Wednesday, July 15

That's My Jam: This Always Happens to Me

There are two things that always happen to me when I discover R&B/Soul artists that I like.
First and foremost, for whatever reason -- they always disappear.
For example, does anyone have any idea at all where Dionne Farris is hiding at these days? People loved her voice when she was in the rap/crossover group Arrested Development, then she went solo (and in doing so, inadvertently played a part in the breakup of one of my favorite bands, Atlanta based funk-rockers Follow For Now, who's lead singer/guitarist became Farris' musical director). Together they put out a great album called Wild Seed, Wild Flower, then added a few singles that showed up on film soundtracks, and then apparently evaporated into thin air, or went back in time to kill Sarah Connor, or something.

The same can be said for soulstress Angie Stone, who has an incredible voice and has done a lot of great albums, but frequently gets pegged as a one-hit-wonder because of her overall lack of radio hits. I wish I could say I knew of her before that song came out -- but sometimes that's how it happens. You hear the hit song on the radio or in some club, you start scratching the surface a little more and find an entire treasure trove of great music just about the same time that the artist themselves decide to fade from the greater public view, take their career in some different direction, or whatever.
Angie has a specific vibe, but there's no way someone that talented wouldn't have
found her own niche in the current music scene if she had wanted to stick with it.
The other thing that continually happens to me with this kind of music is that when they build a new song using samples or a reworked theme from an older classic I'll eventually come across that original track somewhere, and end up liking it even more than the remake.
Don't get me wrong, it's not like I've lost any love for this track:
But honestly, how can you not love the O'Jays?
And here's the thing -- I love me some O'Jays (Love Train? For the Love of Money? Hell to the yes!)-- but until Angie snipped the riff for her song, I had never heard "Back Stabbers" before. If anything I owe Angie Stone a big thank you for tipping me off to it, even if it's become a song I sometimes listen to more than hers.

And it's not the first time it's happened to me either. Foxy Brown's (remember her?) "I'll Be" opening the door for me to the classic Rene and Angela track, DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat" -- which borrows just a tiny, tiny bit from Marva Whitney's "Unwind Yourself" that I literally stumbled across one day when I was flipping AM stations in a rental car on a road trip through Maine, or even the one that started it all, "Rappers Delight" by the Sugarhill gang and the song it came from -- "Good Times" by Chic.

The other odd thing that happens to me a lot is kind of the opposite, when I hear a track with a sample that I do recognize -- I tend to get a little angry at it for stealing from a track that was just fine on it's own. Mostly that happens when tunes get utterly co-opted by pop artists and other people think they wrote them.

I mean, at least when Hollywood remakes a movie you (usually) know they're doing it -- but unless they include some sort of vocal snippet, half the time the artists who use samples these days seem to want to pass them off as their own creations, which drives me up the wall.
Whenever I had a guitar in my hand in class, my students would always say "Hey Mr. Luft, play that Trick Daddy riff" -- which I would, even though it was like a knife to the heart for this old-school Ozzy fan to hear it called that way.
I don't know -- Maybe it's just the way that I'm wired, but as much as I love hip-hop songs that are built off classic tracks from the past -- I tend to get tired of them after a while. Mainly I think because most DJ's and producers sample only a few seconds from a given track and then tend to loop them over and over -- and I get sick of the repetition (Queen's "Under Pressure" is an arching epic of a song that builds from beginning to end -- which was then sliced into a 10 second earworm for Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" that in a lot of ways has ruined the original for me by making me aware of how lackluster and boring the bassline actually is).

But those old songs -- the original grooves that the new tracks are built on?
Man, I could listen to those all day long.

[Listening to:  The Clash - "Charlie Don't Surf" ]

Tuesday, July 14

I Don't Want It

to be too late.

