Friday, December 26, 2008

The Art of Conversation

There are talented people across the world who deserve a shot at the big time. Every so often you stumble across a local band, an unknown author, or a painter with real talent. These are the unsung heroes of art, the people who do it for love, but who have true talent and style. These are the people who could make it if only the right person was in the audience.

There is a band out of Orange County that deserves attention. Acoustic Conversation is the best band you’ve never heard of. A local, bluesy-rock quartet of extremely talented guys, AC’s first album “Still Life in Motion” released in 2001, was a solid piece of music from start to finish, not a clunker in the bunch. When was the last time you could say that about a CD from anybody? Song number nine, “Not Gonna Worry” is my current favorite.

I first caught their set a few years ago at Java Joe’s in Yorba Linda, where about a dozen people roared their approval of the high-energy vocals of Gary Medeiros, front man for the group, and the guitar riffs of Ed Means, co-founder and lead guitarist. These days whenever Acoustic Conversation plays, the little coffee shop is standing room only. Get there early if you want a seat.

Just before Christmas, they released their sophomore effort. Their second CD entitled “On The Road We’re On”, and when I slipped it into my CD player, it was like visiting an old friend. If anything these guys have gotten even better. One track in particular stands out for me. 'Mara’ was inspired by a recent trip to Africa, and has a beauty and grace rivaled only by the land itself.

Do yourself a favor and check out a show. Buy the CD’s and support some local guys who deserve a shot at the BIGS. Their website is

My Sister, My Elf

I’ve been told that I am a good gift giver. That I somehow find perfect and unique gifts that are personal to the receiver, and it’s true I suppose most of the time. I am not a list guy, I don’t supply lists of what I want and I rarely buy off a list for gifts that I give. I enjoy the hunt, the thought that goes into getting perfect gifts as much as possible, but when it comes down to giving to people when I have no ideas, I whip out me cell phone and dial.

We all have one. That person you call during the holidays to get gift ideas for other people, or to find out what sizes you should buy for mom or the kids. For me, that person has always been my older sister. Throughout the year, she is my lifeline to the pulse of our family, keeping me in the loop, making me aware of the things she feels I need to know.

But at Christmas time, she becomes my own personal gift expert. She’s my crutch. Not only does she have to figure out what she is giving, she has to help me brainstorm. And I know I’m not the only one. Everybody in my family calls her for gift ideas.

Every year I call at the eleventh hour with one or two people left on my shopping list, and every year she comes through. This year was no different, a week before Christmas I stood in the store and dialed her number. She wasn’t surprised to hear from me. But this call was different. This year I didn’t need suggestions, all I needed were clothing sizes for the kids, nothing else. I stood on my own this year, I did my own thinking. But I won’t let it go to my head. Soon a new year will begin, and with it comes a new round of birthdays and other gift-giving occasions. I guess maybe I should put my sister on speed dial. Thanks Roxie for all the help over the years, and I don’t mean just for the gift ideas!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Fob Fiasco

She was distressed, that much was easy to see just by looking at her. The holiday season can do that to people as they feel the pressure to buy presents for everyone on the list. Christmas day for some becomes a ticking time bomb, an unmoving deadline that looms larger with each passing minute. For some, that pressure can reduce an intelligent human being to a blubbering pile of mush.

She wasn’t to that point yet, but when she looked up at me with that resigned exhaustion in her eyes and asked, “Can you help me?” I figured I could at least try. We were parked beside each other at the outer edge of the mall parking lot in spots that remained empty eleven months of the year and only saw use during the holidays.

“Can you help me?” Her arms were loaded with bags, wispy strands of hair flew from the knot atop her head and a fine mist of rain swirled in the air around us.

“What’s the problem?” The ground was wet and I figured she needed me to hold the bags so she could fish out her keys. But as I stepped around her car I saw that the keys were already in her hand.

With a sheepish smile she pressed the button on her key fob to unlock her car. Nothing happened. “It won’t open.” She pressed harder several times, holding the fob closer to the locked door, pointing it directly at the lock.

