for a little extra attention. Can't even let a guy make an honest buck any more.

[I would like to assure you, good readers, that if you are an officer of the law or one of Paris' representatives, then none of the foregoing is true. And if my mother is reading this, then please rest assured that I am simply educating the masses on the dangers of celebrity in a fictional account of something that never happened. . . and in the future, Mother dearest, you should never, EVER read anything I blog. I am still your saintly son who has never hurt a fly and who will some day become the first President of the Planet Earth and the first person to win the Nobel Prize in 5 different categories.]

Song writing - 6/4/07

It's June and the talented folks who make up my band are all on the road. One is in Afghanistan on a USO tour, even, so I'm taking this month to hit open mics and write new material. In fact, I've got a couple 2 hour gigs set up for September and I really need to write some new tunes so I can pull off 120 minutes of music.
To put that into perspective, 120 minutes worth of repertoire would be the equivalent playing time that you would get in a classical music concert. It is a fat, Tom Waitsesque double album worth of material. It is also more material than I have written for my solo cello schtick at the moment. . . so I've got to get moving quickly and write these puppies so I can test them out on unsuspecting open mic audiences.

But you know what? My "process" for writing is absolute crap. To begin with, I play on an instrument that isn't really designed for playing chords. The cello has come a long way since it's humble beginnings as a viola da gamba or as a key component of the basso continuo in the Baroque period (if you think of the role the upright bass plays in jazz holding down the floor, you have a sense of the role the cello was supposed to do in early music), but I don't think the first person to ever make a cello could envision something like the cello becoming the most sought after concerto instrument (thanks to Yo Yo Ma and his status as the premiere soloist in the world right now) or any of the other ways it is being used and abused by musicians branching out of the classical tradition (there are tons of them, myself included, but check out my personal favorites, Melo-M -- www.myspace.com/cellotriomelom - check them out live for a real treat). In short, the cello was supposed to be a supporting instrument and it's not really supposed to be an instrument that you play chords on. Guitar, keyboard, etc. are chordal instruments with the pitch automatically locked in for every note (no frets on a cello) and as such they are usually the instruments folks use to write songs. Most singer/songwriters sing while playing on one of those two chordal instruments. The cello. . . not so much unless you are me or one of the other cello-bound idiots out there going against the grain.

So figuring out a chord structure on cello isn't the most natural thing to do. And then having to make things different from song to song even though I'm only using an acoustic cello -- I know it may sound sometimes like I'm doing the same patterns over and over, but I'm actually varying things from song to song. You may not know it by listening (because it is not an overt change like switching to tuba suddenly), but every song I've ever written has been an exploration of a new rhythmic pattern or technique and I try not to re-use patterns (cover tunes are exception to the rule).

And then there is the singing part, which I am still getting used to. I am still figuring out how to sing and to phrase, and trying to play on a fretless instrument that is not made to play chords while singing on top of it is probably my biggest challenge these days. The only way I can get any freedom in my voice or my instrumental playing is to repeat something over and over until it becomes automatic. Over and over and over. . . it's ridiculous. Ridiculous as in, it took me about 20 hours total of mindlessly repeating the same stupid riff over and over before I could sing and play the verse to Small Town Superstar. . . and another 20 hours to get the chorus down. 40 hours of repetitive rehearsal by myself on a silly little 3 minute song when I could just pick up a guitar and do the same thing in an hour, max. Sad, but true.

Like I said, my process is crap, but that's what I get for being a cheeky monkey and trying to do something that is annoyingly difficult.

And then you have the lyrics and that whole side of songwriting. You know, the whole words thing that, as an instrumental musician, I barely pay attention to. In fact, I judge a person's ability to write lyrics solely on whether or not I can remember any of them after listening to something 10-20 times. I'm not kidding. It's why guys like Elliott Smith and Bob Dylan stand out -- I can remember those lyrics because they smack me in the face and make me listen to them. But ask me to sing a song I've heard a billion times, like "Celebration" by Cool and the Gang, and I'll give you "Ceeeeeeeeee-le-brate good times, c'mon. We gonna celebrate and laa dee laa daa." Yup, I'm not quite sure what that last bit is even though I've heard that song hundreds of times. Sad, innit? But in my defense, I was raised by classical musicians who believed in communicating without needing lyrics, so my mind just works that way.