[Listening to:  Jeff Buckley - "Lover, You Should Have Come Over" ]

Sunday, July 12

Sunday Shred: Technical Difficulties

Basically for the better part of 2 days I've had this notion in my head that if I work enough at it, I might be able to actually play a Paul Gilbert/Racer X tune on guitar. I understand most of what he's doing from a technical standpoint, I have a transcription of the music that I've been working from, and some rare free time to kill. Why not give it a shot? I've been playing a lot lately, I'm feeling pretty good about myself as a musician.
What's the worst that could happen?
The thing about Gilbert is that he's the world's nicest guy. He will tell you everything he does. He will slow it down, give you pointers on how to play it, and generally encourage you to believe that most of his stuff is "pretty basic" in structure. And when you break it down to component parts, it really isn't much more than pentatonic licks linked together with modal playing and arpeggio shapes. Nothing I haven't heard of, nothing that's so far out of my reach that I can't even begin to grasp how to play it.

So I start working on it. Repeated figures, squeally high notes repeated over and over until I'm sure my neighbors want to break down the door and kill me where I stand. Even I'm getting to the point where I'm tired of running through the fingerings. But honestly -- I'm like this close to getting it.
Oh by the way, did I mention Paul plays ridiculously fast?
Yeah. I sometimes think I can play fast, but not really like that (although to be fair, very few people can play as clean and precise at that kind of tempo as well as Paul can). Fast playing isn't everything, of course -- but it's a big part of the vocabulary I'm trying to build with my instrument, even after all these years.
Simply put -- this is a song I want to have under my belt, even it it's just so I can say that I can play it.
And for whatever reason, lately it's started to feel like I was getting close when I stumbled my way through it in practice sessions. Sure it's a little bumpy when it hits that diminished arpeggio, and I'm still only at the point where I'm trying to learn the main body of the piece -- so I'm not even worrying about the solo section yet, but I'm getting there, right?
..Eh, not really.
Most of Sunday I spent getting the song up to speed (the best way to work on songs like this is to slow them down and get the sections comfortable before getting them up to tempo), and that's where things started to get rough. I'm part of the way there I think, but now that I have a chance to actually hear myself playing it -- it's the part of the way where some people might be like,
"Yeah, I guess that sorta sounds like it. Hey, play Sweet Home Alabama now."
The worst part of all this is that I feel like I have all the little parts down, so all that's left is to patch them together into something halfway musical, and that's where the real frustration sets in. Because literally I end up playing the song, getting stuck or flubbing something, starting over, getting that part right and then screwing up something else, and then starting over, and starting over, and starting over again.

My man Slaus (who was kind enough to post my recent article about Michael Jackson article on his site the other day) has a feature over at Oh Hell Nawl called "Say Something Nice" where he posts a pic of something truly ignant, and then basically dares his readers to try and find something nice to say about it.

After today's disaster, I should probably submit the video evidence of me trying to play this song people on the site can cut on it.
Or I suppose I could just, you know -- post it here.

[Listening to:  Pat Travers - "Snortin' Whiskey" ]

Saturday, July 11

Actually Spoken During the Course of My Day

"You forgot the Omega 3s, didn't you? How could you forget about the Omega 3s?"

[Listening to:  Mudvayne - "Have it Your Way" ]

Thursday, July 9

I Know, Man. I Know.

Just keep saying to yourself, "What would Steve McNair do?"
..And then do the exact opposite.

[Listening to:  Lamb of God - "Redneck" ]

Tuesday, July 7

That's My Jam: Nothin' But the Dog in Me

I have to say that out of all the music videos in the world where an alpine skier loses his walkman in the snow that's then picked up by a heavily tattooed, bearded guy with canine teeth who takes it back to his practice pad/house and plays the techno song that's on there for his catlike, underwear-sporting bandmates who pick up on the beat and proceed to launch into a kickin' rockabilly track that eventually reminds the guys in the band of times where they were passed out drunk in a bathtub, watched over by zombies, or realized that the town's sushi chef looks an awful lot like the butcher, baker AND the cheese maker until out of nowhere a gorgeous girl with canine teeth and a Betty Page haircut walks up and grabs the singers heart, which makes the whole band pass out -- after which they wake up in the woods and find themselves being rubbed on by a horde of topless girls with the same sort of canine teeth and hairstyles until the drummer turns into a giant 2D animation that spews a hailstorm of guitar picks from his mouth that apparently kills everyone in the band and leaves them buried in a cemetery -- this one is my favorite.
-- And the song rocks too!

-- Slightly NSFW towards the end.

