Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Near Miss With A Fireball

It was just one year ago that  I FELT the heat of this car as it smashed into a fireball and flames shot past my own car windows to my right. Some part of my brain I'm not even wholly aware of had already heard the tires screeching as they hurtled toward me from behind, that part of my brain checked the rearview in a flash and saw that yes, that out-of-control car was aimed straight at me. And so in what couldn't have been more than a second or two, it assessed the entire situation almost totally without my conscious knowledge and took over and automatically veered my vehicle hard left into oncoming traffic (around 3am so thankfully the lane was empty)... and because my brain did this bit of automatic business, I survived, and I learned later, so did the drunk driver who very nearly killed me. 

It feels like a lot has happened since then and I can't believe this was just one year ago. That night was and remains a stark personal reminder that tomorrow is promised to no one. It doesn't matter how great or how grim things seem, who I've lost or what I've gained. This is it.  Now. Whatever "now" holds.

I write musicals. I love writing musicals. It took me a couple decades to give myself permission to do this-- I mean musicals are awesome and who the hell did I think I was? That was the useless conversation I frequently used to  have with myself over being allowed to do things I love. The very first time the seed was planted and I consciously quietly allowed myself to think, "Maybe I want to write musicals too" ("too" meaning me and Jonathan Larson, obviously)  was as a kid sitting in the front row of the Nederlander the week "Rent" opened on Broadway. I was one of the first-ever lottery winners and partway through act one, tears streamed down my face as I listened to the words "Forget regret or life is yours to miss."

Maybe the real gift of an exploding flaming car crash is that it wakes you up. It wakes you up to RIGHT NOW. Like it or not. And it keeps waking you up. It's uncomfortable, waking up. But thank God we get to do it every day.

So, maybe a baffling and terrifying leader who you just can't believe said the horrific things he's said about women, Muslims, Latinos, gay and trans people, people with disabilities  and so much more-- and so much worse-- and horrible things that everyone saw and heard for over a year-- the fact that ANYONE voted for this obviously hateful self-involved bully who the majority of us wouldn't and didn't choose is mind-numbing. But maybe this fiery car crash of a president is here to wake us up. He doesn't know that maybe that's his cosmic job. But there he is, doing it by being a complete and utter monster. Waking us up to the present,  to the gift of liberty and freedom and the inalienable rights that are as precious as the air we breathe, that maybe now after the fire shoots past our lives collectively, maybe those precious things are a little less invisible and intangible than before. And maybe we'll fight for them a little harder now and for the rest of our lives. Because now is what we've been handed-- car crashes and all.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Testicular Cancer

Testicular Cancer

Matt's once-red bald head
lays limp with hospital sweat.
Rivers of acid solder pathways,
burrowing in through my eyes.

Oh my God
who was not Father
when monsters stirred
and rooted through his
flesh like spider legs
while I vanished into pits of me.

     - David Orris

I lost a friend when I was very young to testicular cancer. I think I was 19. His name was Matt and he was diagnosed one day and it seemed like just seconds later he was gone. No warning. An outgoing guy, president of his senior class at his high school, I got to know Matt as the bass player of my Christian rock band when we were 16-17. We toured together-- including the summer before he passed. It was my first time confronting the passing of a peer and the sudden violence of cancer. This poem was my response.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Good Old Mariah

The all-too-typical Mariah debacle on New Year's Eve actually kind of made me... a little nostalgic. I spent a magical summer as an intern at Sony Studios on West 54th before my last year of college. That summer I met Jeff Buckley and got to see him play live in a basement club. And this beautiful genius was recording in ''my" studio no less. No one knew who he was back then and so today, I have bragging rights to being among the first to have fallen immediately and deeply in love with Jeff. I had long ponderous conversations with Steve Perry of Journey about music (though I didn't know it was him the first time we chatted for over an hour) and I met folk legends Peter Paul and Mary among perhaps more dubious acts like The Spin Doctors (I did love their radio hit) and Hootie and the Blowfish.

This once-sheltered suburban Chicago kid was suddenly thrown into the Manhattan fire doing grunt work for my heroes who had become my mentors. It was the best thing for me and I loved it. I learned a ton-- about the music industry, recording, New York and life outside the midwestern Caucasian bubble I'd lived in my whole life.

I had chosen Sony by looking at the back of the CD jacket of "The Red Shoes" by Kate Bush (which had been my very-worthy musical obsession of the moment). I saw the words "Sony Music" and "New York, NY" and that was that. I WOULD have an internship there-- and so I did. And I was starstruck every day at that job as I found myself routinely getting to learn from and was treated with great kindness by icons of music-- everyone from Gloria Estefan to Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls-- and their brilliant producers and engineers. I remember one day mustering the nerve to brazenly hand Amy my homespun recording entitled "Weeping With Philistines"-- and she was so gracious. I'm not sure what I expected her to do with it or how many other fanboys had saddled her with demos that day. But she really took some time talking to me and even complimented me on the title. She was very genuine.

But Mariah...Mariah had always been the trainwreck of ego and pills you saw last night on live TV. The summer of my internship was the summer that Mariah (who was still a hitmaker at the time and was then married to Tommy Mottola, the head of all of Sony Music) was recording her Christmas album across the street at The Hit Factory. But for one reason or another she was always in the Sony Studios building... and for a summer, she was my own personal NIGHTMARE. It's hilarious to me now, but as a 20 year old running for his life through Manhattan every day trying to appease the diva's demands, it was a little scary at the time. Her rider (list of demands) was among the most hilarious of Mariah's bizarre behaviors. It included things like making sure every item in her dressing room was pink (chairs, hair dryers, brushes, rugs-- and guess which lowly intern had to run around Manhattan finding these pink treasures). And while recording that Christmas record, she eventually had to leave the Hit Factory's jacuzzi and its  pinball machines to come across the street to do overdubs with us a couple different days. The first time this happened, it was to overdub ONE WORD. And in order for her to be "artistically inspired" to sing this word, it was my job (in June) to get a live Christmas tree, oak tables with red table cloths, three foot candy canes, coca-cola in the old fashioned glass bottles (though that one was a constant any time she came into the building-- along with the original-flavor Ricolas) and wreaths. Oh, and the word she was overdubbing... was "holy." Ah, the good old days.

Mariah is the stammering embodiment of why the music industry has all but totally imploded. I'm not laying that implosion at her feet whatsoever. She's merely emblematic of the immovable heft of massive executive and star egos sucking dry an industry that mostly abandoned music somewhere in the '70s in favor of 'cool' until by the late '90s the major label industry was nothing but a marketing effort. So be it. Music is now made in bedrooms for the love of it. And in the meantime, entitled divas publicly teeter at the edge on national television. And there may be a certain... artistic inspiration... in that just yet.