Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pema Chodron and the art of just thinking in a room


There is nothing like writing from a lonely hotel room on business.  I’m not your average traveler, I work into the night and I mean real work and then perhaps some reading.  I also have a daily goal, to either write or edit one page of my writing.  But there is the joy of reading which can pull me in all directions. For example, I finished Pema Chodon’s book Living Beautifully.  I can see some wincing in my friend’s eyes, beautifully, what kind of man are you?  Hey, this book was a needed reminder of how important meditation can be in my life.  I have seen an improvement in my concentration, for instance I begin this entry in my hotel room and end up writing about an inspiring book.  Just like our thoughts, mine have deliberate stream of conscientiousness.   But back to having the time in a room which can be a blessing our can bring on a wave of isolation or loneliness.  Let these thoughts come and let them pass, like the breath.  What am I trying to convey here?  Each of us has a certain amount of time on this earth and it’s vital for our welfare to use our time to increase our compassion and open up to new patterns of thinking.  For example getting out of the habitual damaging thoughts.  Discover your beauty.  In your time, you will be enabled to break free and experience… an awakening or satori which is a zen Buddhist term…

Thank you for reading this

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The American Pink Floyd Experience-Ameri-Floyd at 89 North Patchogue

07:54 2/15/15

I wanted to get in a review of The American Pink Floyd Experience (Ameri-Floyd) at 89 North a couple of weeks back.  I also wanted to write down some thoughts on the amount of Pink Floyd copy bands that play in the area.  This will be brief and I hope you can relate or share your thoughts.   If you are a Pink Floyd fan, the only feasible way to experience their music live - is through a cover band.  There are no plans for Pink Floyd to tour.  There is no reason for them to tour since there are many options to see these cover bands.  No matter where to live, you can rest your minds there is a Floyd cover band close by.  The band that played at 89 North was their first show, but they were solid and were close to perfect.  Ameri-Floyd are fused from two different Pink Floyd cover bands to form The American Pink Floyd Experience, not the be confused with the Brit or the Aussie Pink Floyd Experience and not to be further compared and contrasted with the The American Pink Floyd, who are based in Nashville which is the home of country music.  What is curious is how Pink Floyd has influenced these bands and the countless musicians who strive to create a show and sound to perfection.  What impressed me was the dedication Ameri-Floyd had at recreating the sound by using authentic equipment which Pink Floyd would use.  The band is led by David Aguirre, guitar and vocals, Matt Ganulin, percussion, Vic Delgado on Sax, Erik Semo on Bass and vocals,  Paul Drollinger, keyboards, Ben Shin, guitar and vocals, Their beautiful and professional back- up singers Samia Mounts and Vicky Modica stood in front of the stage where they belonged.  There was a screen in the back of the stage which ran a series of films from the movie The Wall, to the Wizard of Oz.  Hearing songs from Animals brought back memories of listening to 8-track recording as my cousin drove my brother and me around San Jose.  It was a long time ago and yet this music brought out "hundreds" of fans on a chilly night in January.  It was packed inside 89 North. This is why there are many Pink Floyd cover bands.  It’s the supply and the demand.  Next up for Ameri-Floyd is Revolution Bar in Amityville on Friday May 29th.   If you are a fan, I encourage you to get out and get impressed with the experience.

Thank you for reading this.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Five rows from Idina Menzel and catching two incredible productions in one night in NYC with my beautiful wife

