Tuesday, October 31, 2006
HalloweenAt the request and invitation of my pal LittleHmphf I'm putting up a mask that I might consider wearing if I were prone to such things on halloween. I am not because I ODed on holidays in general and especially this one when I spent my entire adult life up to four years ago as an elementary classroom teacher. Trust me, the holiday thing can get old. It did for me and Cathy, anyway. I know, I know, some teachers never tire of it. You know the type. They're still telling the same jokes too. Not that there's anything wrong with that. So Stephen Colbert is a fascinating guy because so many people aren't sure how to take him. I like how he is unpredictable, fearless and confuses everybody. All this adds up to very funny. I never watch TV but I stream him from time to time. Some day I'm gonna stop talking about my lyrics and just let people believe what they want about them. Some day that will be my need. Right now I have different needs. But I like how Colbert doesn't explain himself.
So if you want to join the fun, go over to LittleHmphf and see what is required to join the party. She assures me it isn't too late.
posted by Bud @ 5:02 PM
Monday, October 30, 2006
I Was Lost But Now I'm FoundOne of the best things about having been a classroom teacher for so long is that some of those little suckers remember you. One of the best things about being a retired teacher now in 2006 is that they can Google you and find you and get in touch with you. Unless they hated you. In which case it's a very bad time to be a retired teacher.
But today, one of my earliest students found me while he was Googling the school in which I had taught him. I didn't even recall mentioning that anyplace but it took him to me right away. The best part is that he is also a singer/songwriter and rather good. My next trip up to NY just got busier.
We spent the better part of an afternoon catching up between my guitar students and contractors, and booking mid week gigs for late winter and trying to learn a few Halloween songs for Saturday's gig.
But here is something you really have to do. You have to check out Golfwidow's new book "Getting My Think On." I love this lady a lot. She's a very good and funny writer. Her exceedingly clever use of the language never fails to knock me out. Her podcasts are highly entertaining. The fact that she blogs and wrote a book just tripled my fun. I read a pre publication copy and I highly recommend it. As soon as I figure out how to add a review to certain sites, I will do so enthusiastically.
Her book has a little bit of everything I like. That means there are no car chases or things that blow up. Because it's a memoir and Golfwidow drives sensibly and doesn't play with matches. She quit smoking over four years ago. Another reason why she has my deepest respect. She doesn't even blow up when her husband breaks things, forgets things, fails to understand even the simplest of things. But she's funny as hell about it. The only thing that stands between her and having a natiionally syncicted humor coumn like Dave Berry is that they still print Dave's even though he retired. Also there's the small matter about not being "discovered" yet. Let's help Golfwidow get discovered. Check out her blog, her podcast and her book and post about it and tell everybody you know.
Go here right now and buy her book, Getting My Think On.
posted by Bud @ 7:22 AM
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Go Have a Car WreckTuesday was an extremely mixed bag. I'm not sure how to characterize it. It was a little like reaching into a bag of popcorn and coming up with a foreign object that isn't salty/buttery/crunchy, or like finding something terrific in a smelly pile of garbage. Things started out fine as I taught a guitar lesson to an Indian student of mine who is discovering western music but asked me to find some Indian guitar tabs. I was surprised that I could. He was so pleased that he agreed to learn about barre chords much faster than I had planned to introduce them to him. He's off and running now. I love when that happens. I had to cancel my training session to take this lesson because he has such an unpredictable work session (total corporate indifference to it's workers) that I have to take him when I can. So Tuesday morning it was.
Then I was off to try to find a new battery for my cell phone. The phone is about a year and a half old. Is that supposed to happen? Sucker died. On the way to the store where I bought it. I was sideswiped in the parking lot by a very old man who was backing out of his parking place. Scraped and dented the entire right side of my car. I'm amazed at how calm I was. I approached his car and realized instantly that he was a little slow. Not doddering but a little slow to answer. Still, he knew his address and telephone number but didn't have his insurance card or his registration. I called the cops to get a police report for my insurance company. As I was writing down all his info from his license for my own record, I noticed that he is 94 years old. This is Florida, after all. And just to prove it is Florida, he was recently given the license that is renewable in 10 years. I think I mentioned recently that this is a benefit of "less government." I must have been predicting this incident. I'm so glad that I'll be able to drive well past 100. Parking lots here are like Demolition Derby. Once Cathy saw a man have a stroke in the parking lot and sideswipe several cars. He was unable to unlock the door and respond to his wife who came out of the store to see this happen.