O.k., so I'm writing on an instrument poorly suited for writing music, it takes endless repetitions for me to be able to sing and play something at the same time, and I'm not really linguistically inclined so lyrics are not my strong suit. My process = crap, right? It's discouraging before I even get started. . . it can even be discouraging mid-process when I'll get an idea and hear something and I think to myself, "goddammit, that could be cool" and I'll rush to write it down or play it and then bang away at the idea for a while. . . and then I'll sober up and realize it was crap or just a variation on the melody from "Celebration". Damn you, Cool and the Gang!!

Anyway, I'm just getting my excuses out of the way now to clear up mental space for all the brilliant songwriting I'm sure will just leap out of my ass now that I'm making songwriting my priority. I'm going to write like Leonard Cohen and the Beattles and Stevie Wonder all rolled into one. . . oh yeah. Dig it.

Old Friends & Shared Wisdom - 5/29/07

You know, sometimes the world surprises you. Lays you flat out with no warning. The funny thing is that it is the positive stuff that does that for me -- when negative events sideswipe me unexpectedly, my flight/fight repsonses kick in and I get angry or anxious or some other kind of immediate response. But when the good stuff comes out of nowhere, sometimes it leaves me slack jawed for a moment and I need a bit of time to process things. Or maybe it's just that I'm a little more in awe of the universe when it naturally falls into place because I'm a bit more accustomed to things going bad (and therefore have more mechanisms in place to counter what I expect to happen).

But there's a duality there between good/bad that is based solely on my own preconceptions of positive or negative values. What's good for me may not mean a damn thing to anyone. Some may even consider my "good" to be "bad". . . but I'm no politician being yanked around by polls or popular support and I just live my own life to the best of my ability; I don't worry about other people's paradigms as much as I try to stay mindful of the ones that influence my own perceptions. Oh, you know what I'm getting at, albeit in pretty pretentious vocabulary -- I'm just saying that I have a well-cultivated ability to say "fuck all" to just about anyone or anything except for when it comes to listening to myself when I honestly inspect the state of "me". And I do actually try to hold myself accountable to a fairly strenuous, but unique/personal, standard of ethics based on a hodge podge of stuff I've picked up over the years. I often fail in my attempts to be a good person by my own definitions, but I figure as long as I'm willing to look closely at myself and try to ackowledge my own mistakes so I can change, then at least I'm not completely doomed to perpetuate my mistakes over and over (and I have some really crappy mistakes I've made over the years).
So a little while back, I received an e-mail from a guy I haven't talked to in ages. His name is Dave Dube, and Dave and I along with another guy, Josh Greenberg, were in a band together in college called "Smokin' With Einstein". We were three long-haired guys who liked to play music that was a cross between a fusion of rock, jazz, fusion, latin jazz. . . suffice it to say that we like to play over the top technical stuff and the plan was to take over the world once all three of us were done with college. Dave was fronting the band singing and playing guitar, Josh was playing drums and percussion, and I was playing exclusively on the electric bass (yup, no cello at that point aside from messing around on my own and doing classical stuff). There are a lot of stories about Smokin' With Einstein I could relate, but this blog is more about Dave Dube and the strange twists and turns of existance in general than it is about that time in my life.

