Artistry.

In the fall of 1986 I was headed to SUNY Fredonia as a Tuba Player with an intended major of Music Education. In high school having performed in both chorus and band, and all the school musicals, and every “select” and “all-county” and “all-state” avenue possible as a high school musician, I figured as a young gay man I was destined to become a music teacher. I would probably end up in a rural school district not much different than the small town school district I was grew up in. I’d teach music to junior and senior high schoolers, probably garner a few rumors in the mill about my homosexuality, and do my best to educate our promising artistic youth. Personal questions would fall to the wayside.

Ultimately it turns out that’s not the way I’m wired.

I originally auditioned at SUNY Fredonia as a vocal major but they deemed me not good enough. I was “too pop or Broadway” sounding and they wanted me to be able to sing in three different languages in an operatic voice. My singing voice to this day is more geared to covers of Human League songs (hey hey hey hey). Not to be deterred, I auditioned at SUNY Fredonia a second time (it was the only school the family could afford at the time) as a tuba player and I was accepted into the music education program. This acceptance was probably on a wing and a prayer. As tuba player the audition process was easy; there wasn’t that many tuba players and as long as one could read music and play a B-flat scale, you were in. All-county band was the same way. All-state band was the same way. It’s what a tuba player does. There’s usually three tuba player slots in any given band or orchestra, and we’d be lucky if three tuba players auditioned to begin with. Grab a baritone player if you have to, and all that.

By the end of my senior year of high school any passion I had for playing the tuba has dissipated. Deep down I knew this. I never vocalized it. I soldiered on. I had other career ideas; computer engineer, civil engineer, airline pilot, but these things didn’t seem gay enough and I knew I was gay and knew that gay boys did things like music and art. I had no plans other than to be come a music teacher. After all, in 1986 that’s way gay boys did: fly under the radar, do what gay boys do (like become a music teacher), keep your mouth shut, and your liaisons private. Yes, Mom and Dad, I was still a virgin when you dropped me off at college in August of ’86.

I lasted two semesters at SUNY Fredonia because I had lost the passion needed to achieve my preconceived goals. I was still figuring out who I was and that was taking too much bandwidth from my studies. This, coupled with my lack of passion for what I was suppose to be doing, destined me for failure.

Playing tuba was fun but ultimately tedious. I could take it or leave it. I didn’t feel the drive to hole myself up in a practice room three hours a day to run scales or “Flight of the Bumble Bee” on a tuba. I really wanted to sing. Since I had bombed the initial audition (I knew the day of that vocal audition that I had bombed it but it would be a week or two before I had confirmation via U.S. Mail), the team at SUNY Fredonia threw me into a “remedial vocal lessons” class with a handful of other student failures in an attempt to get us to sing like Pavarotti. I ended up sounding like the front guy of “Simple Minds” and still cracked an A in the course. The professor of remedial voice has no idea why I was in the class, as I could “sight sing” and had nearly perfect pitch when asked to sing a scale or a designated part in a complicated piece. I just did it all as if I was on a stage on Broadway or in a dive bar. And I did it loudly. In high school we were all trained to sing loudly as the school couldn’t afford a sound system for the 700-seat auditorium. In the interim I had discovered the art of being gay, drinking some alcohol, and watching men take a shower and more importantly to my wiring, shave in front of the sink in their underwear in the communal dorm bathroom. That was hot.

When I ultimately failed out of SUNY Fredonia, simply because I had lost my passion for my artistry and what was really not where I wanted to begin life, I was not sad. In the second semester of my freshman year I had several opportunities to sing with others; we formed a cover band and sang in the student center. A bunch of us would jam in practice rooms of one of the smaller performance auditoriums in Mason Hall and sing a bunch of current hits. Our voices would mingle, the keyboards and other instruments would sing, and it was a glorious experience. It was like “Fame” without Shady Sadie. Collaborative artistry is a beautiful thing and that was the only time I ever felt fulfilled as a person at SUNY Fredonia. As a tuba player I never found that magic. As a vocalist, I could sing all over pop songs with little effort. We even laid down some tracks in the newly christened recording studio on campus and did our own cover of Toto’s “Africa”. I never wanted to sing solo, I always wanted to be in the background singing vocals to fill-in the musicality of the piece. The first time my backing vocals were multitracked in that recording studio on the left at the end of the hall was magical. My heart soared and I was beaming ear to ear. The tape was subsequently erased because we were just fooling around with the equipment, but it was a magic I knew I loved.

