Friday, December 24, 2010

ANOTHER year older?!?!

It's Christmas time in the city. Ring a freakin' ling. Christmas 2010.Well if this doesn't conjure up
get the idea. Seems like I was always doing Christmas/seasonal shows of one kind or another. First with the St Mary's Boys four part harmony ....and later bars and/or party gigs with any number of bands. biz.
A real sense of pressure builds up as the big day approaches, doesn't it?
Today is Christmas eve. The decorations are up. Shopping is done. Gifts
wrapped. Now....we wait. I've had some really special, fun Christmas Eves. A late night in Piscataway walking home from a friend's house in a still falling dead quiet snow. The only sound was the crunching of my steps. A visit from a buddy and his girlfriend and the eventual killing of a bottleof Amaretto. An after gig party in Bermuda with some new friends.......and a shaky moped ride home at 5 AM. Made it! A mid 70's Christmas eve gig at the Pittstown crowded we had to sit on the stage at break time. Another gig with another band at a lodge in Hunter Mtn, NY. Snowmobiling through the woods and across a frozen lake. Man, I wish I'd have brought gloves. To this day the feeling hasn't quite come all the way back in one or two of my fingers. Or sitting at home with someone you love watching "A Christmas Carol" or "A Christmas Story." (You'll shoot your eye out!!) Feelings. Lots of 'em.
I remember one "eve" shopping for a Christmas tree with my mom and
watching her work the guy from fifty cents to a quarter. A quarter!!! The woman knew when to shop. We got the tree home. Soon my father(not the handiest of men) was standing on a ladder putting the final touches on the star as the ladder collapsed bringing down my father and an open can of paint.(I knew that was trouble) Then man met floor, breaking his arm. Ye -owch! Watching the dog lap up and then throw up the paint.....ahhhhhh.........."It's beginning to look a lot .....
Christmas day is just so unlike any other day. The streets are quiet. Even the birds and squirrels look different, as if they know......something. Anyone you run into gives you that Christmas day look. A look of
.........peace? I don't know. It's just different. I always try to get
outside by myself for a few minutes on Christmas day. Escape. Remember what the day is. Regardless of your beliefs.... it's someone's birthday. I just like to say Happy Birthday. Gotta problem with that? I love watching the look on someone's face when you know you nailed their present. Is it better....more fun.... to give than to receive? I don't know. But it's close. Then there's the post gifts/dinner/dessert letdown. It's palpable. The air goes out of the room. All that trouble....for this? Well......yeah. And we're gonna do it again next year. Starting a day or two earlier if things hold true to form.
As I mentioned somewhere else here in cyberspace, I lost my parents on NewYears eve...ten years apart. So in addition to all those other
feelings...there's that. But as I think back on fifty plus Christmas', I
always wind up smiling. I've been extremely lucky. Good Most of the people I've been close to...."get it." (If you have to ask...maybe you don't?) The Jesus Christmas cartoon on SNL is a classic.You tube it. It'll make you smile. Merry Christmas. Peace.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


You can really tell you're getting old when you start seeing your past come around again. Case in reunions. A lot of the old bands from the 60's and 70's have been reuniting ...successfully.... and it's pretty cool. I'm talking local Jersey bands. Kinderhook....The Doughboys...The Good Rats. Jersey had a great club scene in the 70's. A band could easily play seven nights a week if so inclined. My personal high was nine nights in a row including two afternoon gigs with a band called Sundown. Two guitars and a bass. A lean, mean, giggin' machine. Not a great band but not too bad. Lots of vocals. People love vocals. I love vocals. We used to overload the harmonies to get the girls out 'cause the boys would be right behind 'em. There's yer crowd. "Ooooh's" for bucks as we'd say. Crass?