Back in that time in New York, playing with Smokin' With Einstein, I was really tight with Dave even though we grew up differently and arrive in New York walking along different paths. Dave is just a natural born "rock star" -- the guy has more charisma than 90% of the idiots out there now making money for ClearChannel. I'm talking charisma of the magnitude of a Lenny Kravitz. THAT kind of rock star cool. Example - I can remember a time when I was walking down Broadway on the upper west side with Dave and I spotted a gorgeous young woman on the other side of the street walking our way. . . I was staring very intently at her and noticed that she glanced at the other side of the street in Dave and my direction (cool). . . and she did a double-take (score!!). . . and kept on staring (sweet!) . . . and then she jaywalked across the street so that she was on our side of the block walking towards us (SCORE!!!!). . . and then she proceeded to "accidentally" bump into Dave and smiled and made a big deal of apologizing while making sure to try to catch his attention. Dave and I at the time were in the middle of a discussion about becoming the second coming of Van Halen or something like that -- so her charms didn't really register to him and we kept on walking -- but I was fascinated by what I just witnessed (and I had to see if she looked as good from the back as she did head on -- ah, the joys of being 19 years old and irresponsibly living in Manhattan). Now get this -- I'm watching this woman walk away from Dave and I after the "accident" she just crossed the street to make happen, and then I see her CROSS BACK to the other side of the street and go into a store which I guess was her original destination before she spotted Dave. In other words, she literally crossed the street through traffic JUST to bump into Dave, who she randomly spotted a block away in the middle of a crowd of New York pedestrians. This was a woman who would not give 99% of the male population a second though and here she is literally going out of her way trying to get Dave's attention -- that's what I mean when I refer to him as being a natural rock star.

Anyway, Dave and Josh and I moved to San Francisco after we were all out of school and for one reason or another, the band fell apart. I was the the guy who left first and it was a huge, life-altering decision. I mean, for those of you who aren't musicians, you have to understand that the connection that folks create by being in a band together is really strong. These are people you share music with, who you often spends endless hours with, who you plan to work with professionally in a very personal industry. . . they are part of your identity, privately and publicly. . . you collaborate together to create music, which for me is holy ground. . . in short, it's like a marriage, and I truly believed that Smokin' With Einstein was my fate and future and Dave and Josh were the guys on the team. My wingmen. My brethren. My band.

But it fell apart and the band split up in the equivalent of a messy, emotional divorce. My personal life was going to crap and I was spiraling out of control a lot of the time -- that had a lot to do with it. I also suffered from a bad case of feeling entitled, feeling like someone from a record label would eventually show up and they would be lucky to sign us to the richest contract ever made in the history of the music business. I was saying "I don't go to the bus. . . the bus comes to me", which was not a smart motto to have if you are trying to get a job in music.
And so the band fell apart, the music I played with those guys faded away, and I went through a long period where I worried about betraying my musical brethren by leaving, wondering if I was good enough or if I had anything to say, wondering why Mo Austin hadn't suddenly appeared and said "c'mere, boys, I'm gonna make you famous." This was actually the time when I returned to playing cello regularly and when I came out of my cave to join another band, I ended up playing cello instead of bass regardless of what kind of music I was doing. But I lost touch with Dave and Josh and I had questions in my mind about what my legacy with Dave was after the band split -- did he hate my ass and feel like I betrayed him? If I ever ran into him again, should I expect a right cross headed in my direction? I didn't know what to expect and I didn't hear anything from him/about him for YEARS. I saw Josh around San Francisco from time to time, but Dave flat out disappeared.

. . .until just recently when I got an e-mail from him. And it wasn't angry. No mention of betrayal. No virus attached designed to wipe out my computer records and exact vengeance. None of the bad stuff I had steeled myself for whenever I ran into the guy again. In fact, he was writing to congratulate me on the new album. He even sent me a version of an old Smokin' With Einstein tune he re-worked and it was good. Real good.

Wow. See what I mean about needing a second to process the good stuff?
Here's a guy I considered my brother, but I also felt like I betrayed a pact we had made together to storm the music world, and I don't hear from him for years except for when he writes to congratulate me on a solo project that I'm doing on my own without any fulltime band members of wingmen. Here we were sharing music again somehow. And you know what else? He sends me some poetry by Charles Bukowski, the great contemporary Los Angeles poet/novelist and icon. And of the thousands of poems that Bukowski wrote, he sends me a couple that hit precisely on an internal conversation that I have with myself all the time about whether or not I'm a fool to still be trying to "make it" in the music industry when most of my former peers have moved on and the music industry itself is slowly dying/mutating into.