For a full minute I just stared at her. “Let me see what I can do.” I took the key ring from her and made a show of turning the fob over and over, examining it closely. “I think I can help,” I said.

Turning toward her car, I slipped the key into the lock and turned it. The lock popped up and I opened the door for her. We stood there staring at each other, silently acknowledging the absurdity of the situation, and then she burst out laughing. Steadying herself on the car, she released all the stress of the season in her great gale force laughter. When she looked at me, there were tears streaming down her face. “Thank you!”

I went to my car and drove away, filled with Christmas spirit and chuckling softly to myself.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Murray the Destroyer

We originally thought he was a girl. When we adopted him and brought him home, we named him Abbey. Being a Beatles fan, I liked the association to Abbey Road. And considering that he was just a poofy ball of fluff, Abbey seemed to fit.
A few days later, we discovered his boy parts among all that hair, and Abbey became Murray. And later he became known as Murray the Destroyer.

He was supposed to be smart, mixed as he was from two breeds known for their intelligence. Muray is a cross-breed combining Maltese and Shih Tzu.

Consider this published information about the breeds:

The Maltese:

The Maltese is spirited, lively and playful. Gentle, loving, trusting and devoted to its master. Highly intelligent. Good at learning tricks.

Maltese with Shih Tzus are called Mal-Shihs, Shihtese, or Mitzus. This results in a dog which is a small, friendly and intelligent animal with a unique low (or no) shedding coat.

The Shih Tzu:

The Shih Tzu is a very small dog breed that is incredibly loyal and comes from a long royal heritage. By nature they are bold, affectionate and energetic. They are prized for their appearance and intelligence, and continue to be an excellent companion for both an individual and a family.

He was supposed to be smart, our little Stay-Puft Marshmallow Murray, but his actions sometimes point to a different conclusion.

During a recent rainstorm, Murray decided to pull his nice warm bed out of his kennel which is blocked from the wind and rain and quite cozy, and drag the faux sheepskin bed out into the downpour, then sit shivering beneath the overhang, staring at the bed longingly.

On another occasion, he pulled the bed out into the sunlight, only to then roll his own poop onto the bed with a paw.

And last week, My fiancé watched through a window as Murray the Destroyer searched out a warm spot in the sun, circled twice and lay down for a nap. It took him a few minutes to realize that his ear floated in a fresh puddle of his own urine.

He was supposed to be smart. Maybe he’ll be a late bloomer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Get Some Action!

No, not that kind of action. Recently I photographed the band ACTION 45. Playing the local circuit, these guys know how to rock the house! Do people even say that anymore? I didn't even say it back in the day. If you like your rock driving and heavy and loud, these guys more than deliver. Fresh from an appearance on KLSX radio where they were called excellent by at least one person, these guys are touring all over Southern California. Go see them, then stick around after the show and buy them a beer and get inducted into the Action Army! Consider this a formal introduction:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Top Ten Christmas Songs

I love Christmas music. I have hundreds of songs in my iPod and dozens of CD's in my collection. I love the classic stuff as much as the contemporary. I can appreciate both serious and comical holiday music. I am a Christmas music fiend. a top ten for me was truly difficult, but the list below will definately put you in the mood.

Bonus: Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas by Diesel Doug & the Long Haul Truckers
Putting the 'Fun' in Dysfunctional

Bonus 2: There's Something in the Chimney: A CD called Twisted Christmas
Sung from the perspective of a five year old who realizes he gets to have Santa all year long.

10: My Grown Up Christmas List by Kelly Clarkson
Yes, I know she may well be the Devil incarnate, (Though I still think Quincy Jones has that title), she may be a phony down-home country girl, but give the girl credit for a phenomenal voice. This classic has never sounded better.

9: Frosty the Snowman by David Cassidy with the Partridge Family
Yes...THAT David Cassidy...I'm not proud. Many of you know that I have an aversion to Frosty on principal...the cartoon from the 70's remains the only one I won't watch every year. But this version of the song is not at all like the pop tune from the cartoon, you know...the one in your head right now.