Times, sensitivities, values have changed. For the better. My first full time band was Freewheelin'. Old pals who were in the right place at the right time playing the right kind of music. The mid seventies saw a big country rock boom on the Jersey scene, ala Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, Grateful Dead, New Riders, etc. And we jumped on board. This was the stuff we were playing anyway and it appeared that the scene caught up to us. The drinking age was eighteen, liberality abounded and...... lots of gigs. But, and I've mentioned this in other blogs, I can't believe we survived. We did stupid things. We got around in a Volkswagen camper. Four guys, no seat belts, three in the front and one in the jump seat, jammed full of equipment, plenty of beer and other treats, working on harmonies all the way to the gig. Then we'd do it again at two o' clock in the morning......usually minus one or two guys. And, as trite as it sounds, everyone was doing it. Even if we got stopped by a cop he'd just give us a warning or confiscate the beer. Again, how did we survive? Well, we had my pal Rock at the wheel. He was Neal Cassady to our Merry Pranksters. (I refer you to Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.") Unthinkable today....and rightly so. It really does make you think someone was watching. Freewheelin' was a good, rockin' crowd pleasin' dance band.....once on stage. It was the gettin' to the gig, startin' on time, makin' it back from breaks, publicity, dress, dealing with club owners thing that we could never quite get.
The aforementioned Kinderhook was the top of the line country rock band at the time and they kind of took us under their wing. They let us open for them a few times and would call us when they couldn't make a gig. Good dudes. We'd hang out at their house in Hackettstown, NJ, and eventually relocated to that area. Anyplace that would put us up for awhile and could sustain our marathon practice/party sessions was our home. Usually short lived. We would always overstay our welcome. Discretion and moderation were not in our vocabulary. Here's a classic example. We opened up for Kinderhook at a club called Casper's in East Brunswick, NJ. During the course of the night I was shootin' the breeze with Andy, their bass player. They'd just opened up for Poco in Central Park and it seemed like they were on their way. Even the guys in Poco were impressed. So Andy was telling me about the gig and the guys in Poco and how they're just like us and how they got invited to the after party........WHAT!!!!!! I said, "Whoa....what was that like?" Andy said,"Well, we decided not to go. We thought they were probably just being polite and we didn't really want to overstay our welcome....." And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Freewheelin' would have beaten Poco to the party, been the first ones in line at the buffet table sticking rolls and cheese in our pockets, ordering nothing but the top shelf booze, and probably been politely asked to leave at some point during the night. We weren't bad guys or malicious.... extremely friendly as a matter of fact. But we were young, caught up in the scene and most of the time...not in reality. Some friends didn't make it. We did.
I was talking to a bar owner at a gig a few weeks ago and he was feeling me out about getting the boys together for a gig. Believe it or not, everyone's still around. But I think it's one of those things that's better left...remembered. There's a couple other old bandmates from different bands that have contacted me about some reunion gigs. Some.....most.....better left un-reunioned. Everyone's doing it. We need a Woodstock for all the old fart Jersey bands! In the meantime, get out and see Kinderhood, The Doughboys, The Good Rats, Sam The Band, Cowtown, Frankie and the Bern and your particular old favorite. I'll bet they're spirit, anyway. Peace.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Summertime....and the livin' WAS easy