This was a date we have planned for years.  I’m not joking.  The goal was to see a play and spend the night in Manhattan.  We had tickets to see If/Then back in September.  Back then it would have been the first time we would see Idina Menzel, and as fans of Wicked and (in Ali’s case) RENT – we were excited with the possibility.  But, while waiting on line to enter the theatre an older gentleman in front of us turned around and said in only the brutal and blunt way a true New Yorker can express his aggravation, “Can you believe it?   She’s not performing.”  Who?  We asked.  “Idina Menzel.  They’d (a theater rep) come around and you can see tonight’s performance with some schlep and come back for another or get a full refund.  I’m getting my money.  She’s known to bail out on too many performances, finds any excuse in the book!”  Ali and I took the rain check and within a minute Ali received a call from Emma Tess who was on her way to the hospital from Hofstra; she bit through her bottom lip.  Off we went.  Back we came. Last Saturday.  We checked the minivan and our bags in at the hotel and walked up to the theater.  We sliced through the distracted tourists on Times Square as well the annoying characters that loomed outside Toy’s R Us in the frigid air.  Who can do this for a living?  Two short women wore large character heads on top of their small heads as if they had fish bowls.  They appeared frozen as winds whipped around their lopped sided heads.  Who were they supposed to be?  Maybe the character from Frozen?  I don’t know. There were two bat men, Spider men, and the rest of the insane posy.  We made it to the theater and witnessed an amazing performance from five rows back.  The musical was excellent.   It also stars LaChanze, who won the Tony a few years back as well as Anthony Rapp.  Instead of waiting for signatures, we headed back to the hotel and checked into our room.  The view from our window was the back of another building although we were 26 floors up.  It was a small room, but we were not in the city to watch TV.  After lounging for a few minutes we headed back out in the frozen tundra and walked to Junior’s where we hoped to have dinner.  Forty minutes?  We’re not waiting.  We ate dinner at the Brooklyn Diner, no wait and the food was pretty good. I had a veggie dish and a couple of beers.  Ali had her typical burger and fries and Coke.  We headed back out and saw the second play, Constellations which blew us away.  It was as if we were watching two dancers, sometimes intoxicated and others times, aggressive, sensual, witty, shy, vulnerable as their world shocked them out of their personas.   For just over an hour we sat spell bound by Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson.  After this performance we waited for them afterwards and Ali got her Playbill signed as I snapped some

pictures.  We walked back to Junior’s for cheese cake and tea and felt this was one night that was worth the wait.

Thank you for reading this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Interview with Richard "Sammy" Brooks from The Scofflaws

Dressed in a long military green over coat and a black beret Richard "Sammy" Brooks caught the perplexed attention of the recruiters who were standing in their office.  We passed them, bought couple of burritos at a local Mexican restaurant, a few tall boys at 7-11 and drove back to Rich's house. In his living room was a still Greek tortoise getting warm under a lamp as well as a few cats who were staring at me as I took a seat on a sofa.  There will be two parts for this interview - since we hung out for more than an hour.

In fact, there are not many interviews on the web on either The Scofflaws or Richard Brooks who uses the stage name, “Sammy.”  Yet, this is a band that toured the US and Europe and still have a strong legion of fans.  Recent years, their gigs have been sporadic, playing mostly on Long Island and some gigs in Rhode Island or in Manhattan.   

We covered the very beginning as well as the concept of third wave ska which is what The Scofflaws are considered.  The first wave was bands from Jamaica such as the Skatalites, Desmond Decker and Bob Marley and the Wailors.  The second wave was known as the Two Tone bands.  Two Tone was the record label based in the UK.  Bands such as The Specials, Madness, The Selecter and Bad Manners as well as The English Beat.  The second wave captured the energy and aggression of punk.  It is interesting to see the progress of the ska wave; from Jamaica to the UK to the third wave which was global.  Within the US, bands such as Toasters, Fishbone (which was one of my favorites) The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Untouchables (who I saw perform back in the 80’s in San Jose) No Doubt, Sublime and Rancid.  The Scofflaws played with many of these bands. 

But they were not always known as The Scofflaws, the band started as The New Bohemians.  You may recall Edie Brickell (“What I Am”, 1986) and The New Bohemians.  There was no affiliation.  Richie sold the name for $500.00 to her management.    