I haven’t found that satisfaction as an artist since those days in 1987. Not to worry, my life has not been lacking in any way; I have done plenty in my life that I’ve found artistically and aesthetically fulfilling, but I would give anything to get together with a bunch of other middle aged musicians one more time and have a weekend long jam session covering 80s tracks. Once in a while I’ll peruse through ads on Craig’s List looking to see if any 80s cover bands are looking for singers. I once sent a recording in response to an ad in Chicago. I never heard anything back from them. Maybe I should look around here in Tucson.

Pop music of the 80s was a magical time. It still required real musicians, autotune would be over a decade away, and there were only basic electronic gizmos adding to the mix. You didn’t have to be pretty, you had to be talented. Pretty helped as the 80s wore on, but in the early days it wasn’t important. You leaned on your talents first.

I think of these things when I see old music videos from the 80s, especially the first half of the decade. Sometimes I wonder if I had to stayed on a vocal path with a passion fueling my path if I would have had any chance of maybe singing backing vocals for someone famous someday. After my stint at SUNY Fredonia I did lay down a couple of backing tracks for a band in Cleveland, Ohio, and for a friend who was majoring in Sound Recording in Connecticut. I know what happened to the backing tracks in Cleveland; the band didn’t really hit success and disbanded before the end of that decade. The Connecticut tracks were never to be heard again. But being in a studio, much like that studio on the left at the end of the hall in Old Mason at SUNY Fredonia, was never daunting. It was magical.

Before I kick the bucket, I need to find that magic, at least one more time.

Celebrate Your Rejection.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a new fan of actor Shohreh Aghdashloo. As Chrisjen Avasarala on ”The Expanse”, she commands a presence that I find most compelling.

Once in a while YouTube will suggest one of her speeches, presentations, or talks she’s given over the years. I took the time to watch this 10 minute clip from a few years ago. I love the way she expresses herself, and more importantly, her words of wisdom.

Celebrate your rejections. They make us who we are.

20 Years Later.

Our country changed forever 20 years ago today. Though I was writing in my blog at the time, I did not write a blog entry that day. I did, however, write a short entry on 9/12/01.

Here’s a link.

Our nation has never really recovered from the events on 9/11. The events of that day, aside from the horrific loss of life, touched each and every American and markedly changed the course of our history. To think there is now an entire generation that’s never known anything but war.

Restless.

It’s probably from my extended tour of midlife crisis or middle-aged syndrome, but I’ve been feeling rather restless lately. Social media feeds have pretty much moved to screaming in an echo chamber, I feel impeded about going out, what with this pandemic raging on and whatnot, and most weirdly, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s another shoe somewhere and it’s waiting to drop. I feel like it’s a big shoe, something that’s going to really rattle society again, and honestly, I don’t know if society can take something like that.

If I take a 50,000 foot view of life, it’s good! We’re all healthy, we live in a beautiful home, my job is going very well (I’m a team leader again!), and we’re getting things done. Yes, we’ve had some ups and downs with getting the house ready for the next monsoon season (contractors are coming later this month) but it’s all manageable. We have friends coming in to visit next month and the holidays aren’t really that far off. (It’s too soon for Halloween decorations, let alone Christmas decorations, so don’t do that yet).

Yet, I’m still feeling restless. It’s probably boredom. It’s that whole “who is a walking incubus of pandemic that refuses to get vaccinated as they walk among us?” thing I have going on in my head. I wish people would just do the right thing for society and stop being so selfish.

Monday.

Some days, you just have to hold your tongue. Other days, the mouth says what it’s going to say.

Jolt.

I didn’t start drinking coffee until a couple of years ago. I come from a family of coffee drinkers; it wasn’t breakfast until I heard the tinky-tinky-tink of a coffee spoon banging against the sides of my parents’ mugs of coffee every morning. My sister became a coffee drinker in her teens. I had coffee once or twice at that age, decided it wasn’t my cup of tea(?) and then didn’t start drinking coffee until I had entered my 50s. Both sets of grandparents drank coffee. One aunt and uncle don’t drink coffee, otherwise I think everyone else does.