Where'd the summer go?! I mean......where'd the summer go?!?! I remember when I was a kid, summer vacation seemed like it went on forever. Then, at some point, you realize it's basically two months and change. Depressing. But remember that feeling waking up on the first, second, third day of summer vacation and realizing...ohhh's summertime, baby. West Sixth St in Plainfield, NJ was a cool place to spend summers. Middle class....I guess....lots of kids....different age ranges. I was kind of in the middle so depending on the days action I could float among the different groups. Monopoly or Stratego with Stanley on his porch. That could kill a half day. His mom didn't trust me as far as she could throw me but as long as we were in sight it was cool. Bike adventures to the local parks or card flipping tournaments with Mary Ann. She cleaned me out more than once. Or Baseball with the older guys. Developed some pretty good skills early on by hangin' with those guys. One day the guys were playing St. Stan's baseball team from down the road. They were actually an organized team......with uniforms! Remember when The Bowery Boys, aka The East Side Kids would play a local organized team and hijinks would ensue? Yeah.... like that. In that kind of scenario I may or may not get the call. But that day I did. St. Stan's had a pitcher who threw nothin' but heat. He was wild and already had facial hair. I got the call to lead off and man did he look huge. I can't remember his name now but even that was frightening. I stepped in and their catcher said, "Good luck." Pretty sporting, I'd say. I tried to say "Thanks, you too" but my mouth was so dry all I could do was nod and attempt a weak smile and a little bit of spit. I wondered where that annoying clicking was coming from and realized it was my knees banging together. Ah....a time to test my mettle. I actually heard the first pitch whiz by. Strike one! Sounded like a ball to me. On the second pitch I started to swing before he actually let the ball go and danged if I didn't pop it just over second base. I stood proudly on first base as the next three guys struck out. I owned Lurch for the rest of the game. Got two more hits and then he drilled me in the ribs on my last at bat. Accident? I think not. Didn't matter. I laughed all the way to first. Y'know how the pros always downplay their performance and insist it doesn't matter unless the team wins. Never bought that. I don't even remember if we won or lost, but my status shot skyward. It's amazing what confidence can do. It bolstered my little league game, helped in brawls with my sister and even Sr Anne Eucharia didn't seem as intimidating.
And that was the day that my place in the neighborhood changed. I was no longer going back and forth between the older and younger group as much but now had a fairly secure place with the older guys. They were even coming to the door to get me for this or that. Hide and seek, tag etc just didn't seem to do it anymore. But I did notice it was getting more and more interesting to also hang with that other group. Did I mention the girls? I was on W. Sixth St. from Kindergarten to the middle of eighth grade. A lot can happen in that span. I noticed when I was around eleven, twelve, thirteen I was coming up with excuses to be around the girls. And I could be pretty creative. They made me feel ....funny.
I started playing guitar around age twelve and then things really got weird. Nancy lived across the street. She died a few years ago and that gave me pause for reflection. She was always a little more artsy than the rest of the crew and would like to hang out when I was practicing and critique, suggest, sing along and just be Garfunkle to my Simon. She had a great ear. My guitar teacher taught me House of the Rising Sun in E minor. Who does House of the Rising Sun in E minor!!?! Nancy knew it was wrong right off the bat. What could I do? I wouldn't find out about transposing keys for a few years.
And then I moved to Piscataway. Time to navigate among groups once again. Somehow I could always do that. Hang with the Jocks, The Dweebs, the Intelligencia, the...uh...not so intelligencia and the neighborhood guys. All the time keeping my grades right in the meaty part of a solid respectable C. Math always hurt my GPA. I got a D in Geometry, went to summer school and got a......D. C'mon...who can concentrate in the summer!? Especially when the girls in my class were wearing summertime clothes and smelling so good....and....and....
Somehow I've made it to fifty eight and never had to prove why a parallelogram is a parallelogram to anyone. And don't get me started on the Rhombus. I think the message here is don't be afraid to roam among groups. It can be kind of off putting to some people when groups collide but so what!!
Man, I wish I could come up with a really interesting wrap up here but Linda's grandkids have been on the other computer watching "Fred" at an extreme volume and I hate to admit it but....uh....I'm kind of starting to dig it 'bout those Yanks?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...."