8: Happy Christmas/War is Over by John Lennon
A song about peace? At Christmastime? Who'da thunk it?

7: Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Love him or hate him, Bruce stops down during a concert to spread some Christmas cheer.

6: Christmas Eve Sarajevo by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
This has got to be one of the greatest instrumentals ever recorded...if your heart is not pumping with Christmas joy by the last note, you are dead inside. Check yourself into the ER and see if they can find your holiday spirit.

5: Wonderful Christmastime by Sir Paul McCartney
Come on knew the list would include Sir Paul.

4: Little Drummer Boy by Bing Crosby and David Bowie
I know, I know, it is a classic and way obvious. But listen People, it's a classic for a reason. Peace on earth in your world and my world too.

3: Silver and Gold by Vanessa Williams
Remember Yukon Cornelius? He saved Rudolph and Hermey from the Bumble. "Didn't I ever tell ya, Kid? Bumbles bounce!" He sang this song when first we meet him. Vanessa Williams takes a corny kids jingle, and turns it into a beautiful, melodic dream.

2: Celebrate Me Home by Kenny Loggins
When the singer/songwriter says the song is not a Christmas song, but the world disagrees, who do you believe? Any song that makes you want to spend time with your family can't be all bad. So please, celebrate me home.

1: Please Come Home For Christmas by The Eagles
Accept no imitations. This is the only version that matters. Bon Jovi did it, Pat Benatar did it, Dion, Vonda Shephard, Charles Brown, etc. All of them pale in comparison to this one.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bad Moon Writing

When I am writing and not working on anything particular, I like to challenge myself. Mostly the game starts with a simple question: I wonder if I could? That’s it and that’s all, as my dad used to say. Those five words almost always send me down a writing path I’ve not traveled before. The following paragraphs are the latest result. I wonder if I could write an original story about each of the classic monsters. Vampire, Werewolf, Frankenstein, Mummy, etc. The challenge I set for myself was to tell a fresh story while staying true to the rules of the classics: Garlic and crosses for vampires, silver bullets and full moons for the werewolf, you get the idea. Here then is the first 400 or so words of my attempt at a werewolf story. I’ve been told I write decent openings that set the tone of the story well, so I thought I’d examine the beginning of this one even before the story is finished. Care to come along for the ride?

Charlie Dupont (Good everyman sort of name) stared out at the moon through the reinforced steel bars that criss-crossed over the large picture window of his bedroom. (Is he keeping something out? Or keeping something in?) Every night before sleep took him, his eyes found the moon, measured it as it grew fat and round, and then later, marked its progress as it waned. You could count on the cycle, slow and relentless as the tides, and at this time of upheaval in his life, Charlie needed something he could count on.

(So this first paragraph sets up a few things. It introduces you to the main character who has more than a passing interest in the moon. He may or may not be sympathetic at this point, though the last line of the paragraph suggests that he is having a rough time.)

He supposed in a way, he’d been searching all of his life for a stability he’d never found. As a kid, he’d never fit in, and it was no surprise that as a grown man he’d remained a loner, set apart by some deep-rooted inability to find common ground, some kernel on which to build lasting friendships. The world was his oyster his mom always said. He knew he could be a pearl, but all his life he’d felt more like the irritating grain of sand. That more than anything had led him to Nepal.

(Now we have a pretty good idea that he feels outcast, separated from his peers, and that loneliness has driven him to search for some understanding.)

The pamphlet promised it would be the trip of a lifetime -- a chance to lose yourself, to find yourself again, and go home a changed man. Charlie frowned. On that last count the brochure had been nuts on. He had indeed come back a changed man. What started out as a romantic, fourteen day second honeymoon with Brenda (Suggesting that he’d found a connection with at least one person.) had turned into a two month nightmare from which Charlie would never awake.

(Something bad happened to his only real friend in Nepal.)