[Listening to:  Miles Davis - "So What" ]

Monday, July 6

King Nothing

To say that far too much has been made out of news related to Michael Jackson's passing, his legacy, and the circus that will surely be his memorial service later this week is a given. Like so many other things in Jackson's life, there's a spectacle that surrounds it, an air of mystery and grandeur that today's media simply cannot resist.

It's almost as if all the other over-covered celebrity deaths up to this point have simply been practice rounds for this one, life-shattering, all-encompassing, metaphor-that-can-be-applied-to-anything-and-everything news story. We've reached the point now where news outlets are doing stories about the coverage itself -- asking it it's too much, too intrusive, or if we'll ever really know the truth behind what happened.
Here's the truth:
An internationally beloved entertainer passed away. Period.
Michael Jackson was not a musician. He was not a songwriter. And although he became renowned for it during the heyday of his career, he did not start out as a dancer.

Michael Jackson started out as the voice of the Jackson Five. He was the obvious focal point, but the group was always intended to be just that -- a group. They danced in unison, they sang in multi-part harmonies. There was no glove, no moonwalk, no monkey, no allegations, no bad jokes, nose jobs or any of that crap.
There were just these songs on the radio -- lyrics and music reaching into people’s hearts and embracing them.
So when he appeared to the vast majority of the world alone in the fedora and sparkling glove on Network TV as part of the 25 Years of Motown broadcast and did the moonwalk people's jaws literally hit the floor. Not only because it was a dance move so many of us had never seen before, but it was friggin Michael Jackson -- the tiny kid with the afro and the big nose who sang "ABC" and "Rockin' Robin" back in the day, all grown up, looking completely different and floating across the stage like his feet weren't even touching it.

Before that, the Jackson 5 were just another Bubblegum Pop act. Five kids in funky clothes doing many of the same choreographed danced moves you could see from the Temptations. In a lot of ways they were literally a string of #1 hits away from being a novelty act. Most people figured that once the kids voice broke it would pretty much be over, just like every other boy band before (or after) them.
If Motown records had gotten their way -- Michael Jackson would have
simply been the successor to Stevie Wonder's childhood success.
It says a lot that the tide began to really turn for Jackson in 1975 when he left Motown after a heated legal battle for CBS Records -- which enabled him to start working with Quincy Jones on a record called Off The Wall. The album was a commercial success that gave Jackson his first number one hit in almost 10 years (it's also still my personal favorite thing he's done).

It also gave Jackson (and Jones) an unheard of amount of clout in the industry at the time. It's not something they talk about much considering the amount of worldwide fame he found soon after -- but it was after the success of Off the Wall and before Thriller ever started recording that Jackson secured the highest royalty rate of any artist ever -- 37% of all wholesale profits from album sales.
Doesn’t sound like much, but considering what artists were getting before (and what they get now) it's a ridiculous number.
It's hard to imagine the same seemingly fragile, self-obsessed shadow figure we've come to know as being such a bulldog in the boardroom -- but there are a number of things that Michael Jackson accomplished during his Thriller heyday that literally changed the entire landscape of how contract artists were seen, handled and paid by record companies.

Much like they are today -- album sales were going into the crapper in 1982. Record companies had been riding a long line of success, and had grown comfortable with doing things their way. Hit singles were the dominant product, so albums were designed to deliver them. So much so that producers oftentimes restricted the number of singles they'd include on a given release. If an artist had 2 or 3 projected hits in their repertoire, it wasn't unusual at all for producers to "hold one back" and keep it for another album in an effort to build an act's library. As a result, you'd love a song you heard on the radio and end up with an LP that had only that one good song on it. The rest would be filler, covers of other group’s hits, and various retreads of the projected "hit."

Which is why when Thriller hit the shelves literally overflowing with songs designed to be radio play singles (7 of the 9 songs on the album charted in the Billboard top 10) -- record companies had to sit up and take notice. Thriller was an album you had to have. As a result, BAD was an album you had to have. Rhythm Nation was an album you pretty much had to have. By equal rights, if you were on a different side of the track from all the fans and hoopla, Purple Rain was an album you had to have. Master of Puppets was an album you had to have.
In other words, whether he realized it or not -- Michael Jackson wasn't just popular, his work had a certain importance.
For a period of time, all he touched turned to gold. Everything he did was emulated, re-interpreted, or directly contrasted by almost every other working artist out at the time.