Wow. Sometimes life really surprises you. I haven't had a chance to catch Dave on the phone yet to catch up with my long lost brother, but I bet when I do I'll find that we have travelled a lot of the same paths over the years we've been out of touch -- I don't believe those particular Bukowski poems were sent by accident.
So in honor friends reconnecting, in honor of the great ones like Bukowski who inspire people to live life and experience it fully (for better or for worse) instead of shuffling our feet in numbness and darkness, and in honor of the beauty of getting smacked on your ass in a good way, here's one of the poems Dave forwarded to me. do it, do it, do it.

roll the dice

if you're going to try, go all the
way.
otherwise, don't even start.

if you're going to try, go all the
way.
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
mockery,
isolation.
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you'll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you're going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
that.
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
fire.

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
there is.

Bukowski

Blog envy - 5/23/07

I have been looking around at other people's blogs and there's a lot of stuff out there. I even started comparing other people's blogs to my own blog and asking myself, "is my blog adequate?" I mean, there are some really good bloggers out there. I just read a blog that had me laughing out loud, had about 50 comments at the end of it, and I'll admit, it made me question my bloghood. Is my blog. . . big enough? Or do I have a smallish blog? Does the size of a blog matter or is it all about how you use your punctuation? Will people laugh when they see my blog? Will it inspire pity? Scorn, maybe? Concern? Apathy? Or perhaps fearful obsession. . .

I noticed that people like to blog about randy things. Sexy things. Personal things you wouldn't tell an employer or a parent about. Their forbidden pleasures or porn and maybe explaining why their orgasms are actually a communciation with God (an interesting form of prayer, don't you think?). All I do, to paraphrase Woody Allen, is put a large piece of wood between my legs and vibrate it for my personal pleasure -- but that's not really sexy or taboo like some of these other folks. I even fall into the category of guys on MySpace who don't have a topless picture of themselves on display. How boring is that?

The other thing I read a lot of were blogs about bands, video games. . . and more bands. So many people seem to be hooked into the coolest stuff nobody else knows about. Which is cool -- I'm all for people getting excited about music.

So maybe I can combine all of those elements and create a super blog. Uber blog. Ultra mega blog. A blog to shame all other blogs. Some sort of blog about my favorite unknown bands that are in a video game based on some sort of forbidden fetish or porn. There will be Pokemon involved. And Spiderman in a three way with the Sandman and the Green Goblin while Aunt May watches. And, uh. . . need to think of a cool band nobody knows about. . . the ghost of Chris Whitley. Or maybe Mr. Bungle. Or Dead Can Dance. And has Jenna Jameson made a video game yet?. . . cuz' if that is part of her porn entertainment empire, then it will be included in the blog. And some of those folks who are into the Furries counter-culture will be included as well in the blog, but they will actually be Transformers (Decepticons are tricky like that). And there will be anime. Really twisted, kinky anime. The kind that will make you look differently at Japanese people forever (anyone seen Urotsukidoji?).

I'm feeling better about my blog already.

Small Town Superstar Video - 5/22/07

SMALL TOWN SUPERSTAR VIDEO CREDITS

SMALL TOWN SUPERSTAR VIDEO CREDITS
Semyon Kobialka - as Bald Headed Cello Guy
James Cutts - as Zeremy (www.commercialbreakla.com to ask about acting lessons)
Juliana Moreno - as Juliana, America's Sweetheart (www.myspace.com/julianamoreno)
Amyn Kaderali - writer/director (www.myspace.com/kissingcousinsmovie) KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR "KISSING COUSINS"!!!
Alison Kelly - cinematographer
Nadia Fugazza - film editor
Joshua Smith - assistant cinematographer/multi-talented artist (www.xerovoice.com)
Chapa - musician/boom operator (www.myspace.com/chapa)

Gotta give credit where credit is due –

So you may have noticed that I've got a little video up on the ol' MySpace site for my tune, Small Town Superstar. It's a funny little clip that a good friend of mine, Amyn Kaderali, wrote and directed that we shot one Sunday afternoon. I basically wanted to have a visual representation of what I'm doing on the cello because it's hard for the average listener to figure out what I'm doing to the cello just from the recorded tracks themselves. A (moving) picture tells a thousand words, right? So now I get to give credit to the good people who helped make the little video possible.