I had the most inane, but fascinating discussion the other day. Given the chance, what super hero would you want to be? No, these discussions don't only happen at the Seinfeld coffee shop. It was two other guys and me and as it went on it actually got kind of heated. Guys take their super heroes very personally. But to me it's no contest. Superman can do it all. He just has to avoid Kryptonite in it's various forms. Not as easy as it sounds but worth the trade off. Another guy wanted to be Batman. What!?!? And get this. The other Mensa candidate wanted to be the Flash! They each had their arguments but why bother. Superman trumped them all. I was a DC comics fan and never did the Marvel thing so maybe I don't have all the facts, but they just have no game. Batman's clever, wily, strong, has a great car and hideaway..... and is rich. The flash is Batman wouldn't stand a chance in the Octagon with Superman, and as far as speed....remember the one where Superman crossed the solar system in ten seconds and only lost time because he stopped to save a treed cat? Yes, he even has a super heart. And just use your imagination in regards to his X Ray vision. I could think of only one use for that when I was ten. Granted, I haven't read a Superman comic since around 1967 but unless things have radically changed, he's still my guy. And don't even try comparing the Bat Cave to the Fortress of Solitude.
In the course of blogging I've referenced the Man of Steel a few times. I've come to realize......once again...... it's a guy thing...... kinda like The Three Stooges. I'm sure you've gotten the old, "But why is he always hitting them?" Hey.....BECAUSE HE'S MOE!!!!!!! And forget trying to explain the letdown of a Shemp for a Curly.
I still have a picture of my father and me on the couch, sometime in the late fifties, early sixties staring at the TV. The caption reads "Interested in Superman." My brother got a camera around that time and by default became the historian of life on West Sixth Street. Captions and all. As a fan of Mad magazine he'd try to make them topical/irreverent/ cynical. There's another shot of my sister and me on her bed locked in combat. As usual, I'm on the bottom getting the worst of it as the caption reads "Typical."
My father's main complaint about Superman was he couldn't believe no one knew Clark Kent was Superman. Glasses and a suit? C'mon....I had to agree. But TV in the fifties and sixties demanded a suspension of belief. Why couldn't the professor just patch the hole on the Minnow? Why did the Howells bring a trunk full of clothes and packets of money? Why didn't Gilligan and Mary Ann ever.......or....did they? And remember the one where a camera and film washed up on the island? The castaways decide to make a movie recounting their shipwreck and hoped somebody would find it, put two and two together and come rescue them. Yeah....maybe. Or here's an idea. How about a movie where you stand there with a billboard that says "Help! We were shipwrecked on the Minnow a few years back. We think we're at (I'm sure the professor could come close to a longitude and latitude.) With us are the Thurston Howells (that's how they introduced well to do married couples in those days) and Ginger Grant, the movie star! Come rescue us!!!" Frustrating. But they had a half hour to fill.
The question is why do three guys in their fifties care about superheroes.... or Gilligan's Island...or The Three Stooges...Bewitched.....I dream of Jeannie. (Please.....just once can I see the belly button!!!!! ) Well, it impacted us. As did Combat.....The Rifleman...The New York Yankees and our neighbors, teachers and friends. That's what life is. A series of small meteors leaving their impacts. The St Mary's nuns left many an impact.
Life seems so much faster and more complicated for kids growing up today. They're preparing for college at nine years old. I meet and talk to parents every day and a lot of them are worn out by their kid's life schedule. Overload. But I guess everyone adapts. Most days, when I wasn't in school, my parents may or may not have known where I was till they saw me for lunch or dinner. Certain rules were laid down and I had to loosely roam within those parameters. They were too busy trying to make sure those meals were on the table and the mortgage was paid. Not that there weren't dangers out there. Plainfield, NJ was a volatile town in the sixties and the occasional black eye or bloody nose came with the territory. Is it better today? Worse? Kids standing next to each other texting rather than talking? It is what it is. A trite summation, but there you have it.
Be honest. Is this weird? I spend a lot of time on the road and get involved in these wild fantasies. I'm a Pisces and a dreamer. My teachers reminded me of that on more than one occasion. On a trip down the Garden State Parkway or The NJ Turnpike I can be captured by aliens or stranded on a desert island or asked to join a great blues band. The detail I go into is I realize I'm fifteen miles past my intended exit. In my profile I wrote something like "I can't escape this feeling that something wonderful is going to happen." I still feel that every day. Really. Many wonderful things have already happened. I'm a very lucky guy. But I still think that.....hey....what's that bright light in my backyard? Uh oh...they're he-eeere.....?