But like all things in this life -- time has a way of affecting things. Kids grew up. Music evolved and changed. At one time, Michael Jackson was in one way or another the catalyst pushing that growth. But after a certain amount of time and success, when he'd finally achieved the creative control, acceptance, and success he'd seemingly been seeking -- he stopped growing.

The dance moves became a signature. The look became a uniform. The man who had re-invented himself (perhaps in an effort to escape the limits and pressures put on him when he was a child) for some reason froze the clock, and did everything he could to remain 26 years old. Forget the allegations and the wacky marriages and all the rest for a second. Somewhere after the success of BAD, Michael Jackson musically stopped being the most influential innovator in pop music, and decided to simply sit upon his throne and be the King of Pop forever.
As a result, as important as Jackson's work had been -- his overall sense of relevance began to fade.
His scandals and eccentricities became more intriguing than his work, which by then had largely stagnated and began to repeat itself. The ripples and effects of his efforts could be clearly traced in the pop artists that began to eclipse him at that point (as well as the ones who owe so much of their stylistic success to him in the current musical landscape) -- but beyond the occasional collaboration with his sister or paparazzi scandal the King of Pop became little more than an afterthought.

As we've clearly all seen in the weeks after his death -- the amount of adoration for Michael Jackson and his work was immense, and in many ways never faded. But I think we've also discovered that it was a love of distance. Wrapped in good feelings, cradled by the reflections of his influence in the work of others, and yet in so many ways kept in a faded scrapbook of memories. Shelved in a corner of your heart saved for the people and things you've never stopped loving, but long lost an immediate passion for.
Which is why I think statements like this are particularly telling:
Based on preliminary sales numbers from Nielsen SoundScan, the entire top nine positions on Billboard’s Top Pop Catalog Albums chart will house Jackson-related titles when the tally is released in the early morning on Wednesday (July 1). Nielsen SoundScan’s sales tracking week ended at the close of business on Sunday (June 28) night.
No doubt, it’s an incredible feat for an artist to pull off posthumously. But when you think about it a little more the fact that people are buying these albums up in droves carries a very specific message -- that as much as people love Michael Jackson's work, as much as they hold him in a place of importance in their hearts, they kinda had to buy all these albums --
..Because they didn't own them anymore.
There's no shame in anyone -- whether it be the heaviest of metal heads, or the oldest of grandparents digging into their collections and finding those old records and listening to them all again. In overplaying them to the point of annoyance as a way to deal with the loss of a figure of importance.

But what does it say when you dig through those shelves, or scroll through your ipod directories only to realize that you don't have any of it? That you used to own them all -- but you sort of outgrew it. After all the scandals and accusations and 25-odd years since it was virtually the most important thing you had in your life that you had sorta ..moved on?
Importance never fades. Influence and effect can easily be traced.
Relevance however, is a flame that needs fuel to remain bright.
Distance and time can be hard on relationships. It weakens the foundations that you build everything upon. Passion needs immediacy, and when all you have are voices from the past, memories of the things that once touched your heart -- it invites a reliance on days gone by. This is what we had, this is how important it was, how real and intense things used to be when you were here -- when I could hold you, touch you, sing along with you on the radio and pretend to walk backwards across the carpet in my living room.

We all desire importance in one form or another. We ache to feel desired and needed. But life moves pretty fast. It can be difficult to remain relevant. Hard to be present in peoples hearts and minds --
Especially when what you once had seems so far away from where you are now.
At one time and place, millions of people were in the same place with Michael Jackson. They danced with him, listened to his words, held him close to their hearts. But as time went by and his career began to pull him in different directions, the connection began to fade. Then all these things happened, these events and scandals and behaviors that started making us think that he wasn't the guy we all thought we knew. That maybe it's not the worst thing in the world if we don't return every call, buy every album, or skip the tunes when they come up on the playlist.