I drink my coffee the Janeway. “Coffee, black”. I usually have two cups of coffee in the morning. Starting my workday at 5:30 AM (to keep up with the East Coast centric company I work for), coffee gets me going.

After 50+ years, I actually look forward to the stuff.

As Captain Janeway once said, “the finest organic suspension ever devised”.

Old Data.

I was going through some old files this weekend and found this photo of me from 2008 or 2009. I was DJing in a local bar at the time. The photo is all grainy because it was taken in a darkened DJ booth before the days of really good cameras on smartphones. I actually think it was a snap from a webcam.

Coming across old photos like this is like discovering a box of photo albums in the attic. While I believe we should live for today and plan for tomorrow, there’s something special about looking at history, even if it’s our own history. We should never stop growing and learning, and there’s a lot to be learned from history.

Outside of this blog I’ve maintained a private journal for over a decade. Every once in a while I’ll read my writings from days gone by and, like reviewing old blog entries, realize I’m just the same guy I’ve always been moving forward in this life.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

As a youngster I always thought life would bring about drastic changes from time to time as we grew older, but now that I’m older I’ve found that for the most part this hasn’t happen. My experiences today are similar, if not hopefully wiser, as to those of 25 years ago. The moral foundation is the same, my belief system, while adjusted from growth and world experience, is pretty much the same. I can’t help but think I’ve been very lucky to have such a grounded life. I attribute my success to many things, including young parents who were just trying to do the right thing with these two youngsters they were raising.

I read about the awful things going on in the country and all over the world and I realize I have no reason to be cranky. Life is as good as we make it.

And making a good life is the success of living.

Jade East.

Twenty five years ago, when I was Program Director of a Top 40 radio station in Upstate New York, I had an office in the basement of the owner’s large home. This is where the “corporate headquarters”, such as it could be called, was located and I could easily hear the owner and his wife and their kids stomping around the kitchen above my office at any given time. They had a certain propensity for yelling at one another. There were rumors of knives being thrown but I never witnessed this sort of thing; instead I’d see them come down the back stairs and throw laundry into a big pile on the room across from my office.

It was cozy. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

In an effort to tune out the chaos and remained focused in choosing the perfect mix of music for the next 48 hours, I’d shut my door and burn incense as a distraction. I had visions of being mentally whisked away to a place where people floated on clouds and had amazing, almost indescribable moments of ecstatic creativity. My incense never brought me this experience, but it did help tune out the noise of the outside world and eventually I programmed the right music mix to take a last place station to a top five spot, which in turn brought us the, at the time, coveted distinction of being a “Reporting Station” for Radio and Records Magazine. This in turn brought in many promotional opportunities with record companies and the like and made the station successful enough that the yelling husband and wife without the knives were able to sell the radio station for much more than the bought it for.

Fast forward 25 years to my office in our glorious home in the Arizona desert and I’m still burning incense but have yet to experience these purported transcendental experiences.

I do enjoy the scent and am happy that I’m able to burn this incense because it was a gift from my husband and family.

Perhaps that’s transcendental enough.

Lightning.

I’m getting better at capturing lightning shots with my trusty iPhone X. I’m tempted to put a “weather camera” up on the roof specifically for Monsoon Season so I can share the excitement with the world. Do people still do that sort of thing?

We’ll probably get another round of thunderstorms in the overnight. The National Weather Service has predicted a good chance of storms for the next 24 hours, and then it tapers off over the weekend. Monsoon Season likes to take a break and then ramp up again; we’ll probably see more storms next week.

As long as the house cooperates and holds itself together, I don’t mind the thunderstorms. They’re still quite thrilling to me. The thunder and lightning here reminds me of some of the storms we’d get on the Eastern shore of Lake Ontario where I grew up, though the storms here move much slower. My sister and I would camp out in the pop up camper set up in the driveway and together we rode through a couple of impressive thunderstorms. One time we brought the menagerie of cats in with us so they wouldn’t get wet. We had six or seven cats at the time. They appreciated the extra pets they would get.

I think they liked the attention more than the thunderstorms.

Truman doesn’t seem too upset by the storms. During the first one or two storms at the beginning of the season he’d station himself under the buffet in the dining room, but now he just hangs out with us during the frivolity.

Like his ancestors, he likes the extra pets more than the storms.

Fuzzy.

Some days are better viewed through a bit of cheese cloth or with Vaseline on the lens.