The ska movement peaked in the ‘90’s.  All of The Scofflaws albums were released during this time, The Scofflaws, 1991/Moon Records, Ska in Hi Fi 1995/Moon Records, LIVE (Vol. 1) 1996, Moon Ska Records, Record of Convictions/1998Moon Ska Records.  Some of these bands which sold millions broke up. Some ska labels such as Moon/Ska Records folded.  By 2000 the third wave had crested.  What is left is the surviving ska bands who still tour, play at ska festivals and are adored their passionate fans.  Yet, there are new ska band who continue to create and forge their own “rude-boy” path.

MG: When you were introduced to ska?
RB: The Two tone error had a real impact on me.  I liked the reggae stuff which preceded that.  But when the two tone thing hit and Elvis Costello, it had that punky edge to it, I really embraced it, so that was the late seventies. 
MG:  What were some of the bands who influenced you? 
RB: The Specials came through first and I missed them and people were saying, oh man you should have seen this show, these guys were unbelievable, this was the next new thing.  About a month later Selecter came through and I caught their thing.  It was a lot of fun and that was at My Father’s Place in Roslyn.  That was their first tour.  It was an all black band with one white guy on guitar.  They did the James Bond bit and they put a spot light on the guy and the guy became James Bond, it was really cool.  Now, her whole line up is different, but that original band was very good.  So, around that time I started doing the New Bohemian thing.
MG:  What year was that?
RB:  It was around 1984 when The New Bohemians were born.  Prior, to that I was playing with some garage bands.  But that is a whole other area of my career.
MG:  You had mentioned directing as something you always wanted to do which led you to leading a band, so what inspired you?
RB:  I always like the idea of directing, putting out the right kind of material out there.  What really sparked the idea was when I went into a bar looking for a friend of mine.  The guy is not there and I look around the room and I think it’s pretty cool and I ask them, ever think about putting music in here?  And they tell me, they thought about.  And there’s this guy Gene, he’s a brick layer and he’s sitting at the bar.  And he tells the owner, “Oh, you should hire this guy’s band (Rich’s) they’re really good.  I didn’t even have a group, but Gene thought like a business man.  Get the gig and then get the musicians, so that is how it sparked.   Just as a lark I called a whole bunch of friends and said, hey listen, I’m doing like an open mic this night, come down.  I did that for a few weeks and started getting offers for other gigs after that.  It was formerly known as Snyder’s and became 89 Wall Street.  I’m thankful to Gene to this day.
MG:  So, you had the New Bohemians and Scotto became your manager?
RB:  Scott didn’t come onto the scene till later.  What happened we were playing CB’s and getting in on the scene and then Edie Brickell’s manager contacted me.  I think his name was Monty or something.  So, I explained I was using the name (New Bohemians) for three years by that time.  And I said I can prove it since I had back issues of The Voice for the times when we played CB’s and we’re in the add and it’s dated.  So you, know at that time I sold it.  The name had a kind of beatnik connotation which was very cool, but we were into the idea of getting people dancing and the ska thing was what we were going after so it was a good time to change the name.  My buddy and I were on the phone and there was a good band around called The Citizens and you don’t think of a rude boy when you think of a citizen, you think of a nice guy who cuts his lawn or something.  So we said we needed to go for something tougher than that.  I thought of Scofflaws and from that moment on we started using that and it has served us well.  It’s cool because once you get out of the New York area; a lot of people haven’t heard that.  It’s kind of a regional thing.
MG:  There are four releases as The Scofflaws, were there any more than that?
RB:  Well, there were some rinkey dink compilations we were on.  The first was a vinyl release, we were on it, it had a ska face and it was on Moon Records.  It was us and The Toasters, The Boilers, No Doubt, Let’s Go Bowling.    Shortly after that we recorded the first disk (The Scofflaws  Moon Records 1991) The sessions included Tony Mason and I don’t why he did it, but anyway.  We finished up the sessions and then he left the group.  So, John started drumming for us.  I remember doing this gig at SOB’s and Tony came down.  We were opening up for the Skatalites and the room was filled.  So, I can see the expression on his face.  Tony, we had the whole thing recorded. You really should have let us promote it before you made the decision to leave.  But he wound up getting into other things and I lost contact with him.
                In music that’s the biggest problem, is everybody’s ego.  When the ego gets in there, it becomes this big wrestling match and it stifles creativity.
MG:  How do you deal with that in a band?
RB: When someone brings in something; usually we know right off the bat if it’s going to work or not.  We try it on for size.  If it flies we keep it in.  Anybody can bring anything in.  People know the concept of the band.  I never wanted it to be one sided when it’s always about me and my choice.
MG:  What are some examples when someone else suggested a song?
RB:  Night Train, on our first album.  It was someone else who suggested it.  And it was big.  It was on our first album and we did it for a long time.  I still quote it in Skallacart.  Different band members bring in different tunes…anything can be put to the beat… with the right arrangement.
MG:  What was the relationship between you and Buford O’Sullivan, it seems on the last album (Record of Convictions Moon Ska Records 1998) your role within in the band may have diminished?
RB:  It can be referred to as a Buford album.  At the time I was going through a divorce and stuff.  My life was mired in shit.  I was not the driving force behind that one.  Compared to our first two, but still I let others take the lead.  I didn’t want to make all the decisions. If someone had some expertise in one area, I’d let them have it.  Putting the right guy: in the right place.  I always wanted the musician to do their thing within our thing, that’s when you get the optimum from a musician.  I’ve been very lucky to hook up with people who have been very talented and sympathetic.
MG:  Moon Records was releasing all of your releases and went under.  What was the situation with them?
RB:  It was kind of a musician’s co-op.  It was never a cash cow.  They did this crazy thing where they would give you product and you sell it and supposedly you made more from it.  Rob (The Toasters and owner of the label) had a heavy tour schedule and would sell all of his releases, so by the time we pulled through all of our records were sold.  So, it got it little weird that way.  We did a fair amount through stores.  We never thought we’d get rich doing that.  We aspired to do that and for a little while it happened, but I always had a part time job I could jump back into.  I never really did it full, full time.
MG:  Yet, The Scofflaws toured the US and Europe. Who organized your tours?
RB: Moon had a lot to do with that.  We worked with two different booking agencies.  There was an English lad who was getting us gigs.  When you have a power house agent it makes the difference.  They set everything up in advance.
RB:  He did, prior to us.  Scott did not come till the mid nineties by then things were picking up and MG:   So going back to Scott, I know he managed The Mosquitoes.
we were on Moon.  Scott is a good negotiator and was a good representative for the band.