First off, I'll start with Mr. Amyn Kaderali. I've know this guy for ages, dating back to our days in high school together where I was known as "the quiet cello boy" and he was basically the class clown. Amyn and I have an interesting past including many misadventures like an instance where he took my girlfriend to prom; I ended up going with an ex girlfriend (who had to leave early because of curfew restrictions) and an inflatable doll (to dance with when I became date-less later in the evening). In the end, both Amyn and I ended up trading dances with Sally, the inflate-a-date instead of our flesh and blood dates who had deserted us. . . but that's a story for another blog entry. Suffice it to say that Amyn and I have some interesting history together and I count him as one of my closest friends. He also happens to be a very talented filmmaker who has won many distinctions over the years, ranging from being the Martin Scorsese scholar at NYU Film School, winning the Slam Dance Festival award for best short film, etc. etc. And right now Amyn is applying the final touches to a feature length romantic comedy, "Kissing Cousins", which he wrote and directed AND managed to get the financing for on his own without major studio backing -- the guy put in a ton of hard work asking people for investment money and he actually pulled it off/gathered enough cash to shoot a feature. Considering the fact that making an album costs a tiny fraction of the budget needed to make a feature film from scratch, I'm very impressed that he pulled everything together.

So Amyn was kind enough to help me put together this video and he pulled in two other people who were also key contributors in making "Kissing Cousins". Alison Kelly, the cinematographer for "Kissing Cousins", and Nadia Fugazza, the editor on the film, both added their talents to the Small Town Superstar video. I've run across Alison a couple of times through her association with Amyn and there's something I've always noticed about her -- she seems to be looking at things as if she were seeing the world through a camera and judging the composition of what she's viewing accordingly. Maybe she's not behind a camera all the time, but I get the sense that her mind processes the world visually as if she were about to film it. I don't think about visual stuff very often, being a musician and "viewing" the world primarily through my ears, so it's fascinating to meet someone who thinks visually on such a deep level. Plus it's fun to watch her boss around Amyn. And I haven't actually met Nadia in person, but she did a fantastic job editing together all the shots we took into a cohesive video. Editing is extremely important to a music video, and I think she did a bang up job. I especially love the quick cuts where I am smashing the cello -- and that's not just because I got to live out a childhood dream of smashing a cello.
Joshua Smith, a multi-talented artist Alison brought onboard to assist her with camera duties, was another welcome addition to the crew -- check out his website listed above to see everything he is working on. And lastly, my good friend and fellow musician Chapa came by to help out and man the boom mic needed to record all of the scintillating dialogue. Or maybe he was just there to get a free lunch. Hey, you'd be surprised what a musician will do for free food.
And then you have the two actors, Ms. Juliana Moreno and Mr. James Cutts, who hopefully distracted you from my lack of acting ability. Juliana, who plays the other cello student in the video (the pretty one with hair, in case you were confused), is a very talented actor who was in one of Amyn's short films (Call Center). I caught Juliana performing in a play a short while back here in L.A. and she did a tremendous job as the lead character -- I've gotten to know a thing or two about live theater over the years and I was duly impressed with her performance. It was a huge role and Juliana put on a superstar performance. James, in the role of Zeremy, aka the Small Town Superstar Music Teacher, is another friend of mine you may recognize from his work as a commercial actor. I've actually had the pleasure of watching a football game with James in a sports bar when one of his commercials came on and folks in the bar realized he was the person on T.V. It was neato, absorbing fame by proximity, like being a member of someone's entourage. . . except for the fact that everyone assumed that James' appearance on T.V. meant that he was rolling in dough and should pay for everyone's drinks. When James isn't busy acting, he's busy teaching the craft of acting -- James tried to offer me advice during my brief attempt at acting in the video, and the fact that I was able to deliver one line in the video without cracking up is obviously proof of his brilliance as an acting teacher. My nuanced facial grimaces. . . well, James would have fixed those as well if he had time. But more than anything else, James is very funny in the role of Zeremy. . . he's almost TOO good at that character, isn't he?