And then perhaps you encounter someone new. Someone younger, more vibrant, more ..there. Someone that shares qualities that you loved in Michael, but perhaps speak more to what you know now. They have albums and videos out that you hear everywhere you go. You can see them live in concert. You can share that electricity with them. You don’t have to travel into the past. You don't have to wait for the new tour, or keep buying the re-releases of those old discs. You can live in that energy right now.
It happens all the time.
One of my closest and dearest friends growing up lives some 20 miles away from me. Yet we struggle these days to maintain and continue to grow our friendship. It seems difficult for both of us to find times to get together. To find environments that connect us anymore. We've grown up, gotten married, gotten divorced, had kids, moved in different directions with our career paths and lives. The bond between us will never change, and the importance of his influence on my life can never be diminished --
..yet here we are. Hardly relevant to each other at all anymore, it would seem.
Do I want it to be that way? Absolutely not -- I hate what we've become. I miss what we were. Despite the fact that it's as much (or perhaps even more) my fault as anyone else’s that two good friends have become more like pleasant memories to each other -- I miss the good times, the laughter, and the simple comfort that came from having a buddy to hang out with. Someone to talk to. Someone who would listen, laugh, and understand.

The problem comes in maintaining that connection. In continually bridging that gap in a way where it's an active, living thing anchored in the person you are now -- and not just some trip down memory lane.
Are all those old Michael Jackson songs still just as good as they used to be?
Of course they are.
But are you the same person you were when you first fell in love with them? For that matter -- has Michael Jackson grown with you, found ways to continually touch your heart even as its needs evolved and matured?
..Probably not.
Importance is built. It's often told through the reflections of yourself that are seen in others. The inside jokes you carry on years after the fact. The stories you tell over and over. Importance is a state of being. It's a place you reach sometimes without even realizing it.

Relevance, on the other hand must be cultivated. Cared for. It can't be faked, assumed to be fine, or built on the artifices of the past. It's emotional food to the people who crave your immediacy. Who need your comfort, your strength, and your smile to survive.
Michael Jackson's relevance as an artist faded years ago.
He existed in our minds most recently as the media spectacle. The accused abuser. The punchline. A reality that unfortunately overshadowed his true gifts and talents -- exasperated by his own tendencies as an eccentric recluse. He gave us so little to douse those flames of doubt that they became the only facets of his life many of us found relevant anymore.
Will the world miss him?
..As I see it, we already have been for years.

[Listening to: Jill Scott - "Crown Royale" ]

Saturday, July 4

Country Gentleman

Patriotism is frequently like an old suit that we keep around for certain occasions. We always have it, but it's not always on. When we do wear it, we notice how uncomfortably it binds in places, and vow that we're going to get it tailored. But it's ours. If we didn't care, we wouldn't keep it around.
And if we weren't Americans, we probably wouldn't bitch so much about how it fits.
Anyways, when I woke up this morning wondering how my son and I were going to celebrate the holiday, I kept thinking back to the family celebrations I had growing up. And for better or worse, the 4th was generally pretty low key. Cookouts at home, visits from friends and loved ones, piling into the car to see fireworks at the beach, and then complaining about traffic all the way home.

Later on I would add my own twists on the formula (the annual Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel, concerts and fireworks downtown instead) -- but the basic premise is still pretty much the same.

Thinking back to when I was a little kid, I remember a lot more parades being involved. Standing in the hot sun waiting for free candy to be thrown from floats and having to hear John Phillip Sousa songs slowly stroll by. The pageantry of it all was cool, but to be honest -- parades tend to be a little dull. I'm not really surprised that as a tradition they've kinda fallen to the wayside in many places.

The same can be said for Sousa, who's music tends to pound you over the head with it's military overtones. There's just not a lot of room for personal expression with Sousa, no real use for flexibility. As such, it's not much wonder why it hasn't aged very well.