All of this makes me very sad. It's easy to bitch about the old folks but we're all gonna be there and we're all gonna hate like hell when we have to give up things like driving. My Mom got much older, much faster when she gave it up. You sit in front of a TV all day and see how fast your joints and muscles go on a permanent sabbatical. My Mom's gonna be 90 next month. She's not happy to be alive anymore. This is why it's an easy choice for Cathy and I to give up fatty food and other harmful stuff. We workout and do yoga compulsively. If I'm gonna be allowed to drive past 100 here in the great state of Florida, I want to be able to turn my neck around so I don't back into people.
The Science News lately is full of things about cures for cancer and other diseases-- if we ever elect a government that isn't afraid to stop pandering to the anti scientists. We also read about how we can now make stuff invisible. There is also some talk about living for hundreds of years. I'm not sure where I stand on the invisible old guy thing but If I'm gonna be around to see it, I'm gonna have to be able to turn my neck real well to deal with it all because this will require a lot of looking over your shoulder, don't you think? Yoga every day, baby.
I left the crash scene after the poor old guy got three tickets and I got my accident report. I'm still waiting to hear from his insurance company. I hope the dude remembered to pay his premium or I'm stuck for $1000 deductible. Insurance companies are corporations with a license to steal. Just suck it. I went around the corner to the cell phone store to find out they don't sell my company plan anymore and don't carry the parts for the phone they sold me 18 months ago. Big cell phone companies are constantly juggling for position. So it was a case of "handle our phones exclusively or we're out of your store." Radio Shack had taken over the plan and informed me they don't make the phone or the batteries anymore. Another sterling example of what is wrong with big business today. Are you keeping score? It was still before noon when this happened. I had to buy another phone and my plan is up in March when I'll want to upgrade. They better offer me a free phone.
So that was three sucky things in a row after the cool guitar lesson. Then I drove to Fort Meyers to order a new guitar. The drive is ordinarily just over an hour down the interstate. I had to slow down considerably for a forest fire, however. Florida has been very dry without our hurricanes this season. Every up has it's down, ya know?
The reason I had to go all the way to Fort Meyers Guitar Center instead of my usual forty minute excursion to Sam Ash in Sarasota is another corporate boondoggle. I don't know how these games are played but it's obvious that Taylor Guitars, who I am totally loyal to, has preferred venders and Sam Ash isn't one of them. The guitar I need was ordered by Sam Ash in August. No shipment. So Guitar Center said they could get me one in ten days. So I'm doing business with them on this guitar. Soon I may need to make a deal on a bunch of low end student guitars that I can rent out to group classes. I hope Sam Ash can accommodate me. I have nothing against Guitar Center except that it's a huge chunk out of my day to get there and back.
When I got home I learned that the AC guys had come and gone, having finished their work, the inspection for the job was to happen the following day along with the last of the wiring. We are two inspections away from wallboard! My studio may be happening this Christmas after all. As opposed to some Christmas in the future.
So the scorecard for Tuesday did indeed come out in my favor. So if some rude person should tell you to go have a car wreck, you can surely balance that off by buying yourself a guitar. Dead cellphones and long drives and corporate shenanigans will need to be balanced off in other ways. I don't recommend having an addition put on your house, however.
It's late Wednesday and we are over the hump.
posted by Bud @ 4:27 PM
Sunday, October 22, 2006
WORDS OR MUSIC FIRST?I've always been a lyrics-first kind of songwriter. I was a writer long before I even thought about writing a song. I have Terry Champlin and Helen Avakian to thank for that. Terry is a fine classical guitarist and Vassar College guitar instructor and husband of my pal Helen. They've done one beautiful classical CD and otherwise make perfect music together on and off the stage. But Terry's first gig of note was as house guitarist at the famed Woodstock, NY, Joyous Lake Restaurant. When I lived in the shadow of that town many years ago, it was not at all uncommon to drop in there late at night and find an impromptu jam by (fill in the name of your favorite sixties rock legend here). When there wasn't a billed gig going on by (fill in the name of your favorite sixties rock legend here as well) Terry would keep the joint entertained.
Fast forward to about seven years ago in Terry and Helen's kitchen. I had arrived early for a lesson with Helen who was at that time teaching me finger style guitar. Terry was chatting with one of his students about song writing and I was drawn into the conversation over crumb buns. "I don't think I could write a song," I injected.
"Why the hell not?" Terry was surprised at my negativity.
"Don't know, " I said," I've been known to turn a good phrase but I just never thought I could write a song." I believe "Bullshit" was his response along with a paragraph or two, the way college profs do when confronted with something they feel passionate about. Yeah, yeah yeah, whatever, was my attitude. Smart ass.