O.k., and there you have all the people involved in the video. Much love to all of them for helping me out -- aside from the support of DuckHole Records, I'm on my own trying to do this music thing, so being able to collaborate with cool, fun, talented people is a real blessing. Now to figure out what to do for the next video. . . if you have any ideas, feel free to let me know (and yes, I plan on destroying another cello in the next video as well. I'm addicted now.).

And please make sure to see Kissing Cousins when it comes out in a month. My tune "Love Blows" even made the soundtrack!

Why blogger? - 5/21/07


Blogga blogga. Wow, that's a lame title for this blog. I know. Forgive me. I'll get right to the point and avoid any more weak attempts at humor –

I've had several people suggest to me recently that I blog regularly. Very regularly, in fact. Apparently this is a good thing to keep your website healthy, increase your "searchability", and to give more content to anyone checking out the site. Makes sense to me, and so I am making a concerted effort to blog more and to do so with consistency.

So from here on out, I am going to try to do at least one blog entry per week. If inspiration strikes, perhaps I will write more than that.

You have all been warned.

Stop the inanity - 5/18/07

Blogga blogga. Sometimes I can be a real stinker.

Have you ever been waiting in line and someone stuck in line near you pulls out their cell phone and starts up a long personal conversation? You know the folks I'm talking about, right? The ones who talk into their cell phones at top volume and seem to be putting on a bit of a public performance. "Oh. . . my. . .god!! NO WAY!!! That is like, SO, wrong that she did that!!!!! She really wore THAT to the party?!!! A t-shirt?!!!! To a party?!!! EW!!!" I even have a theory that, the more inane the conversation, the louder the speaking volume required in order to communicate the conversation via cell phone.

Well, today I had that exact experience while waiting in line at the post office and I felt a bit. . . mischievous. You see, I was behind a young man (think Ryan Seacrest 10 years ago) who started up a conversation on his cell phone at a volume that would suggest that he had lost 90% of his hearing, proclaiming loudly about how phat his party this weekend is going to be. "Yo, dawg, it's off the chain phat, like it's all like p-h-a-tizzo, dawg. Ha ha! Ima gonna school the b!#@$es [censored for the conservative folks who don't speak pimp] on how to do me right, yo. Werd." Apparently this fine young gentleman was living large and disproving the axiom, "it's hard out here for a pimp". Sweet.

So I'm standing right behind him, listening to the creative variations on his proclaimations of personal greatness, and I found myself getting sucked in. I mean, it sounded like a lot of fun. This guy was obviously the center of the universe, so why not place myself in orbit around him and bask in his sun-like brilliance? Maybe if I could just join the conversation somehow, I'd get invited to the p-h-a-tizzo party. . . but alas I had no cell phone on me or any way of including myself in the conversation.

So I did the L.A. thing and I just faked it. Acting! I cupped one hand to my ear like it was a cell phone and spoke/shouted something out during the gaps in young-Ryan Seacrests' one-sided conversation. It almost was like we were in on the same phone conversation. Here's a sample of how things went –

Young Ryan Seacrest ("YRS") - "Yo, dawg, we cain't let nobody in who isn't like, hella fine, yo."

Me - "Absolutely no chunky ugly people. . . "

YRS - "Hell naw, she ain't comin'. She makes Ug boots Ug-lee, yo. Ha ha ha!!"

Me - ". . .ha ha HA! Yes, it's SO ridiculous. There are just some things that one should never have to endure. Ah, goodness."
YRS - "Dawg, if she shows up, then I'm gonna kick her through the door with my Timbalands. Bam!"

Me - "Mmm hmm, that's why it's so great you know karate."

Oh, it went on for a bit longer before Young Ryan Seacrest noticed everyone in line laughing and hung up. He turned to look at me but I was too busy talking into my imaginary cell phone to do anything but stare blankly past him and continue my own one sided conversation. He tried to get my attention (obviously because he had figured out that I was a kindred spirit worthy of attending his party), so I held up a finger in the universal "just one sec" signal and said into my hand "hey, listen, I've gotta run. Love ya pookie!". . . and then I pulled my hand away from my ear, took my index finger from my other hand and placed it on my palm while making a "deee" sound to show that I was turning off my imaginary cell phone. (Hey, if you start to engage in mime, you have to finish in mime.)
The strange thing is that after I "hung up" and gave Young Ryan my full attention, perfectly prepared to say "hell yeah, dawg" to my inevitable invitation to his party, he just shook his head and said "whatever" and then walked right out of the post office. He didn't even give me his digits.