At the same time, what makes those old marches so memorable is their construction. The way all those pieces are built on top of one another so that they work just right. It's why you rarely hear them played by anything other than a full marching band or orchestra.
It's also why this rendition never fails to blow me away.
Before I was really ever aware of Rock and Roll, I knew Chet Atkins. One of the true masters of the guitar, Atkins was equally adept at Country, Jazz, and Classical playing. His trademark style is nearly impossible to master, and yet when you see him play it looks like he's hardly doing anything at all.
For all my love of shredders, punk rock, and thrash metal, I'd kill to one day be able
to play with a fraction of the style and grace that Chet Atkins brought to the table.
He lent his style to countless artists -- and in a way shaped a certain part of my musical upbringing. My father was never as obsessive about players as I was -- but he loved great songs. As such, I wonder if he even knew that many of the artists he liked to listen to (Jim Reeves, Glen Campbell, Waylon Jennings) featured Atkins' guitar work. Or that many of the artists that were played around the house when I was a kid (Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Jerry Reed) were all produced by him.

And yet, whenever you see footage of the guy -- he couldn't be more soft-spoken and unassuming.

-- Dig the sweep arpeggios during Chet's solo. Suck on that, Yngwie.
It's amazing to think that this quiet man who had sometimes to be dragged out of his shell by his more socially magnanimous friends was the same person who stood alone by his convictions even in the racially charged environment of the civil-rights 60's (not to mention the assumed social attitudes of most country music fans at the time) to convince RCA records to sign country music's first African American artist Charlie Pride.
But he did.
It's easy in today's world sometimes to forget that true character isn't what you say or how loud you say it, but what you actually do.

This day -- regardless of how loud the fireworks, how drunken the revelry gets, or how bad the traffic is on the way home -- is about all the men and women who understood that, and all that we enjoy as a result.
And I know that might sound preachy, especially in our fast-food, culture-shocked society -- but that's what kinda makes this place what it is.
After all, if it weren't for all of Chet Atkins' hard work to add class and professionalism to Country Music, we might never had the chance to hear something like this (which despite all my high and mighty talk still remains one of my all-time favorite songs).
Have a great holiday, everyone.

[Listening to:  Bury Your Dead - "Womb Disease" ]

Thursday, July 2

Rubber Ducky of Death

It takes more than a village to raise a child. It takes Slayer.

[Listening to:  Alicia Keys - "Diary" ]

Wednesday, July 1

Size Matters Not

The other day before heading into the theater to watch Transformers 2 (an unbridled mess of a film that managed to surgically remove all the parts that made the first installment so much fun and replace it with so many robots and subplots that they didn't even have time to name them all or resolve half of them) my 9-year old son pulled me aside and addressed me in something I've come to call his "thoughtful voice."

Kids are amazing creatures. They're driven by desire, yet easily bored. They're hungry for new challenges and experiences, but can be slow to hold on to the common sense lessons they glean from them. Yet what I discover as I enter my ninth year of parenting is that my son is not just experiencing or staying along for the ride -- he's taking everything in, always thinking, always considering the world around him and the people in it.
He's not always able to verbalize what he comes up with -- but he sees everything through unique lenses.
I have a feeling we all did this as children, and in a lot of ways continue to do it as we mature -- but I'm starting to wonder if as you gather experience and age, if you don't begin to put filters in front of those lenses. Like sunglasses to block out the sun, it seems like as adults we frequently color our sight with the comparisons of the past, the philosophies we develop, and the ideologies we find ourselves aligning with along the way.

These differences are in a lot of ways what identifies our individuality. I find that when I'm at work, even though I'm not too far off in age from many of the people I work with (and in several cases actually older than them), that I find their attitudes to be "old." There's a lot of hesitation around here when it comes to changing procedures, approaching things differently, or just throwing caution to the wind. I find myself constantly saying things like, "If we do all these studies and planning you're talking about -- we'll never actually do anything. Lets just develop an action plan, and start getting shit done!"
But then when I tell my son I'm going to see a concert and he asks
if he can come too -- I always say,
"Maybe when you're a little older."
I'm at a different level than my coworkers, my son is at a different level than me, my father is at a different level from both of us, my brother and his wife different from all of that, my friends and their families different from that. Even when the goals and occurrences are similar, the approaches are different.

And that's not to say that different approaches are bad, or wrong. My brother and I approach most things in life in our own ways, it's just the way we are -- and his kids are awesome.

What's interesting though is that you're never so locked into one mindset or approach that you can't see those differences. If anything, you're keenly aware of it when you come in contact with them. Some things you wish you had more of in yourself, some things you're ecstatic that you seem to don't have any of in your system.