Some months later, with spring approaching, I asked Helen if she'd come to my school and play an end of the year gig. "Love to," she said and then pouncing, "if you'll play with me and if you write a song." Caught off guard I agreed but made her promise to write a song as well. She quickly agreed and I knew she already had one cookin'. I, on the other hand, had nothing in the pantry.
My Cathy, love of my life, provided me with material shortly thereafter when she very uncharacteristically got raging pissed at me for something I have no recollection of. That started what was to become my first song called, "The Part That Doesn't." I had to borrow from every moment of rejection I ever felt in my life but I came up with a lyric. Then I had to search for a chord progression that suggested a tune. I noodled around for weeks to come up with something. And that has been the way I've worked ever since. Lyrics first, chord progression that suggests a melody, arrangement last.
To do otherwise would feel like writing with my left hand.
In the dark.
But I'm threatening to take the plunge. I have a young friend, singer/songwriter, Carie Pigeon. She got me playing harmonica. I got her to approach writing chord progressions from different directions than she was used to. One day I tried to get her to write some music for a lyric I had. It was like I asked her to pee standing up. But not as messy. But we were unsuccessful. She is, you see, a music and lyrics together kind of songwriter. And I've met hundreds of guitar guys who do music first and then are forced to come up with a lyric just to kind of give their fingers a break. You know, like that ad in the guitar mags, "Lyrics: boring stuff to do between guitar solos."
So I've been flirting with the idea of trying the music and words together approach just so I can work with Carie who has a sound I'd love to merge with. She will be heard on my next CD, along with Helen and possibly Terry and a bunch of other folks.
Then one of my most enthusiastic guitar students ever, James Braha, ended one of our marathon lessons by announcing that the next week he wanted to work on songwriting. He couldn't understand why, after having written five books, he couldn't seem to write a good song and he wanted my guidance. He was with me in feeling that it was lyrics first or nothing. And sure enough, he wrote a good lyric and we worked on using my chord wheel to come up with a progression that suggested a melody. We did that in one week of his lyric writing and one three hour lesson.
Now he tells me he wants to try the music and words together approach. No flies on James. He apparently sees something in the stars that tells him this is a good time to do it. So do it he is. I am now forced to work hand in hand this way with my student and friend.
Add to this my other extremely enthusiastic student, Heather. She is so bright and willing to devote the time to learn. She writes poetry and wants to start setting it to music. I'm delighted and told her to bring in some poems and I told her about my process and about the various tools I use including a rhyming dictionary when I can't come up with something or if I'm looking for a near rhyme rather than a perfect rhyme. "I don't rhyme," she informed me. We discussed some good songs that don't rhyme and while they are not commercial, they are, never the less, terrific songs. I think there may be a trick to writing a very good non-rhyming song so I'm hunting around in that direction now too.
This is why I love teaching so much. If you can't learn something while you're teaching, you're just phoning it in. Kind of like most of my high school and college profs.
James and his wife Vashti, who is also my student, and Heather all came to dinner recently to sample Cathy's latest food project: raw food. It's all vetetables and we had amazing stuff like pesto and chocolate mouse. They were enthusiastic and loved it. Clearly, not everybody I know would even show up for such an event. In fact, when Cathy came home one day from Whole Foods to announce with great zeal that she had taken a class in raw foods, I was not initially impressed. "You want to eat raw," I said, "eat me." But I was to swallow my words upon her first demonstration. The stuff is actually excellent.
She has since taken several other courses in raw food preparation. I'm not about to go totally raw but it's a terrific supplement to my already austere no fat diet. People concerned with cancer should do this as it is believed that cancer can not live in an alkaline environment. Raw food is far more alkaline than cooked. Anybody finds any cancer cells in me and this boy becomes a virtual rabbit, I'm telling you. I'll do whatever else the doctor says in that case but I'll also be a walking Alkaselzer.¨
The studio construction limps forward. The AC installers tried to pull one of those, "I'll finish the week after next" scams on me but my general contractor told them to get their attic crawling asses back here this Monday. As opposed to some Monday on the calendar. Then it's drywall time. The cabinets are designed and ordered and the flooring likewise. This Christmas is a distinct possibility for moving in to that space.
Updates to follow.