Sunday, March 07, 2010 many people to thank.......where do I begin.....

"Overture....hit the lights.... This is it.....the night of nights." I refer you to the old Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck Fri night show. What kid growing up in the sixties doesn't remember that song?
Well, it's Oscar night. Doesn't affect my life....or probably yours....but I bet we'll watch for awhile. At least the opening. But man, there are people who live and die by this night! In an earlier blog (July 2005) I lamented on the lost art of hitch hiking and the dark turn it seems to have taken. Without rehashing old material, it backs into my brief brush with the Oscars. During Easter break in 1971 my buddy and I decided to hitch from El Paso, Texas to Los Angeles, California. We got there in one ride. He wanted to see an old girlfriend and I just wanted to see California. Our host dropped us off in Hollywood right on the Sunset Strip. It was about 10pm and the marquee across the street at the Whiskey A Go Go read "Tonight....Uriah Heep!! Remember them? The whole scene was reminiscent of Times Square...but with a freakier vibe. After all it was......OSCAR WEEK.......IN HOLLYWOOD!!!!!!!!
Gidget (seems like there were a lot of Gidgets and Sunshines running around in those days.) and some guy eventually came to pick us up and dropped us off at a mansion in Laurel canyon. As I remember, a friend of Gidget's struck it rich by inventing some new kind of cassette tape or something. A couple of friends were sharing the house, they were all leaving , we had the place to ourselves for the next few days and yes, it was OSCAR WEEK!!!!!! So there we were enjoying sunsets over LA from the expansive deck in the canyon and life wasn't bad. Butch was hanging out with Gidget a lot and I was walking down Laurel Canyon Drive and cruising the strip and other places by day. That sounds a little sleazy, doesn't it? Really, I was just takin' in the sights. The three of us spent one day on the beach with "sunshine" and the Pacific Ocean sparkled and laughed! But everything sparkled. It was OSCAR WEEK!!
A friend of ours from UTEP had a friend who also lived in the canyon and after a few days we moved in with him. He worked on the periphery of the movie industry as did a lot of his friends and life continued to be good. And it was OSC....well......ya know. Our host wasn't around much, Gidget and Butch had a falling out and we were running low on cash. What to do except get jobs as .....gardeners. The guy who owned the place we were staying in hired us to clean out his beds, do some trimming and planting and would pay us enough to fly back to school in Texas. Man, we kept steppin' in it! In the meantime, we had an interesting excursion with a Mexican taxi driver ( also covered in July '05 blog), spent a day frolicking in Griffith Park, and apparently had a number of near misses with California rock stars. There's a great book called "Hotel California" that covers this time in LA...particularly the Laurel Canyon area which was home to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, The Mamas and the Papas, Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills and Nash etc. In my trips down to "the strip" I was always picked up by interesting characters in fast cars. I wonder who they were....hmmmmmm.
But Easter break was over and it was time to get back to school. We were slated to fly out of LAX on OSCAR NIGHT!! One of the gang offered to drive us to the airport and man was he pumped! He was actually going to the Oscar ceremony that night and still took the time to drive us. We met a lot of nice people in LA. Even though the Oscars affected us not a whit it was hard not to get caught up in, or at least witness, the electricity in the California air that night. We almost hated to leave. But you know that feeling in your gut that says "time to leave?" Well, it was there. We were on the brink of overstaying our welcome but got out just in time. From the air Hollywood appeared to be vibrating.
Bill (the friend of the friend) picked us up at the El Paso airport and as we walked through the lobby of our dorm what was blasting off the TV but.........a Dodger game. Hey..... C'mon man's OSCAR NIGHT!! Enjoy the show. Peace.
( Scroll down for updated info on Carrie)