Every time I encounter people who seem to have a natural sense of priority, an instinctive ability to multitask towards an actual goal I find myself envious. Yet whenever I meet folks tied to planners, schedules, and paper I recoil in horror. Perhaps part of it is in the attraction of opposite polarities or something, I don't know -- but I tend to like people who have their shit together.
..I do wonder about anyone who thinks I'm one of them, though.
When I'm at my best, I'm laid back. Cocky in my abilities. But I worry sometimes that a big part of that comes from swimming at the end of the pool that I can stand up in. I still take chances, but not quite the same ways I used to. Worst of all, I'm harshly aware of that difference. Of the erosion that time and experience seem to have had on my overall approach to the world that I experience.
I'm the best guitarist you've never heard play.
I'm your favorite unpublished writer.
I'm going to make some lucky girl very happy ..someday.
My son has been described by a number of people as being a "young 9." When he was playing little league earlier this year, the differences in approach that marked him from some of the other kids (especially the ones who had played for a few years and had "really driven" baseball parents) was striking. He did surprisingly well in the batters box, but even after playing a full season hasn't shown much interest in watching baseball or following a team. The other kids really liked him, even when his inexperience showed on the field -- but they tended to get on him now and then for not knowing pro player's names or things like that.
When I was growing up, people told me I had an "old soul."
Nowadays I get accused of trying to hard to hold onto
the past. Of comparing too much. Of not acting my age.
Years get lost. Periods and plateaus. Directions you thought you were going to go, places you never thought you'd find yourself in. Stages of recapturing, recharging, re-evaluating, and recalibration. I know I'll never be 20 years old again, but was there something in that 20-year old me that got lost in the shuffle of pushing too hard to be more mature and more settled that needs to come back? By the same token -- how much of that crap just needs to be tossed out the window and forgotten?

By not having the clearest picture of which image in the mirror is the real me versus the person I've become (or the image at times I've attempted to project), I frequently find myself caught in questions of personal authenticity. Am I really a musician, or just a guy who plays guitar? If I finally understand that being a good father is more important than anything else I do from this point forward -- does it mean that nothing else I enjoy doing is worthwhile at all?
Because I don't feel that way.
I want my son to know I'm there, that he'll always be cared for, loved, and protected. But I don't think there's much value in him thinking that I don't have a life. That I'm just a passionless deliverer of toys who announces bedtimes, cooks breakfast, and only exists to make sure he washes his hands after going to the bathroom.
He knows when I'm unhappy. He sees it with those lenses of his, and never hesitates to let me know it.
Our best times are when we're both having fun. When we're both locked into the emotion of the moment. Whether it be playing a video game or finishing homework. He's got a look, a certain glow when he's really happy (as I think we all do) -- but what's really clicked for me recently is that that glow is easier to create when I'm happy too.

He's very sensitive to the emotions of people around him, and tends to react to them. Maybe all kids are like that. I know I can still be that way a lot of times -- even though one of the things I've noticed about adulthood that there is a value in being able to stay levelheaded when others are going batshit, in having the ability to create laughter when everyone else is feeling down, in being the sunshine in other people's rainstorms.

All things you can accomplish whether or not you're feeling happy about it.
My son sees right through it.
It's one of the many, many amazing things about him.
So when he takes on that thoughtful tone in his voice, as he did outside the theater the other day -- I make sure I take the extra effort to listen. Because even though he's not always able to find the right words, he's always speaking directly, purely, and unapologetically from his heart.
This is what he said,
"The other day when I was at my (grand) Papa's house, I saw some pictures of you when you were skinny and had hair -- and I realized that you um.. You look like somebody."
"Really? Who is that?"
"You looked like Anakin Skywalker -- you know, before he was Darth Vader ..but not when he was a little kid."
"Wow, You think so?"
"Yeah. You don't have the scar on your face, but everything else was just like Anakin."
"Well thanks, buddy. I'm gonna take that as a compliment."
And then he hugged me, looked me in the eye again, and said:
"I know you want to be skinny again, like you were in the picture. And I think you can be -- if you keep working on it..
..But your hair isn't coming back."

[Listening to:  Dub War - "Words of Warning" ]

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