Look for Part II in the near future…

Thank you for reading this.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Don't Let the sound of your own wheels drive you CRAZY.

12/31/14 16:08

This is the last entry for the year and it’s time to look back at what I wrote.  I wrote more  blog entries this year, thank you for reading some.  

For this entry, I wanted to capture my travels which for the most part were for work.  I am not complaining, but this year I spent more than 30 nights, maybe closer to 40 nights in a hotel room.  It’s the most for a single year.  Most of the trips were to Pennsylvania or Massachusetts for meetings, but I was out in California for a trade show and flew out to Illinois for another trade show.  There was a meeting in West Virginia.  I thought of John Denver as I drove across the barren West Virginia landscape; take me home, West Virginia.  Not for me, but I intend to get back there in 2015.  For vacation we went to Disney.  Wait a second; I’m sure these details bore you.  I am sorry.  The odd thing is feeling the need to travel. When I don’t travel at least every other week, I feel anxious. I need to get out on the road and get in front of clients.  For some of you it may be hard to imagine, leaving the comforts of home and of course leaving the company of my wife and children.  Yes, I miss them.  There are nights in an empty hotel room when I have a cold dinner which I ate hours before only to watch it wilt and become stale.  I have emails to work on.  The TV is playing ESPN or something from the History channel, but I try to get in some reading and writing while I have the time.  There is the need to prepare for the meetings as well. The room is still quiet without the sounds of my family.  The next morning I may run a couple of miles on the treadmill, buy a veggie breakfast and head back to my room.  And before you know it I am in the parking lot for my first appointment and debating if I should wait or go in fifteen minutes before the scheduled time.   After my meetings, I may head back to my room and answer the emails and call back those who left messages.  But, if I am lucky I can get back on the road and head home.  I discovered the secret passage called the Ocean Parkway which runs East to West and is located at the most Southern region on Long Island.  There are times when I can see over the sand dunes at Jones Beach and watch for a second or two as the mighty waves from the Atlantic crest and crash into the shore.  These are some the sites I like to see.  Well, the ocean and an open road as the radio is playing a song which was created for driving.  Eagles, Take it Easy…