Climbing from the bed, he padded (Use of the word ‘padded’ suggests dog-like) across the hardwood floor to the restroom. Squinting against the harsh fluorescent of the light, (His eyes are sensitive) Charlie stared into the mirror and relieved himself. The reflection of the moon haloed (suggesting he is a good guy) his head as he scratched the growth of beard on his cheeks. The hair grew faster these days, and he sometimes found himself shaving twice a day if he had an evening meeting. His five o’clock shadow had become a noon o’clock shadow over the past couple of weeks. (Not a direct arrow to his being a werewolf, but a foreshadow that will payoff later.)

He flushed and put himself away, standing a moment longer to stare at the moon in the mirror. They never found her body. (WHOA!) Brenda simply vanished on that mountainside in Nepal. (Moved this sentence to the end of paragraph for better impact.) A dense fog drifted into camp one evening, and in the morning as the fog retreated, it revealed her empty sleeping bag with a single drop of blood on the pillow, darkening from bright red to a rusty, dark brown. Brenda simply vanished with the mist on that mountainside in Nepal...

So there is a peek into my thought process as I am constructing the opening of a story. It may change in a rewrite, but in this first draft, you can see where I am heading. Is it a great beginning? Probably not. Does it raise story questions and beckon the reader onward? I think so. I think that a reader would follow a little further down the path. At least I hope so.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Give it a Chance

“If you could put together any two songwriters, which two would you pair up?”

The question was posed to me in all seriousness, but the answer came to me in a flash. Perfection had already been achieved and I saw no reason to look further.

The love you take is equal to the love you make.

Those words ended the songwriting partnership of Lennon/McCartney.

That is the last line in the last song the Beatles ever sang together. Even at the end of it all, when they were bitter and fueding and disillusioned with fame, they sang about love and karma. They sang with all the hope of youth, the belief that we could change the world. All four Beatles had a solo on this song, including Ringo’s ONLY drum solo with the Beatles. The take in which he performed the solo originally had guitar and tambourine accompaniment, but the other instruments were muted during mixing giving the effect of a drum solo. The additional instruments were restored for a remix on the Anthology 3 compilation album.

McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon perform a rotating sequence of three, two-bar guitar solos.

The Beatles recorded a one-minute, 20-second master take that was extended via overdubs to two minutes and five seconds.

John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone said it was "a perfect epitaph for our visit to the world of Beatle daydreams: "The love you take is equal to the love you make ...”

Next year ‘THE END’ will be forty years old.

While the song was supposed to replicate the jam sessions of other artist in the 60’s the Beatles recorded ‘THE END’ with the tightness and economy that continually made them stand out from the crowd. tThe lyrics are basic and nearly nonexistent, and yet have a resonance that has lasted nearly my entire life.

You could say, in your jaded voice, your mouth turned up into a sarcastic sneer, that The Beatles’ belief in peace was a gimmick, a public image to sell records, and you may be right. But probably not. If they had been a flash in the pan, you could dismiss all they said and did in the sixties. But if you look at the lives they lived, look at the karma they floated out there, look at the very essence of everything they said, and you just might see that they were the real deal. They believed in peace and love far beyond the break-up of the Beatles.

Consider this:

After going solo McCartney wrote,

All round the world little children being born to the world
Got to give them all we can till the war is won:
Then will the work be done.

Help them to learn songs of joy instead of burn baby burn

Let us show them how to play the pipes of peace

After going solo Lennon wrote:

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

After going solo Harrison wrote:

Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth

After going solo Starr wrote:

Well if it's love that you want
I got love I can give
I'll give you love, love, love

Ringo seemed to be the weak link here. I searched dozens of songs from his solo career before I found one that fit. And that, my friends is too much Ringo for anyone.

In conclusion, let me go on record as saying, the sixties was about change and proved that peace could work, peace has the power to change the world, but it also proved that people have to truly believe in the concept. At least three out of the four Beatles believed it.

But it seems we as a people believe in the almighty dollar and the wielding of power just a little bit more. I remain ever hopeful that things will turn around. I believe in peace.