Have a splendid week, everybody.
posted by Bud @ 2:38 PM
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Limbo is Closed, Welcome To Remodeling HellI haven't written much about this but I'm living in home remodeling hell. When we sold our condo up on the beach at Amelia Island, we reinvested in our own home by adding a new studio for me and enlarging my old one for Cathy. That process started well over a year ago with an architect who promptly lost our blueprints and screwed up a few other things as well. Naturally we didn't discover the screw ups until recently. When it's too late. This is the way things are done in Florida. It's the price we pay for having gorgeous weather all winter while the rest of the country endures snow, freezing rain and fuel oil bills.
Whenever my contractor says that a sub contractor will be here the beginning of the week to do whatever, I always ask, "Beginning of which week?" It's a legitimate question here. There may be a lot of rednecks on parole in the construction trades here but they're hip to the theory of relativity.
This is also a state that brags about having "less government." That phrase ring a bell? That means that we have no inspections for autos, and ten year drivers licenses are issued to 90 year olds. There are lots of other goodies too that directly effect the environment that the developers continue to destroy on an hourly basis. But I'm not gonna go off on them because my very moving here is part of that problem. Who knew?
So my inability to really get much done but always being in motion is proportional to the size of the room I'm forced to work in now. I moved what I could fit of my old studio into a 10 by 10 guest room, months ago. I don't have everything I need in here because it won't fit. I can't find the rest of it because it's all piled together. Consequently, my music production is zero and so is my writing. My guitars all have scars in them from smashing into things every time I answer a phone, adjust the lights, or scratch my ass for that matter.
I'm hearing that I may be in my new studio by Christmas. I won't be here at Christmas but Santa can have a jolly old time jamming on my stuff. Today I'm skipping Yoga to meet with the audio wiring guys who didn't finish last time. The same ones I stayed home to meet last week. The same ones who didn't show up for that meeting. I'm also told that the AC installers are coming to actually install the new AC. Florida is air conditioned. Unless you work outside, in which case its Gatorade Conditioned or Budweiser Conditioned, depending on your preference and how close your boss works with you.
There are several other major inconveniences due to this construction that I can't even explain in a reasonable amount of space. It would surely stress your attention span. Let me just say it involves flying insects and too many interior doors having to stay closed to preserve the air conditioning that is still working.
No, it's not gonna be a song. It's already an old movie with Chevy Chase, I believe.
posted by Bud @ 1:31 PM
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The Best Part of Teaching is LearningI spent a LOT of years teaching. The act of teaching is just the best thing there is for me to do. Nothing compares to it. Well nothing in the sense of working. There are, obviously other physical activities that are better than work of any kind. The preparation of teaching is hard. The hours are WAY WAY more than most people realize. Just don't give ME any of that "summers off" and "holidays" crap. That wasn't my experience at all. And weekends? What weekends? You mean those days where I prepared lessons and marked papers while trying to have a family and social life? And PuLEEEEZ don't run any of that "off at 3 o'clock" jive on me. If you know a teacher who has those benefits, they're not doing their job. Or they're not a classroom teacher.
So it's only natural that I've gotten so consumed in teaching guitar these days that I've neglected any and all blogging for weeks. I have some undefinable attention deficit disorder. I'm either very focused on what I'm doing or I'm hooked by passing events that changes my focus . The result of the latter being that I leave things forgotten or unfinished and lock onto new things. So when a guitar student requests a song to learn that I'm not familiar with, I tend to spend a lot of time researching it and all the ways to play it. I transpose it to easier keys when necessary and think about how I'll teach it in stages from a straight out four strum to a finger picked arrangement and every combination there is. Often in the process I end up putting the song on my own playlist. My students represent a wide range of skills, ages, styles and tastes. So there's typically more hours in preparation than there is in teaching.
I don't mind because I never fail to learn something in the process. The real gift I get from teaching is what I learn. I'm beginning to think that a very valuable part of student teaching for certification ought to be to try to teach the same thing to about 10 different students, one at a time. To learn what kind of adjustments you have to make to first of all, discover their personal learning style and then figuring out how to teach to that. The transition to a whole class should then come in stages of two or three different learning styles at a time.
I wish I had learned that way. But in reality, it's impossible to meet every learning style in the average class of 25 to 30 kids. You teach down the middle and do the best you can to give individual help during the short amount of time yo have them. Expanding the school day or year would not help as the fatigue levels and attention spans present a point of diminishing returns. If you're gonna argue that point, I hope you're a teacher with as much experience as I've had (34 years plus summer school).
Now that I'm no longer a classroom teacher, I'm learning how I would have liked to learn to teach. My first classes were typically over 40 kids. I had no training as a teacher. It was Catholic school and they will hire anybody willing to put up with the miserable salary.