Happy New Year’s and here is a salute to 2015 to the profound potential a New Year has in store for all of us.

Thank you for reading this.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Daring to be BOLD The Scofflaws played at 89 North!

12/28/14 11:07

This year I saw the Scofflaws four times. Their performance at 89 North on Friday 12/19 was one of the best.   It was a cold night which was a stark contrast to when I saw them at the Great South Bay Music Festival last July.  I walked into 89.  The cold entry leads to a staircase which was barren.  The bar was empty and I paid a $5.00 cover to the doorman who asked, who are you here to see?  The Scofflaws.  Sammy was at the bar with a gin and tonic and was talking to the bartender.  She said she used to tend the bar in Port Jefferson when The Scofflaws regularly played on Main Street years before.   There was a venue above Starbucks and I’m not sure if this is what is called The Arden.   I offered to buy Sammy a drink, but he was good.  Bought a pint of Blue Point’s Hoptical Illusion and took a sip.  It was very refreshing and when the bartender said, the alcohol content is higher than normal, well, I liked it even more.   

This was my first time at 89 North and I have to say I was impressed with the layout.  There was a kitchen in which fresh pizza was being prepared for the soon to be intoxicated crowd.  There was a large bar with a varied selection of taps as well as spirits.  I walked in and was impressed with the expansive risen stage.  There was a large area for dancing.  Tables with chairs were in neat rows and there was a balcony and another bar in the back as well as the sound board.  If you wanted to watch The Islanders or basketball, there were assorted TV’s on.  So, in comparison to some other Long Island venues, 89 North is a very professional establishment.  Don’t let the barren lobby fool you.

Eventually, Erik showed up since he worked till 7 PM.  His band is playing at 89 North on January 24th, The American Pink Floyd Experience.  We had a pint and took a seat at a round bar table.  The subject of cover bands playing gigs is something I need to cover in another blog entry.  It amazes me there is such a robust market for these bands who tour and are able to pull in crowds at larger venues.  Just recently, I saw another Pink Floyd cover band on TV performing at Red Rocks in Colorado.  There is an array of Led Zeppelin cover bands.   Anyway, if you like cover bands; 89 North has a variety playing each weekend.  I can’t say I’d go to one of these gigs unless I knew the musicians…but if there was a Clash cover band…you might pull me in.  You might.

The Scofflaws were the first of three bands to play that night.  Also on the bill were Noah’s Arc and Slavery by Consent. 

When The Scofflaws took the stage the crowd from the bar came in and started to bop to 
the music.  Missing was Jared on trombone which was similar to the last time I saw the band in Smithtown.   It means the sound is less full, but the band at 89 was tight.  Listen; there can’t be a mediocre Scofflaws performance as long as Godfather of the Rude Boys, Sammy Brooks is on the stage.  There were people grooving in front of the stage as Sammy praised the crowd and sent his love.   Just look at the pictures.  He is the man.  I’m working on getting an interview with Sammy for this blog.  He said he’s interested; it’s just getting the time to get together with the man…the man…

Let’s hope we all get to see The Scofflaws in 2015. From what I understand there next gig is in March.  It’s a shame they are not on The Slackers line-up at 89 North on January 30th…just saying…any Ska gig on Long Island should include The Scofflaws!