Did I err? Was I not engaging enough? Maybe my pimpitude is out of whack. Maybe he hasn't heard me rap yet.

So the moral of the story is this -- if you need postage for the mail, order stamps ONline so you don't get stuck IN line.

Werd to your moms, dawgs.

Goodbye, Kurt Vonnegut - 4/12/07

This is my first blog. How exciting. Blog blog blog. I'm doing this basically because I'm bored and musing on things in public seems to be a dandy way to waste time. I would gather that anyone reading this blog is actually even more bored than I am as I sit at work waiting attentively for something to happen. Don't get me wrong about the day job, especially if you are my boss secretly reading this blog -- my day job is about as good as it gets in terms of making it possible for me to pay the rent in a reasonable fashion. . . but it ain't music or any sort of creative work, so it's bound to bore me in the end. C'est la vie.
So now I blog and act as if my personal opinion is worth paying attention to. Oh, how my sense of self-importance is growing by the minute. Pretty soon I'll start responding to other people's blogs, maybe go argue with folks about their political beliefs that they are dogmatic about. . . maybe I'll do it just to stir up the debate.

But today I want to say goodbye to a remarkable writer and iconoclast I have a great deal of respect for as a free thinker and writer -- Kurt Vonnegut. I've read a ton of his books and I've always enjoyed his humor, insight, and the wonderful ideas he works through in his stories. His social commentary is fantastic and while I know that a lot of people who are not into science fiction are turned off by the fact that he often ventures into sci-fi concepts, the core ideas he presents are still powerful and resonate with most people who are concerned with how human beings and the cultures we create evolve (or engage in the opposite process, as Mr. Vonnegut often opined).

But there is one thing that I gained from exposure to Mr. Vonnegut that has given him a special place in my heart, and it did not come from reading his work -- you see, I happened to catch Mr. Vonnegut on public radio a while back talking about his recent book of short stories (which I admittedly haven't read yet) and he spoke about something akin to his "rules" for writing short stories. His "rules" included great advice about storytelling methodology, like making sure you have a solid protagonist that your reader can relate to and root for. . . and then to make sure that you put that same protagonist through hell and back in the worst possible situations because, seriously, how else can you show the reader what kind of mettle the character has? It's pretty boring when the biggest challenge a protagonist has to face is what kind of sandwich to eat for lunch and I'm not sure what kind of character development you have without a little crisis.

Mr. Vonnegut detailed a bunch of other "rules" for telling a short story, and the following rule really hit home with me -- when you write, don't try to write for everyone, but instead just pick one person as your potential audience and work on satisfying that person and only that person. If you try to keep everyone happy, then you end up with a bunch of watered down crap. But if you can satisfy that one particular person you are writing for, your ideas will probably have greater clarity and you increase your chances of writing something that makes an actual statement.

That rule is constantly in my mind when I try to write a song. It's hard to fight the urge to write something with a large audience in mind -- I mean, I'd love to write something that makes millions of people happy and is copied by countless musicians, like Hendrix's "Little Wing" or Bob Dylan's "Watchtower". But I don't think I could ever write a song like that if I was consciously trying to satisfy all ton of different people and their individual perspectives. I would be in a continual state of re-writing because I would never be able to settle on a particular lyric. But if I narrow my focus, it's amazing how much easier it is to figure out if you are getting your point across when you know exactly who is your audience. A wonderful bit off practical advice that I use all the time.

So anyway, I just want to say thank you to Kurt Vonnegut for his contributions to the world as a writer and a thinker. I know I'm not alone when I say that he has influenced me greatly and I can only hope that his passing does not signal an end of the kind of free-thinking he championed in life. Keep using the old noggin and questioning or thinking outside of the box, folks. And thanks for reading my ramblings.