So I learned to teach by trial and mostly error. And they survived because they were mostly kids of relative privilege whose mothers were able to stay home and read to them from an early age and supervise their homework. So they came with a lot of skills to begin with. I did that for three years until I got my masters degree and certification. It's a whole different thing teaching in a public school. But I preferred public school. It was more real. More like the actual world we live in. Still, I wish I had been trained the way I proposed a couple of paragraphs ago.
I took enormous joy over the years out of classroom teaching. I made some lasting friendships with kids and their parents. I know I'll live in some of their memories long after I'm gone. I wouldn't trade that for anything. But this individual guitar teaching is even better. I feel like I'm improving my skill with every lesson. More importantly is that my students are learning something they'll use forever and remember how they learned it. As opposed to, say, at least half the stuff I had to teach fourth and fifth graders. I've also never had to slave over report cards or deal with problem parents and administrators as a guitar teacher.
One of my students, who has been with me the longest, I think, is a fine songwriter who I can share ideas with. Another is close to my age and has written five books yet feels he has to really struggle to write a song. But he's doing it. He's gonna be a songwriter. A third is new and young and has a lot to learn but she'll do it for sure and the bonus is that she got me to think about writing lyrics that don't rhyme. I had to stop and think about a bunch of them that are quite good and don't rhyme at all. She's gonna be writing songs for sure and playing them too. The first guitar student I ever taught is one I'm very proud of. She learned as fast as I could show her something and it didn't matter how complex. She is now a singer/songwriter who opened for me when I did two benefit concerts in New York state last year.
I have many promising students who can achieve anything they put their minds to. It's a thrill to work with them. My wife, Cathy, asked me recently which part of my business I like best, writing and recording, performing or teaching. It's impossible to single one out as the favorite. They all support each other for one thing. But more importantly, I don't want to live without any of them.
I've been in touch with a few fellow bloggers who asked for some help understanding their guitar playing. I wrote a long lesson on barre chords for them and how to use them to play 12 bar blues. I've been able to help them and would gladly pass some of that information along to you. You'd have to tell me what it is you want to know and what you already know. And the feedback you give me on the lessons helps me to make them better.
Have a splendid weekend. I hope to catch up with you soon.
posted by Bud @ 8:09 PM
Monday, October 02, 2006
Been Away AgainSpent the weekend on Amelia Island to celebrate Cathy's birthday. spent lots of time with our best pals up there, Davis and Pam Turner or the Davis Turner Band. Davis is way too busy gigging to ever set up a web site. If you're from the north eastern part of Florida, you know about Davis and Pam. They agreed to play on my CD. Davis plays better guitar of all styles better than anybody I personally know in the south. Pam plays superb bass including five string fretless. A sound I really need on some of my songs. These two dear friends would have been on the last CD except Pam became seriously ill with a condition she still fights today. If it wasn't for these two I would not have turned pro as fast as I did. The story is in my Bio if you're interested.
We had a splendid time although it was odd staying in a hotel instead of the condo which we sold over a year ago. At least we didn't have to clean up after ourselves to get ready for renters. We did that for about 8 years and it got very old despite the fact that our back yard was the Atlantic Ocean. Here's a shot Cathy took of our former view. Oh, yeah, the taxes and fees got pretty old too. So we sold at the top of the market. Now I'm building an add-on studio. But that's another story for later.
Normally I come up with some lyrics while I'm at Amelia. I wrote a lot of my last CD there. This time I was more focused on just enjoying my time with my birthday girl and my friends. I didn't even play any guitar. Pretty relaxing weekend despite the five and a half hour drive up there and then back again.
We walked out on the fishing pier that juts a half mile out into the Atlantic. Here's another Cathy shot down that pier. We always loved that spot. You feel like you're walking on water. It's especially cool when there's rough water. Once in a while you're treated to an atomic sub sailing by on it's way to or from it's home base in Kingsland, Georgia. Think of a sky scraper floating on its side at about 20 knots. This is also an excellent vantage point to watch ospreys diving for their meal. Dolphins are also as common as seagulls. Manatees are also a fairly common sight around there. One day I'll have to dig up the photo of me standing in a pod of mating manatees. Nothing erotic about it. Trust me.
I juggled all my guitar lessons around this week so we could come back and rest just a bit before I got into it. So once again, I'm in the sticky position of being behind in reading my favorite blogs or posting anything meaningful to this one.
My season is picking up, my lesson schedule continues to grow and we're going to Puerto Rico the week before Christmas. Then all hell breaks loose with my four month busy season. So I'll blog when I can and when I have something to say. Not gonna waste anybody's times with memes and such.
posted by Bud @ 11:18 PM