Thank you for reading this.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Working in Oscar's Bookstore in Huntington and discovering the avoided art of isolation

12/17/14 21:38

I’m on a search mission for a good used book store on Long Island.  For now I have settled on Book Revue in Huntington although I can get lost in the massive space.  It’s not exactly what I am looking for.  Although their staff is very knowledgeable and courteous so I am not discontinuing my patronage to this fine establishment.  There is Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor and I hope to get out there this season.  This place has small bells on the front door; the musky, yellowed paper scent, the faint classical music or jazz playing over the radio from a couple of suspended speakers from a tin ceiling.  I find peace in these stores and want to shovel cash through their registers to keep their lights on and the scent of the books wafting through the narrow aisles.  Sadly, all of us have experienced the closing of some these hollowed landmarks.  For those of you who recall Oscar’s Bookstore in Huntington.  It was on New York Avenue. I will share some memories.  Oscar’s is where Kerouac shopped and where I worked for a summer.  I had the honor of working there before Oscar retired to Florida.  Of course I asked him about Jack and he responded with a casual reference.  I could tell it was something he often repeated to anyone who asked.

That summer, I was renting a room in a boarding house owned by a Stony Brook philosophy professor. I was attempting to live a bohemian life.  My room had a tall ceiling.  The windows faced West Neck Road.  It’s the room where I discovered and transformed in some respects.  I discovered tranquility and the art of being alone.  Being alone is a difficult task.  For a young man or woman it’s an avoided evil.  They tend to search for diversion and common distractions which can lead to some intoxicated and drug induced episodes.  I learned.  I learned from my transgressions and moved on.  If we dare and are bold enough - we face the fear of isolation and look within inside ourselves and accept the person we sometimes avoided at all costs.  It takes work. 

So, let me share what sort of poet I was while I worked at Oscar’s.  For any writer, artist or reflective soul it’s important to push the boundaries.  I pushed them as often as possible.   Mr. Piddles, the manager at the book store was a gentle easy going family man with a good temperament.   One Saturday morning I slept in.  I accepted the fact I would most likely be fired for not going into work and defiantly pulled up the covers and dealt with my decision and aching hangover.  Suddenly, there was a pounding at the front door at the boarding house.  It was uncommon to hear such commotion.  I heard the door squeak open and then I heard, “Where is he?”  Who?  “Michael.  He is supposed to be at work!”  Mr. Piddles?  I thought.  Mr. Piddles was a raving lunatic.  To march down to the boarding house - which was a half mile away from the store – was the sign of a disturbed mind.  “Michael?!   I know you are in here!”  Who let this man inside the house?  Did I dare show my face?  No.  I waited for Mr. Piddles to storm out and pulled open the door to my room and peered into the empty hallway.  It was safe.  Kevin who lived downstairs liked to sit in the front porch and play his guitar, singing loudly as he could to the passing cars.  He liked the attention of his passing fans.  He was the one who let in Piddles.  He was surprised to see me.  He said, “Hey, if I knew who he was…I wouldn’t have let him in.  I would have covered you.”  I nodded.  He asked, “So?  You going in?”  I looked at Kevin who was shirtless and pale and nodded.  His pink nipples were gross and too long for a man.  He had a large shamrock on his arm.  It was an off centered, homemade tat on his right arm. “He’s going to fire you.”  So what, I said and went back to my room and got dressed.  I stumbled up to the book store and saw Piddles.  His face was red.  He exclaimed, “Well, look who it is.  You know I came down to your house to bring you in here.”  I nodded.  “Lucky for both of us you were not home.”  What? Wait, he didn’t know?  Piddles assumes,I was not home.  I did not hear anything and he smiled.  “Well? Get to work!”  Maybe he did not want to know the truth and gave me a break.  It was one of many breaks.